Disclaimer: I do not own X-Men: Evolution, the Beatles, or anything else in this story either outright mentioned or parodied. I only say I wrote the story; that's it.
Story: takes place after "Ascension (Part 2)"
Summary: With a single touch, Rogue absorbs someone's life force. So what happens when Rogue is needed to journey through time and relive the memories of a very important person?
Pairings: Kurt + Kitty, slight Scott + Jean, slight Bobby + Jubilee, slight Remy + Rogue
Rating: PG-13 / T to be safe
"Kurt and Kitty in the morning!" the two sang in harmony.
"And we're back with Bayville's favorite goth mutant with a streak of white hair, meine Schwester!" Kurt said.
Kitty nodded. "Rogue joins us on a very special day. Kurt, would you believe that today is her birthday?"
Rogue groaned and threw a pillow at them. Kitty calmly phased through it and it landed with a gentle thud.
"Happy birthday!" the two of them said in unison.
"Do you know what time it is? It's 6:00 in the morning on a Saturday, you jerks. Like most people of normal intelligence, I actually do enjoy sleep," she mumbled into the mattress. "And I told you two to quit quoting Community!"
"Six seasons and a movie," they said together.
Rogue grumbled. "Urge to kill… rising…"
"We're just having some fun, Rogue," Kitty stated plainly as she sat down on her own bed and started petting Lockheed, her pet dragon. "Come on and celebrate your birthday for once."
Rogue slowly sat up. "I'm not really a birthday person."
Kurt nodded. "I'll say. Last year, you wouldn't even come to the party we threw for you."
"And you didn't eat the cake I baked!" Kitty added.
Kurt leaned closer to Rogue. "I don't blame you," he whispered. "You would have gotten food poisoning."
Kitty slapped Kurt on the head. "Shut it, elf! I cooked a nice birthday breakfast today. So, like, I'm not a bad cook!"
"Anymore…" he muttered.
Rogue yawned. "Fine, fine. I'll try to be more festive for my birthday this year."
"Success!" Kurt and Kitty said in unison as they high-fived.
"You know, you two are totally doing that 'aww couple' thing. And it makes me want to gag," Rogue said. "Well... at least you two are much more tolerable than Scott and Jean."
"It's hard to be worse than them," Kurt responded. "Anyway, we got breakfast ready for you since Logan planned this birthday trip for you."
"Logan planned a birthday trip for me?" Rogue asked. "Why?"
Kitty shrugged. "We have no idea."
"But you can't pass it up," Kurt said. "Any trip with Logan is always an awesome adventure. Battling Sabretooth, working with Nick Fury, racing down a highway with Piotr, discovering his clone. Dude, that guy has a crazy life."
"Totally," Kitty added.
Rogue stretched her arms and back. "Okay, I got it. I'll be festive and whatever for my birthday and do this stupid birthday trip and whatever."
Kurt gave a thumbs-up. "Cool."
"Now get out so I can change… And if I see a single party hat or party horn, I swear to God, I'm going to shove it where the sun don't shine, sugar."
Kurt gulped nervously. "Cool, cool, cool," he said as he slowly backed out of the room. "Kätzchen. Meine Schwester. Bis Später."
"I better go feed Lockheed his breakfast. He gets cranky when he's hungry." Kitty picked up Lockheed. "What's your excuse, Rogue?" Kitty asked, smirking slightly.
"Don't make me break your nose, valley girl," Rogue said as she got out of bed.
"Like, see you later, James Spader." She jokingly stuck her tongue out at Rogue, and then she and Lockheed sunk and phased through the floor.
Rogue groaned. "They're the worst…"
"Yes, everything's in order," Logan spoke into the phone. "Like I told you last week, we'll be there…"
"Who's Logan talking to?" Kitty asked as she poured a bowl of milk for Lockheed.
Kurt shrugged as he bit into a burger bomb. "No idea. All I heard him mention was 'Carol', and I don't know any 'Carol'."
"Oh!" Kitty suddenly perked up. "Maybe she's an old girlfriend?"
"As interesting as that would be, Kätzchen, I have trouble seeing Logan lovey-dovey with anybody," Kurt said.
She furrowed her eyebrows. "I guess you're right…"
"Probably around noon if traffic is good," Logan said. "Okay. Bye." As he hung up, Logan saw both Kurt and Kitty awkwardly staring at him. "What?"
Kitty and Kurt glanced at each other, but decided not to say anything.
"Good," Logan grunted as he sat down and sighed.
Kitty stared at Logan. "Not that I'm complaining or anything, since Rogue is my best friend, but it's awfully weird that you of all people wanted to do something for her birthday."
Kurt nodded. "Yeah, that's very not like you. What's up?"
Logan glared at them. "I can be nice. It's Rogue's birthday, and I'm taking her on a trip, and you two are going to go pick up the other thing that I'm getting her."
Kurt raised his hands. "Hey, I'm all for birthdays. And Kitty and I are more than happy to do it for Rogue. It's just weird that this is coming from you."
"Like I said, I wanted to get her something nice," Logan said. "Something… personal."
"Are you for real, Mr. Logan?" Kitty asked. "Since when were you the sentimental one on our team?"
Kurt chuckled. "He's just like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. He's finally getting a heart."
Logan rolled his eyes. "Kids… When are you going to be more serious?"
Kurt bit into a second burger bomb. "Wasn't I in the middle of a demon apocalypse scenario two months ago? I think that's enough 'serious' for my lifetime."
Rogue then walked into the kitchen. "It's still way too early…"
"So, I made you a nice healthy breakfast to start your day," Kitty said. "Pancakes, tofu sausage, eggs, and orange juice."
"I taste tested it for you," Kurt said. "Surprisingly, it's not dangerous." Kitty shook her head and slapped his arm. "What? It's a compliment. You're right; your cooking skills have drastically improved in the past year."
Rogue sat down and grabbed a fork. "Thanks, guys. I'm not a fan of the whole… happy… thing you guys are doing, but I still appreciate the effort. I'm glad you guys are my friends."
Kurt and Kitty smiled. "Anytime," they responded.
Logan picked up his newspaper. "After you're done with breakfast, Rogue, you'll be coming on a trip with me."
"Secret mission," Kitty whispered.
Logan ignored her. "It would mean a lot to me if you came, Rogue. And no elf or half-pint invited."
Kurt finished his third burger bomb. "Okay, okay. Message received. We better get going anyway. So we can get… that thing…"
"Yup! It's time for our own 'secret mission'!" Kitty said as she downed the rest of her glass of milk. "Time to go. Be on your best behavior, Lockheed." The dragon roared in response.
"Say bye bye, Lockheed! Dracarys!" Lockheed burped a small burst of fire. "Good boy!"
"You need to stop watching Game of Thrones…" Rogue muttered. "I don't like you throwing around High Valyrian to a living, breathing dragon."
Kitty stuck her tongue out at Rogue.
As the two of them left the room, Kitty turned to Kurt. "It sure was nice of Scott to let you borrow his car."
"Uh… yeah… 'borrow'…" Kurt muttered as they walked away.
Rogue poured more syrup over her pancakes. "What kind of trip is this? What do you want me for?"
"I'd like you to meet a friend of mine. An old friend," Logan said while still reading his newspaper.
"Okay," Rogue said. "That doesn't sound like a standard birthday trip."
"It's not going to be a normal trip…" Logan waited a moment before saying anything else. "She's… she's dying."
"Oh…" Rogue said. "So why exactly am I coming and what does this have to do with my birthday?"
Logan sighed. "It's… a long story. Carol will explain it to you when we're there."
Rogue chewed her food for a bit before responding. "Okay. I'll go. I trust you."
There was another awkward silence before Logan responded. "Thank you."
Rogue ate the rest of her breakfast in silence as well.
The ride to the nursing home was not exactly fun for Rogue. The two traveled via Logan's motorcycle, which meant: a) having to uncomfortably hold onto Logan for an hour, b) riding in silence for an hour, and c) breathing motorcycle fumes for an hour. Rogue wasn't enjoying herself.
"We're here," Logan said as he stopped the motorcycle.
Rogue got off and looked at the sign; it read "Avalon". It wasn't a huge nursing home. Three floors, probably held about 50 residents.
"So tell me again why I need to meet your friend," Rogue said as she followed Logan inside.
"She has a story to tell, and you're the only one she'll tell it to."
Rogue raised an eyebrow in confusion, but decided not to respond and just followed him.
Logan walked up to the nurse at the reception desk. "We're here to visit someone."
"What is the resident's family name?"
"Khan," Logan answered. "Another nurse called us earlier, so you should have our names."
"And your names are…?" the nurse asked as she was reading the list of scheduled visitors on the papers she flipped though.
"Logan," Logan stated. He glanced at Rogue but said nothing.
"Marie," Rogue added with a smirk. She saw Logan laugh to himself and then nod slightly in approval.
The nurse tapped the paper. "Ah, yes. Logan and Marie. Ms. Khan is located in Room 23. Head down that way, make a left, and her room is at the end of the hallway." She crossed their names off the list and handed them lanyards that read "visitor".
The two headed down the hallway until they reached Room 23. The handwritten sign on the side of the door read "Khan, K." Logan knocked on the frame. "Carol?" he called out.
"Logan?" a gentle yet spirited voice called back. "Come in. Come in."
Rogue saw an old woman sitting in a wheelchair. She looked calm, dressed warmly in a simple dark blue dress with a yellow scarf wrapped around her neck. She also had an IV drip attached to a pole hooked up to her left arm. She smiled when she saw Rogue. "Ah, you must be Marie."
Rogue was about to speak up when the old woman started laughing. "Just kidding you, child. Don't worry, I know you prefer 'Rogue'. I may be 93, but I'm not daft."
"Uh… yes, that's me," Rogue responded with a blush. "And you must be Logan's friend: Carol. It's nice to meet you."
She chuckled. "As-salamu alaykum, Rogue. Welcome. But I don't know if anyone is ever really Logan's 'friend'. More like… 'someone he doesn't want to slice and dice'."
"You're too kind, Carol," Logan grumbled. "I'll leave you two to your thing. I'm gonna go for a walk."
"Logan…" Rogue started.
"Let him go," Carol said as she waved her hand. "You know Logan and his need to be melodramatic. Besides, I needed him to bring you here, but he doesn't have to hear my story. Only you do."
"Why doesn't Logan need to hear your story?"
"Because he's lived it, at least a good part of it," Carol said. "It's an old story, child. Very old. Over seventy years."
Rogue's eyes widened in shock. "Oh… wow… okay…"
Carol smiled. "I've also been told that today is your birthday. So consider my story a present. Too bad I can't wrap it."
"But, why me? I still don't get why you need me."
"I'd like to say it's because of your wonderful personality, but I know you wouldn't believe me if I said that as the only reason," Carol answered. "In truth, it's because of your powers."
"What do you mean?" Rogue asked.
Carol clasped her hands together. "Upon touch, you absorb someone's life force. After all, that's how you defeated Apocalypse. But I actually need you to take my life force for a different reason. I want you to take my memories."
"So, you need me to take your memories to be your… what… human diary?" Rogue asked.
Carol laughed. "I guess you can think of it that way."
Rogue swallowed nervously. "Um… not to sound… patronizing… but what's so special about your memories?"
Carol sadly smiled. "Well, as Logan told you already, I'm dying. Stomach cancer. It's a nasty thing to have. Even with all my powers, I can't hold the cancer back for much longer. And when I die… well, that only leaves Logan with the memories of all of us. And, as you know, his memories are a bit foggy. But I want you to know that I wouldn't ask you for your help if it wasn't important… You see, Logan and I are all that's left… And I want to keep the memories of my team alive, even after I die…"
"Your team?" Rogue asked.
"We're the last two Avengers."
Rogue stood up. "Whoa! Hold on a second. The 'Avengers'? As in that super awesome but super secret team of heroes that fought during World War II? The team that Logan fought together with Captain America? The 'Operation: Rebirth' team?"
"That's the one," Carol answered. "Though I'm surprised Logan told you that much, honestly. It took me forever to get him to tell me that his middle name is 'James'…"
"Wait, are you serious?" Rogue asked.
"Well, I went on a mission with Logan once and I learned a little bit about his time as an Avenger. And Captain America," Rogue said. "So I do know a little bit."
Carol laughed. "Ah yes, missions. To be young again…"
"But really? The Avengers?"
"The Avengers," Carol responded with a smile. "Earth's mightiest heroes."
Rogue shook her head. "This is a lot to digest. You're an Avenger? And… you also mentioned that your 'powers' can't hold your cancer back any longer. So you have powers too?"
Carol nodded. "Let me tell you my story. Actually, let me show you my story. Give me your hand, Rogue."
Rogue slowly walked over to her. "Who are you, Carol?"
"You know, I go by 'Carol' because most Americans have trouble pronouncing my real first name. It's Urdu; my family is originally from Pakistan. So instead of listening to people butcher it, I decided 'Carol' would be easier."
Rogue pulled her glove off and offered her hand. "Who are you?"
Carol looked Rogue straight in the eyes. "My name is Kamala Khan. And back in the day, I was called… 'Marvel'." She grabbed Rogue's hand, and everything started to go dark.
When Rogue opened her eyes, she was no longer in the nursing home. She was now in a small waiting room, with a secretary sitting at the front desk, filing her nails.
"What's going on?" Rogue asked. "Where am I? Who are you?"
But the secretary didn't respond. In fact, it looked like she hadn't heard Rogue at all.
"Great," Rogue said to herself as she looked around. It was a nice waiting room, at least. She saw magazines lying on the table next to her. And then something caught her eye. The headline of the magazine read "Deconstructing D-Day: How the Allies are Winning the War". And then she saw the date at the bottom of the magazine: October 10, 1944.
A magazine was dropped on top of the stack, and Rogue then realized there was someone else here. She looked up and saw Carol. But she was far younger, in her early 20s. She was standing, and she looked lean and healthy. She was almost unrecognizable, but her signature yellow scarf gave her away. She looked stunning, with her scarf, stylish brown coat, and fancy shoes. Rogue was definitely impressed.
"Are they ready for me? 'Miss Johnson' was it?" Carol asked the secretary.
The secretary shook her head. "I'm sorry, miss. They'll notify me when they're ready. It should only be another minute or so. And… yes… but you can call me 'Daisy'."
Carol nodded. "Thank you, Daisy." Carol then took a seat and closed her eyes.
Rogue stared at her. Rogue wondered how this was possible. She had touched people before and taken memories but it had never been like this. It was usually just a jolt of energy and then, suddenly, she had a string of memories she could access in the back of her head. It was never like she was in the memory, too. None of this seemed normal.
"Okay, Miss Khan," Daisy said. "Director Stoner is ready for you. Down the hall and to your right. You can't miss his office."
Carol got up. "Thank you, Daisy."
Daisy blushed and quickly saluted her. "It's an honor, Miss Khan."
Carol smiled and headed down the hallway. Rogue quickly got up and followed her.
The two of them walked briskly toward a very ornate wooden door. Rogue's breathing started to slow; this was definitely a very important person. Carol opened the door and the two of them walked in.
There was an older gentleman sitting at his desk. He was silently scribbling notes onto his pad of paper. He was dressed like an army officer. This must have been "Director Stoner"; he did have a name plate on his desk that read "R. Stoner".
There was a man wearing a doctor's coat who looked to be in his 30s nervously sitting in the corner, a teenage boy sitting somewhat rebelliously in his chair, another young woman in her early 20s sitting on Director Stoner's desk somewhat suggestively, and, standing and staring at a picture on the wall, quietly smoking a cigar, was Logan.
"No… way…" Rogue muttered.
"Ah," Director Stoner said as he saw Carol. "Carol Khan. The last piece to the puzzle. Welcome."
"As-salamu alaykum," Carol replied. "Um… who are you all… exactly?"
"A Hindu chick? Watashi o karakatteru no?" the boy said as he eyed Carol.
Carol forced a smile. "I'm Muslim, actually."
The boy crossed his arms in frustration and glared at Director Stoner. "You ask for Mr. Canadian lumberjack over there, an OCD black doctor who constantly fidgets, the pin-up beach babe posing on your desk, and me, the Japanese POW kid? And now this British Raj girl? What is going on, Stoner? Some stupid rainbow coalition about how we can all get along and racism is dead?"
"Settle down, Shiro," Logan grumbled without looking at the boy. "Don't let your mouth get you into trouble again."
Shiro crossed his arms. "Logan-san! Kono Direkutā wa daredesu ka? Watashi wa shinpaidesu."
"Shiro-kun, shizukani shite imasu," Logan responded. "Watashi o shinrai shite kudasai."
Rogue blinked in shock. "I was not expecting Logan to go all Kurosawa on us…" she mumbled to herself.
Shiro sighed, but looked like he had calmed down. "Hai," was his simple response. It was clear that he had attitude issues, but he respected Logan. She suspected they must have had a history.
"Well, I, for one, would like to know why we're here," the doctor said.
"I agree," the other woman said. "We've been kept in the dark for too long."
"Go on, Stoner," Logan said. "Tell them why we're all here."
"Well then, as I was saying," Director Stoner continued, "welcome, Carol. Meet Shiro, Jonathan, Marina, and Logan. And I'm Rick Stoner, the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. And you're all invited to be a part of the Avenger Initiative."
Carol looked like she was about to say something but caught herself.
"I have heard about you all, and together, you could make a great team. You could become a force that would finally give us that extra edge we need in this war.
"Dr. Jonathan Pym. The famous scientist who discovered the humbly named 'Pym particles'. Genius-level intellect. Mutant ability that allows him to communicate with and control insects, arachnids, and bugs of all kinds. Code name: Ant-Man.
"Marina McKenzie. Well-known Olympic-level swimmer and model from the Atlantis exhibit at the Bill Everett Water Show. But more interestingly, with the mutant ability of hydrokinesis and to breathe while underwater. Code name: Mermaid.
"Shiro Yashida, an infamous orphan rescued from a jail cell in Agarashima, Japan. Promised to cooperate with American forces as long as he and his family were guaranteed safety from Allied attacks and were granted American citizenship. Shiro possesses the mutant ability to generate and control fire, as well as fly. Code name: Sunfire.
"Carol Khan. Jersey City's own vigilante for justice. She single-handedly defeated the supervillian Annihilus and saved all 46 people from the Blue Rose Hotel incident. Mutant ability to grant immense strength and speed for a limited time by concentrating on a specific part of her body. Code name: Marvel.
"And lastly, Logan Howlett. Top soldier of Canadian Special Forces. Played key roles in bringing Agarashima and Warsaw back into Allied control. History's vague, but I've been told this isn't your first war. Logan's mutant abilities include an accelerated healing factor, a highly-developed sense of smell, and retractable bone claws. Code name: Wolverine."
Director Stoner paced around the room. "Logan already knows what I'm about to ask you since he's been working with us for a little while now… I need you all to join a team. Become a part of something bigger. Use your powers, not for your country, but for humanity. Work with S.H.I.E.L.D. Become an Avenger."
There was a silence that swept throughout the room before anyone spoke up. "This is… kind of crazy…" Jonathan said.
"And no one cares that you're assembling a team full of mutants?" Carol asked. "Mutants aren't exactly well-liked. Even I have my own share of vocal haters in Jersey City."
"It took some convincing," Director Stoner said, "but I have the President's approval. I was able to prove that you people aren't monsters, but humans. And we need you to fight for humanity."
Carol sighed in response. "Well, having the President's support is a big deal… Maybe equality for mutants isn't as impossible as I thought…"
"The Avengers Initiative…" Director Stoner said to himself. "It's finally happening. I think I'll have Daisy take a commemorative photograph…"
"What makes you think we even want to become Avengers?" Carol asked. "Why would we want to risk our lives to try to save the world?"
"Because, at the end of the day, you're all heroes," Director Stoner replied simply.
"I can't argue with that," Carol said. "But you're expecting us to put a lot of faith in you. And in S.H.I.E.L.D."
"Everyone, this is ridiculous. Why should we trust Director Stoner? Or S.H.I.E.L.D.? We don't know who they are; we don't know what they are." Shiro said. He turned to Logan. "Logan-san, tell me why I should be doing this. Watashi wa Logan-san o shinrai shite imasu."
Logan finally turned around. "Shiro. Everyone. I trust Director Stoner. And I trust S.H.I.E.L.D."
"And why exactly?" Jonathan asked. "What makes you say that?"
"Because I trust the man who's gonna be leading our team," Logan said.
"You mean Director Stoner?" Shiro asked. "I don't trust him, Logan-san. I don't know who he is."
"No, I mean our team leader. Our captain," Logan clarified. "That's who I have faith in."
"Let me guess," Marina interjected. "That's you."
Logan took his cigar and put it out against the palm of his hand. He grunted slightly, but in a second, his hand was good as new. "Nope."
"Then who's captain?" Carol asked.
"I am," a voice from behind called out. Everyone in the room turned to face the man entering. "Didn't mean to eavesdrop. Got stalled coming here, so I only caught the tail end of the conversation. But I overheard you talking about the team captain. And that would be me."
If anything had surprised Rogue so far, none of that would be topping this. She couldn't believe who she saw standing in front of her, almost as if he was really there. The living legend was less than a foot away from her, standing and smiling. If she didn't already know she was in a dream-like memory, she'd pinch herself awake.
"Are you…?" Marina started. "Can it really be you? I half believed you didn't really exist…"
"I don't believe it," Jonathan muttered quietly. "I've read about you in the papers. But I never thought I'd ever meet you in person. You're a walking scientific breakthrough."
"Nantekotta! Dainijisekaitaisen no ikeru densetsu!" Shiro exclaimed.
Carol was extremely flustered. "It's… well, it's an honor." She offered her hand.
The man grinned and shook her hand. "Captain America. Or more humbly put, Steve Rogers. Pleased to meet you."
Logan nodded his head in approval. "Took you long enough, Cap. Making all these nice people wait for you to finally amble your way into this story."
"Pass auf! Die Rächer!"
Before the Hydra soldier could shout anything else, a well-timed punch to the jaw knocked him out cold.
"So much for 'espionage'…" Ant-Man mumbled. "Chances of mission success have dropped significantly."
"No time to argue," Captain America stated as a siren started blaring. "They know we're here now. We've got to take them down. Fast."
"Glad to," Wolverine said as he unsheathed his bone claws. He screamed into the air and ran at the oncoming soldiers.
"Ikuze!" Sunfire responded with a smile as he coated his body in flames. "Faia pawā!" he yelled as he soared into the sky.
"That's one way to do it," Ant-Man said. "Marvel, if you can get me to the top of that tower, I can knock out the power to the Höllenschloss wall. Then we'll have our way in."
"Good thinking," Captain America said.
A stream of bullets flew at them. Rogue then had the sudden realization that she was in the middle of a battle and was really hoping that she couldn't get killed in this memory.
Captain America reacted quickly and grabbed his shield. The bullets ricocheted off the shield, each bullet making a loud metallic clang upon impact. "Go! Go! I've got you covered!"
Marvel nodded. "Don't need to tell me twice!" she shouted over the gun fire. She focused and could feel strength and energy building in her limbs. She grabbed Ant-Man and held him under her arms. She then bolted at a blurring speed. She easily sidestepped three Hydra soldiers and jumped over a fourth. When they got to the base of the tower, Marvel crouched down, building more energy into her legs. She then leapt upwards, shooting up like a rocket. At the peak of their height, she tossed Ant-Man onto the roof.
He rolled forward as he landed. Once he got up, he gave her a thumbs-up. Marvel returned a thumbs-up before falling back to the ground. She landed hard, her legs collapsing out from under her. She had used a lot of energy on the running and jumping, and she needed a minute to recover.
Marvel heard a click and saw a soldier pointing a gun at her. "Die muslimische Frau," the soldier said. "Keine Bewegung, sonst ich töte dich."
"She doesn't speak German, idiot!"
The Hydra soldier turned to face the voice but was suddenly doused with a burst of water. The soldier struggled to get up, but Mermaid was too quick and delivered a swift right hook, knocking him out.
"Thanks, Mermaid," Marvel said as Mermaid helped her get up. "Any success?"
Mermaid shook her head. "No other way into the Höllenschloss. But the lake is hiding an escape vehicle. Looks like a rocket of some kind."
The lights then started to flicker. Rogue could hear a swarm of insects and random crackles of electricity. There was a burst of sparks and then the lights cut out completely.
"Got it," Ant-Man said from the rooftop. "We should have a clear path to the Höllenschloss now."
"If by 'clear path' you mean 'dozens of Hydra soldiers', then I believe you," Marvel shouted back.
"We're trapped like a butterfly in a net," Mermaid said.
"Class: Insecta. Order: Lepidoptera. Suborder: Rhopalocera," Ant-Man stated.
"Thank you, Mr. OCD," Mermaid responded sarcastically.
"Are you coming up to get me?" Ant-Man asked.
"No," Mermaid responded. "I can't swim through the air!"
"Not you. Marvel," he said.
Marvel stretched her legs. "Yeah, I'm good. Let's do this." She crouched and then leapt back into the air, almost as if she could fly. She swiftly grabbed Ant-Man and the two neatly landed on the ground. "Okay, time to show Hydra what we can do."
Rogue then watched as the Avengers stormed their way toward the Höllenschloss, the biggest building at the center of the Hydra compound.
Captain America was flawless. His acrobatics let him dodge most enemy fire, while his indestructible shield reflected the rest. But it was clear why he was team captain. Even while getting attacked on all four sides, he knew where the rest of his team was and if they needed help. He was shouting orders and keeping his team organized. There was even a moment where he threw his shield to knock out a soldier before he could shoot down a flying Sunfire.
Sunfire, for all his hotheaded attitude, proved to be a skilled flyer. He zoomed around the air, shooting a controlled blast of flames that destroyed the searchlights and turrets. And because he had aerial vision, he provided useful coverage from above, sending forth a wave of fire to let the team press forward.
Mermaid was as impressive on the battlefield as she was beautiful. She kept a constant stream of water spinning around her, which she would punch at, launching a jet of water like a bullet. Her shots were precise and dangerous. Mermaid was able to hit two snipers hiding on the roof, snapping their guns in half. And any grenade thrown their way was easily bounced back off of a wall of water.
Ant-Man was surprising. Rogue didn't think that a guy who could control bugs would be that formidable in a fight. He was continuously launching swarm after swarm of attacks. Locusts and bees for offense, mosquitoes and butterflies to distract, and even army ants and spiders to attack from the ground. He certainly proved himself when he placed his hand on the turret of a panzer, called forth a handful of cockroaches, and caused the tank to break down a few seconds afterwards.
Rogue couldn't help but find some comfort in seeing Wolverine fight. Just like she knew him today, he fought like an animal. He held nothing back and made every moment count. His accelerated healing kept him going even after at least eight bullets tore through his chest. And though they didn't have the same edge as his Adamantium claws, his bone claws were certainly more than enough for the Hydra soldiers. The lucky ones were those who got to keep their limbs.
But Rogue couldn't keep her eyes off of Marvel. She was the reason Rogue was here, after all. It was her memory. But Marvel fought with a grace and a power that she hadn't seen before. She was fast when she needed to be fast. She hit hard when she needed to hit hard. She reacted when she needed to react. Whenever she jumped into the air, it was almost like she was flying; she looked weightless. Rogue was so enthralled by Marvel's prowess and confidence that she wanted to be just like her: strong.
And then it was six Avengers against just one Hydra soldier.
"Verletzt mich nicht! Ich bin nur die Schachfigur des Roten Totenschädel!" he pleaded.
"I'm just going to start ignoring all this non-English from now on, okay?" Mermaid said. "I'm sure if it's important, someone will translate for me…"
"Namakemono," Sunfire scoffed. "Shiranu ga hotoke."
"That goes for you too, human torch," Mermaid said while rolling her eyes.
"Ha ha. Very funny, Sub-Marina," he countered.
"Team!" Captain America interjected. "We're in the middle of a battle with Hydra. Get your acts together."
"Sorry," Mermaid and Sunfire muttered.
"Back on topic, my German's not that good, but I got the gist of what he said. He said he's just a Hydra pawn. But you know what happens in chess with useless pawns?" He then picked the soldier up and threw him head-first into a barrel. The soldier shouted, but he was stuck, his feet dangling in the air. "They get trashed."
"I don't know, Cap," Wolverine said. "Seems to me like you went easy on him."
Captain America suddenly raised his hand into the air. The team fell silent as they listened. There was an odd almost musical sound coming from the door to the Höllenschloss. Captain America signaled Marvel. She nodded and focused on her left leg. She then lifted it up and kicked down the metal door. The team shared a quick glance and then rushed into the darkness of the Höllenschloss.
As they ran forward, they couldn't see anything. They could only hear their boots running across the metal floor. They fanned out but didn't get very far. They came across a large metal bar that circled the interior of the Höllenschloss. They felt around, and it seemed to be intricately designed, with odd letters or symbols inscribed into the metal.
"What is this?" Captain America asked.
"Hauptmann!" a voice shouted as the lights suddenly flashed, illuminating the Höllenschloss. "This is our first meeting, but I am sure you already know me. Just as I already know you."
Captain America narrowed his eyes in disgust. "Red Skull."
The man laughed. His face did, in fact, look as disgusting as the name suggested. It was blood red, with no visible skin. His nose and ears were missing; all that remained were gory orifices. His face glistened, almost as if it was still coated in fresh blood. And when Red Skull laughed, the tendons were clearly visible.
Rogue almost vomited.
"Behüte mich Gott vor meinen Feinden." Red Skull regained his composure. "You must excuse me, Hauptmann. My English is still elementary. But probably better than your German. Eigenlob stinkt. Ehrlich währt am längsten."
There was an awkward silence as the Red Skull's smile grew. "It was a joke. Please, you take me too seriously. In fact, I am happy you are here. Very happy."
"What are you talking about?" Captain America asked.
"You will witness the birth of something… wunderbar. In German, we call it 'Die Götterdämmerung'. You Americans call it… well, you only call it by its native term: 'Ragnarök'. How unimaginative… Oh, you Americans and your lack of Mehrsprachigkeit…"
"If he doesn't start making sense, watashi wa kare no shita o hagitorumasu…" Sunfire muttered.
"Ochitsui te," Wolverine responded to him. "Abunai koto wa kega no uchi."
Rogue groaned. "Why do Carol's memories have to be so multilingual?" Rogue asked herself.
"Don't take your eyes off of Red Skull," Captain America said to his team. "He's up to something."
"Wärme bringt Leben, Kälte bringt Tod," Red Skull said. "It is a beautiful saying. And it signals the end of you, your team, and your world order." Red Skull stared at Captain America, taunting him with his eyes. "Tell me. Are you scared? Do you fear your inevitable deaths?"
"I don't know what you're planning, but we will destroy Hydra," Captain America said.
Red Skull chuckled. "Schneiden Sie einen Kopf und zwei weitere sollen an ihre Stelle treten. Cut off one head and two more shall take its place. You see, Hydra will never die. But S.H.I.E.L.D. on the other hand, that is bound to crumble. For the future only exists for those who are brave enough to dream of greatness…" He then held out a shining blue box. "Die Sarg der alten Wintern. Or, to crudely translate for you Americans… 'the Casket of Ancient Winters'. A power from the Norse myths themselves… Do you want to see what it does?"
"Stop him! Go!" Captain America shouted.
"Too late!" Red Skull gleefully said as he tossed the shining blue box into the center of the giant metal ring. "Behold Ymir, the King of the Frost Giants!"
As the blue box hit the metal floor, it flashed brighter and brighter. As storm of snow started to shoot into the air, and a loud and terrible roar bellowed through the Höllenschloss.
"What did you do?" Captain America shouted as he threw his shield at Red Skull.
Red Skull grinned and caught the shield with one hand. "As I told you earlier… I have brought forth Ragnarök. The Fate of the Gods."
Before the Avengers could advance any further toward Red Skull, a massive white arm crawled out of the snowstorm. It was followed by a second arm, and then an ugly head. This must have been the King of the Frost Giants that Red Skull had mentioned. Ymir.
Ymir pulled himself up. He stood 60 feet tall, massive and clearly powerful. Ymir reached back into the shining box's snowstorm and pulled out a gigantic club made of ice. He let the tip of the ice club drop to the floor with a loud thud. Ymir growled, ready for a fight.
"Here," Red Skull said as he tossed Captain America's shield back to him. "You will need it to survive. And I am feeling generous." He then pulled out a remote and hit a button. The wall behind Red Skull opened, revealing the lake. A vehicle emerged from the water; a rocket pointed at the sky. "Until we meet again. Auf Wiedersehen, Hauptmann."
Sunfire coated his body in flames and flew off toward Red Skull. But the Hydra leader had already gotten inside and the rocket had started to take off.
"Sunfire!" Captain America shouted. "Careful!"
"Mennesker… Så små… Så svak," Ymir grumbled. His voice echoed throughout the Höllenschloss.
Ymir took a deep breath, and blew an icy cloud at Sunfire. Sunfire's flames flickered and he crashed to the ground. He missed his chance; the rocket was already flying away now.
"Jeg skal knuse deg…" Ymir said as he brought his ice club over his head.
Captain American held up his shield. "Get behind me and take cover!"
"Of course this abominable snowman doesn't speak English either," Rogue said as she ducked for cover herself. Carol's memories felt so real that Rogue still wasn't sure how guaranteed her safety was. And she really did not want to get hit by one of Ymir's attacks.
Ymir yelled as he slammed his ice club into the ground. The shockwaves knocked the Avengers back. Captain America was able to block most of the damage, but it took its toll on him as he collapsed to the ground.
Mermaid was the first to get to her feet. "My turn…" She pointed her hands at the snow scattered around Ymir's legs. It slowly melted into a pool of water. She then raised her arms, and the water shot up. It spiraled through the air and then pierced into Ymir's eyes.
"Mine øyne…" he shouted as he stumbled around. "Du lille ormen…" He pointed a finger at Mermaid and a huge icicle launched toward her.
Sunfire reacted quickly and shot a ray of flames to intersect the hurdling icicle. He was able to melt it slightly, but it still crashed in front of Mermaid and sent her flying backwards.
Ymir raised his foot into the air and tried to step on Sunfire. But Wolverine was quick; he rushed at Sunfire and dragged him out of harm's way.
Marvel focused energy into her arm, grabbed Ant-Man, and threw him at Ymir. Ant-Man landed neatly on Ymir's shoulder.
Ant-Man summoned a cluster of scorpions. "Class: Arachnida. Subclass: Dromopoda. Order: Scorpiones," he muttered to himself. He pointed at Ymir, and the scorpions jumped into his ear. As they pierced him, Ymir bellowed in pain.
Marvel ran at Ymir and jumped. She focused power into her right fist and punched his knee with all her might. She heard a snap deep within his knee, meaning her attack definitely did some damage.
"Hvordan kan du skade meg?" Ymir asked as he angrily swatted Ant-Man off of his shoulder and kicked Marvel away. Ant-Man hit the ground and did not get up. Marvel was slammed into the wall and slid to the floor, groaning in pain.
Wolverine ran at Ymir. He leapt and dug his claws into Ymir's knee. He then unleashed a frenzy of stabs and swipes.
Frost gathered around Ymir's knuckles and formed into sharp icicles. Ymir punched Wolverine off of his knee, sending Wolverine smashing into the wall. Ymir then grabbed his knee; a steady stream of blue blood coursed out of the wound. Ymir tried to put weight on it, but stumbled. He groaned, realizing he could no longer walk.
Wolverine struggled to get up. "The giant does bleed. And at least we kept him in one spot now."
"I bet if we can get to the Casket, we can send Ymir back to his dimension," Marvel said as she hobbled toward them.
"Yes, but Ymir is blocking our path to get to it," Mermaid said, holding her arm. Her tumble had dislocated it.
Captain America got to his feet. "I've got an idea. Sunfire, take Marvel and fly as high as you can. And then let her drop down and she will slam Ymir on his head."
"I can try," Sunfire said. "But we'll be sitting ducks while we're in the air."
Captain American grabbed his shield. "We'll buy you time."
Sunfire nodded and his body erupted into fire again. He grabbed Marvel's hands and they shot off into the sky.
"Ikke så fort…" Ymir grumbled. His cheeks puffed up and blew another breath of icy air at Sunfire and Marvel.
Mermaid reacted quickly and summoned a wall of water to block the attack. Her wall instantly froze into a sheet of ice, but she successfully negated Ymir's attack.
Captain America planted his feet, and then threw his shield. It swiftly cut through the air and slammed into Ymir's temple. He grabbed his head and then roared. A shockwave of cold blasted out around him.
The wave knocked Captain America, Wolverine, and Mermaid off their feet. The freezing field also caught up with Sunfire and hit his feet.
"Kuso!" Sunfire said as his fire puttered out. With his last strength, he threw Marvel higher up. "Ganbatte, Marvel-san," he told her before he plummeted back down to the ground.
Marvel had no time to let Sunfire's sacrifice sink in. She only had this one chance. Marvel twisted her body until she was in the right position: her body pointed down, looking directly at the top of Ymir's head.
Marvel aimed her fist at Ymir, and then she fell back down toward the earth. She concentrated on pouring all of her energy and strength into her fist. She could feel her hand gathering more and more power. It was her time to act. She shouted as her fist slammed onto Ymir's head, impacting like a meteor.
Ymir's eyes rolled back into his head. "Nei… Umulig…" he moaned as his body collapsed to the ground.
Captain America leapt off of Ymir's ice club and caught Marvel from crashing herself.
Mermaid ran to the center of the room and grabbed the Casket with her good arm. It flashed again, and a vacuum burst from it. It slowly dragged Ymir back into the light in a flurry of snowflakes. After he vanished, the Casket stopped glowing.
The team took a collective sigh of relief. It was over. Or at least, this battle was.
Captain America slung Ant-Man over his shoulder. Wolverine walked over to Sunfire and picked him up. Marvel put her arm around Mermaid, who was helping her walk.
"Red Skull escaped," Wolverine grunted.
"Our mission was a failure," Captain America started to say. "However… everyone's alive. That's the most important thing."
"Next time," Ant-Man mumbled quietly, "the mission will go perfectly…"
"I sure hope so…" Sunfire muttered back. "Mission failures are tough on the body."
Rogue rubbed her eyes. She didn't remember blinking throughout the entire fight. "Now that's a memory," she said to herself.
"Stoner!" Steve shouted as he, Carol, Marina, and Jonathan burst down the door. Rogue realized she had returned to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters.
Daisy shrieked. "Captain Rogers! You can't just barge into the Director's office like this!"
Director Stoner, who was looking out his office window, raised his hand. "It's okay, Miss Johnson. Let them in."
"But, sir…" Daisy began.
"Please, Daisy," he responded simply.
Daisy nervously backed out of the room and shut the door on her way out.
"Steve…" Director Stoner said as he turned around to face them.
"Why?" Steve asked angrily. "How dare you do that?"
Director Stoner sighed. "I'm sorry it had to happen that way. I really am. But there was no other choice."
"No other choice?" Steve was now shouting. "There's always another choice!"
Jonathan stepped forward. "Have you heard the news reports? They're calling us monsters. Us! The Americans!"
"Shiro is devastated," Marina said. "Logan's out there trying to calm him down. But Shiro's absolutely livid. As well he should be."
"How can we live with ourselves after today?" Carol asked.
Director Stoner shook his head. "Listen, I understand what you're feeling. You have to realize that our backs were up against the wall-"
"That's not an excuse!" Steve yelled. This was the only time Rogue had seen him lose his cool and be really angry at something. "We joined the Avengers to stop people like Hitler and Red Skull. And the next thing I know is that we do something just as inhuman as them? Explain that to me, Stoner!"
Director Stoner remained silent. He looked resilient, yet also defeated. Rogue could tell that he had been expecting their anger, but still did not want to be having this conversation.
Carol sat down in a chair, her eyes filled with tears. "Hiroshima… Nagasaki… America will never live this down."
Steve slammed Director Stoner's desk. "How dare S.H.I.E.L.D. authorize this? And not even consult us?"
"You think this was S.H.I.E.L.D.?" Director Stoner shouted back. "You think I had any control over what happened?"
Steve took a step back. "Wait… But…"
"This wasn't S.H.I.E.L.D.'s decision?" Jonathan asked.
"Then why did you sound so supportive of it?" Marina asked.
"As an American, I stand behind the decision of our President and his advisors. I stand behind my country," Director Stoner said. "Even if I don't morally agree with it."
"I'm sorry," Jonathan sighed. "We thought this was your call."
"No," Director Stoner said. "I advised the President against it. But my argument was drowned out by his other advisors. A young 'Major Stryker' and his supporters."
Marina wiped her eyes. "All those people… dead…"
"I know…" Director Stoner said. "And I'm sorry… I really am… What happened was terrible…"
Steve stood up and offered Director Stoner his hand. 'No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have accused you without knowing the full story."
He shook Steve's hand. "You're a good man, Steve. I wish there were more men like you. We might have been able to avoid all of this if there were. The President really could have used an advisor like you. You fight for peace; people like Stryker live for war." Stoner turned around to look out his window again. "Please tell Miss Johnson when you see her to return to my office."
The team quietly left Director Stoner's office, and Rogue followed them.
"I'm going to go check on Shiro," Marina said.
"I'll let Daisy know that Director Stoner wants her back. We'll see you later," Jonathan said as they left.
Steve sighed and held his hand. It was twitching. He grimaced as he tried to keep his composure. Carol eyed him cautiously. "Steve, what's wrong with your hand?"
"Nothing," Steve said with a smile. "I'm just… tired…"
"It looks like something worse," Carol said. "Steve, this isn't the first time I've seen you… 'tired'. I've noticed that you've started showing signs of… whatever this is… for weeks now. Logan mentioned that you nearly collapsed after you and he freed that Warsaw prison camp. And that was months ago."
Steve awkwardly laughed. "He told you, did he?"
"He was concerned. What's going on?"
"Well… I'm dying."
Carol gasped. "Steve!"
Steve nodded solemnly. "Operation: Rebirth worked miracles for me, but it came with a cost. Cellular breakdown. I don't know how much longer I'll be able to go on missions, let alone stand up."
"You have to tell the doctors!"
"They know," Steve said. "There's nothing they can do for me. There's no cure. At least, not yet."
"Steve…" Carol began. "Does the team know?"
"Only Director Stoner. And I'm sure Logan has suspicions."
Carol put her hand on his shoulder. "So… what's going to happen?"
Steve stood up straight. "I'm going to be a part of the Avengers for as long as this war goes on. It's what I signed up for; it's what I promised to do. But once it's over, I'll be going into early retirement. I'll be… what did my doctor say… oh, right… I'll be 'hitting the icebox'. They're going to cryogenically freeze me until they can find a cure. I'll be going to sleep for a long, long time."
Carol shook her head. "I… I can't believe it…"
Steve hugged her. "Everything will be all right, Carol. You've just got to stay positive. We have a good team, and even if I'm not here, the team will remain strong."
Carol chuckled as she wiped her eyes. "Stoner's right. You are too good."
"Don't tell the team about this," Steve said. "I'll tell them once the war is over. And based on what just happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it won't be much longer."
Carol nodded. "Okay. But promise me one thing."
"What?" Steve asked her.
"Promise me you'll come back."
Steve smiled. "As long as I'm kept in your hearts and memories, I'll never be gone."
The scene changed, and Rogue was now sitting in the back seat of a car. Carol was sitting in the passenger seat, and Logan was driving.
"I told you," Carol said, clearly annoyed. "Left on Hecox. Not left on Padilla."
Logan grunted. "And I told you that Hecox was under construction."
"Padilla doesn't cut through," Carol said. "It's a dead end."
"Well, I know that now…" he muttered.
Carol sighed. "It's starting to rain…"
Rogue noticed that Carol looked older, mid 40s perhaps. She was starting to resemble the Carol that Rogue first met in the nursing home. Logan, on the other hand, hadn't aged at all. Perhaps it was accelerated healing powers that kept him eternally ageless.
After a few minutes of silent driving, Logan finally stopped the car. "We're here," he said.
The three of them got out of the car, and Carol opened an umbrella. Rogue actually started to get wet, so she ran to Carol and stood under her umbrella. Logan, always a tough guy, only took out his cowboy hat and placed it on his head. Carol and Logan started to walk, and that's when Rogue noticed that they were in a cemetery.
They saw four people standing near a tree, and they slowly made their way. As they got closer, Rogue recognized Marina and Shiro, Marina now in her mid 40s as well and Shiro in his early 30s. But Rogue couldn't tell who the other two people were. One was a man partially concealed behind Marina, and the other was a Japanese woman holding an umbrella over Shiro.
"Ah, Logan-san. Carol-san," Shiro said as he saw them approach.
"Long time no see, Shiro," Logan said as he shook Shiro's hand.
"As-salamu alaykum, Shiro," Carol said as she hugged him.
Shiro pointed to the woman holding the umbrella over them. "This is Yuriko Oyama. She works for Yashida Industries; she is my personal assistant."
"Hajimemashite," she said as she bowed. "Logan-san. Carol-san."
"Pleased to meet you as well," Carol said as she and Logan bowed back.
Shiro turned to Yuriko. "Yuriko wa Logan-san ni kasa o ataenakereba naranai. Sugu ni."
"Hai, Yashida-sama," she said as she pulled out an umbrella and handed it to Logan.
"Arigatō, Yuriko," Logan said as he took the umbrella from Yuriko.
Carol walked over to Marina and gave her a hug. "I haven't seen you in a year. How have you been?"
Marina shrugged her shoulders. "Could be better. Could be worse. And you?"
"Same," Carol answered.
Marina hugged Logan. "Been keeping out of trouble?"
"Not if I can help it," he replied with a smirk. He turned to the unknown man standing near Marina. "Director Dugan."
The man stepped forward and offered his hand. "Hello, Logan. Good to finally meet you."
"Carol Khan," Carol introduced herself.
"Yes, I've heard a lot about you, Marvel. It's an honor," Director Dugan said. "I'm Timothy Dugan. I'm Rick's… well… I've been Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. since Rick Stoner retired."
"Stoner-shi wa daredesu ka?" Yuriko asked Shiro quietly.
Shiro turned his head to Yuriko. "Stoner-san wa izen no direkutādatta." Shiro then looked back at the group. "Apologies. Yuriko's English is not very good."
"That's fine. My Japanese starts with Astro Boy and ends with Speed Racer," Director Dugan joked.
"So, how's the old man doing?" Logan asked as he pulled out a cigar.
"Rick? He's doing good. He's not really a fan of sitting around quietly, without his finger on the pulse of S.H.I.E.L.D. But other than that he's good. He's gotten really into painting, actually," Director Dugan said.
"Wouldn't have pegged him for an artist," Logan said.
Carol cleared her throat. "Sorry to interrupt, but… it's almost noon…"
The rest of the group nodded and they walked in silence. After a minute, the group and Rogue made their way to a headstone marked "Henry Jonathan Pym, Jr., 1917-1973: husband, father, soldier, scientist".
Logan was the first to speak. "I'm not a poet or anything like that, so I'll keep this short and simple. Well, Jonathan, it's been a year now. It was brave of you to accept that mission. I have the excuse that I heal any attack thrown my way. But you… you were brave. You kept the recon going strong. You kept our team alive. You were a real hero."
Marina spoke up next. "It's lonely without you. It's been a year, but it feels like just yesterday you were still here. Making us laugh. Making breakthroughs in science. Correcting our pronunciation of the scientific names of bugs. It's tough knowing that you're not here anymore. We miss you. But I'm happy you're finally at peace."
Shiro and Yuriko stepped forward. "Jonathan-san, you were always a role model to me. I was such a brat when I was younger. You helped show me how to be mature. It took me a while to listen, mind you, but I am the man I am today because of you. I couldn't have started Yashida Industries without your help on the forefront of science. You are my friend, Jonathan-san. Now and forever. Keizoku wa chikara nari. Saraba." Shiro stepped back. Yuriko said nothing but bowed to show her respect.
It was Carol's turn to talk. "If Steve was here, he'd make a grand speech about how you were a great man and a great Avenger. Unfortunately, I'm not as verbose as him. But that doesn't make that statement any less true. You were a huge part of our team, one of the reasons we were so successful. In every way, you were Ant-Man. Unassuming and quiet, but you contributed so much and carried us to victory many times. Thank you for being you; thank you for being a part of our lives."
Lastly, Director Dugan spoke up. "Jonathan… We were never close friends. We never spoke to each other for more than a couple of minutes. But I knew a lot about you from Rick. He held you in the highest of regards. He was proud of you. I know Vietnam wasn't ideal, and things didn't go down how they should have, but you always kept everyone's spirits up. Anyway… the point is… at the end of the day, you were an Avenger. And no one and nothing can ever take that away from you."
"Yuriko. Hana, kudasai," Shiro said. She nodded and placed a bouquet of flowers on Jonathan's headstone.
The group stood in silence for another couple of minutes before they turned and walked away. Carol caught up to Director Dugan, and Rogue followed her.
"Director Dugan," Carol said quietly. "How is Director Stoner doing? How is he really doing?"
Director Dugan sighed. "Truthfully, Jonathan's death hit him hard. He didn't retire; he was forced out of office. Colonel Stryker had been complaining about Rick's leadership for years. And the fiasco in Vietnam really hurt his case. I was able to convince the President to at least promote me to Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. rather than Stryker, but that's the only good news. Rick mostly stays at home nowadays. He's quiet, and he doesn't really do too much at all. I tried to tell him about our one-year meeting today… but he had trouble accepting things. So it was just… sad. He's kind of a broken man now."
Carol shook her head. "That's awful."
"That's life," Director Dugan said. "Sometimes things are good, but sometimes things are bad. And unfortunately, I'm not only here to pay my respects to Jonathan. If you'll excuse me, I have some business to attend to."
"Of course," Carol said. "It was a pleasure meeting you."
"Please," he said. "The pleasure was all mine, Marvel."
Director Dugan walked over to Logan. "Logan, got a minute?"
"What's up, bub?" Logan asked.
Director Dugan sighed. "I'm not exactly thrilled to tell you this, but Colonel Stryker asked for you specifically."
"Stryker? What's he want?"
"Some mission or project or program or something," Director Dugan said. "You're the last active Avenger, so Stryker wants you."
"Is this through S.H.I.E.L.D.?" Logan asked.
"No. Stryker's Crusade. But since you're still S.H.I.E.L.D., he needed to go through me to ask you. And you would not believe how much I loved hearing him beg to have you."
Logan chuckled. "You know what? Sure, why not."
"It'll be good to stretch my legs again. But mostly I want to get a closer eye on Stryker. See what he and Crusade are up to. Tell Stryker I'm in."
Director Dugan shrugged. "All right… I'll tell him you're in."
"So, what kind of mission is this?"
Director Dugan handed Logan a card with a giant black "X". "Stryker hasn't told me any details, only the name. He's calling it 'Weapon'. Are you sure you're willing to go through with this?"
"Sure," Logan said. "What's the worst that can happen?"
Carol's memory shifted again. Rogue was now in a hospital room. Carol, now in her 70s, though still looking quite good for her age, stood over Marina, lying in a bed.
"I'm sorry to hear that, Carol," Marina said. "Soon you'll be like me. Sick and bed-ridden."
Marina coughed. She did not look good. Her beauty had deteriorated. She looked old, but worse still, she looked sick.
Carol sadly laughed and fiddled with her signature yellow scarf. "Don't forget 'old'."
Marina chuckled. "Yes, can't forget that."
Carol held Marina's hand. "How are you doing?"
Marina shrugged. "I've been better. Honestly, the last couple of months have been bad. I really don't recommend getting lymphoma."
"It's not exactly like stomach cancer is any fun," Carol said.
"You still look pretty good for someone who's been told they have cancer."
Carol nodded. "My powers are getting me by. I have to concentrate energy into my stomach constantly, but it's keeping the cancer at bay. The problem is, it's still terminal. I can only hold it at bay for so long, and I don't even know how long that would be. It could be another year. It could be another twenty years. No way of knowing."
"I don't have very long myself… Let's change topics. How are the other Avengers doing?"
"Well, I've heard from Logan," Carol said.
Marina smiled. "That's good. How's he doing?"
"Physically, he's fine. You know him and his healing powers. But mentally… he's lost a lot of his memories."
"Do you know how much he remembers?"
"No. I mean, he seems to have some vague memories of us. Of the Avengers. But anything else, he can't remember it. He didn't even remember his name when they found him."
Marina shook her head. "That's so sad. But how are the people he's with?"
"This Professor Xavier sounds like a good man. I haven't met him, but we talked over the phone. He's a bit idealistic, but I think that's actually a good thing for Logan."
"That's good… And, have you heard from Yuriko?"
"Yes, but it's not good news. Shiro's condition is getting worse. They don't think he'll wake up from his coma."
"That's terrible. And what does that mean for Yashida Industries?" Marina asked.
"They're in the process of naming his successor. It will most likely go to his son, Shingen. I've met him once. He's very strict and no-nonsense, but he's a good son. He's only ever shown the highest respect for Shiro."
"I see…" Marina said. "The mighty Avengers… What happened to us all?"
Carol smiled sadly. "We got old."
"Yes, yes we did," Marina said as she coughed again. "I miss looking like Baywatch babe."
"I don't think I miss that," Carol joked and Marina chuckled. "I miss the old days. You, me, Logan, Shiro, Jonathan, Stoner… Steve…"
Marina sighed. "I do too."
"Oh, and Dugan's finally retiring."
"Really?" Marina asked. "Who will be replacing him?"
"Dick Murray," Carol said. "Wait a second… that's not it…"
"Senility catching up with you?" Marina joked.
"His name is 'Nick Fury'. I've never met him, but he's a young up-and-coming, and Dugan seemed to like him a lot."
"Well, if Dugan supports him, then that should be enough," Marina said. "Granted, you and I never went on any missions with Dugan as Director, but Dugan was always a good man."
"S.H.I.E.L.D. will miss him," Carol said. "It seems like all that happens is we lose good people."
"You're still around, my dear," Marina then had another bout of coughs. "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to ask you to leave. I just don't have much energy these days. I need to sleep. And I'm afraid this will be a situation you'll be familiar with soon enough."
"Of course, Marina," Carol said. She hugged Marina and then got up. "I'll come visit you next week."
Marina laughed, but Rogue could see tears in Marina's eyes. "That's nice of you, Carol. But I don't think I'll be around next week."
The memory faded. Rogue was now standing in the nursing home again. Rogue saw Carol sitting in her wheelchair, looking almost identical to how she met her earlier that day. But she was wearing different clothes, so Rogue could tell she was still in a memory.
"Carol?" Logan asked as he walked into her room.
"As-salamu alaykum, Logan," Carol said. "Always a pleasure to see you."
"Cut the pleasantries," Logan said. "You called me to come see you."
"Yes… I'm afraid this will be the second to last time you'll see me. Though we should probably treat this as our final meeting."
Logan flinched slightly. "What do you mean?"
"My stomach cancer," Carol replied. "I can't hold it back much longer. I've got about a week and a half left. Two weeks maybe."
Logan sighed and sat down next to her. "You… you can't leave me…"
Carol grabbed his hands. "I know… But that's what happens. People live. People die."
He didn't respond. It was strange seeing Logan so silent and somber. Rogue wanted to place her hand on his shoulder, show him he wasn't alone, but she didn't, knowing that she was still just in Carol's memory.
"Steve, Jonathan, Stoner, Marina, Shiro… and now me… Well, I guess Steve isn't dead. But he's not really alive now, either."
Logan nodded. "Fury's a good guy; he lets me visit. Sometimes."
Carol patted his hand. "Now, Logan, I called you here for a specific reason. More than just our final goodbyes."
He turned to her. "What reason?"
"I've heard about your adventures as an X-Man. Quite the interesting team. They're no Avengers, but they seem like a good group."
Logan nodded. "Yes, Charles is one of the best men I've ever met and he's assembled quite the team. They're all good kids."
She nodded. "That's why I wanted to talk to you. There were some big stories about the X-Men. Battling a Sentinel. Stopping Apocalypse. Defeating the Shadow King."
"Go on," Logan urged her.
"One of your X-Men really intrigues me. Please, tell me more about Rogue."
"Rogue?" Logan asked. "She's a girl… young woman, really… with the power to absorb someone's life force through skin contact."
"I think I may know what I need to know already but, please, elaborate."
He sighed. "Well, it's complicated, but she absorbs someone's powers, skills, and memories. Temporarily. For example, she once touched Kurt, the blue and furry guy on our team. She gained his powers to teleport. She gained his German-speaking skills. And she gained his childhood memories of living in Germany."
She nodded. "Fascinating. Those are very unique and wonderful powers."
"Try telling her that. It's not a power she can turn on and off. They're always active. Which means she always has to be fully covered and wear gloves. It's not exactly a fun power."
Carol shook her head. "I didn't say they were 'fun'. But they are truly something special. Do you know what this means, Logan?"
"Enlighten me," he responded.
"I would like you to bring Rogue to me. I want her to absorb my life force."
"What? Why?" Logan asked, clearly shocked at what she was saying.
"Two reasons. I want to keep my memories alive. With all of us gone, and your memories damaged, the story of the Avengers will disappear forever. I want to keep our team alive. And I can do that by giving her my memories. It may sound selfish, but it's not for me. Not really. It's for our team, the Avengers. It's for all of us."
He shook his head. "That's crazy."
"And what's the second reason?"
Carol smiled. "My powers are going to be useless to me soon. You can't use mutant powers when you're dead. And, well, I'd like to pass them on to someone who can actually make use of them. I also have a theory that my powers may interact with hers in a very interesting way. But it's only a theory…"
Logan stood up. "Even if I did agree with the crazy things you're talking about right now, your plan won't work the way you think it will. I told you: Rogue only absorbs someone's life force temporarily. After a few minutes, hours at the most, your life force will return to you. She won't have your powers. And at best your memories will be faded thoughts she won't be able to easily access."
Carol shook her head. "I have another theory about her powers, actually. Rogue absorbs someone's life force temporarily… only because the life force has to return to the original person. What if there was no person for the powers to return to?"
He narrowed his eyes at her. "Are you asking what I think you're asking?"
"Yes," Carol said. "If she touches me as I die… my life force should stay with her because they cannot return to me. So she'd have my life force forever."
"Carol," Logan started. "Are you asking her to kill you?"
"No. I'm asking her to let me die. On my terms."
He paced around the room. "Even if your crazy theories about Rogue's powers work out the way you think they will, what makes you think I'll agree to this?"
"Because," Carol said, "you trust me. Just like I trusted you."
"What do you mean?"
"It's because of our trust in you that we became a team. It's because of our trust in you that we became the Avengers."
He didn't speak for a good two minutes, clearly deep in his own thoughts. "This really is all about the team? All of us?"
"Yes," she said simply. "You, me, Steve, Jonathan, Marina, Shiro, Stoner, and Dugan."
Logan sighed. "Fine."
"Thank you, Logan," Carol said. "So all that's left before you bring her to me… is for us to say our goodbyes."
Logan walked over to Carol and hugged her. "I'm not the sentimental type. But I'll say what I have to. I'll miss you. You know that, right?"
She laughed sadly. "And I'll miss you. I'm so happy you found the X-Men. You need a team, Logan. They keep you… happy."
"I guess this is the end of the Avengers…" Logan said.
"Well… maybe they'll make a movie about the Avengers," she said. "I'm sure it'd sell tickets."
Logan chuckled. The two stared at each other, the moment finally dawning on them that this was where they would part forever.
He stood up and tipped his hat to her. "Marvel."
She smiled. "Wolverine."
He turned and walked away. But before he left, he poked his head back in the room. "When do you need me to bring Rogue by?"
Carol thought. "Next weekend is fine. What day works best with you and her?"
"Well," Logan began, "next Saturday is her birthday. So-"
"Bring her on Saturday," Carol said. "My life force will be my birthday present to her."
"Well, that's dark," Logan said.
Carol smiled. "I don't see it that way."
He nodded. But before he could leave Carol spoke up once more. "Logan! One more thing."
"Yes?" he asked from right outside her room.
"Rogue… What's her name? I'll need to let the nurses know for when you two visit."
Logan smirked and started to walk away. "Marie," he called out.
Rogue slowly opened her eyes. She was sitting in Carol's nursing home room again. This time felt different; she was no longer in Carol's memories.
"Rogue," she heard Logan say as he placed his hand on her shoulder.
She stood up immediately and shoved him. "Don't touch me!" She looked around the room, but Carol was nowhere to be seen. "Where is she? Where's Carol?"
Logan sighed. "She's gone," he said quietly.
"No. No no no…" Rogue said as she shook her head.
Logan took a step toward her. "Rogue. Calm down."
"Get away from me!" she shouted as she shoved his chest. But this time, he flew backwards. "I… I still have her powers…"
Logan grunted as he got back to his feet. "And her memories. Carol's gone, but she lives in you."
Rogue collapsed to her knees. "Why? Why did you let me kill her?"
"No. You didn't kill her," Logan said. "I never would have agreed to that. I never would have let that happen."
"Logan, I killed her!"
"No!" he repeated firmly. "Don't say that. You have her memories now. The cancer is what killed her. You didn't kill her; you helped her find peace."
Rogue felt her eyes tearing up. "Logan…"
"Listen," Logan said. "Let me say this one thing. And if you never want me to speak to you again, I won't. But let me say this."
Rogue stared at him for a moment before somberly nodding.
"I've lived a long life. I've fought in a lot of wars. At least eight, but I do admit it's tough to keep track after so long. And I learned that life is precious. I know that sounds… corny. But it's true. You learn to appreciate life when you see so much death. And you learn to appreciate the life that's most precious to you: your family and your friends. My family may be gone, but I do have friends. You, the Professor, and the rest of the X-Men. And I have other friends who are with me in spirit: Stoner, Steve, Jonathan, Marina, Shiro, Dugan, and now Carol. Those kinds of friends don't ever really leave you if you keep them alive in your heart.
"When I heard what Carol was asking, I was hesitant. It didn't seem natural, giving you her powers and her memories permanently. Was it selfish of her to try to stay alive through this method? Was it wrong if she wanted to live through you?
"But that wasn't what she meant. Carol didn't want to keep herself alive; she wanted to keep her memories alive. The stories of the Avengers. Captain America and S.H.I.E.L.D. Even Red Skull and Hydra. As long as those memories are alive, we keep their stories alive. And if there was anyone who I would trust with those memories… it'd be you."
They sat in silence for a minute as Rogue thought about what Logan had said. "Why? Why me? I mean, I understand because of my powers… but why do you all have so much trust in me?"
Logan chuckled quietly. "Kid, there's something special about you. Maybe you don't see it, but we all do. It's why the Professor wanted you to join the X-Men. It's why Kurt and Kitty love hanging out with you. Heck, it's why you were the one who stopped Apocalypse. You're one of a kind, Rogue."
Logan walked over to Rogue and pulled her to him, hugging her. "I'm proud of you."
She stepped back and wiped the tears from her eyes. "Thanks, Logan."
He patted her on the shoulder. "I'm glad you have Carol's memories. You deserve them."
Rogue smirked. She grabbed Logan's shirt and lifted him up off the floor. "And her powers."
Logan groaned. "Oh… I'm really looking forward to this…"
She placed him down. "All I have to do is concentrate and I can feel energy building up inside of me."
"Yeah, that's how Carol did it. Her powers let her do some pretty incredible things. Beyond just the running and the jumping, her powers even held back her cancer. Like you said, all she had to do was concentrate," Logan said.
Rogue stared at her hand. "Logan… I want to try something…" She pulled off her glove, and started concentrating on her skin. She poured as much energy as possible into her hand's skin. If she didn't know any better, she would have thought that it would start glowing.
He nodded. "Go ahead."
"But… I don't know if it will work…"
"Won't know if you don't try," he replied.
Rogue slowly and carefully placed her hand on Logan's face. She nearly flinched when she felt his cheek, but kept her fingers from moving away. She half-expected him to start shouting in pain, as they all did whenever she touched them. But this time, he didn't react at all.
"Nothing?" she asked him quietly.
"Nothing," he replied with a smile.
She pulled her hand back and held onto it. She couldn't believe it. "So… because of Carol's powers… if I concentrate really hard… I can… touch someone? I don't believe it…"
He placed his hand on her shoulder. "Happy birthday, kid."
"Time for presents!" Bobby shouted. Jubilee followed up by launching several fireworks into the air.
"Birthday time! Birthday time! Birthday time!" Jamie said as he and a dozen of his clones started to chant.
"Let's get this party started!" Tabitha shouted as she started throwing explosives into the air.
Hank panicked. "Everyone, please!"
Ororo acted quickly and summoned a gust of wind to blow Tabitha's explosives high into the sky, exploding harmlessly.
Hank sighed. "Let's… not do that again. Heart attacks really shouldn't be on today's agenda."
Piotr nodded. "Deep breath, Mr. McCoy."
Scott walked over to Rogue. "Come on, birthday girl. Open some presents."
"Here's Scott's and my gift," Jean said as she handed Rogue two presents. "Don't worry. We're not Tabitha, so it won't explode on you."
Rogue pulled off the wrapping. "Oh, wow. The new Alice in Chains CD. And Coraline. I've been meaning to get these. Thanks."
"My turn!" Tabitha said. "I can't make Jean's promise. My gift might be flammable."
After getting a large bag of fireworks, a dark green sweatshirt with an ornate yellow design on the front, a John Green signed copy of The Fault in Our Stars, Season 1 of True Blood, a box of German chocolate truffles, a bright green lava lamp, a pair of black leather boots, an abstract oil painting by a local artist, and an English subtitled DVD of Grave of the Fireflies, Rogue was feeling this was a very lucrative haul this birthday.
"Oh," Kitty said as she set down her bowl of cherry vanilla ice cream and grabbed a gift on the corner of the table. "I didn't see this one earlier."
"Me neither," Kurt said.
Kitty shrugged and handed Rogue the present. "It's not labeled. Could be from anyone."
The present turned out to be a very nice set of playing cards. They were personalized too; the backside of every card had "Rogue" written in fancy cursive.
"I think I know who it's from," Rogue said with a smirk, hoping nobody could see her cheeks flush.
After the party ended, most of the students had left, leaving only a few people left chatting.
"No, you're wrong. It's not canon," Hank said. "It's a deleted scene. It wasn't officially part of the movie."
"But it was part of the original screenplay," Scott argued. "It was meant to be in the movie. And nothing else in the movie contradicts it. So it stands as part of the canon."
"What about a 'cannon'?" Jamie asked as he headed back to his room in the Mansion.
"I'm sorry, Scott, but the very definition of 'canon' means that it has to be official. 'Word of God', if you will. Made by the creators," Hank said.
"But Abrams, Orci, and Kurtzman are the creators of both the movie that came out and the deleted scenes. My point still stands," Scott countered.
"What are you two talking about?" Jean inquired.
"What counts as canon," Scott replied.
"Why?" Jean asked
"So you know what's official and what's just fan speculation. You know, canon versus fanon," he answered.
"Why do you need to argue about that? Why should it being canon or not canon change whether you enjoy it or not? Arguing about its canon just seems really silly… and nerdy," she said.
Hank laughed. "Arguing about minutia is a very fond pastime of mine. I prefer it any day of the week compared to a tango with Magneto and his Acolytes."
Jean shook her head. "What topic were you arguing about?"
"Star Trek. Specifically the 2009 reboot," Scott said.
"Well… technically it's not a reboot. It's a sequel that takes place in an alternate universe," Hank added.
"It's clearly a reboot," Scott said. "It hits all of the qualifications of a reboot."
Jean sighed. "Sorry I asked."
Ororo placed her hand on Jean's shoulder. "Just don't mention the episode 'Code of Honor'. I learned that the hard way."
At the other end of the yard, Logan walked over to Rogue. "Here, I got you something." He handed her a brown coat. It was old, but still in very good condition. "I should say 'Carol got you something'. This coat was Carol's back in the day. She insisted that you have it. She used to wear this coat all the time, back when she was… let me think… early 20s. Heh, time flies."
"Thank you, Logan," Rogue said. "And… Carol."
"Well, I'm gonna go before I get all sentimental and what," he said as he waved and then walked away.
Rogue laughed. "You know, that was technically a gift from Carol! You still owe me a present!" she shouted to him.
Rogue then heard a puff of smoke behind her. She turned around and saw Kurt and Kitty.
"Like, I told you I can cook," Kitty said while sticking her tongue out at Kurt. He grinned and pulled her into a hug.
"I'm just happy Scott hasn't crucified me for taking his car without permission," Kurt said.
"What did he say?" Rogue asked.
"Well… I haven't told him about it," Kurt said with a smile. "So… that's probably the main reason he's not mad."
Rogue smirked. "So, what are you two doing over here?"
"Well, we wanted to say happy birthday," Kurt said. "A huge party was fun and all, but it felt a little impersonal, so we wanted to personalize it."
Kitty nodded. "It's been another year with our best friend. And what better way than to tell her ourselves?"
Kurt and Kitty stared at Rogue for a moment. Rogue smiled. "Oh… just hug. I can see that you want to."
The two embraced her.
"Happy birthday, roomie," Kitty said.
"Happy birthday, meine Schwester," Kurt said.
She hugged them back. "Thank you, roomie. Thank you, mein Bruder."
"Hey! Sie sprechen Deutsch?" Kurt asked with a huge smile on his face.
Rogue laughed and shook her head. "No, I just made sure to learn how to say that one phrase. But I'm getting pretty tired of not understanding all of these foreign languages."
Kurt snapped his fingers. "Oh yeah. Almost forgot about the special gift."
"What are you talking about?" Rogue asked.
"Well, remember how we had to go on that trip this morning?" Kitty asked. "Logan gave us directions for a 'secret mission'. Which sounded way cooler than it actually was."
"He really just needed us to drive three hours to go to a public storage facility where he keeps a bunch of his old stuff," Kurt said.
"We won't bore you with the details of how tough it was finding it buried beneath all those piles of stuff, or who embarrassed who by ordering ten Burger Bombs just for himself for lunch…" she said.
"The point is," Kurt cut her off, "Logan told us to go pick up something for you, and here it is."
Kurt handed Rogue a picture frame. She flipped it over and saw a black and white photograph of the original Avengers. Director Stoner was standing front and center. Steve Rogers just off to his side, standing proud and tall. Jonathan Pym nervously smiling and waving. Marina McKenzie sitting on the desk with a bright smile on her face. Shiro Yashida and Logan Howlett off to the side; their forced poses making it look like neither really wanted to be there. And Carol Khan leaning on Steve and her arm around Marina. The photograph was dated October 10, 1944.
Rogue wanted to say something, but couldn't find the words. Kurt and Kitty took that as their cue to leave.
Rogue was feeling so much emotion. Happiness, sadness, anger, thankfulness, humbleness. Everything inside of her wanted to burst. She wanted to let go and feel free. She wanted to let her emotions flow freely, like the wind.
She concentrated power into her legs and crouched. After a second, her legs pushed off the ground like a spring. At first she was just a foot in the air. Then another. And another. Soon she was higher than the tree, and then higher than the roof. And at the very climax of her jump, that one instant before gravity takes hold and you start to fall back down, she felt… happy.
"Whoa!" Jamie shouted from his bedroom window. "Is Rogue flying? Is this because of the 'cannon'?"