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Minute Change

Part 6

Karolina Phillips



The dark permeated the foul air hiding niches and scum encrusted brick. Sewage flowed sluggishly, betrayed only by the occasional lapping gurgle or ripple of a passing object. Some objects chittered and scuttled, others wuffed in thin bursts as they dragged skin and fur. His, it was a he, foot slipped splattering goo. The balance was different, the view elevated. He could see through the thick air, his eyes magnifying light reflected in glimmers undulating up the walls from the trickle of liquid. He lifted a foot to step forward, then stopped.

One of the objects, semi-floating, rolled haphazardly under his step leaving a pink trail in its wake. It bumped against the other foot sending a faint reverberation into his boot, caught for a moment, then tumbled on until a rat snatched it up. The creature glared at him possessively before scampering off. He gasped, tasting the sour burn, lungs filling with a fetid smell, a tang of salt, faintly sweet, raw mixed with bile and offal. He gagged and began breathing through his mouth, reluctant to turn the corner where the light came from in smoky bars from a few remaining artificial lights. Nevertheless, he needed to see if the subtle nagging inside was correct. If he has made a mistake. If. It soured in his stomach, sitting there like a lump of grease and driving him onwards despite the orders he'd been given.

A blur of motion as time was compressed for its irrelevance, then a glazed incomprehension when the image stalled and looped before continuing. There was nothing identifiable. His eyes refused to see. Just colors, brown, brackish green muddied with rust, tinges of red, bluish mottles, pasty white poking through burnt black splattered as carelessly as ink from a brush. The sounds watered through, dripping, splashes echoing from meandering rivulets. The patter of thousands of clawed feet, hissing back at him for the disruption. The crawling slide of large masses settling together. Then it solidified becoming cruelly real.

In front of him lay hundreds of mangled bodies, torn intestines strewn like tinsel. Crushed and splintered bones lay in junction with severed limbs, burnt where a gun blast had found its mark, or punctured by something sharp. It was all the same. The Morlock's were dead. And I opened the back door. I let them in. My fault, mine, mine, mine.... He spun trying to rush away from it. He didn't want me to know what would happen...wanted me to see to hold me. Sinister would know he'd seen this just as he knew he was trying to renege on their deal. It had seemed harmless enough. Live with them. Report on them. Betray them. Now, he'd made himself a liability. Oh God. No one escaped, no one.

A shuddering, soundless keen broke in. Not from him, the forlorn wail came straight from a tiny lost soul. It leapt about like a trapped animal rebounding from shattered walls. Some had escaped. A shadow thrown by a narrow overhang and a shapeless heap obscured its owner. The image lost focus, narrowing on blue eyes fixed past and through him, right into his heart. If he helped, took her to the others, the hunt would never stop. He wanted to leave her and run. That would make the most sense, the least mess. Can't kill her, I did this. Just a little girl. I did this. It began to thunder inside his head, suffocating him, right before he heard their voices.

She whipped her head back against cracked, padded leather gasping for clean air, unsullied by the smell of death, fire and rot. The fear drifted into oblivion as her hands gripped clawlike on the arm rests, then forcibly released their grip. Not my fear, not my guilt, not my memories. That's all they are, phantoms. Rarely were memories preserved clearly. More often, they were a non-linear collection of bright or gray images, the impression of sound and vivid transitory smells. The nausea receded to a lingering foul taste in her mouth. It belonged in the past, trapped in history not here in the present. It belonged with all the other memories of the dead.

She could understand why Remy hadn't told her about this. The guilt was too deep to explain, the images too graphic to describe. He really couldn't say it aloud. I probably couldn't. She rubbed the back of her neck. Shouldn't have held it over his head. Should've just looked at them all to begin with. Should've would've could've. I didn't. Dropping her cheek on an upraised knee, she huffed morosely. He'd been in a coma, unable to tell her yea or nay. And there's me, running off like some pea-brained idiot instead of dealing with the memories. Apologizing had never been her strong suit but Remy had been doing so for the past month in between bouts of coldness. Fair was fair. And he thinks it's all his fault. Maybe, a bit of it certainly. He should've told me about Sinister. That old coot will stop by sooner or later to collect and the best way to hurt someone it through their loved ones. We're just damn lucky he didn't try it during any of the past months. She rested her forehead on the grimy surface of the desk before reaching for the bottom drawer. Her stomach still churned.

The room was dimly lit, musty with age, an unused study lost in the tangled blueprint of the mansion. From the walls came a lingering odor of smoke, alcohol and another vague essence, a quality acquired through age, years of collected mildew, damp wood and flaking plaster. That can't be right. The entire place has been razed several times. Unless for some reason portions were reused instead of replaced. Tracings of dust with companion cobwebs grew in close spaces, between shelves, ornaments, the chandelier creating a film over every surface. Fixtures stained by age mixed with electric lighting and plastic in a hostile menagerie.

Jean pushed the heavy oak door open further into the private sanctum. It mocked her stealth with a deep-felt groan and steady scrape over knubbled carpet followed by a billow of warm air. This is ridiculous, why do I feel like an intruder? This is the Professor's home and we're all allowed free rein in it. She invited herself in, shutting the door on afterthought. It was a bit after four in the morning. A fine time to be woken by radiating emotions and careless psionics. An overwhelming terror had ripped her from sleep. The urgency and revulsion spurred her on until guild baffled her. Yet the thoughts behind the feelings were closed behind a black wall.

Rogue peered sourly into the neck of the flask as she swirled the amber liquid. Pleasantly intoxicating fumes rose in greeting. She watched in rapt fascination as the liquor spun around, lost its rhythm to splash against the sides, then resumed its cycle. "Y'know Jean, sometimes, when a body goes searchin' out a dank ol' room to lounge in it's 'cause they wan' be lef' 'lone."

"How did you know it was me?"

She crossed her feet on the desk, leaning back in the high backed wing chair despite its protesting creak. "Well, y'could o'been Betsy, 'cept she 'ready paid me a visit tonight. Tried t'muck 'round my head." She meaningfully corkscrewed her finger by her ear for emphasis. "Not t'mention she wouldn' bothered with the door. Logan ain' no busy body. An' Remy smell's diff'ren'. After that, ain' no one quiet 'nough." She smacked her lips nodding her head from side to side as if to inaudible music. "Can Ah inquire as to the reason fo' this social call?"

Jean made her way to the filthy desk which presented itself as the only other place to sit. Each of Rogue's words had been uttered with a deliberate precision slurred with blunt sarcasm. The bottle was now held by a limp hand perched precariously on the far of her chair. Green eyes were slit almost shut, near sleep it seemed. Taking advantage of this, Jean stole another survey of the abused study. Effects from the battle with Onslaught became apparent. Books lay scattered on the floor, some torn and bent. An overturned vase and a buckle in the wall hinted at a great weight dropped from above. When her gaze returned, she was startled to find a single eye watching her.

Rogue smiled thinly. "Well?"

A brief, irrational anger swept over Jean. Why did that smirk irritate her? She shook the mood off. "Why here?" That's not what I was going to say. Not only was the whirlwind of emotions irritating, but worrying as well. It is just because she's drunk? That had never resulted in such a disturbance before. Keeping conscious, she viewed Rogue's mind.

"Ah asked fo' a quiet place. A place t'think, t'read, t'remember. Ah asked an' Xavier gave. This here's mine."

"Gave it to you? That's very generous of him." The mental shields were similar to the one's Jean had seen in the past, but not the same. Last time, the surface had been fairly solid, patched with the remenants of Xavier's. These resembled a patchy lattice, matte black, yet only semi-opaque. They don't look solid. I'm not sure they're even shields. Her initial inclination was to move through them, which was why she didn't. The blocks emenated a miasma of...nothingness that watched her every move.

"No shit."

Jean politely ignored her, replying absently, "He's a good man." She's too far gone to care about niceties. Rogue's skin was flushed, hair matted. Every now and then, she would twitch and look up with bloodshot eyes. I should tell Scott, at least Remy. She wouldn't appreciate it, but someone needs to keep an eye on her. She looked away from the astral image of the other woman's mind to avoid staring and fixed on the first thing she saw. The books lying on the floor weren't in English. They lay several feet from the bookcase, thrown not fallen.

Rogue started to laugh discordantly, quietly over a private joke before curling her lip. "Heh, yah, ain' he sweet." A hearty chuckle developed deep in her throat. "A s'pose that's one way o'puttin' it." She swung the bottle in Jean's general vicinity. "A toast. A toast fo' keepin' a straight face."

She tried to see the eyes behind the flop of white hair. Some quality in Rogue's mirth, words, or the sly gaze was malicious, more than that, knowing in the manner of an eavesdropper or voyeur. She's known the whole time about the way the Professor...felt. "You knew didn't you? Why didn't you tell me?" Jean carefully extended a tenuous psionic probe towards the abnormal shields. All she had ever seen were bright, shiny, hard and glowed with power.

"Knew what?" Rogue tipped her chin with a smile and drank half of the remaining whiskey. "Ah know lots o'things. Lots an' lots o'things. Too much. Ah know whe' the Crown Jewels really are. Ah know what yo' wo'st fea' is. Ah know how t'conduct an orchestra even though Ah can't play a note. Ah know why folk's beat up on thei' families, Ah un'erstan' why. Ah know what Remy had fo' breakfast six years ago on Septembe' tenth. Ah know lots o'things."

Jean thoughtfully edged back as Rogue knelt up on the chair arm with a hand curled loosely in the air. With each of her words came an image. One of a jewelers shop, another of Phoenix, a baton, a ghost-like family at dinner, a bowl of gumbo, and many more. None of them synched with the emotions. She's trying to distract me. Jean blocked them out while continuing to test Rogue's psychic defenses. The dark walls were thin and weak with gaping ruptures. The baricade didn't so much as twitch moved towards it but she could perceive a slow, achingly slow, growth. They're broken, but healing. I could speed this along except.... Except what? She couldn't make herself to touch the oily fragmented things. What if they're supposed to look like that?

Losing her balance, Rogue snarled, "Be Mo' Specific!"

"All right. Did you know how the Professor...felt...about me?" Those mental walls were slick, the color of gangrene and decay according to Xavier. By his definition, this was an ill mind. But this is what the pools looked like and they were very much alive and powerful. But not powerful, empty. It clicked into place. When I left last time, the pool chased after me but stopped to repair the fracture in the psi-shield. These shields were constructs of the pools like the landscape within. Which is why I can't sense anything from them as I couldn't from the pool.

"Course. Would y'like t'see?"

The vehement "No!" exploded out before Jean could respond to the vague hope more politely. "I.... I mean...." This is how her mind appears without another's aid. Everything the Professor or I put there is gone. She looked again and felt the same revulsion as she did to a leech. Everything within had been built of the oil, foul to perceive and touch. It was clearly a defensive reaction meant to ward off intruders. Obviously, her mind was injured and attempting to prevent a repeat experience. No wonder he shut it in. She wouldn't have been able to deal with it.

"Nawww, course not." Rogue deflated with a dull sigh. "Never do. Always makin' lite o'em, but y'never wan' see." Baring teeth in a smile, she rolled back towards Jean. "Boo!"

Those eyes glittered dangerously without fear. How many secrets does she know? Even those that we won't tell each other, admit to ourselves? "Why didn't you ever tell? Why keep it a secret?" The book kept teasing the corner of her vision offering space. She worked around the desk to get a better view. Still blocking, she heightened the mental contact in order to work up confidence to attempt contact. Insane, the mighty Jean Grey-Summers is too scared, by a hunch, to touch another person's mind.

"He di'n' know. You di'n' need to." Her eyes traced Jean's path and her tone baited with an exaggerated accent. "Can't y'jus' see it? Hey Jean, Xavier's got the hots fo'ya. Mmmm hmmm. He wants t'see ya in his study tonight. Lookin' good baby." She kicked the desk with a hollow boom.

Jean dropped the tome. It was in Latin with sparse illustrations of plants and mythical animals.

"Don' be stupid. Why're y'here?"

"I'm aware of this evening's events. I-"

"Aware of this evenin's events. Pray tell, what would those be?" The smile didn't meet her secretive eyes.

Very interesting. Maybe I ought to ask Betsy what she found out. That would be an invasion of privacy but whatever had led to this binge might be worth knowing. At least Remy deserves to know -- ouch. I'm not going there. I won't pick sides on this one. Jean replaced the book on its shelf. "First you left with Remy early last night. I'm not sure what happened, but you used your powers." Rogue's eyes slid away. "Then you left. You were out of range of Cerebro and naturally, as you know, radar has a difficult time pinpointing you. You came back a few hours later and apparently had a 'negative encounter' with Elizabeth. Now you're here. Anything I missed?"

"Mm, nope, that right 'bout covers it. Always nice t'know that big sister's watchin'."

"Right. Well, I was just worried a bit because you've been projecting a great deal since then."

"Projectin' what?" Her body was suddenly coiled.

I don't like that look on your face. Without preamble, the deathly still formations of Rogue's mind began to melt and flow outwards.


Not quite as inebriated as you appear, hm? She could see, with her third eye, a strand of blackness wave in the air curiously. It paused in confusion, unsure of its mission, then reared back like a cobra. My God. I'm outside of her mind, this shouldn't be happening.

Maybe. Maybe not.

"Do you realize your shields are down?" Her gaze strayed to the bottle as a hundred options flew through mind. There was no attack as of yet, the tendril merely wavered as if blown by an astral wind.

Rogue lowered her head cutting out the phrase, "Projectin' what?"

"Nothing much." The distraction cost her. There was a cold touch, sticky right against her own shielding. Jean swiftly reinforced them before trying to break the unsolicited contact. "Rogue, your powers, pull back." There was no compliance. The astral image before her was morphing. The not-shields were twisting, unwrapping into curious fingers of darkness that bent towards her inquisitively.

"What's'matter? Don' wan' show me some good times? No pain no gain?" She crouched with a rustle of rumped cloth on the arm of the ancient chair, ghost smile etched on her face of shadows. Gone, for the moment was kindness, compassion as Rogue bowed homage to the outstretched bottle.

"What are you talking about? I don't care what you're doing, pull back now!" Without compunction, she prepared a telekinetic defense. This encounter was getting out of hand. The reaction of Rogue's mind conflicted with her assumption that it was an infected injury. This cannot possibly be her power. That works on tactile contact and involves the absorbtion and copying of genetic coding. She can't be on the astral plane.

"Ain' doin' nothin', hon'." Perfect honesty rang in the words delivered with a bird-like cock of the head.

"It was just emotions, anger, pain, confusion." She stared at the other women trying to intimidate her but Rogue was like one possessed. The tendrils fell onto Jean's psionic barriers, sinking through like garrotes, absorbing what they encountered. What are you doing? "All I saw was images, nothing coherent." Her head hurt with a nearly physical cold. Let go!

Rogue was thrown back into the chair with enough force to knock her breath out. It tipped precariously on two side feet before returning with a solid thump. She started chuckling in whispery puffs of air.

"Rogue, pay attention. I understand that you're not quite yourself right now, but if you do whatever it is you just did again, I won't hesitate to do anything within my capability to defend myself."

"Oooo-weee, the mighty Phoenix speaks. Ah'm jus' shakin' in my boots." The liquor was flourished with an elaborate shrug. "You jus' go 'head an' try. What's it with y'all anyway? One eye naggin' me 'bout a few loose screws, Betsy actin' like Ah've gone psycho and you whinin' an' complainin' 'bout me projectin' this an' that. Don' even know what'ya talkin' 'bout."

"I'm not here to persecute you. I just want to help. While this may not be a big deal to you, it's very disturbing for the average telepath." Although, I'm not sure if I want to bother anymore. Not if this is going to happen any time I get close.

"Ah don' wan' yo' brand o'help." She closed her eyes and swung the bottle pendulum-like between a thumb and finger. "Since y'itchin' t'know, Ah had some unfinished business t'take ca' of. Nothin' Ah wouldn' do fo' Xavier."

The type of "business" that involved Wolverine, Gambit, Rogue or even Psylocke being arbitrarily summed by Xavier to the War Room, then disappearing for a week or more and returning with information or blood on their uniforms. Sometimes both. But how much of that is the truth? Effective, though. It was the tacit rule that after such a covert mission, the particular member was not to plied with questions. Jean crossed both arms. "I wasn't-"

"Not aloud-"

"And stop cutting me-"

"Off. But y'asked all same. Ah'm jus' tired. Why don't ya go on back t'Scott an' leave me 'lone. Ah di'n' do nothin' t'ya."

"I guess you don't need my help after all." Her answer was a grunt. Rogue's mind had wrapped back in on itself, a ball of nothing, sedate in composition. Jean didn't want to leave. Something was wrong, had been wrong ever since the failed, unfinished blocking exercise. Then the event in the Danger Room when Psylocke's blade should have rendered her unconcious, possibly a second tonight. Remy could be in serious danger. Now this, whatever the hell it is. This had certainly been an attack, an aggressive defense of sorts. I have to tell Scott, maybe. The growl of a motorcycle broke in.

Rogue's head lolled to contemplate the frosted window for a short eternity. "Well, he's back kind o'early. Hope no one got jipped." The chair tipped back aimlessly before returning with a soft thud. "An' don' look at me like that."

Jean's sigh spoke of tried patience as her grip loosened on the door knob. "You can't know where he's been or what he's done."

"You think Ah don' see the 'dumb-pathetic-bitch' looks y'give? Or has he been tellin' y'where he goes?"

The door shut with a click.

"What's matter?! Ah thought y'wanted t'hear what was wrong!" This whole mug was filled with interfering busy bodies, all of them wanting to help, know what was wrong, give advice, never leave a body in peace. Hell, Remy, where you been? Out partying without me? Screwing around? But if he didn't want her around, she wouldn't cling. She tucked herself further into the chair fighting off a panic attack. Shouldn't have made him choose, shouldn't have pushed him; he wasn't getting anything out of me. An arm wrapped around her knees as she buried her face in her knees. Her breath was choppy, uncontrolled. A muffled crackle broke as thick glass shattering, the flask shearing on top while fragments below clung to the label. The alcohol seeped through her glove evaporating to leave a temporary chilled numbness that traveled up her arm and into her heart. The glass remains were dropped on the floor as she draped over the chair arm to reach for the desk drawer.