The X-jet touched down so smoothly that her infant son slept through it.
As the jet taxied to a slow halt, she leaned over to tap her companion on the shoulder, and he opened his eyes groggily.
"We there yet?" Evan mumbled.
"Jus' landed," Rogue told him, and looked up as the safety light turned green overhead, signaling that the jet was parked and they were now clear to disembark. "Ya slept nearly the whole way."
"Sorry," he yawned, unbuckling and rising to stretch his lanky form. "The engines must have lulled me to sleep."
"Yo' not the only one," she chuckled, and gestured to little Olivier, who was sound asleep snuggled into his padded crash-webbing, his dark tufts of hair sticking up at unruly angles. "Before we were even halfway over the Atlantic, both o' ya'll had ditched me fo' dreamland. Luckily Ah brought a book."
Evan peered around her at the baby and grinned.
"Poor kid, bet he'd rather be back home playing with Luc and Ari."
"Probably," she admitted, unbuckling her belt. "But so long as he's still breastfeedin', he's glued t' my hip."
"Too much information, man," Evan protested with a groan.
Rogue rolled her eyes and stood herself, leaning over to gently unbuckle her son, trying to lift him without waking him, but of course the moment she picked him up he blinked up at her blearily.
"Hey there, buddy," she crooned softly, adjusting him in one arm to reach down for the diaper bag, but Evan beat her to it, hoisting it over of his broad shoulders. "Thanks, Ev," she said gratefully, and let him lead the way down the aisle to the main hatch, where Hank was waiting for them.
"Hello there, little fellow," Hank greeted Olivier, who flailed a chubby fist at his blue fur. "Still eager to chew off my fur, I see."
"Sorry about that," Rogue said with a cringe. "He does it t' Kurt, too."
"He is biologically predisposed to like blue mutants, I'm afraid," Hank replied, chuckling as he pried Olivier's fingers from his arm. "I blame Mystique for that."
They stepped out of the hatch onto the ramp together, and Rogue lifted her free hand to shield her eyes from the bright Genoshan sunlight. Hank moved ahead of her, his giant form blocking the sun, and the sound of boots on the ramp behind her told Rogue that Ororo had left the cockpit to join them.
"Welcome, my friends!"
At the familiar, booming voice, Rogue looked up to see Magneto approaching.
Only it wasn't the same man, not really.
Instead of the magenta body armor and the ridiculous helmet, Erik Magnus Lensherr strode toward them in black dress slacks, an expensive looking wool overcoat on top, and wouldn't have looked out of place in Washington.
Genosha's President shook hands with Hank and kissed Ororo's cheek, which was a little bizarre to witness, and then he turned in their direction to shake hands with Evan.
"Hello, Erik," Rogue said as the older man smiled at her.
"You look well, my dear," he observed, looking her over with approval. "Motherhood agrees with you."
"Some days," she retorted wryly. "Others Ah'm not so sure."
Erik chuckled, peering down at the baby in her arms. "And this must be Olivier James LeBeau," he deduced with a smile. "Brown eyes? From Gambit, perhaps?"
Rogue shrugged, since there was no way of knowing Remy's natural eye color.
"A handsome boy, regardless," Erik told her, and the grandfatherly expression on his face was a little unnerving, but she returned the smile, appreciating his admiration of her son. "Did you receive the blankets Amelia sent?"
"Yes, thank ya both," she replied, casting a smile at Voight, who flanked Magneto as always. "We really appreciate it- the twins don't like t' share theirs with Ollie."
"Sibling rivalry already?" he asked knowingly.
"They're li'l terrors," she laughed. "If Luc is playin' with a toy, Ari wants it. If she's sittin' in mah lap, Luc wants t' be picked up, too. An' heaven forbid Ollie wants t' nurse, they decide they need mah attention right then an' there."
"Twins can be difficult," Erik remarked thoughtfully. "Pietro and Wanda fought constantly at that age, but if you dared to try and separate them…"
"Total meltdown," Rogue finished, and they exchanged an amused look.
She hadn't known the Maximoff twins as children, but she didn't need to, she knew them both well enough to picture the explosive tantrums they must have thrown. Pietro was still dramatic and filled with self-importance, and would have been a hundred times worse as a toddler, and Wanda's mood swings were known to rival her own.
And if her own twins were any indication, as much as they fought with one another, they could go from mortal enemies to a united front in 3.5 seconds.
"I see you don't need any advice on the struggles of raising twins," Erik observed, but the smile faded from his face as a look of regret took its place, and she knew he was thinking of all the wasted years he'd missed out on with Pietro and Wanda, and the bitterness they had carried for him over it.
She would have liked to tell him that the past was the past, but she knew firsthand that parental abandonment was hard to get over.
Even though she'd long since made her peace with Mystique, even though she spoke to her mother on the phone several times a week and had enjoyed every minute of having her in town for a week to help out after the birth of Olivier, there was a part of her that still hurt at the memory of growing up without her mother there, no matter how much she'd loved Irene.
"Speakin' of Pietro," she cleared her throat to change the subject. "He here yet?"
"He's been coming and going all day," Erik replied. "In fact, he just returned less than an hour ago, with your husband and Piotr in tow."
"Pietro dropped him off this morning, before taking the Avengers jet to collect Gambit," Erik answered, and gestured for them to follow him from the landing bay into the main building. As the doors slid open for them, Erik glanced down at her. "Have you heard my son's big news?"
Rogue matched his smile with one of her own. "Ah did," she confirmed with a soft laugh. "Congratulations. Ya must be excited 'bout yo' first grandchild."
"I feel old," he sighed.
"Ya are old," she pointed out. "Best get used t' it."
He gave her a look not so unlike the ones Logan still gave her when she sassed off, but he merely shook his head wearily. "I feel as if I have been given a second chance," he confided quietly. "A chance to do better, to be there for her where I wasn't for Pietro and Wanda."
"You've tried t' make up for it with them as it is," Rogue reminded him. "An' it means a lot t' them."
"One can only hope."
"Ah know, they've told me," she corrected firmly. "Wanda kept me on the phone for an hour the last time she got back from visitin'. An' she's already bettin' that yo' gonna spoil her niece rotten."
"Pietro is going to be a dad," Evan muttered behind them. "It's a sign of the apocalypse."
"Evan," Ororo's voice carried from further back, scolding.
"Sorry, Auntie O, it's true."
Rogue gave Erik an apologetic look, but he merely chuckled, and as he led them through the People's Palace, she took in the lavish décor, noting the Matisse painting, and she cringed, hoping Remy hadn't been led in this way.
The last thing she needed was her thieving husband getting any ideas.
"What a lovely painting," Ororo observed, and she glanced back to see the older woman smiling knowingly in her direction.
"Thank you," Erik replied. "Gambit was practically drooling when he saw it."
"Ah bet," Rogue muttered, then looked to Ororo. "Ro, would ya mind entertainin' Ollie for a bit? Ah'm not sure takin' him down t' the med-bay with us is a good idea."
"Of course," Ororo agreed, holding out her hands.
Rogue lifted Olivier to her, and he went eagerly, tiny fists reaching eagerly for Ororo's stunning white hair. "No hair pullin', chere," she scolded. "Or your Auntie O might jus' hafta shock some manners into ya."
"I wouldn't dream of it," Ororo protested, snuggling the baby close. "You may pull all you like, Olivier."
Unlike most of the X-men, Ororo pronounced his name perfectly, her French accent nearly flawless, and Rogue wondered how much of that was from her days as a thief in Cairo, when she'd met a handsome, young LeBeau herself.
"Thanks, Ro," she said.
"Amelia will show you to the parlor, where you can sit with the baby," Erik told Ororo, and Voght stepped forward from her place trailing behind them to gesture for Ororo to follow her.
Ororo took the diaper bag from Evan and lifted Olivier's little hand to wave at them as they disappeared down the hall, and Rogue watched them go as Magneto pressed the button for the elevator. There was a chime a moment later, and they all filed in after the doors parted.
"I've had St. John set up in the private med-bay," Erik explained as they went down to the subterranean level. "We've done what we can to make him comfortable."
"How bad is it?" Rogue asked.
"He may have a few days, maybe less," he answered truthfully.
"Is it the gunshot wound killing him or the Legacy?" Evan wanted to know. "I saw the clip on CNN and it didn't look like it hit a major artery."
The thought of watching it happen on television made Rogue shudder.
"Both, really," Erik replied as the elevator doors opened. "Dr. McTaggart was able to remove the bullet and stop the bleeding, but the Legacy virus has weakened St. John's immune system considerably, and he's taken an infection that his body can't fight off, even with antibiotics."
"It's usually the same with other Legacy patients," Hank sighed. "Moira has been sending me her research, but even though she's found a way to isolate the virus, we're still no closer to finding a cure."
"What about Harmony?" Evan asked. "Can't she heal the infection?"
"Strangely, no," Erik replied with a frown. "Her healing abilities have proven ineffective on the Legacy virus, all she could do was take away the pain."
"There is little else that can be done at this point," Hank murmured, and Rogue swallowed.
"We knew we were comin' t' say our goodbyes," she whispered.
Erik led them to a large sliding door that whooshed open, bringing with it the smell of antiseptic, and they followed him inside.
"I hate hospitals," Evan muttered.
"How is our patient feeling, Moira?" Erik asked as they approached the center desk.
"As well as can be expected," Dr. McTaggart replied wearily, and looked up from her work to favor them with a tired smile. "Go right on in."
Erik stopped at her desk, clearly wishing to speak to her, and gestured to the first door on the left, so Rogue, Evan and Hank filed through the door, the beeping of respiratory machines greeting them as they entered.
"Greetings, my friends," Hank called warmly, and the men inside looked their way.
Pietro was leaning against the wall closest to the door, his foot twitching absently as he struggled to keep his restlessness in check, and he gave them a thin smile. Fred was taking up the entire couch, which looked ready to collapse under his bulk, and he lifted a meaty hand in greeting. Piotr and Remy were seated in chairs on either side of the bed, and Rogue smiled at them both, but then her eyes fell on St. John and her smile faded.
His face was sunken and pale, his eyes framed by dark shadows, his cheeks sharp and hollow.
"What's the matter, sheila?" he rasped. "Y' look like ya've seen a ghost."
"Your ugly face would scare anybody, man," Evan retorted, coming up behind her, and St. John gave a gasping laugh that made her heart wrench.
"Mon chere," Remy murmured, extending his hand toward her.
Rogue made her way to his side, letting him wrap his arm around her waist, and she pressed a kiss to the top of his head before turning to force a smile for St. John. "Hey there, pyromaniac," she said lightly. "Y' set any good fires lately?"
St. John's cracked lips curved into a smile. "Bloody hell it's been tempting," he sighed wistfully, touching a shaky hand to the tubes in his nose. "Do you lot have any idea how big of a fireball all this oxygen could make? I could light up the entire palace like your American 4th of July in about five seconds…"
She chuckled, but her throat hurt forcing it out.
She'd known, of course, that it would be bad. Hank had given her the cold, hard truth about the Legacy virus and its impact on a mutant's immune system on their flight, and he'd warned her that St. John would be weak, wilting away before their eyes as his body succumbed to the infected bullet wound in his stomach. But she hadn't expected him to still be cracking jokes, to still be Pyro… because Pyro was strong and raging like the fire he wielded, and it seemed so wrong to see him being smothered out.
"I trust no one was foolish enough to let you near a lighter, my friend," Hank said, laying a fatherly hand on St. John's shoulder.
"Not a one," he bemoaned. "Bastards."
"Did y' bring le bébé?" Remy asked her softly, and she nodded, blinking back tears.
"He's outside with Storm," she told him, then smiled weakly at St. John. "Did Remy show ya a picture yet, sugah?"
"A picture?" St. John echoed. "More like a bloody album."
Remy just shrugged, unapologetic.
"A good looking brood," St. John told her. "Your Luc is going to be a heartbreaker, like his old man. And the little sheila…" his words were swallowed up by a fit of coughing, his thin body racked violently, and then he gave her a smile that looked ghastly on his pale face. "Every bit as beaut as her mum."
"An' every bit as bossy," Remy added wryly. "Y' should see de angry pout she gives me when I tell her it's time fo' bed."
"Funny," Rogue drawled. "She goes down without so much as a peep for me."
"Guess we know who wears the pants in your family, Gambit," St. John wheezed with a cracking laugh. "Y' must say 'wait till mommy gets home' a lot, eh, mate?"
"I hear they use the same threat with the X-treme team," Evan piped up.
"Probably the only way they keep Regan in line," Pietro added, and the two former rivals shared a smirk.
"Just ya wait, Speedy," Rogue warned. "Ah'm bettin' money that Crystal pops out a girl, an' then all yo' snarky comments are gonna bite ya in the ass when yo' li'l girl turns into a hellraiser herself."
"It's a boy," Pietro insisted stubbornly. "I can sense it."
"Uh huh," she replied skeptically. "That's not what Wanda says."
Pietro scowled. "She's probably trying to use her improbability hocus pocus to turn my son into a girl," he muttered. "Just to spite me."
"Or perhaps Wanda simply knows something you do not, comrade," Pitor said reasonably.
"Would a daughter be so bad?" Rogue demanded, fixing Pietro with a pointed glare. "Ya sure seem t' enjoy playin' with Ari enough, yo' the only uncle that she can get t' have tea parties with her."
"Tea parties?" St. John echoed incredulously, and choked out a coarse laugh. "Please tell me someone took pictures."
"It was one time," Pietro said, miffed.
"Did she dress you up in a fluffy hat and pearls?" St. John asked, breathing hard as he continued to laugh at the mental image he was conjuring. "I doubt she had any dress up clothes your size, but maybe she borrowed some from Rogue."
"Laugh it up, jerk," Pietro muttered.
And St. John did, to Rogue's alarm, and the more he laughed the harder it was for him to breathe.
His laughter suddenly died away into gasps, and the machines he was hooked up to started to beep shrilly. Rogue grabbed Remy's hand as Hank rushed to St. John's side and Moira barreled through the door, and only when Remy cursed in French did she realize she was crushing his hand.
"Je suis désolé," she murmured, lessening the pressure.
Moira placed an oxygen mask over St. John's mouth and nose, as Hank fiddled with the respiratory machine, and after a few moments St. John's gasping slowed, as more oxygen poured into his airway
For a few minutes the only sound in the room was his labored breathing.
Then he reached up a shaky hand to the mask, pulling it down. "C'mon, you lot," he needled. "This ain't a funeral yet."
"It might be, if you don't take it easy," Moira scolded, slapping his hand away from the mask. "I told you not to overdo it, but you never listen."
"Sorry, mum," he said wryly.
"Perhaps we should let St. John rest for a bit," Hank suggested, glancing at Moira, who nodded her agreement, so he turned to the others. "I'd be most eager to have a tour of the People's Palace, if you might be so inclined, Erik?"
"Of course," Erik said from the doorway. "I'll arrange for some lunch, as well."
"Food," Fred moaned in delight, lumbering to his feet. "I'm starving."
"You're always starving," Pietro told him with a scowl. "That's why you're the Blob."
Remy rose from his seat, and Rogue started to turn toward the door, but a hand on her wrist stopped her, and she looked down to see St. John's pale fingers holding her in a shaky grasp. She looked at him quizzically, but he just looked back at her, and Remy squeezed her shoulder.
"T'ink mebbe he'd like y' t' sit wit' him fo' a bit, chere," he murmured into her hair. "I'll go see if I can pry Ollie outta Stormy's hands."
"Good luck with that," she told him wryly.
Remy and Piotr filed out of the room behind the others, and Rogue sat down in the chair Remy had vacated. Only then did St. John let go of her wrist.
"Can y' give us a few minutes, doc?" he rasped at Moira.
The doctor frowned, so Rogue gave her a weak smile. "Ah promise not t' make him laugh," she offered, and Moira sighed, knowing that St. John wasn't going to budge on this.
"Only a few minutes," she said sternly, and then headed for the door.
As soon as the door closed behind her, St. John yanked the oxygen mask from his face, letting it dangle around his neck. "Bloody hell, I thought they'd never leave," he muttered in exasperation.
Rogue blinked. "Did ya fake a respiratory attack t' get me alone?" she demanded.
A sly smirk, so reminiscent of the old St. John, touched his lips. "Don't talk so loud, sheila," he chuckled. "We don't want Remy getting the wrong idea."
"What's the right idea?" she asked warily.
"I don't have a lot of time left," St. John said flatly. "And there's something you have to know before I die."
"Ah swear t' God if ya profess yo' undyin' love…" Rogue warned.
"Hilarious," he sneered, rolling his eyes, and then his face turned serious. "I've spent the past year traveling the world, trying t' live a lifetime before the Legacy gets me. A few months ago I was in Austria, and I went into a bank t' change some money, and found out that I apparently have a safety deposit box there I never knew about."
"Huh," she said blankly. "That's… bizarre."
"Y' have no idea, luv," St. John retorted, and shifted weakly to sit up better against his pillows. She almost reached out to help him, but caught herself in time, knowing he wouldn't take kindly to the mothering, and luckily he was focusing all of his flagging energy into his story, so he didn't seem to notice. "So I get the key, and I go into the room with all the safety deposit boxes, and I open my box… and there's a book."
"A book?" she echoed, frowning in bewilderment.
"A book," he confirmed empathically. "A journal, really. And the first page is about my death, as a result of saving Senator Kelly's life."
Just as she was trying to process that, as her brain was trying to dissect how a book could possibly tell the story of something that hadn't happened yet, he leaned forward a little, his gaze boring into hers.
"The journal was Irene Adler's."
"Renie?" Rogue gasped.
"It's filled with… crazy shit," St. John told her, waving his hand dramatically, the IV wires tangling about his gaunt arm. "Years and years worth of visions all crammed into its pages. I didn't read much, just skimmed through it after seeing my part, but I saw enough to know I'm supposed t' give you the key."
"Me?" Rogue frowned. If Irene had wanted her to have the book, why hadn't she left it somewhere in her name, rather than St. John's?
And how had Irene known that St. John would walk into that very bank in Austria at exactly the right time to make the decision to return to the U.S. and take a bullet for a mutant-hating bigot who…
Precogs, she thought with a groan.
"Only there's a catch, see?" St. John continued. "You're not supposed t' go after the book until you need it."
"How am Ah supposed t' know when Ah'm gonna need it?" Rogue demanded incredulously. "Especially in time t' fly all the way t' Austria an' get it outta a bank?"
"Hell if I know," he barked out a hoarse laugh, shrugging his bony shoulders. "But the journal was pretty clear on that bit, sheila. You're supposed t' leave it be until the time's right. Suppose she figured you'd know when the time comes."
"Yeah, she was always cryptic like that," Rogue muttered, and then leaned back in her chair with a heavy sigh. "Dammit."
"Now you know why I sent them all out," St. John said evenly. "You can't tell anyone, not even Gambit. The power that book has… it's too much temptation."
She almost made a wisecrack about his track record with temptation, but he was so serious, more serious than she had ever seen him, that it gave her pause. And he was right, she realized, because that kind of power was dangerous. People might start out with good intentions, but the power to shape the future to your own liking… that was intense.
Could anyone, even someone as disciplined as Professor Xavier, be trusted with that?
Apparently not, given Irene's instructions.
"So Ah get stuck with the burden an' can't even bitch about it t' anybody," she concluded bitterly.
He smirked at her, or tried to, but his lips were so thin and white that it looked like a grimace, and she loathed herself for the moment of self-pity when St. John had so clearly gotten the short end of the stick.
"So ya took a bullet fo' Kelly all because a book told you that you were gonna do it?" she asked, favoring him with a wry smile, but he didn't smile back.
"No," he rasped grimly. "I took a bullet for Kelly because the book told me what would happen if I didn't, if he was killed by a mutant shooter."
There was something in his tone, flat and purposefully empty, and in the flicker of a shadow that danced behind his eyes, that made her throat tighten. "Bad?" she asked softly, knowing even before he answered.
"Yeah, luv," he murmured. "Area 51 had nothing on what was coming."
She tried not to think about that cursed place, and most days she succeeded, but every now and then she'd wake in the dark of her bedroom gasping for breath, clamy fingers fisted into the sheets, and she'd have to spend some extra time in the Danger Room to rid her muscles of the tension.
Those were mornings the X-treme team knew to steer clear of her, when only the sound of her children's laughter could bring her back to the present.
Though her skin no longer bore the scars of the torture she'd endured at Trask's hands, the psychological scarring would never fully heal, and every now and then she entertained the thought of what would have happened to her, had the Acolytes not staged a rescue, if she'd been left to wither away in that cell.
Suicide would have been impossible, given her absorption of Carol's invulnerability.
Without even that chance of escape, she knew she would have eventually broken, shattered into a thousand tiny, jagged shards that no one, not even Professor Xavier, could have put back together again.
And St. John was calling it nothing, compared to what Irene saw.
That alone chilled her to the core, and she let out a slow, shuddering breath, trying not to ponder just what it was that could have befallen them all.
"An' no one will ever know what a hero ya are, Sinjin," she said softly, using the pronunciation she knew he hadn't heard since leaving Australia all those years ago, and it made the corners of his chapped lips twitch in surprise. "That's so unfair."
"Life's unfair," he reminded her. "We're born, we… suffer, we die."
"Thanks fo' that."
"I'm dying," St. John reminded her, beginning to sound winded. "Not really… concerned about making people feel bad."
"Ya scared?" Rogue asked quietly.
He shrugged, but didn't have to answer when Moira peeked her head in the door to give them a pointed look.
St. John rolled his eyes and pulled the oxygen mask back onto his face, and Rogue placed her hand over his, her skin tan and golden against his ashen white, and to her surprise he spread his fingers so that hers locked with his, and she squeezed gently.
He was scared, though he was pretending not to be.
"Go t' sleep," she encouraged softly. "Ah'll sit with ya so yo' not alone."
A slight pressure of his fingers was his only response, his eyelids already fluttering shut, and within moments his shallows breathing indicated he was asleep.
After a few minutes of watching the faint rise and fall of his chest, Rogue leaned forward to kiss his clammy forehead, smoothing the fiery red hair out of his eyes the way she often did when tucking Luc and Ari into bed at night.
"Ya did good, Sinjin," she told him, feeling a wave of tenderness for him, knowing what he'd done for all of them. "Ya did real good."
Funny how life turned out, sometimes.
Out of the group of young Acolytes that had lived together on the island, only St. John had chosen not to become part of Xavier's fold. Remy and Piotr had both found their way to the X-men, and Pietro had turned to the Avengers to redeem himself, and even Fred seemed content doing maintenance for the various X-schools.
But St. John had gone his own way, after Magneto.
Maybe it was because of the Legacy virus, or maybe he'd just wanted a change, but he'd turned down several invitations from Xavier, saying he had places to see.
Saying he wasn't a hero.
And now he had given his life to save them all, and she was the only one who knew.
Why him, Irene? she wondered, absently stroking the bony ridges of his hand. Why couldn' Ah have saved Kelly instead?
After all, a bullet was nothing to her.
Maybe one day Irene's journal would yield the answer, but she doubted it.
"Sweet dreams, little pyromaniac," she whispered. "Ah'm sure there's an entire heaven full o' flammable material jus' waitin' fo' ya on the other side."
As the day stretched on, the others returned one by one to take up places around the room, and Erik ventured down to check on them several times throughout the night, silently watching from the door as St. John slept. Night fell, and Moira brought a blanket for Rogue, which Remy draped over her legs to keep her warm in the chilly room.
They talked quietly amongst themselves, recounting those long ago days on the island, reminiscing about his obsession with morning cartoons, his failed attempts at letting Evan teach him to skateboard.
There were tears, but mostly there was laughter.
Just how he'd want it.
Then sometime in the night, with his friends keeping vigil, St. John's breath was released from his body.
And they said their goodbyes.
sheila- woman, girl
le bébé- the baby
Je suis désolé- I'm sorry
So once again I owe you guys an apology for how long it was before I was able to update. I haven't had a lot of free time for writing lately, and when I did this chapter was giving me trouble, but it turned out okay I think. Not to mention kind of long! So there's only one chapter left to go, and hopefully it should be up within the next few weeks. Then I can focus on "Rogue Evolution" because I'm itching to get to work on that one. Thanks again for sticking around, you guys are the best!