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.

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


Minute Change

Part 21

Karolina Phillips

2/25/03

 

Rogue sank down in a dark brown and beige chair behind a rickety plastic table. Her room in the hotel was dull which meant lack of distractions and smelled like cigarettes which made her think of Mystique and Remy. That was reassuring in a familiar sort of way. The curtains were partially open in a way meant to be inviting. There was a cluster of tall buildings across the street, backlit by the bluish-green night sky of the city, natural blue tinted green from the yellow and orange lights. Her knee was jittering and finally she realized the cause for her agitation.

She rose to close the curtains and dragged her chair to the back of the room. From the minute she had dyed her hair, she had felt the slide. Maybe the changes in perception had begun before but so slowly she had not noticed. There were little differences between how she looked at her surroundings each hour, what she saw, heard and thought. Enemies seemed possible from all sides, especially from those that were ostensibly her friends. There seemed to be a riptide of new information and she could fall, grappling at the mud, on her belly or she could surf down and land on her feet, then find another way back up.

Or am I just noticing the sink pit? We X-Men fight so hard to preserve are beliefs against social stricture. We destroy so much in our goals. Maybe people are right. Maybe we are just terrorists and genetic supremacists. She looked at the curtains, the flashes of muted lights behind them. I don't need to grapple. All I have to do is stand up and see and see the best way to do this.

Who would snipe without finishing? Who would try to scare me? Which of my new "friends" is responsible. Tori doesn't know how to shoot like that. I doubt that Isabel does either. That leaves to likely suspects: Jason and I-Ping. But, Jason doesn't need to shoot to kill. He could cover his tracks better using his own power. Why would either of them try to shoot Krieng or Anthony?

The sight hit my eyes before it ever reached Krieng. I assumed it was for him, so I moved in his direction. He didn't seem to surprised at being shot, either. Just angry. Frustrated. And Anthony. He said he was married. He said the call was from his wife. He even had a marriage band. Maybe Mystique would....

Rogue began to pace but discovered that it felt unnatural and came to a halt in the recessed corner behind the bed, out of line from the door. Don't I have a mind of my own?

Obviously not.

Oh, shut up. Who are you?

You know quite enough about me, frail.

She pulled off her jacket and unbuckled her brown combat belt, hanging both on the chair. After that was the gun harness wrapped around her stomach and shoulders. When she had first put it on it had felt like an alien dead weight. Now she had to look in the mirror, down at the woven straps to remember it was there. It was obscene. That was it. It was insane that she adapted so quickly to an old mannerism. She unbuckled the harness too, dangling it from her hand and removing the forty-five calibre pistol from the holster.

She wondered why she kept it. She had dropped it in the snow outside Tori's house and remembered.

Sinister stepped over the jerking arm of a fallen Sentinel, past its mate, feet crunching softly in the snow. Spurts of static floated behind him, from the humans artificial watch dogs. Ahead, the X-man, the girl Rogue, was sprawled unconscious. He went down on one knee to pick her up over his shoulder and a dark shadow imbedded in the snow caught his eyes. A mechanical chemical firearm. Anachronistic but effective. Essex remembered the officer of law laying further behind the watch dogs. He reached into the snow and picked up the gun.

In the hotel room, Rogue sucked in her breath. Like the derisive voice from the club, the first person memories twisted into absence. She felt for them seeking to draw them back to understand why Sinister would have a moment of sympathy but failed. She had no control over her memory. With a shaking hand, she reholstered the gun and hung the harness over her jacket on the chair.

Then it occurred to her that she had been talking to a voice in her head, again. Brother.

Not quite. The ghost voice was low, a purring undertone disguising malice.

She shoved back at Victor Creed's voice, silencing it with will power and the peculiar skill she had to forget.

Nice try, kiddo. Creed-not-Creed mocked, a few insidious chuckles that scraped inside her skull. He touched her with the malicious intimacy of a rapist, ripping up memories of unhappy times. She could feel him like a physical thing worming in her brain. Rogue gagged, bracing a hand on the bed to steady herself. Shaking, she raised the other hand to the inhibitor curled behind her ear.

Yeah, girly, the voice crooned raising the hair on the back of her neck.

She squeezed her eyes shut briefly and held her temples tightly. She did not know how long she sat there that way, staring at the yellowed wall to avoid the childhood memories interspliced with visions of Genosha and Sabretooth's own desires. Warped, all of it. A bead of sweat trickled down the side of her nose and she watched that too as it fell to hit the carpet. Floor. Wall. And imagining that if she turned to her left a bit she would see a stair rail. But it was only the headboard.

The damn stairs. Damn stairs. There was no man in a suit. No cracked wall. No broken home. Not here. In the past. In the past was the debonair smiling man. Funny family. So many families like that. Mother not mother. Drunken bitch. Bitch. Should not say bitch. Speak no evil. Keep it in the family. But, keep what?

Like her uncle spoke. Talked and talked with such a smooth charming voice. Made her think of Remy. Smooth talker. Was that good? To make that connection? She hated that voice. It was worse than being hit. Funny. Lucien rarely hit but murmurs replayed, amplified. Bad times not good times. Why good times? Why sex? Lucien never touched her. Odd. Not that way, not sexually. So why did she remember? Those memories were wrong. Something was wrong, twisted around some other way.

They were not her memories. She could see herself sitting on the stairs, a child too locked in to herself to fight back physically. Rogue put her head between her knees, hands wrapped around her neck. Analysis was a choice. Might as well take a look.

Look.

Girl on stairs. Little brat. Bastard. Coming from living room.

Backup and rewind.

Front door. Keys. Fumbling for keys. Wrong one. The brass one with the round head not the tarnished steel one. Open door. Front door mat frayed. Brown and gray: Home Sweet Home. In the foyer. Slurred murmur from the living room. Goddamn her. Lazy bitch. Can't get a job. Cash cow. Her and the kid. No name kid. Disgrace for him. Bad image. Good image to care for them. Good family values. Hilarious.

Shattering glass. Small footsteps. Christ. She's at it again. Glass shards on floor, wet. Hopefully Jack not flavored. Sticky sweet. Should make her clean it up. Slob. Kid's fault. Shouldn't set her off like that. Lousy girl. Food. Clothes. Room. Irksome friends. Dirty. Disobedient. Now school too. Teachers calling with smarmy smiles oozing through phone line. We don't mean to trouble you, but....

But first, need to soothe sister. In the living room. Smells like booze. Bottles on floor. Floor stained. Muddy foot prints. Damnit Move so fast, shapes blur. Shove on chair, either side of her. Tipped over, falls back, hits head. Moaning. Too drunk to yell or be aware of blood from scalp. Another stain. Dead? Check pulse. Not dead. Heart fast. Just a cut then.

He braced himself, one hand around her neck, one on chair back. Hauled up both. What a mess. She was crying now. Whining and slobbering, spittle running down chin. Worse than kid. At least kid kept quiet most time. Incomprehension. Sigh. Talk her quiet. Talk her down. There you go. It's all right. I didn't mean it. I love you.

Good. Quiet. Find girl. Shouldn't be far. Smart kid. Knows better than to run. Yes, there, in hall on stairs. Dark here. Lights off in corridor. Brat's a mess. Mud on her dress. Tracks lead here. Yes, too smart to run. Not smart enough to learn though. Needs to mind manners. Be a lady. At least look like one. Don't swear. Keep clean. Bad image costs money.

Giving him the deer caught in headlights look. Big green eyes. Pretty in a frightened sort of way. Shag of red hair with that weird gray streak. Old beyond her years. Funny. Doctor's said it was genetic, some sort of dominant gene. Sticks her lip out at him, pouting, pretty pink lips. Sudden image of those small hands at his hips, lips around his cock. Freud would say that's normal, healthy to think without acting. Not society though. Too many consequences. Even too think was a crime.

Stupid kid makes mistake of whining, interrupting. He grabs her shoulder, pinning her down and holding her away. Be quiet. Go to your room. When she complains, squeeze a bit harder. Little bones. Little muscles fighting against him. See? Stupid kid never learns. He tells her. Talks her down too.

But she's looking at him, dilated green eyes. Head cocking to side, like she can see. Shrinking away from him. Fear. Like an animal. Like she knows. Eyes too wide now, like a wild dangerous animal, like a cat. About to attack.

Talk talk talk. World goes liquid. Stairs here. Stairs there. Pain? No pain? Not a beating. No. Confused. She's confused. Stomach queasy. Head hurts. Uncle Lucien stumbling back against wall holding his head. Looks shaky like a baby lamb. Yells at her to go to her room.

She did. Eyes, pinpoint pupils.


A cold draft woke her and she had time to twist around before a hand clamped down on her mouth. The large bulky shape of a man hung over her. He raised a finger to his lips before letting her up.

Rogue sat up, gasping, bowing over to wait out her pulse. She hunched over, pulling herself into a cross-legged pretzel. She rested her jaw on her hand, her fingers touching the inhibitor. The man made no move to turn on the lights but she could see him and the room in tones of blue and gray. He did not seem aggressive so she took the time to study him.

He was taller than average but not by much. He seemed huge but she gradually discerned that was due to a bulky vest, straps, buckles and pouches of weaponry. His clothing was dark in the dim light so either it was dark or it was warm colored. She suspected the former. His face was undistinguishable in shadow. He was absolutely still and silent like a walking corpse.

She rolled off the bed, fully clothed as she had fallen asleep, or fallen unconscious. The man was closer to her gear than she was. "Who are you?"

"Good times," he said without inflection.

"Excuse me?"

"Stupid."

She scowled. "Who are you and who sent you?" It was a empty question meant to buy time. She scoured her memories for the innuendoes he was supplying.

The nameless man pivoted as she walked around the bed. He never actually seemed to move but was in a constant state of motion and looking at him was like viewing the world through a strobe light. He was standing. He was closer to the chair. He was holding up her jacket, glancing over the gun belt and combat gear. He was around the chair, heading towards her.

"Who sent you?" She felt too sick to care about being scared. Her head hurt. Her back was knotted. Her hands were trembling and she was almost certain she would vomit. What did this physiological reaction even mean? For, there were so many rapists in the world and she had absorbed their memories as often as any others. She understood with a certainty that had no words why rape happened. So why feel anything?

"Mystique. Need an informant."

"Ah don' have any." She was listening to static, again.

The man sighed and ignored her.

"Okay. The firs' piece of info Ah need is your name, sugar. Ah'm feelin' too crap to playing guessing games. I'll take the information if Ah have to."

He inclined his head with an ironic twist of his lips, the first sign of emotion she'd seen. "Jason."

"Jason?" This man was quiet as the young man from the lab. He had the same set to his face and eyes. Similar hair, still long, curling past his shoulders. Even the evolved but similar way of moving with fluid abruptness, that perfectly human but disturbing motion, seemed to leave echoes. The only way she would know for sure was if she touched him but that was out of the question, if he were who he claimed.

He had said "good times". She dipped her head in silent answer. Only Jason would know that unless someone had done truly in depth research on her to learn that was how she had formerly referred to her power. And he said it first too. So either he really is Jason or he's not and trying to fool me. If this man was one of Clive's cyborgs he would have killed her already.

She crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. "All right. Why am I in this city?"

"Looking for people."

"Who?"

"Krieng, Brammel, you've found. Me. Here. Soong. Mendez. House."

She narrowed her eyes, not caring that he would notice. It was also strange to see the lack of resentment in him that she had witnessed in the others. He was so calm and upfront, so willing to be patient and helpful. He could afford to be. The first thing he'd done was touch her; he had her genetic code. The ante was up.

"Is Brammel married?"

"Yes." He had not even paused to consider.

"No, Ah don' think so, which makes me wonder who he was talkin' to on the phone. I-Ping, maybe? Or did you think Ah forgot about him?" Pretending to brush back her hair, she flicked off the inhibitor. "Mystique didn' send you, because Ah'm on mah own here." She chuckled but it sounded like rasping leaves.

Jason was in freeze frame, then his head swiveled back and forth like a cobra's. She was facing a fire pit and if she reached out a hand, she could push at him. She pushed off the wall, jamming her hands in her jean pockets, understanding it made no difference. A cobra could not strike at the river. Or am I just crazy?

Did crazy matter? "Ah guess y'could try, sugar." She finally met his gaze and saw through him, through his physical body. It was the illusion, after all, held together by atomic bonds, electromagnetic forces, molecules woven together by life energy. She thought about gathering together yarn and pulling.

Jason's left eye twitched. He leaned his torso in her direction, kevlar and cordura whispering, and she felt her chest constrict. This, she knew, was not physiological. It made her smile again.

"Ah think we un'erstan' each other." The question is, which is quicker at the draw?

"Go home." He changed direction, swiftly, pushing aside curtains and backing out the window.

She cocked her head at the cloth pushed aside by the dry winter air, then stooped to retrieve the inhibitor. I wonder if Jean would be proud of me?


"Hey," a voice whispered urgently.

She jerked awake rolling away from the voice. "Here we go again."

"Shhh!" The light refracted red from two lizard like eyes. "Not so loud."

"Hi Remy. Can't say Ah'm surprised you followed me. An' don' worry. Everyone else knows where Ah am." She rubbed her eyes, looking at the clock. It was near dawn and unlike Remy she was a morning person. "Y'think y'could've waited 'til breakfast t'wake me up? Seein it's almost mornin' anyhow and y'know Ah won't be able t'get back t'sleep."

Remy knelt by the bed looking away with an apologetic frown but not too much of one. "You don' seem surprised to see me." She knew he was worried.

"Ah'm not. It was gonna be either you or Logan. What d'you want?"

He leaned an arm on the mattress. "Y'asked me to wait an hour."

"Mm." If he had said, you broke your promise,or you ran away or you hurt me or he had gone into a rant she would have exploded at him. A flash fire. Instead, he spoke with a pair of somber eyes. She thought of everything that had happened in the past twenty-four hours.

"Obviously, Ah lied."

Creeping her hand over, she placed it over his, feeling the warm dry skin, the bone of knuckles and the light brush of hair. It was alien sensation, not merely touching skin without her power activating, but because she could not remember anyone ever holding her bare hand for any length of time. Not Irené or Mystique. Not her mother. Not her uncle. When Remy turned his hand over and around to catch hers she preempted, catching his up to examine it.

There were fingernails, calloused skin, smooth skin, radiating heat at the palm, cool at the finger tips. Downy hair at the first knuckles. Bones. Little lumpy bones. Little muscles stretched by tendons. A piece of meat. Why did I think of that? With her power active, gloves or no gloves, a hand was fragile. Hands broke so easily, crushed into fragments by a grab or twist.

But, her power, which made touch an amorphous flow of electricity, mettle of the soul, was not at fault for that reality. It was Carol's fault, the alien nature, the extreme and highly reactive strength as if the slightest pressure was cause for physical alarm. Light touch she could feel. The more pressure, the less she felt, as strength became near invulnerability. Course, when someone bashes me in the head, I can still keel over so maybe I just feel threatened.

His hand was alive by virtue of heat and motion. And yet, a certain electric flow of energy was subtly missing. The fluid, reactive aura of existence, sentience, was hidden from her. So it was like a dead thing. Now, there was an inner pain as she realized she still could not feel even with all her powers suppressed. She swallowed. Now that it mattered, now that she was concentrating because she cared, there was something missing from the sensations of touch and there was only one thing that could be missing.

She dropped his hand, wiping her palm on the sheet.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. It's been a long night." She looked hard at Remy but the view of his hand imprinted in her mind crawled through the rest of his form. A walking talking dead thing. She imagined her power with a face and form laughing uproariously as if its very absence made her more alien than she was.

She twisted on her knees, catching hold of his chin and shoulder to pull him forward. He very unobligingly refused to budge. He was stronger than she was accustomed, which made perfect sense, but presented another problem. Remy was being stubborn. She had failed to push Krieng out of the way when the red light flickered and the air whistled for the same reason.

Things noticed in an instant. He had shaved. She kept he fingers against his jaw, curling them under to feel the hollow of his throat. His pulse was slow as he watched her, a small furrow etched between his brows. Funny she could see that in the dark. But it was his eyes, the way the corners wrinkled in worry, picking up highlights, that told her.

He leaned forward, tipping his head, knowing what she wanted but not arguing with her. She could not have stood his arguing. And when she kissed him, tried to, touch of dry lips, warm, damp, sense of human breath, it felt wrong. Not only because he was not kissing back but as with the touch of hands, it was stagnant. She made a sound of anger, tasting blood, and he pulled back away from her, swearing softly. She swung around, directing her rage at the wall, striking it with the side of her fist.

Remy stood, dabbing his lip with bewilderment and a hint of humor. "That's twice now, chere."

She felt all the things she never had time to feel, because of her power, except for what she felt with it, life. Rogue knew that this was only a psychological effect of being accustomed to her power, but it was a powerful one, none-the-less. Revolted, when he tried to touch her arm in question, she shrugged him away.

My power. She felt stinging wetness in her eyes and hated that too, showing weakness in front of others, a failure of will. She held her temples tightly and focussed on breathing. It was okay. She could deal with this too. She had dealt with it before by ignoring it. Ignoring.... Who am I lying to now?

Remy reached for her again and she actively jerked away this time. "Don't touch me." At his confusion, she tried to explain what was wrong but lacking any sort of language for it, gave up in frustration, shaking her head.

"Ya don' like it, do ya?"

"It's not you. Could be anyone. It's the most basic sense we have, as human bein's, an' my power's a part of it. Without my power...." She shook her head again. "It's not y'fault."

"But why now? Maybe ya just nervous?"

She sent him a gimlet look. "Ah'm always nervous. An' it's not jus' now. Ah've always known, felt that missing element, but the few times my power's been missing, Ah either wasn' 'round folks or Ah was in a bad situation."

"An' nothin' ya can do 'bout it?" He rose, sinking his hands into his coat pockets, looking at his feet. She could not see his face, just the line of pale light on his upper lip.

She shrugged in a dismissive attempt. "We could ignore it."

"I can't."

Is there anything I can do about it? I could control my power, sort of, once. Not when I first got it, but with practice -

"Ah guess, yeah, Ah could."

He waited, unnaturally patient, before asking, "What don't ya wan' tell?"

She studied him, standing beside the jacket and gun hanging off the cheap hotel chair as if he didn't notice. He pretended so often not to notice, like any neglected child did. Or maybe he's being polite. Her earlier smile crept back with its air of weary acceptance. The things she knew she would do this following day left little room for patience or politeness.

"Remember how Ah told you Ah could control my power when Ah was younger? With Mystique?" So, he wanted the truth, did he?

He was looking at her like he expected an answer. Granted, she had one. More likely, he thought he knew the answer. Unlike a kinder or gentler member of the team, he was probably jumping to the opposite extreme of possibility.

"Would y'like t'hear a story?" This was a very important story because if she told it, she would be reminding herself of the truth. It was the truth that Jean was scraping at in her genuinely caring but misguided way.

He tipped his head, lifting an eyebrow in a way that looked cavalier to most people. She knew it was not. That effect was created by a combination of the natural tilt of his eyebrows, the wave of his hair over his face and the slight glow from his eyes.

"When Ah was fifteen, Ah committed a crime, in more ways than one. First, 'cause Ah did it, knowin' full well what Ah was doin' was wrong. Second, 'cause Ah screwed up while doin' it. Ah ended up with a broken arm."

He gave her a small half smile of someone amused by the antics of a child.

"My job had been to assassinate a leading federal agent, a witness. Ah did it."

He jerked back as if he had been cut.

"The second part was to plow through two SWAT guards and kill a scientist. Ah did it. Are y'listenin' now? Is it what you wanted t'hear? Or didn't y'ever wonder how Belle an' I came to terms that night in New Orleans?"

He was very still but she saw his throat work and a slight curl to his lip, as if he had swallowed something rotten. She could guess it had nothing to do with the story itself, but the speaker in particular. People did not like to believe bad things about good people. It was a psychological principle.

"Ah missed one. Ah had to clean up afterwards. Mystique made sure of that, but it's not her fault. Ah wen' along with it, y'see. Ah was a teenage girl, tomboy sure, but still a girl on a team of grown men, all of them criminal. They put up with me. But Ah had to earn their respect fo' m'own protection. Irené could see the future, but she usually couldn' stop it. An' Momma, well, she was often out, in DC or anywhere else that needed attendin'. Ah had to make sure that Blob didn' beat the crap outta me, or Avalanche try'n' rape me, jus' 'cause he could."

Remy started out of the silence he had fallen into. His lips were slightly pursed. She knew he didn't dare interrupt her.

"Y'know he can vibrate jus' about anythin' with a mineral component, includin' bone. He can vibrate y'skull 'til it cracks open. While y'skull's doin' that, so's y'brain." She heard her teeth grinding and stopped it. Enamel was not living tissue. "But y'know, that's not the interestin' part of the story."

"When Ah broke my arm, Ah was in a cast f'three weeks. The whole time, Ah didn' use my power. Ah started gettin' sick. Ah'd puke for no reason. Started shakin', gettin' wicked migraines. Ah got mean too. Couldn' eat. Irené finally gave in an' started givin' me morphine. Turns out that part of m'power is that it releases up t'four times the natural level of endorphines into my system. If Ah use it right. The rest of the time it jus' screws me up."

She was startled by his voice, which sounded deceptively calm. A little bit rough, but not questioning. "Y'body rewards ya for usin' y'power."

"Sure. Don't you start chargin' accident'ly if y'don' use yours? Scott get's headaches. Jean gets nervous. So on an' so on. Ah never noticed 'cause it was gradual an' because of that, Ah spent most of m'time in a half-stupor. Ah'd go out at night, grab a couple people, come back an' sleep 'til afternoon sometimes." She put her hands on her knees, staring at the cheap alarm clock on the plywood cabinet. "Will you go home now?"

She watched him take a seat in the chair, picking up the gun belt to examine it in his lap. Unbuckling the holster, he removed the pistol, turning it in his hands. Perhaps out of morbid curiosity, he popped the clip before replacing it with a hiss of metal and latching click. He put the gun away and hung the belt back on the chair back.

"I came t'tell ya that a man by the name of Clive Bauer came by the mansion. We pretty much laughed at him when he tol' us why he was after ya." He crept up on her, out of habit, looking down at her hands. He was rubbing his left wrist, slowly, worrying one of the two buckles on the cuff of his glove.

She watched his half bare hands in her peripheral vision. "An' did he tell ya anythin' Ah jus' didn'?"

"He said dere were two folks foun' in'n'alley. Brain dead. No marks. About an hour 'for ya came home."

She closed her eyes. Breathed out. Breathed in. Lashed out to grab his hand. She had the satisfaction of watching Remy lurch backwards, away from her. She gave him a smile that she knew was all teeth. "Ah have an inhibitor on, remember?" She imagined she could hear the dull thud has those words hit him.

He would ask why she had just done that.

His eyes were glowing, throwing that violet cast to his face, violet because of red and blue mixed together. The violet, in turn, mixed with brown, made him look pasty. "I thought ya didn' like games."

There. "Ah don't. This isn't. Even with an insanity plea, what d'y'think would happen t'me if Ah stepped forward? Hm? You know what happens t'mutants. If the state don' have a death penalty, they mysteriously disappear. So unless Ah want t'die, Ah have to stop Clive." She got up. "Seein' as how Ah killed his partner, that might take some doin'."

He was staring right through her, seeing what she did not want to say. "I un'erstan'. It's okay."

The rage was rolling through her before she actually felt it. "No! It is not okay! Don' you tell me it's okay! It is not okay t'feel sick jus' cause y'haven' used y'power in twenty-four hours. It is not okay to consider killin' someone preemptively so you can live. It is not okay knowing what other people want, like it or not. An Ah am not," she sliced her hand at him, "looking for forgiveness."

She choked, realizing what she had admitted. It was like a convulsion of her lungs and forced her to sit back down on the bed. She avoided looking in Remy's direction.

"You want t'tell me what happened?"

"When? You mean with those two-"

"No, when you were a child."

She shook her head in bemused apology, a tired smile creeping up on her face. "Remy....."

"Yeah?" he grunted, more than spoke, his head cocked to the side slightly.

"Jean's been leading you a wild goose chase. Tellin' you about me bein' scared of my own past, giving you pointers on how Ah'm scared to touch. True enough." She though about that unbidden fact. "Ah guess. Or maybe Ah jus' don' like feeling the joy of murder, rape, abuse an' everythin' else people do to each other. Maybe Ah don' like smiling politely about it afterwards. Maybe Ah don' like bein' called a pervert when I try to take good things back to make up for those."

"Nothing happened to me. Do you understand? My mother was a drunk, but many children have drunken folks. My uncle was a stiff-lipped moral man. Every now an' then, he hit me, but I wouldn't qualify it as abuse. An' he never molested me." She rolled her ankle, causing the ligaments to crackle. "It's almost funny. Ah don' think about it, y'know. Ah was older than you."

"Y'were aware."

"Not quite. If Ah had been, he would have. It's more fun to rape someone who knows what you're doing." She heard him sigh.

"When y'old enough to take commands."

"Yeah."

"So you escaped." He smiled in painful consolation.

"No."

"But I thought.... Oh. But y'were too young-"

She rolled her head, cracking tendons across bone, looking at him. He fell silent."Ah remember things that didn' happen, that could have happened, but as far as my brain is concerned, did happen." There was a moment there, a pause, growing - she cut it off. "Mystique got me when I was eight."

He chewed his lip, pensively, with no cigarette to occupy him. "But y'were thirteen when ya power manifested. Hmph. But I remember too. Powers don' come all the sudden."

She nodded. "They come little by little, until one day you can't help noticing them more'n' before. Mine just got an unwanted jumpstart, 's'all. Environmental stress can have that effect on hormonal change. Chemical imbalance. Prolonged stress. Fear."

"But Mystique took away that fear?"

"Yes."

"Why now?"

"Someone reminded me."

"Who?"

"Me." She knew he was moving towards her by the silence. "Don't touch me." She tried to say that as mildly as possible.

"Why?" For a second, his civility failed him. His shoulders thrust forward, eyes flashing red. "Why?" He was shaking his head, a cease between his brows. "But you act-" He shifted his weight, turning away from her slightly. His eyelids drooped a bit, as if nonchalant, or angry. "Hmph. So it was just a pack of lies an' half-truths to send her on the wrong direction."

"No. She was too polite to ask, is all. My powers manifested when Ah was young but the way it happened scared me so bad Ah locked 'em down for a few years." She thought about standing, to pull his attention back, but decided against it. She had crossed an invisible line with the X-Men. She might not be welcome back soon. If the bridge was going to burn, she may as well sit quietly and watch with popcorn in hand. "Y'ever read philosophy, how some people believe humans are inherently good and others think human's are inherently evil?"

"Ah think we're animals. Ah have never absorbed a person, who underneath their moral restraint, their common sense, their love of family, country, humanity, their willingness to be kind and helpful, underneath it all, didn't think vile things. Didn't think about murdering that person at the stop light backing their way, raping that girl that was tantalizing a bit drunk and in their company, beating an irritating child senseless, bombing the hell out of some small country for having the nads to defy their side. You name it. Those things are always there."

"An' Ah see those things every time, Remy! Every time! For each person, those instincts and hatreds become amplified. Ah can deal with thoughts. Ah can deal with surface emotions. Ah can deal with powers. But Ah can't deal with behaviors so basic they're practic'ly biological orders. Not amplified. Not all at once. Not in multiple. Ah sure as hell couldn' deal with that when Ah was a li'l girl."

She waited to see how Remy would react. She had seen many reactions. Would he show pity and compassion for someone of obvious lower moral character? Would he show fear of something he didn't understand? Would he be angry at her apparent weakness and lack of control? Would he try to be logical, arguing that the inherent goodness of people ought to be amplified as well? Would he ignore this problem that wasn't his?

He had turned back towards her, now he swayed slightly on his feet, causing his coat to throw fluid shadows. He put his hands in his pockets, buried from sight. "And ya not crazy yet?"

"No. Because all of it's normal."

"Am I-"

"Let's just say you think some interestin' things about me."

"I'm sorry."

"You're normal. But, Ah'm sorry too."

Silently thanking him for his tact, though knowing he would not forget what she had said, Rogue swallowed. "Momma gave in and let me use her power to heal myself. It doesn' always work since she really has to believe she's healed to trick her body, but I was too doped not t'believe my arm was better. Ah went out that night, found some suit lookin' for a lay. Ah barely touched him. A brush really, not even a touch. It was like a seizure. Ah didn' know what was going on. One minute Ah was miserable, next, high as a cloud. Ran off. Nightmares for a week but that wasn' the scary part. Mystique kept track of it - Irené tol' her about it beforehan' - and that man was out for a week too."

"Y'know what Ah'm sayin', don' you? 'Bout what Ah'd have t'do t'get control of my power?"

"Yeah."

I'd have to use my power willingly, deliberately. I'd have to hurt people the first few, few dozen, times. After that, though, I could avoid hurting them. It still boiled down to one basic fact: she needed to use her power like an addict used a substance. Use it or lose it. She tried to laugh at her own joke, but it sounded more like a moan.

He murmured, as if afraid of saying the truth, "Ya need to practice," a pause, "every day?"

"It's a choice though. Ah could use it. Ah could use it only when I have to, like now. Or, Ah could try'n get rid of it." I wish I didn't have those choices. I wish I didn't have to choose. I wish I could be normal, with normal problems. I wish my choices weren't already made, years ago, by me, before I could appreciate ethics properly. "Ah think Jean already knows, which means all of them are gon' know right soon. An' then.... Ah'm already on probation."

"You could come back wit' me to the guilds."

"No."

"Why?"

"Ah chose the X-Men. A lot of folks would find my power useful t'them, an' there's no way for me t'prevent that. If Ah have t'be used, Ah want t'be able to help others. So sue me for wantin' t'be a hero." She smiled wryly.

"Yeah? Well, 'fore you get all woe is me, I came to offer help. I don' mean no insult, but y'ain' all prepared for what ya doin'. Ya can't sneak worth a rat's ass. Y'll get yet y'self trapped first thing. Ya don' have any proper 'quipment or backup. Y'should least take Login wit' ya if y'don' wan' me along."

"Right," she answered slowly. "You really think Ah'm that dumb?"

Even in the darkness, she saw his wince.

"Look, Ah know what Ah'm doin' makes 'bout much sense as a bumper-car goin' 'round in circles. Ah realize that, okay? Thank you for the reminder, but Ah'd like t'point some things out t'you. First, Ah can't help these folks Ah'm after by chargin' in with the cavalry. Second, Ah am not a thief. Ah don't sneak. Ah sneak an' ambush an' sometimes Ah make things go 'boom' but mostly Ah jus' beat the crap out of people. These mutants Ah'm after, these people, they each have a connection t'Mystique. She was gonna kill them, even if she never said it t'my face. But she figures Ah'm gon' fail, which'll teach me a lesson while they're gettin' killed anyhow." She finally stood up. "Ah don' like playing games, sugar, because I grew up playing them."

"Wit' those?" He motioned to the gun belt hanging off the chair. "Why ya playin' right inta her hands, eh? Bring the team 'long, let 'em help. Logan, Betsy, they can bot' be quiet if ya don' wan' me along."

Again she felt the anger, a frustration of trying and failing every time. "'Cause it seems like Ah can't do nothin' on m'own these days. How can Ah be part of a team with others relyin' on me if Ah can't even protect m'self, huh? Or a lil' group of people from one bad guy?"

He looked away, in equal ire. "What about the gun?"

"What about it?"

"Ya weapons fighter?"

"Yeah, projectiles, or didn' you notice in the past few years? Blob was the strong guy. Pyro handled explosives. Avalanche knocked things apart. Destiny gave us the game plan. Mystique gave the orders. So, Ah had to do something unique. Ah had to learn electrical systems, mechanics, weapons."

He crossed his arm, doubt writ plainly across his features. "Yeah, an' that's why ya do all those things all the time, eh?"

"Hell, you blind? When was the las' time y'were sent out t'help Scott fix the Blackbird? Huh?" She challenged him, then mimed the concepts with her hands, "Ah know how the plane is put together. Ah could rewire it t'play the Macarena e'ry time someone hit the viewscreen toggle."

He shrugged. "Still never seen ya wit' a weapon."

She rolled her head backwards again, crackling the spinal joints in an attempt to relieve stress. "When Scott gives you the evil eye an' asks if you've been 'engaging in criminal activities' do you go, 'why yes, I do most every other night' or do y'say, 'no, of course not' ?" When he answered with silence, "Weapons're dangerous. Ah try not t'pick 'em up these days."


PART22

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