It was his room, third to the left and the door opened easily beneath my
touch. Johnny had barely turned around before I had him up against the
wall, one bare hand wrapped around his throat. The cell phone he'd been
holding clattered to the floor like an accusation.
The most damning thing was, he didn't even look surprised. I didn't have to
wonder why, only wondered that he hadn't run. I kicked the phone out of
reach and stared into the clear blue eyes.
"You fucking bastard."
The temptation to squeeze was almost irresistible--my fingers twitched with
the need, the desire to just *do* it, kill him, God, he'd risked all our
God. Traitor all along, and I thought of what he'd told me about his
support of Hank, why he was here. I hadn't gotten it, not really. Didn't
understand everything he was betraying, everyone he was going to destroy.
Five seconds that seemed to last five years, and I let him slide down the
wall. I hadn't killed Hank, though God knew I'd wanted to. Stepping back,
I studied his face, and there was nothing there--nothing but the coolest
"Kitty, Jean--you knew both times, didn't you? That attack, when you
immolated the corpses--you did that to protect Hank. That's why it's
standard now. They might have had--something to implicated Hank."
Implicate Johnny. Should have known, guessed, when Logan told me so long
ago, that Hank had given those orders to Johnny.
Should have fucking put it together.
Johnny didn't answer for a minute--nor did he touch his bruised throat.
Just watched me with a wary, intense concentration that drove every nerve in
my body into edgy action. I wanted to kill him, wanted him dead so badly it
shook my hands, and I clenched them into fists at my side.
"You help them, don't you? The FoH, Hank, the mutant terrorists--you *help*
"What do you want, Marie?" he asked slowly. Blue eyes stared into mine,
nothing in them at all. Johnny could blank himself like no one I'd ever
"The truth. Kitty and Jean could have died. I could have died." Treason
and murder in one beautiful package, and he'd betrayed us.
"Thirty thousand human beings will die. Slowly and painfully, while their
bodies reject the mutation on the dirt of that camp." St. John stared at
me, expressionless. "I know what happened to Senator Kelly, Marie, and the
X-Men can hide the truth from the world, but that doesn't change the facts.
I know how he died I was here. I *know*." He pushed by me, reaching for
the duffel bag on the bed, not even attempting to hide what he was doing. A
stack of clean shirts were dropped in without ceremony, then he retrieved
the phone, flicking it off with a careless flick of his thumb.
The traitor was running. Hank had called and warned him, and if I'd been
only a few minutes later, he would have been gone.
"That doesn't make what you did right--Kitty could have died." Jean could
have died--could have lost the baby she wanted so desperately.
"Right and wrong went out of fashion around the time Magneto was allowed to
dictate post-war policy," St. John answered coolly, not pausing in the
steady packing. A framed picture disappeared into the recesses of the bag,
and I saw his mutant ID laying on the bed beside it, proclaiming him the
most elite of living mutants, a war veteran and an X-Man. "Feel free to get
the fuck out. Hank got free passage out--I assume you're not turning me
over to Jeannie for interrogation."
I shuddered at that thought, even now. --like an onion....--
"Did--did you know what they were doing?"
St. John shook his head slowly as he dropped the phone into the bag.
"I didn't know for sure--I was just sending information, like I told you
before." And how damnable, that I couldn't be sure he was telling the
truth. The St. John I'd known never would have done this, ever, never
betrayed a teammate. "I wouldn't have stopped Hank, if that's what you
mean. If they'd held you--maybe we could have negotiated the humans out.
Instead--" St. John shrugged, looking away. Bitterness was written into
every line of his body. "Instead, they got desperate, tried to take out the
telepaths. Jean and Betsy got damned lucky, you know. They figured that
without the two strongest, the others would slip up and the camp would be
free." Twist of a smile. "It's not easy to hold that many dissidents in
one place, you know."
*We* negotiated the humans out. Like he--like he was one of them.
"How can you betray your people?" I whispered. No X-Man would do that.
"How can you turn on your own kind--"
"They *are* my kind." Flare, bright hot and almost blinding, and I felt the
heat from his skin even at three feet away. I'd never felt that from Johnny
before, not in this world, not in the other. His back was to me, head down,
and I felt him pull it under control with an effort that was entirely
visible. "I was born of human parents, same as you. They're human,
Rogue--human. They're not rats for us to exploit or experiment on--"
"But it's okay for them to do that to us?" I was breathing too fast, too
hard, the pulse in my forehead a counterpoint to my anger. He'd--he'd
turned on us, risked lives, given out information--and for *what*? To save
the people that would watch us all die, who'd spent a war trying to kill us
already. My God, how-- "How can you forget? Is it that easy for you? To
see what happened to your friends and family and--and then turn on them? I
*saw* what was in their minds, Johnny, in that--in the FoH officer I
absorbed. Don't you--don't you remember? What they did to you? What they
did to everyone?"
Almost as if I was watching a slow-motion video, Johnny turned around, blue
eyes darkened almost to black, fixing on me. For a moment, neither of us
moved; *everything* seemed to freeze in place. Then, sudden heat, a flare
of pure power that made the air burn briefly around us and I winced,
invulnerable though I was. St. John had never needed much fuel for his
fires. This St. John didn't need any at all. The air was full of the smell
of charring wood and my gaze slid downward, unwillingly drawn to the
blackened floor beneath his feet, the brown crisp of the ceiling above his
"Nine months," St. John whispered, and he pushed me back against the bed
with hands that burned through my jacket and shirt like fire. Falling, I
caught myself on both arms, the heat radiating from him sinking into my
bones. "They burned me out. I blew up the Mansion. I wanted to die."
I sucked in a breath of hot air, letting it out in a rush.
"Three months. Drug trials and experimentation, torture and filthy cells
crowded underground where I never saw sunlight." His voice was low and
breathless and utterly flat. "I watched hundreds destroyed and experimented
on and burned out, left nothing but bodies they dissected at their leisure.
They dragged me out and flew me here, and the Mansion went up in smoke
because I couldn't even think, much less control my powers. At that point,
I didn't even care." Quick breathing. "It took four point eight seconds to
vaporize the school, topped myself out into unconsciousness on the floor of
their plane and I woke up locked in a collar. They watched me go insane in
their cage and took notes until Logan found me. Nine months, Marie. No one
thinks I can remember it. I do. I *remember*. Every. Fucking. Minute."
I couldn't move, couldn't look away from the blue eyes drilling into mine.
"Two years, where I couldn't function, didn't know where I was or what was
going on. Jean fed through me so they could use my powers on the field.
Hank manipulated me into blowing up the things he wanted hidden. Eighteen
months ago I was still recovering from collar shock in a small room in
Canada, and they thought I'd never be able to function independently again.
Twelve months ago, they thought I'd burn myself out because I didn't have
any control." Brief pause. "I can control myself now. It's hard, it's
hard to hold it, it's a battle every day when I can feel it rise up inside
of me with nowhere to go.
"My parents died in Australia during the government-sponsored cleansing,
Jubilee died in the camps under torture, Xavier was murdered in the middle
of a filthy camp latrine, and Bobby--God, he lost his parents, his
lover--everything. Jean lost her baby, Kurt lost his tail, and I lost three
years of my life and part of my mind. Don't you dare presume to think you
can judge me--I paid for being mutant as much as anyone else. I paid for
being different, and for being who and what I am."
"You don't--" I choked off the words, looking for something--something
concrete. "He--the FoH I killed--he's in my mind. Don't you--don't you
know what they'd do to us, if they got out?"
"I know," St. John said softly, implacably. "They already did it once. I
lived the experimentation camps, Marie. I survived them. But I never, ever
made it an excuse for what I did after. There is no excuse for those people
dying out there so Lensherr can play scientist and experimenter and God all
at once. I would go through it again, all of it, rather than be a person
that can accept that."
*"I would have died in the camps before letting myself become them."*
That's what I'd said. To Logan. My own words, and it was as if the days
between were nothing at all to this--to this moment, this second, when
"You've been here two weeks, and you've changed. You believe in Scott's
revised dream and Logan's cynicism and Jean's bitterness. You believe in
what they brought out of the camps and out of the war. They--they think
this is temporary, but it's not, Marie. You set up society with a chosen
slave population, that's how it's going to be until there's another war.
Until we've internalized and justified this--this social structure, until
it's all we know."
And I'd said that too.
"Scott isn't going to do that," I whispered, hands shaking in my lap.
Standardization of a way of life--Scott didn't mean that to happen, I knew
it in my bones, knew it from his memories I'd taken when I'd taken his
But Scott wasn't Magneto, wasn't every other mutant in this school, on this
"He already did. He approved the Polaris Project--but then, what's a few
thousand human beings up against the good of mutantkind, right?" Tiny
pause, almost breathless. "Or one life against those, one quietly
indoctrinated girl who believes she's going to save the world. Just. Like.
I shut my eyes against the bitterness.
"And you came back, and now you believe too. You believe the bullshit, that
this will make everything better, or fairer, or more just, that this can
erase what we went through, that this'll be what heals us all in the end."
Instantly, St. John had my face, tilting it up, staring into my eyes.
Whatever he saw in them, however, made his hands drop away. "Nothing,
nothing, can ever be done to make this up to me, do you understand that?
Nothing can bring back Jubes or Xavier, give Bobby his lover, give Jean back
her baby, give us back our lives. Every human on earth could die and it
wouldn't be enough. Don't you get it? It's not about fair or about
reparation or even liking or disliking or hate. I'll hate them, I'll hate
humans, for as long as I live. I'll hate them and fear them, and somewhere
in me *likes* what I see every day, that humans are locked up where I know
they will never hurt me again. I like their fear and I like knowing that
they fear me and I hate myself for it, for being no better than they were to
"Because they took everything else from me." St. John seemed to step
back--not physically, not in the world. Something that was all in the eyes,
the tilt of his chin, the space between us that seven very different years
had created in him that I could never touch. He might not have been in this
room at all. "They took St. John and left Pyro, they took my life and my
family and my home and my world and left me in this--this godforsaken mutant
dreamland where every day, I wake up knowing that my people--*my*
friends--are playing mutant supremacist and training everyone to believe it.
I can't let--I can't let the humans have anything else. I didn't believe in
Xavier's dream when I went into the camps, Marie. I wasn't ever a believer.
I believe it now, because otherwise, that war was for nothing. We all
suffered for *nothing*. Humans were right, we're not anything more than
animals who deserve to be exterminated, because we know better, we saw the
what we could become, we lived on the other side of the fence and we fucking
became it anyway. *Nothing* they could do to me, nothing, can make me want
to become them."
*"I never stop making sure that what they are, the FoH, the Brotherhood, all
of them, is what I don't become. It's a choice I make every day."*
God. This wasn't--
"St. John--" But I had no idea what to say, how to say it. If there was
anything at all.
"You don't have the right to judge me, Marie--Rogue--whoever the hell you
are and whoever the hell you've become. Not because you didn't live this
and not because you weren't in the camps or because you didn't fight the
war. Because you *chose* this--because you saw everything that humans could
do to us, you saw everything they *did* to us, and you thought it was so
fucking great that you decided to become that yourself. You made a choice,
Marie. I understand Scott and Jean and Logan and Magneto--but nothing will
ever make me understand, nothing you say will ever justify the fact that you
support those camps, those restrictions, and those deaths."
"I don't. I don't--" Don't *what* Marie? What the fuck don't you believe?
You watched thirty people die for you and you've taken three lives with your
own hands in this place. What the *hell* do you believe?
We stared at each other for a few long minutes, my heart in my throat,
pounding so hard I could barely think, barely breathe. Neither of us spoke,
and the air cooled around us as St. John winced, bringing himself back under
control, blue eyes turning downward as he shivered, suddenly shaking,
rubbing sweaty palms into his thighs as if he was rubbing off something
Maybe my touch.
I stared down at my hands briefly before looking up, catching St. John's
"I sent Hank out of the zone," I whispered, and St. John didn't even twitch.
"I sent him out. I told him if he came back, I'd have him arrested. The
X-Men suspected him of collaboration with the enemy for a long time."
Something twisted across his face, body straightening, and I reached out,
pulling my hand back at the last second. The blue eyes were distant, dark,
and I watched him separate us, distance growing with every breath--those
words, that anger, had been for Marie, the girl he met, not the stranger who
now sat on his bed.
"You'd--you'd die for those humans, wouldn't you?" I said slowly, picking
my way across the confusion of my own thoughts. It was a question, maybe,
but I knew the answer, easy. It was written into every line of his face,
every movement of his body.
"Yes." Without hesitation. Without question. A true believer, what I'd
thought I had always been until I came here and saw what the price of belief
I'd never been a true believer in anything. Hard to say, to think, but
there it was. I'd never believed this much. I'd been Xavier's invulnerable
X-Man and then Scott's, I'd played on both sides of the fence and fought for
a cause I thought I believed in--but I'd never personalized it. I'd
thought--I'd thought I was better than this. That I was--that the cause
meant something to me. I'd preached equal rights for mutant in the other
world, but never risked myself to achieve it. I'd coasted along all my
life, and this--this was the moment I had to acknowledge it. In the face of
Johnny's belief, there wasn't a choice.
Everything I'd ever said, in this world and the other, had been a lie. I'd
never believed enough in anything to die for it.
"I'm not a believer, Johnny." Somehow, it was easier to say than I'd
He paused briefly, and I caught the quick dart of his eyes before his
expression cooled again.
"They won't die," I heard myself say as St. John picked up his duffle bag.
The words slipped into the space between us, hanging in the air with more
meaning than I wanted to think about. As if from a distance, I heard
Johnny's breath catch, the sense of the words penetrating. "Polaris won't
Like falling, like flying, like knowing. It was--this was it.
I looked up at him, blue eyes, shining with the faith I'd never had. I
wanted to be him.
"I can change things," I said slowly, feeling it come together. "I
can--Johnny, I can change everything."
I heard the duffel bag drop unceremoniously to the floor--and maybe he felt
it too, whatever was moving inside of me, awakened for the first time in my
life. What I was and what I could be, if I tried.
If I just--believed. Just this once.
* * * * *
The day outside was gorgeous. I could see what seemed like forever from
Johnny's window. Hearing his quiet footsteps as he left, I wondered a
little on the fact that the sun looked just about the same today as it had
the day Logan had brought me to the Mansion, about ten million memories ago.
Slowly, I retreated to the neatly-made bed, dropping onto the mattress and
drawing my legs up to my chest, shutting my eyes. Going to Logan or Scott
with this would be pointless--I knew the first arguments would wear down
what I'd decided. I had to do it, had to make the commitment, and this
time, I had to do it alone. No inner voice committee meetings, no advice
from friends, just--just me.
And for the life of me, I hadn't had to do that in forever. Not since that
first touch with David so long ago, not since Logan, Magneto and the Statue,
and Carol. This was just--Marie.
And for some reason, I'd wanted this silence of the mind for so long.
Ironically, I'd never wanted my voices more than at this moment. The
white-washed halls of my mind were echoingly silent, only my thoughts, small
and insignificant wandering through.
I rolled on my back and stared up at the ceiling. Closing my eyes and
reaching inside, looking--but there was nothing. Logan and Carol gone as if
they'd never been there at all, and the others--ghosts of feeling, like a
thousand tastes in quick succession, nothing I could cling to, no one to
ask, no one to tell me what was right and wrong.
I'd depended on my inner voices far too much. To help me clarify my own
lines, to make my decisions easier, to always have the back-up of them
telling me when I fucked up and how. Most people didn't have that, and
most people--most people didn't need that. They were strong all on their
And Logan said I depended too much on my strength. I'd never realized until
this moment how much he, how much Carol, were that strength.
So what was it, exactly? Rogue, Marie, the girl who refused to die for
Magneto or the one who was going to save Polaris? Make a fucking decision,
Marie. Or--just acknowledge the one you made. Just do it, for God's sake.
I shut my eyes and remembered the numbers on the boy's arm, remembered the
blue eyed girl playing outside, remembered the way I'd felt the first time
I'd seen the concentration camp--call it what it was, not an internment
camp, a concentration camp--high chain link, electric current, and razor
wire coiled above, silvery and deadly. Remembered a time and a place where
I'd been the child behind the wire and stared out, when I'd been a immortal
soldier and stared in.
Getting up unsteadily, I opened my eyes and stared at the far wall, rubbing
my sweaty hands over the legs of my jeans as I walked out the door. The
corridor was endlessly long and my boots were so loud, and for the first
time in what seemed like fucking *years*, I *saw* the slim blonde girl whose
name I'd forgotten, arms piled with towels, green eyes cast down as she
hurried by me and the blue numbers etched into her skin in sharp relief like
an accusation of what I was letting happen. Her death, perhaps, if she was
one of the ones slated for experimentation. So many others. More than I
Sarah. That was her name.
I stumbled into the wall and shuddered a little, the paneled wood cool and
grounding against the bare skin of my hands.
Eric Lensherr was in his office and I pushed my hair back, briefly
regretting the blonde, before opening the door and walking in. He rose,
frowning a question, but I took the steps separating us and closed my bare
hand on his uncovered wrist.
Jean's walls dissolved with a breath and his eyes widened in startlement as
he felt the draw--shock and disbelief and horror and anger and laced through
it all, sheer intoxicating *realization*, of what I was. Who I was.
The memories were a rush of blind color and sound and images almost too
quick to identify. Xavier, dead at my feet and in my arms, my own face
plastered across a thousand countries and a thousand ways, drawn from pencil
and on the wall of a camp I'd seen only in Kitty's memories and I knew,
*knew*, who had created this legend. The legend that had built a lie and
won a war and people--people had died for without question. Because a
seventeen year old girl was willing, they should be, right?
I jerked from Magneto as if he burned. It was too familiar.
When Erik looked at me, it was in his eyes, all of it, and I reached out
with my other hand and the metal lamp at the edge of the desk tossed itself
into my palm effortlessly.
I remembered this feeling and so did he.
Stepping back, I put down the lamp and held his eyes, washing his memories
behind Jean's shields as I raised them again, feeling them ripple with the
addition and the strength it took to re-erect what she'd created inside me.
Bracing a hand on the desk, I got my balance and looked up into faded blue
eyes that blazed with triumph, with hope.
It made me sick and high and scared at the same time, like freefall without
a parachute--it would hurt when I hit, and I would land hard, but even
knowing that wasn't enough to dissolve the determination created in that
moment in Johnny's room.
"My name is Rogue."
* * * * *
Scott didn't move for a full minute after Magneto left his office, standing
with perfect, military-precise posture by the door. Very Scott, obeying the
chain of command even now, never let the subordinates see the leaders
Visored gaze fixed just above my head, and I knew he was talking to Jean.
The meeting had been short, brief, and to the point. It would happen
tonight, and I had six hours to live. If I listened, I could hear voices in
the hallway, people yelling questions as Magneto prepared, and I hoped to
God Logan hadn't suddenly decided to come back to campus.
The flick of power turned off was almost audible, and his visor was on me,
intense and blindingly red.
"What are you doing, Marie?"
I swallowed in a dry throat, running sweaty palms against my thighs and
drawing in a long, deep breath.
"I have to."
Scott's hand snapped toward the door, fist closed, but he paused instead,
resting his knuckles against the dark wood.
"We have to get you out, Marie." His voice was firm. Leader voice. "I'll
call Logan--I can get you both on the Blackbird and into--"
"No." Standing up, I reached out, remembering at the last second that I'd
just dropped Jean's shields and human contact was chancy stuff until I'd had
time to meditate a little and rebuild completely. Crossing my arms over my
chest, I leaned into the desk and looked for the right words. "I have to do
"Die?" His voice was harsh. "For what? Marie--"
I looked inside for something--anything--to tell him, something that would
make sense of the uncomfortable cloud of swirling thought that made up all
my useful brain function right now. Some words to bring it into focus
again, make it something more than just impulse and guilt and--and *what*
exactly? I could be on the Blackbird and gone--Logan and I could build a
new life, and what were those damned lives to me anyway?
Rogue, of course, never would have needed to ask that question. Then again,
Rogue hadn't been too hot to go in that machine either, and the
uncomfortable mix of impulses and beliefs and reality were just enough to
keep me silent.
But if he kept talking--I'd break. I didn't want to die any more than any
other sane person on earth.
"When I got here, all I could think was that you'd betrayed Xavier."
My words hit him like a short gust of wind to the face--reeling but not
falling, expressed in the tight lines that curled around his mouth and chin,
hand flattening against the door.
"This--this isn't what Xavier wanted, Scott. Not--not ever. I know, Scott.
Before I was here, I was Rogue, in his school--he trained me for seven
years, took me in when no one else would or could."
There was a presence in the room with us now--the memory of a ghost,
perhaps, or the memory of someone we'd both loved and, in our different
ways, lost. Xavier might be dead, but Scott was his protege, his son in all
but blood. His heir to the dream that was this now, and I thought I had the
reason--or *a* reason, anyway.
"You--I've learned since then. I've killed for you three times as Marie
Danvers. I watched you execute thirty people for mutantkind's existence, and
I--I agreed. If it's any consolation, at least you have a reason for
changing, for making this world. I don't. I just got used to it."
Got used to it. Jesus. What had I been all my life anyway?
I sucked in a breath, locking my hands into the edges of the desk.
"I've never been a believer."
Scott frowned, more questions gathering, but I put up one hand shakily. I
could do this.
"When Magneto put me in that machine seven years ago, I didn't want to die.
I was a kid. I didn't know whether the machine would work or not, and I
didn't care. I wouldn't have cared if the damn thing was going to bring
eternal world peace and an end to hunger--it *didn't* matter to me, because
I didn't want to die. It was young and understandable and selfish, and it
His nod was slow, almost painfully precise, and I shifted my weight and
looked down at the floor.
"When I got here, I didn't want to go into it because I didn't want to die.
And I can put it in a lot of pretty words about free will and the wrongness
of what you're all doing and crap like that, but that was the basic idea.
I'd been there, done that, and I didn't want to be in it again. Not for
mutantkind, not for humankind, not for anyone. I wouldn't get into it
because I didn't want to die. Still selfish."
Scott opened his mouth to speak, but I raised a hand, hoping to God he'd pay
attention--just this time. Just this minute. Just for this.
"A day ago, I didn't want to go into it because I didn't really care whether
humans died because of it. Because I stopped caring. Because I was mutant,
they were norm, and if I was willing to watch thirty people shot down for
wanting to escape being forced to become mutants, then I was certainly
willing to watch few thousand people die because I knew the machine would
never, ever work. Polaris too, as long as I didn't get in that machine
myself, and what does that make me, exactly? You, Jeannie, Logan, Johnny,
even Hank--you're all willing to die for what you believe in. You believe
in this world, and if you thought it would work, Scott, you'd get in that
thing yourself. I'm--I'm not a believer anywhere--I never have been."
God, that hurt. More than Logan or Carol's defection, more than even
Johnny--sharp and sudden and painful. And the truest thing I'd ever said.
"And that's a reason?"
"No," I answered, my voice sharp, and I could hear my own heartbeat,
pounding in my ears. I wished I could tell him about my talk with Johnny,
now safely away, the sound of his voice filled with my words, the beliefs
I'd played at having. All hollow, all meaningless, because this was the
truth. I was selfish, and a coward, and I'd been trying my damndest to get
away and let everyone else deal with it. "I--can't let Polaris die for me,
Scott. I can't--I can't let those people die for me. Just because I'm
scared, just because I can't face this." It was like a breath of cold air
between us, and Scott slowly leaned against the wall. This was it, the
choice I'd made, and I almost smiled. It was easy. "I won't be that kind
of person, Scott."
"You believe." It wasn't a question asking for clarification--and just
maybe, Scott had had one of these moments too, maybe in the camp, maybe
before. When the decision had to be made, and when it was, the person who
came out on the other side wasn't the same as the person who walked in.
"Yes," I whispered slowly, staring up into his eyes, reading all the pain,
the understanding in them. "I'm a believer now."
His hand touched my hair, light as air, and I leaned into it without
End Part V
--Barney is fun in the middle of the night, but wake up and you just feel
cheap and dirty, and not in a good way. -- Beth, AIM convo on Barney the