Ororo always preferred to ruminate out of doors, especially at night. The cool light of the stars, the breeze tickling her skin, the ground beneath her bare feet -- it relieved her stress. The elements aided her when she was troubled, and she was troubled that night.
Something was wrong with Jean, something more than just readjusting to life at the mansion. To Ororo, Jean seemed to be floundering, her smile a little too wide to be genuine, her eyes reflecting uncertainty. Ororo supposed that awakening in a hospital in San Antonio and learning you'd lost ten months of your life to an amnesiac fog would be disconcerting at the very least. But what troubled Ororo was that Jean seemed to have lost her fire, her passion, and her certainty.
Ororo wandered the large lawn, searching for some logical connection between the Jean she remembered and this new Jean, affectionately dubbed Phoenix by the professor. Ororo was an excellent judge of people, and she'd been told more than once that she was an excellent listener. Perhaps she could engage Jean, get her to open up--
Ororo stilled, quieting her breath to listen more closely. She'd heard something that sounded like -- there. Sobbing.
Frowning, Ororo moved towards the sounds, spotting a huddled figure in the shadows. The person's identity would've been obscured by the deep shadows, but Marie's platinum streaks shone brilliantly even in the dim starlight.
"Rogue?" Ororo said softly, stopping several feet away from the distraught girl. She knew Rogue wasn't a violent person, but Scott and Logan had both taught her some good self-defense moves, and Ororo didn't feel the need to test Rogue's reflexes.
Rogue's entire body jerked at the sound of Ororo's voice, her head snapping up. Luminous eyes locked onto Ororo. "I'm fine," she lied.
"You are not fine, Rogue," Ororo answered reasonably, "or you would not be crying out here in the dark." Ororo noticed Rogue's bike abandoned near the driveway and frowned. "Are you injured?"
Rogue laughed bitterly and shook her head. "Not really."
Puzzled, Ororo moved closer. "You were in the city."
"I can't talk about this," Rogue muttered, her gloved hands cradling her head as she rocked slowly back and forth.
Alarmed, Ororo crouched beside the girl. "Rogue, what happened?" she asked gently, laying a hand on Rogue's gloved forearm.
At the contact, Rogue burst into action, flinging Ororo's hand away and pushing herself upright. "Don't *touch* me, you bitch!"
Years of training had honed Ororo's reflexes so well that she was able to recover her balance and rise in the same fluid motion. She stared at Rogue's shocked expression and hoped that her instinctive guess at what had happened in the city was wrong.
"I'm sorry," Rogue said, her words dripping Mississippi molasses the way they did when she was truly upset. "Oh, God. I'm *sorry,* Ororo." Her voice was thin and edgy, and she began to back away, tears spilling down her cheeks. "I didn't mean -- I can't--"
"Rogue?" Ororo's tone was low and soothing. "Please, tell me what happened so that I can help you."
Rogue shook her head, her hands fluttering in the air before her, an unsteady shield against Ororo's gentle approach. "I can't."
"I can help," Ororo promised, hoping to Goddess that she could.
"No," Rogue denied. "You can't. I shouldn't have done it, 'Ro. I didn't want to."
Ororo kept her expression the same, didn't allow her anger to show. She'd guessed correctly, and she thought she knew what Rogue had done to survive.
Ororo wanted Jean's help with the situation. She was not telepathic in the least, but Jean had once said that when someone is projecting strongly, psychic ability isn't necessary to reach a telepath. Ororo wanted to give a mental scream for help, but figured Rogue's fragile state would be ill-served by the X-Men arriving ina panic.
"I know you didn't want to," Ororo assured Rogue, approaching her as she would a skittish colt, arms held low and out to the sides in a purposefully non-threatening posture.
"He wouldn't stop," Rogue confessed, her voice suffused with shame. "He was so strong and I didn't expect it and he was so nice to me before. I don't know *how* he was so nice, because he *hates,* Ororo." Her voice lowered to a whisper. "He *hates.*"
Ororo stopped near Rogue, not wanting to push the girl. She simply made encouraging noises as the story spilled from Rogue's lips.
"I knew I would hurt him like I hurt David and Logan, and I *told* him to stop." She bent her head, speaking now to her hands, too ashamed to meet Ororo's gaze. "I couldn't get out from under him, 'Ro. I couldn't. I swear."
"I know," Ororo murmured, though she suspected Rogue was past hearing her.
"I'm so sorry," Rogue cried, meeting Ororo's gaze with wide, anguished eyes. "I had to touch him to make him stop. I had to."
"Is the boy...?" Ororo couldn't say it, not while Rogue was looking at her with such despair.
"I don't think so," Rogue answered. "I called 911."
Ororo nodded. "It's okay, Rogue."
"No," Rogue snapped angrily. "It's not okay."
"It's not," she cried, her fingers flying to her cheeks, raking forward brutally. If she hadn't been wearing the gloves, she might've drawn blood with her fingernails. "He's inside my head."
Alarmed, Ororo reached for Rogue's hand. "Please, Rogue, come inside."
Rogue didn't seem to hear Ororo's pleas. She threaded her fingers into her hair, her gaze unfocused. "So much anger. He hates. His stepfather used to come into his room and -- and -- *do* things."
Panicked, Ororo watched the girl slip further into her own head, drowning in this man's traumatic memories. Ororo projected for all she was worth. *Rogue needs help!*
"It's so awful," Rogue moaned, stumbling, falling to one knee. "It's awful the way he touches me. His hands are too big and too rough. And he makes me touch him. I'm so dirty."
"Rogue, no," Ororo said, paralyzed, wanting to reach out, to enfold the girl in a comforting embrace. But would Ororo's touch help Rogue or push her further into the memories?
"Don't *call* me that!" Rogue snapped.
*Ororo?* Xavier asked. *Where are you?*
*Out front. Send Jean.*
Rogue peeled off one glove, then the other, ignoring Ororo's protests. Her nails weren't long, but she dug them into the palm of her other hand, scratching her skin roughly.
"Rogue," Ororo ordered. "Stop this." She didn't have gloves, and she knew it was dangerous to get too close to an ungloved Rogue when she was trapped in someone else's nightmare.
*Where are you?* Jean this time, sounding panicked.
Ororo allowed Jean access, allowed her to see the scene unfolding. *She was on a date. He tried to rape her.*
Jean didn't answer with words, but Ororo was nearly reduced to tears as Jean's wave of rage and sadness merged with her own.
Ororo grabbed Rogue's discarded gloves and tugged them on. She still had too much exposed skin, but she reached out for Rogue anyway, catching her bare wrists and praying to the Goddess that this wouldn't compound Rogue's trauma. The girl hadn't managed to draw blood yet, but her palms were scored with angry lines. She struggled in Ororo's grip.
"Rogue," Ororo said sharply, hoping to pull her out of her attacker's nightmares. "Rogue, we need you."
She was still trying to shred the skin of her palms. "No," Rogue answered, attempting to pull away.
And then Jean was there, focused on the tearful girl. "Rogue, please let me bring you inside."
"Get away from me!" There was still hysteria in Rogue's voice, but her southern drawl was back.
Jean went quiet, her eyes fixed intently on Rogue, and Ororo recognized that she was trying to reach Rogue telepathically. Ororo held Rogue's wrists as loosely as possible and kept murmuring soothing words.
After a long, tense few minutes, Rogue wilted into Ororo's embrace. Carefully, Ororo wrapped her arms around the girl and rubbed her back as she cried. Over her shoulder, Ororo met Jean's eyes.
*She's in bad shape,* Jean sent, looking shaken.
*I know. Did she show you--?*
*Yes.* Jean opened up the connection, allowing some images to flow into Ororo's mind.
Ororo stifled a gasp and tightened her hold on Rogue, trying to anchor her to reality physically as Jean was doing mentally. "It's okay, Rogue," Ororo crooned as she helped the girl towards the house. "Everything's going to be okay."
Ororo glanced at Jean and saw her own doubt reflected in the other woman's face. There was, at that point, so much tragedy in Rogue's mind, Ororo wondered if the girl would ever truly be okay again.
The second time, I knew exactly what I was doing.
My primary goal was to get help. I didn't know how else to make them understand how bad things had become. I really didn't have words to describe the horrors, to describe the urges to cut this dirty skin, to punish my freakish body for putting me through this hell.
I thought they'd understand. After 'Ro and Jean took care of me the night Tim attacked me, I thought they'd finally seen me as an adult, as someone with serious problems and serious abilities. They talked me down and held me as I cried and agreed with me when I forbade them to call Logan. Tim had lived through my counterattack, though just barely, and I didn't need Logan's vengeance on my conscience as well.
Tim hadn't succeeded in raping me, not physically. But the irrational, primal fear of violence and death I'd experienced pinned down to that couch had convinced me that I wanted to live. It surprised me to realize that before that moment of clarity, I hadn't been sure of that. My previous narcotic mishap made a sickening, scary sort of sense, and I realized that I really didn't want to die. I wanted to live, and I'd do almost anything to get away from Tim.
Then I got a dose of Tim's demons, and living with *those* memories along with Logan's and Magneto's nightmares was less than appealing. I had fewer and fewer moments of tranquility, moments of pure Marie, without foreign impulses and foreign memories and foreign nightmares shadowing my mind.
I got better, though. Slowly. With Jean's and Ororo's help. Scott and the professor tried to help, tried to be solicitous, but only other women really understand the feelings of helplessness and fatalism that a sexual assault gives you. I know Logan would've come back if I'd called him, but he would've looked at me with tortured eyes, given me a fierce hug, and then set out to kill Tim. I didn't need him to avenge what happened to me, I just needed that sense of understanding, of being understood. I think only women can give me that, because only women live with the very real possibility of being brutalized simply for being female.
For a while, I thought I might do better, might be able to open up to Ororo and Jean with the rest of it. I thought I could explain that remembering Tim's abuse at the hands of his stepfather was tearing me apart. I thought I could find the words to share my fear that I was losing myself, losing Marie in the sea of other memories and impulses and thoughts swimming around in my brain. I even considered letting Jean into my mind, letting her try to fix me.
But as I gained some weight back and stopped crying so much, they slid back into their familiar patterns. The crisis was past, and now everything was supposed to go back to normal, which meant that I was once again Rogue, the troubled girl. I came to understand that they would let me vent and cry to them about my problems, but they would never reciprocate. It wouldn't even occur to them that I could understand Jean's struggle to assimilate back into this life after ten months of unknown hell. They weren't my friends; they felt a sense of responsibility for my well-being.
And so I pulled away. I gave them false smiles and platitudes, and they were so eager for me to get better that they let themselves believe I was healed.
This time, my familiar isolation came with a bitter resentment. This time when I swallowed the pills, I planned it very carefully.
I didn't really want to die. I wanted to pain to stop, sure, and I wanted someone to *see* me, to see my pain and help me deal with it. But I admitted to myself as I swallowed the pills with swigs from a bottle of gin that if my plan failed and I did die, maybe it would be for the best. At least the nightmares would stop.
Jean was the one who found me, just as I'd planned, and this time, she had activated charcoal on hand. I woke to the familiar beep of the machines, a circle of grim, concerned faces, and a vague feeling of disappointment. They'd saved me again, but this time they refused to accept my excuses about the nightmares. This time, the professor got me professional help.
For a few weeks, I let myself believe that this therapist, this Melissa Avery could help me. She was human, but completely at ease with the idea of mutants. Instead of fear she gave me an outlet. I poured out my grief and my rage and my mind-numbing terror, and she listened with empathy and allowed me to believe maybe Marie could survive the near-constant assault of foreign thoughts and feelings.
And then a trip to her office in Manhattan turned into an ambush, and Jean came out the other side... wrong, somehow. And, predictably, it all went to hell because of me.
Jean felt incredible empathy for Rogue. Jean had come dangerously close to losing her sanity when her own powers first manifested, before the professor had taught her to shield herself against the thoughts of others. But Rogue wasn't hearing other people's thoughts; other people's thoughts lived on inside her mind. For her to be still standing after the hand life had dealt her was an impressive display of willpower.
The suicide attempts were more than worrisome, but the therapy really seemed to be helping the girl. Jean didn't particularly enjoy driving into Manhattan and cooling her heels in the waiting room reading back issues of Time, but she felt a responsibility towards Rogue. And so she was the girl's regular chaperone, three times a week, ten a.m. Rogue would usually come out a little calmer, a little more at ease than when she went in, and that was enough for Jean.
Jean herself was still having trouble reconciling her internal convictions with those of the X-Men, with those of the professor, whom she'd once looked up to for everything. She couldn't understand her own stubborn pragmatism, and that scared her. Before her missing months, she'd subscribed to Xavier's idealistic view of the world. She'd believed that some things were right, and some things were wrong, and the ends never justified the means. She'd believed the X-Men could prevent Magneto's war.
Now, though, she struggled against a crushing fatalism, a bone-deep knowledge that the war had already begun, and survival at all costs should be her first priority. She no longer believed in stark, polar opposites, in pure good and pure evil. She knew that war was dirty and it was anything but black and white. The worst part was that she suspected she'd undergone this paradigm shift while she was missing, and try as she might, she couldn't remember anything. She wanted her old certainty back. She wanted to believe in the professor's optimistic view of the future.
Some days she thought she should be the one talking to Rogue's therapist.
Five weeks into Rogue's intensive therapy sessions, Jean looked up from her magazine when she heard the clomp-clomp of booted steps in the hallway. Many sets of boots. A thrill of panic across her nerves, and Jean was up and standing near the interior door. She didn't want to disturb Rogue for a false alarm, but the door to the hallway burst open and seven well-armed men in flak jackets streamed into the waiting room.
Jean didn't even bother telling herself they were here by coincidence; she knew they were here for the mutants.
The receptionist froze, mouth agape. It was too early for the next appointment to be here, and Jean thought the office next to this one was unoccupied. The hallway opened directly onto 94th, and above them were apartments, likely empty in the middle of the day. This was a well-planned operation, Jean surmised grimly, and she and Rogue were on their own.
Jean stood her ground and reached out for Rogue with her mind. *We've got company.*
A burst of panic and fear gave Jean a momentary headache, and then Rogue answered. *What do you want me to do?*
*Get Dr. Avery out of here.* Aloud, Jean said politely, "Can I help you?"
The soldiers were standing at alert, guns ready, but pointed at the floor. Plain black combat pants, Kevlar vests, no telltale patches to announce their allegiance. Jean figured an unmarked black SUV was double-parked outside at the curb.
"The easy way," the man on point said, "would be to come with us willingly."
Jean smiled. "Do you really think that's going to happen?" she asked, even as she tried to figure out why they'd want Rogue, why they'd want her. The Professor was miles away, but her powers were much, much stronger than they used to be. *Charles, someone's sent a team after us.*
The leader allowed himself a small smile, one that told Jean how much he was looking forward to manhandling a couple of mutant women. "No."
*Scott and Ororo are heading for the Blackbird,* Charles answered her after a moment. *How many?*
*Seven inside.* She shook her head in frustration. *Don't send them yet. They can't land the Blackbird on the Upper East Side. I'll get us out.*
The door at Jean's back opened, and Rogue stepped through, dressed casually in jeans and a long sleeved shirt. Her gloves were off, and Jean shot her a startled look. But Rogue's attention was focused on the men watching them, and she seemed more vibrant, more alive than she had in quite some time.
"How many can you take at once, Jean?" Rogue asked cheerfully.
Jean gave half a shrug. "Don't know." She reached out with her mind, flinging the leader and three others back against the wall hard. Momentarily stunned, their guns clattered to the floor, and Jean slid them across the room and behind the receptionist's desk. "Let's find out."
Rogue allowed herself a grin and moved forward, slipping into hand to hand combat with the man closest to her, who'd been so startled that he hadn't brought his weapon up in time. He was initially overconfident, outweighing his opponent by a hundred pounds. But Rogue gave as good as she got, evading most of the man's punches, landing more than one kick and knocking his gun away.
If she'd looked closely, Jean might've been alarmed at the small smile on Rogue's face, but she was too preoccupied by the action unfolding around her to notice. Two men fired at Jean, but she felt her power building and flicked the bullets away as if they were bees. The third man fired, and she reversed the bullet, hitting him in the shoulder; the professor had taught them all not to kill unless it was necessary.
But the soldiers were starting to recover, starting to get past their shock that two little women could put up a decent fight. Jean knocked two of their heads together fiercely, and they joined their bleeding colleague on the floor. Three stunned or injured, which left the odds at four to two, and not much time before they forced themselves back into the fight.
Rogue was still engaged with only one soldier, so Jean flung the leader back once more, sending him out into the hallway and slamming the door behind him. That left her two to deal with herself.
She ducked a punch and began to fight one soldier, tossing the couch at the other man and felling him. "We're going to win," he told her, grunting as he slammed her body against the wall. "Why don't you play nice?"
Jean allowed herself to slide into his mind, to concentrate on telepathy instead of telekinesis for a moment. She wanted to know why they were after her, but she got more information than she'd bargained for -- images of labs, of mutants tied down, strapped to machines, screaming in pain. Blood and vomit and ominous IV drips, feeding their chemicals into green skin, white skin, grey skin.
Jean's entire body tensed as she saw herself laid out on a steel table, naked, two men in white lab coats and one in fatigues staring down at her curiously. Jean's eyes snapped open in shock, and she remembered.
She remembered the anger and fear and pain. She remembered the sluggish, drugged feeling, the poking and prodding and abuse. She remembered being exposed, remembered staring up at leering, sneering faces. She remembered it all, and she sagged back against the wall.
The soldier took advantage of her distraction to land a solid punch to her cheekbone. Wincing, Jean spat blood onto the floor and kicked him hard, her shock rapidly subsumed by a fierce, burning anger. He stumbled a little, and she allowed the rage to overwhelm her, allowed her powers to overwhelm *them.*
She wasn't trying to stun them anymore, she was trying to kill the bastards who'd tied her to a table like a fucking lab rat. She'd die before she went back to that hell.
"Jean!" Rogue's shout sounded far away to Jean, as she sent furniture careening into the soldiers. Glass end tables shattered against shoulders, slicing arms raised in defense. Bones snapped under the onslaught of wooden chairs.
"Jean! Help!" There was panic in the girl's voice now, and Jean managed to pull herself out, to bring her power back into some semblance of control. She blinked, and saw the last soldier standing grab Rogue in a chokehold, slamming her back into the wall.
Panicked, Rogue reached out with her bare hand and touched the man's face before Jean could intervene. Rogue's strange power opened up, and the soldier made choking noises, his grip on slackening. Rogue gasped in a breath and let go, watching the man slump to the floor at her feet. Eyes wide in shock and confusion, Rogue looked up at Jean. "Jean?"
Grimly, Jean took a lamp and smashed it viciously on the unconscious man's head, not even wincing at the sickening sound. She met Rogue's stunned gaze and said, "Let's go."
After a moment, Rogue tugged her gloves back on, and followed Jean silently through the hallway, out the backdoor, into the alley. "What about the car?" Rogue asked.
"Probably being watched," Jean replied. "We need to get away. They're not taking us back."
The two women made their way quickly to Third Avenue, blending into the Manhattan crowds as they hurried downtown, towards 86th and the subway.
"Jean?" Rogue asked quietly, fear in her tone.
Jean shook her head but didn't answer. She didn't think she had the words to explain, didn't think she could bear admitting she'd been experimented on for months.
"Jean," Rogue said again, one gloved hand on her arm. "What happened? You--" She stopped, and Jean whirled to face her, ignoring the pedestrians flowing past.
"I what?" Jean demanded, her tone low and fierce. "I killed them, Rogue. They deserved killing."
Rogue shook her head just a little, frowning. Jean wanted to scream in frustration. They didn't have time for this. They needed to get underground. They needed to get back to the mansion. She wouldn't allow herself to be captured. She wouldn't. She couldn't stay at the mansion, not if they really wanted her back. She understood, with a sudden, bitter chuckle, why Logan was always on the run. He, too, had played unwilling guinea pig for -- Jean blinked, focusing once more on the girl before her.
"Rogue," she said. "They were there to take us into custody. Do you have Logan's memories about what they did to him?"
Flinching, Rogue tried to turn away, to melt back into the crowd, but Jean grabbed her arms in a viselike grip. "Jean," Rogue said, startled.
"Where do you think I was for ten months?" Jean demanded. "What do you think they would do if they got a hold of *you*?"
"You remember?" Rogue whispered. "You remember what happened to you?" If Jean didn't know better, she would think the girl looked relieved. "Logan's nightmares -- they're bits and pieces. He doesn't know who did it or why, but if you remember--"
"Rogue, I'm not concerned with why they did this," Jean interrupted angrily. "I was strapped to a table and experimented on. This is a war, Rogue, and it's time to pick a side."
"I already have," Rogue answered defensively. "The professor--"
"The professor will wait until it's too late, until the only option is fighting back. He missed the first battle already." Jean leaned closer. "You have Logan's memories. You know what's at stake. I can't wait for the professor to be ready to fight."
For a moment, Rogue looked up at Jean with old, tired eyes, eyes that reflected Jean's pragmatism. Then she glanced away and with a small shake of her head, Rogue said, "Jean, I think you should talk to--"
"Forget it," Jean interrupted brusquely, turning away from Rogue and moving quickly toward the subway entrance. She would get the girl safely back to Xavier, and maybe when she grew up she'd understand what Jean knew to be true.
She'd experienced firsthand exactly what Magneto had been afraid of these long years. No more halfway, she vowed, ushering Rogue into the subway. She wouldn't go back to being a labrat without one hell of a fight. It was kill or be killed, and if the professor didn't agree with her, she would find an ally who would.
When Logan arrived after Jean's defection, he told me not to blame myself. I thought it was an odd response at the time, since he still didn't know of my two suicide attempts. But more than that, it told me that he *did*, on some level, blame me. And rightfully so. If I hadn't crash-landed the Blackbird at Alkali Lake, Jean wouldn't have had to sacrifice herself in the first place. Whatever had happened to her for those ten months was, therefore, my fault.
And if I hadn't gone on that stupid date and gotten myself into a situation that resulted in my needing therapy, Jean wouldn't have been with me in Manhattan. And she wouldn't have confronted me in the middle of the sidewalk, talking about the war and sounding eerily like Magneto.
Again, Scott, Ororo, and the professor shut me out, questioning me for an hour or so before they curtly dismissed me. I thought I could read blame in their eyes, and I accepted it as my just desserts. Even Logan, who'd come back as soon as he heard the news, wouldn't talk to me in detail. He listened, though, when I explained that Jean claimed she'd been experimented on. I recounted our strange conversation, and Logan gave me a grim look and went to join the professor.
She'd deposited me at the mansion, sequestered herself for four hours, and then left after a brief meeting with the professor. For Scott, she left a handwritten note. Desolation settled over the mansion, as Scott and Ororo and the professor attempted to find Jean, to reason with her, to figure out what went wrong. Logan drank a lot and spent a lot of time in the Danger Room.
Logan and Scott went after her, they even found her once. I guess she refused to be reasoned with, and they arrived home with a palpable feeling of loss. No one bothered to share the details with me, and I was feeling too guilty to ask. I'd managed to lose them both the woman they loved.
Scott withdrew into himself, and Logan, predictably, took off. He stopped by my room and told me he wasn't taking the comm device this time. He gave me a piece of paper with a phone number on it, and said if I ever needed him, to leave a message and he'd be here. But I recognized that for what it was. A goodbye.
Jean was gone, so he had no real reason to keep in touch. He was cutting ties with the mansion, with the professor, and with me. This time, he didn't promise to protect me and he didn't tell me he'd be back, he just said to call if I needed him. Again, I was the girl who had to be coddled and cared for. He would come back in a heartbeat to protect me from an external threat, but the nightmares he'd given me, the traumas I experienced repeatedly care of Magneto and my would-be rapist, not to mention the new, intimate knowledge I had of what the government was doing to captured mutants care of that soldier -- that wasn't of any interest to him.
Logan had loved Jean, and she was lost to him, and it was my fault. He was mourning her, and he didn't have the time or energy to deal with my loss, with my guilt.
I repressed my anger and hurt and simply nodded at him. "Thanks," I said. "But I'm okay."
His eyes narrowed at that, and for a moment, I thought he'd see. I thought he'd understand. Then he dipped his chin once in acknowledgment and strode away.
That night, I drowned in the nightmares. I wasn't okay, but I thought I knew a way I could be. I managed almost two more months of living, of slogging through the day, of waking up screaming, before I experienced a sort of peace. It was such a relief, knowing this fresh hell was nearly over.
My newfound serenity went nearly unnoticed by the others, who were still reeling from Jean's loss. Ororo found me one night, sitting out in the garden, and she joined me on the bench. With a ghost of a smile, she said, "I am glad you're healing, Rogue."
I simply smiled.
Cliché it may be, but the third time really was the charm.
Professor Xavier maintained a faint link with his staff and students. Not an open link like the one that Scott and Jean had shared, but something much, much weaker. Something that merely allowed him to register their presence and, if danger arose suddenly, allowed him to receive their psychic cries for help. Anything more would be tiresome, and a significant breach of telepathic etiquette.
The links had served him well, over the years, and after Jean's defection and Logan's departure, he'd seriously considered strengthening them. If he'd had more insight into Jean's mind, he might have been able to understand her sudden dissatisfaction, he might have been able to prevent her from transferring her loyalties to Magneto. He might have been able to save her.
Xavier had mentioned his idea to Ororo, and she'd convinced him that the small possibility of a positive outcome far outweighed the negatives. She'd pointed out that the students would feel like Big Brother was watching, that they'd construct shields to keep him out. Gently, she'd added that Jean had made her own decisions, and even if they didn't agree with her choices, they had no right to try to alter her thoughts. In the end, Xavier had known she was right, and he kept the telepathic links as they'd always been -- feeble, but there.
On a warm spring evening not even two months after Jean's betrayal, Xavier realized too late that he'd made the wrong decision. He'd allowed another of his flock to slip away by virtue of his own ignorance. He was enjoying a brandy in his study, reading a collection of short stories when Rogue's telepathic cry startled him so badly he dropped the drink. The glass shattered on the hardwood floors, but Xavier didn't even notice.
*I'm sorry,* she was projecting, over and over. *I'm sorry, but I can't find any other way to make them stop. This isn't a mistake, and I'm sorry.*
*Rogue?* He let his eyes drift closed, saw what she was seeing -- the beauty of a sunset over the lake. The image rocked lazily, and he deduced that she was out on one of the boats. Her emotions roiled over him, guilt and fear and yearning for peace and anger and hurt and blame and a tiny light of hope.
Xavier concentrated on the hope, tried to send some of his own along. *Rogue, let me help you.*
*No,* she answered, growing more feeble by the second. *It's my fault that Jean's gone. Please tell Scott I'm sorry. It should've been me. Tell Logan--*
The connection wavered, and Xavier wheeled out of the study, down the hall, out the back door, onto the patio. He couldn't see her yet, but her presence was a little stronger as he drew closer to her.
*Rogue? Rogue, please. Tell me where you are.*
*The lake,* she answered, a strange euphoria lacing her thoughts. *I'm sorry, professor, but this is the only way. Tell Logan it's not his fault.*
*Rogue!* He could see her now, as he zoomed as fast as he could along the path to the boathouse. Xavier reached for Ororo, for Scott. *The lake. Now.*
Rogue was floating out towards the middle of the lake, half-lying in the canoe, her arms dangling over the edges, her wrists spilling blood into the water. The orange light of the setting sun glittered along the water, along her platinum streaks.
He knew it was too late, even as he felt Scott and Ororo react, heard their feet pounding down the path behind them. Rogue's presence wavered again.
*Rogue. Please, hold on. Ororo and Scott are coming.*
*Can't. Sorry. So beautiful. Peaceful.*
"Rogue!" He was yelling out loud now, stuck in his wheelchair on the dock, his useless legs not allowing him to save her. Her mind was weakening along with her body, and her control slipped, allowing Xavier to see, finally, what she'd been going through for months, for years.
He suffered at the hands of the Nazis, at the hands of the U.S. government, at the hands of his stepfather, all in the space of seconds. He felt a crushing wave of guilt over Jean's death, over her defection, and he experienced a longing for Logan so intense it stole his breath.
Scott reached the dock and dove in without even pausing to kick off his shoes, Ororo just steps behind.
Xavier waded out of Rogue's borrowed nightmares, shakily putting up partial barriers against the radiating despair.
*I'm sorry.* It was the faintest of whispers across his mind, and he knew, then, that they were far too late to save her.
Ororo and Scott reached the canoe quickly, pulled her bleeding wrists out of the water, crossed them over her chest even as her presence winked out in Xavier's mind.
Nothing. Nothing but Ororo's burning panic, and Scott's fear and anger, and their view of Rogue's pale, pale face, the angry wounds on her wrists, the small smile on her lips. Scott and Ororo worked frantically to bring the canoe in, to save her.
Xavier sat in his wheelchair, his head in his hands, and told them, *It's too late. She's gone.* He felt their shock and despair, these two remaining students of his, these two who had lost so much already.
Their motions lost some urgency, replaced with a shocked reverence as they swam towards shore, on either side of the canoe that bore Rogue's lifeless body.
Xavier attempted to clear his thoughts of the vibrant images, of the raw pain, and forced himself to sit up. He forced himself to watch Scott and Ororo bringing Rogue's body home. A half hour later, he forced himself into Cerebro and located Logan. *Call me. It's about Rogue.*
He closed the connection down before Logan could ask questions, but not before he felt Logan's flare of panic. When the phone rang minutes later, Xavier was the one to answer.
"What's wrong?" Logan demanded gruffly.
"I have some bad news," Xavier started. "Rogue--"
"Is she okay?"
"No," Xavier said. "I'm afraid she's not."
"What the hell are you--?"
"Logan, Rogue is dead."
Logan's denial was immediate, reflexive, but Xavier could read the bitter knowledge in his words. He welcomed Logan's rage and accusations with a numb equanimity, knowing he deserved worse. He didn't allow himself to break down when Logan did, didn't allow himself the comfort of tears even after Logan slammed the phone down, severing the connection.
A telepath living in the same house with a girl who'd tried to kill herself twice, and he'd still failed to see. Until the end, until she'd been too weak to keep him from seeing. And Xavier knew he'd go to his grave with those bleak images imprinted on his soul.
I watch them and I don't understand.
They all blame the voices in my head for making me do this. They think I was too weak, that the personalities I'd absorbed killed me. Even now, they've misunderstood me. If it weren't so tragic, I might have a good laugh over it.
All I ever wanted in life was someone to understand what was happening to me, and even in death, no one does. Logan's the worst. He blames himself, the nightmares he shared with me. He blames himself for stabbing me, for forcing me to touch him and absorb his tragedies.
I don't think anyone's explained how many other nightmares I'd acquired before my death. They don't tell him because they all feel guilty. They should've known, they tell themselves, that the nightmares were getting to be too much.
They're right, in a way. The nightmares and the rest -- that is why I decided on this course, but not because the voices in my head were telling me I should die. Are you kidding? The thoughts and urges and feelings and memories were fighting for dominance, for control over me, over my body, over my mind. They wanted me to live so that *they* could live.
And I lost more and more of myself, I tread water as long as I could, but in the end, I made the only decision I could. I slit my traitorous skin and removed myself from the equation. Tim's hatred of women and the nameless soldier's hatred of mutants and Magneto's fear and Logan's anger -- they were turning me into something I wasn't. They were turning me into someone who would hate, someone who would kill without remorse. And my skin is so potent, I knew I couldn't afford to lose my conscience.
A woman with nothing to lose and deadly skin -- that scared me more than the thought of falling into the hands of Jean's tormentors. I couldn't allow myself to become a weapon.
I didn't want to die, not really. I would've preferred to live, to be Marie, but I didn't see that as a possibility, not these last few months. So I sacrificed myself for the greater good. Just like Jean did at Alkali Lake.
But instead of the reverence she earned, I was cursed by Logan for my selfishness. Until he found the letters I'd written, that is. Then he cursed himself for his selfishness, for not seeing my pain. But he still thinks that he could've saved me, which means he thinks that I lost myself somewhere along the line.
The professor is the only one who even tries to understand, but even he thinks that ultimately, Marie was too weak to keep the voices at bay. Marie caved into the darkness in her head.
Marie didn't give up, I want to tell them all. Marie won. They all think the voices in her head killed Marie, but Marie killed the voices in her head.
If I'd stayed alive, I wouldn't have been Marie for much longer. I would've been some amalgam of anger and fear and vengeance and hate and the kiss of death. My fondest wish is that I could've cut the foreign elements out of my brain, excised the demons so that Marie could live.
But that wasn't a possibility, so I cut my skin instead, and Marie took them all with her when she died.
Logan, the professor -- they wouldn't understand, as ever, and so I go to my grave, and no one will ever know what happened to me. I'm only a little bitter, though.
I think I'm almost ready to forgive them.
Logan found Marie's stash of letters the night he got back.
He went first down to the lab, where her pale, still body lay awaiting burial, the jagged wounds on her wrists cutting into his soul. He'd touched her face, letting his fingertips slide over her porcelain skin, flinching at the unnatural coolness. He'd pressed his lips to hers, he'd kissed her closed eyes, her forehead, the back of her ungloved hands, spilling tears onto her harmless skin.
But nothing changed the fact that she was dead, and he was hours too late to pour his healing energy into her. Months too late to save her.
He'd retreated to her room, wrapped himself in the blanket that still smelled like her, and he'd cried until he couldn't breathe.
He lay there for hours afterwards, falling into numbness, unable to summon the energy to move, afraid if he let himself feel again, he'd tear the mansion down with his claws.
When the daylight faded into darkness, he rose, searching her room for some reason she would do this, for something that would make her suicide make sense. He found a shoebox full of letters she'd written. Letters addressed to him. Letters that spelled out her pain in raw, vibrant detail.
He'd read them through four times in a row, charting her progress from unstable to suicidal, feeling his rage -- at Scott, at Ororo, at Xavier, at the absent Jean -- building until he roared his anguish.
Logan knew the entire house probably heard him, but Ororo was the one to knock at the door. "Go away," he growled.
"Go," he repeated, voice shaking with rage, "away."
She hesitated, though she didn't say anything further. Logan growled fiercely and popped his claws. He didn't trust himself not to lash out at her if she entered, and if he lashed out, he would kill her.
He would kill Ororo, who should've seen this, and Scott, who should've known, and Xavier, who should've recognized Marie's downward spiral. He would kill them, and it wouldn't help, because as much as they'd hurt Marie, as much as she'd needed them to understand her pain, she'd written these letters to *him.*
He'd sworn to protect her, and he had failed. And he had dozens of letters to remind himself. Not that he'd ever be able to forget.
That night was the first time he'd slit his wrists, the first time he'd roared in anger when he healed too quickly. He knew, then, what Marie'd gone through, what she'd felt those last few moments on the boat as her life seeped out.
But the pain faded as his skin sealed the wounds, regenerating until it was good as new.
Logan left right after the funeral, a small lock of platinum hair in a locket hanging from a silver chain around his neck, nestled against his skin. Her letters were reverently tucked into his duffel bag, lashed to the bike.
He didn't say anything to the remnants of the X-Men. Didn't need to. Their hollow eyes and grim smiles confirmed that they already knew he wouldn't be back. They'd carry on, just as they did before Jean's death, before Marie's suicide. They'd teach little mutant children and fight their little battles, and nothing would change.
Logan would carry on, too, but he couldn't be a part of this anymore. Not without Marie.
So he nodded once, climbed onto his bike, and roared away.
Not every night, but often enough that it should scare him, Logan slit his wrists and watched them heal. He thought he might be able to live again, if only he could bear Marie's scars on his skin.
RAINN (http://rainn.org) operates a rape and sexual assault hotline and AWARE has a list of suicide hotlines (http://www.awarefoundation.org/aware/resources/suicide_hotlines.asp).
I still miss you, Sean.
Author's Note: Nothing in this story was fun or easy to write, but Rogue's unique mutation is such a potentially destabilizing one I couldn't seem to stop myself from exploring the darker possibilities. Thanks for reading.
Feedback cherised at macha@...
Healthy Interest. We're not obsessed. Really.
The Sticky Wicket