Disclaimer: The X-Men and related characters are the property of Marvel Comics and are used without permission. This is a non-profit making work of fan-fiction.
By Duncan Johnson
Chapter One - OMENS
San Francisco. A little after midnight. A figure stood alone on top of the city's most famous landmark. Even at this time of night, there was still a fair amount of traffic across the Golden Gate Bridge. As was typical in most modern cities, the work never stopped. Despite this volume of people on the bridge, not one of them noticed the woman. Under the circumstances, this was perhaps a forgivable error. After all, the only way to get to the top of the suspension bridge's highest support at this time of night would be to have flown up there. Which is exactly what the woman had done.
If the traffic was ignoring her, the woman was also ignoring the traffic. Rogue's attention was no longer focussed on the present. She was lost in images of the past. The link between her and the bridge was strong. This was where she had learned to fly.
An' don't ah wish I hadn't, she mused. The memories were not happy ones. True, it was here she had gained most of her powers, but she had gained them at the expense of another. Here, she had killed Ms Marvel. Killed her and stolen her powers. It had been the act of a confused and frightened teenager, but even after all this time, how could anyone forgive her time as an assassin? How could anyone forgive her when she could not even forgive herself?
It had happened at night. It had been a warm night, as befitted late August. She had cornered Ms Marvel, or rather Carol Danvers, outside her home. Carol had her arms full of shopping. It should have been an easy kill. It was not; Carol was not called Ms Marvel for nothing. As well as being able to fly, Carol was also incredibly strong. She had a long and successful superheroing career behind her, while Rogue was just an untrained mutant. The battle had been long and furious and had ended here, on the very heart of the Golden Gate Bridge. Unsurprisingly, Ms Marvel had the upper hand. Rogue was beaten, defeated. Or so it seemed. All that remained was for the victor to deal the killing blow.
But Rogue was not without power herself. Her talent was to absorb people's souls when she touched them. The transfer gave her a person's memories, talents, powers, while leaving the target unconscious. Thus, Rogue turned Carol Danvers' own powers against her as she hurled her from the bridge. Usually, the transfer was temporary, but for some unknown reason, this time it was permanent. Two minds were now permanently locked within Rogue's body. Now Rogue possessed incredible strength and the ability to fly. In exchange, she got a split personality that threatened to drive her insane.
So ah went and found Professor Xavier, Rogue thought as she lifted herself from the bridge and took to the air. He helped me come to terms with mah powers. Ah joined the X-Men and for the first time in mah life ah felt as if ah belonged somewhere. Ah left the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants behind and ah never looked back. And that was the day ah gave up killing.
The flight was exhilarating. This was one power she never tired of. To be up there among the clouds and the stars was an amazing sensation. It almost made up for all it had cost her. Almost. It meant a lot to a woman who could never know love. Up here she felt she could forget about all her troubles and let them drift back down to earth for someone else to deal with.
She reached the city's outskirts sooner than she would have liked and touched down in the garden of Jessica Drew's house. House was probably a misnomer, but it was not quite big enough to be considered a mansion. Jessica Drew, the first Spider-Woman and now a private investigator, had been putting up the X-Men ever since an all-powerful being known as the Beyonder had destroyed their own mansion in a battle against the New Mutants. Until construction of the new mansion was complete, Professor Xavier and his students had relocated to the research facility on Muir Island, off the Scottish coast, and the X-Men had temporarily moved to San Francisco.
As her booted feet touched the damp grass, Rogue instinctively knew she was not alone. Wolverine was reclining on a bench in a secluded corner of the garden. Rogue had no idea what a bench was doing in Jessica's garden, but in a garden this size it hardly seemed inappropriate. Unlike Rogue, Wolverine was not in costume. He was wearing a red and black checked-shirt and faded jeans. He was smoking a large cigar. With his fast healing powers, smoking was definitely not hazardous to his health. Rogue often wondered if someone ought to tell him about the dangers of passive smoking to everyone else, though.
'Hiya, shugah, you're up late, aintcha?' she commented in her southern drawl.
Without glancing at his watch, Wolverine replied, 'Surely it's early by now, and I could ask the same question.'
'Ah needed to get some thinkin' done,' Rogue murmured, unable to look at Wolverine directly.
'Bad memories, huh?' Wolverine nodded understandingly. 'My past ain't pretty either.'
'It's this place,' Rogue confided. 'In New York it ain't so bad, but here here ah can't help remembering.'
'This is were it happened, ain't it.' It was a statement, not a question. 'That's the most difficult place in the world to be. Why do you think I don't go up to Canada no more?'
Rogue actually managed a weak smile at that. 'Of all the places the X-Men could have moved to it had to be 'Frisco, didn't it.' She tried to make a joke out of it, but doubted she could conceal the pain, particularly from someone as observant as Wolverine.
Wolverine laughed with her, briefly. Then he became serious again. 'Look, kid, why don't you take a vacation,' he suggested. 'Or if you still want to help out, go and join Charley and the kids on Muir Island. Just get away for a bit. Storm'll understand.'
'Thanks, shugah, it's nice to know yah care,' Rogue assured him, 'but ah'm an X-Man now and this is where ah belong.'
'I hope so, kid,' Wolverine murmured as he watched Rogue go inside to catch a few hours sleep. 'I hope so.'
* * *
Taking a long drag on his cigar, Wolverine tilted his head back to look at the stars. They were mostly obscured because of the ambient light from the city, but he thought he could just make out the white smudge of the Milky Way. I'm hardly the sentimental type, Wolverine mused, but even I have to admit it looks beautiful tonight. His reverie was interrupted by the arrival of a pale purple cloud, accompanied by a bamf sound and the smell of brimstone.
'Stargazing, mein freund?' Nightcrawler asked as he emerged from the cloud. If Wolverine was fazed by the teleporter's sudden appearance, he didn't show it.
'I guess so, elf,' he replied. 'I'm a little distracted tonight.'
From the garden, they watched as the light in Rogue's room came on and then shut off again after only a few minutes.
'There is one troubled young lady, nein?' Nightcrawler commented to his companion.
'You can say that again,' Wolverine agreed. 'She doesn't deserve to carry that sort of weight on her shoulders at that age.'
'Or at any other age,' Nightcrawler added. 'We all carry our own pains, Herr Logan.'
'Yeah, but at least I can confront my problems face to face.' Wolverine illustrated his point by extending his adamantium claws with a snikt and then retracting them just as quickly. 'She just has to live with hers. As do you. It can't be easy, looking the way you do.'
'Too true,' Nightcrawler said, 'but I would much rather have my condition than hers. To never be able to touch another living being. That truly is a curse.'
'You're right about that. The kid'll always be isolated, even among friends.'
'And now must be the worst time of all,' Nightcrawler continued. 'She is a very attractive young woman, or had you not noticed, mein freund?'
'Oh, I'd noticed alright,' Wolverine replied with a wry smile. 'I'm surprised you had though, elf.'
'Just because I look like a monster does not mean that I cannot appreciate beauty when I see it in others,' Nightcrawler said. 'But you have not spent the night sitting in the garden worrying about Rogue's problems, have you?'
'Nope, you're right there,' Wolverine muttered.
There was a moment of silence.
'Well?' Nightcrawler prompted.
Wolverine did not reply, at least not verbally. Instead, he handed Nightcrawler the manila folder lying next to him.
'The Dark Phoenix file,' Nightcrawler gasped in astonishment.
'I had Xavier send it over from the island,' Wolverine explained.
'You worry about Rachel,' Nightcrawler surmised. 'She is her mother's daughter, after all.'
'Jean became the Phoenix to save us,' Wolverine said, 'and it consumed her. We should have been able to help. We were her friends, weren't we?'
'There was nothing that could be done,' Nightcrawler assured him. 'Jean Grey gave her life voluntarily.'
It was true enough, but Nightcrawler suspected that she had not really had a choice in the matter. At least, not if she was a true X-Man. The Phoenix had been an extra-dimensional entity, the guardian of the M'Kraan crystal. In order to save the universe it had attained physical form by bonding with Jean Grey, a powerful telepath. Once the threat had passed, however, it had refused to depart, revelling in emotions it had never before experienced. It had wrought chaos and destruction across the galaxy. In the end, Jean had separated herself from the Phoenix by the only method she knew. She had killed herself.
'I should have been able to save her,' Wolverine whispered. His love for Jean ran deep. In the end, Scott Summers, the X-Man known as Cyclops, had won her heart. But Wolverine had never stopped loving her.
'I owe it to her to protect Rachel,' he continued, 'but if we couldn't save Jean how can we hope to help the kid?'
'In Rachel's universe, her mother was able to control the powers of the Phoenix,' Nightcrawler said. 'With our help, perhaps Rachel can do the same.'
'Perhaps,' Wolverine muttered. Rachel came from the early twenty-first century of an alternate universe. In that universe, Jean Grey had mastered her powers and she and Cyclops had married. Rachel was their daughter. By mutual consent of all the X-Men, this information had been kept from their Cyclops.
'We'd better be able to help her, elf,' Wolverine said, 'because if we can't, I'm not sure we'd be able to stop her.'
'You'll find a way to help her, mein freund,' Nightcrawler said. 'Of all of us here, you have been an X-Man the longest. If anyone can help Rachel, it is you.'
It was true. Wolverine had not been a member of the first team of X-Men: Beast, Ice-Man, Angel, Jean Grey and Cyclops. He was, however, one of the group's earliest members. Now that Cyclops had taken a leave of absence to spend some time with his wife, Madeleine Pryor, Wolverine was certainly the most experienced of the current team of X-Men. But he disliked responsibility. He had turned down the position of team leader on more than one occasion. Why, then, do I feel so responsible for the girl? Surely she's Storm's concern? But he already knew the answer. I owe you this one, Jean, and I'll protect your daughter no matter what. Inwardly, he doubted he could keep that promise.
* * *
In her bedroom, Rachel Summers was oblivious to all that was being said about her. She was having a nightmare. She was twisting and turning on the small single-bed, her hands raised as if to protect her face. The sheet that had been covering her lay on the floor in a tightly packed ball. With the window wide open, Rachel was protected from the elements only by a large, flimsy 'I Love New York' T-shirt. She neither knew nor cared.
In her mind, she was back in her own time, in a subway beneath the city of New York. The anti-mutant riots were in full swing. The X-Men had been imprisoned in a high security internment centre. Now they were making their escape. As she watched, Sentinel robots, huge machines designed simply to eradicate all mutant life, prised open the roof of the subway with thick metal fingers. Franklin Richards, her best friend, was lagging behind the rest of the X-Men. Rachel turned to help him. Sentinels vaporised him before her eyes.
The ensuing chase beneath the city was a blur. Rachel buried her tear-streaked face in the arms of Kitty Pride, better known as Ariel, as they ran. Storm led the way. Colossus, carrying an injured Rogue, followed. Wolverine brought up the rear. They were all that remained of the once mighty team of X-Men. Everyone else was dead. Hunted down and murdered. Finally they reached the Baxter Building, former headquarters of the Fantastic Four. Here the X-Men made their last stand. One by one, the Sentinels cut them down. One moment there were six of them, then only Kitty and Rachel remained. In a last desperate act, Kitty Pride hurled Rachel back in time and across dimensions, hoping to send her to a more peaceful world. Rachel's last memory was of the ultimate Sentinel, Nimrod, ending Kitty's life. With extreme prejudice.
* * *
It was 8:31 A.M. when Jessica Drew finally decided to get out of bed. That was what the clock by her bed told her, anyway. One advantage, she mused as she made her way over to the wardrobe, of running your own business is that you can afford to give yourself flexible hours. Besides, a private investigator hardly got a consistent volume of work. Jessica paused in front of the wardrobe. It was big. Much bigger than the standard sized wardrobes you got by mail order. She had specifically gone looking for a large wardrobe. She remembered an enjoyable day, not long ago, which she had dedicated entirely to searching the city for a wardrobe big enough for her. As she pondered the monstrosity before her, she reflected that even this probably was not large enough for her needs.
With a resigned sigh, she flung open the wardrobe's doors. As usual, the first thing that caught her eye was her old Spider-Woman costume. She lifted it out of the wardrobe and lay it on the bed for a better look. It was a one-piece affair, with an attached cowl mask, done in red, with a pair of gold diamonds, supposed to represent a spider, across the chest. Her figures brushed the fabric, gingerly, as if it might disintegrate when touched. She treated it reverently, like an ancient relic. It was her one remaining link with her superheroine past.
'Regrets?' Jessica looked up and saw Storm, in a dressing gown, standing in the doorway.
'Always and never,' Jessica replied. 'At times I remember what a hassle it was to be a superhero, always expected to help, regardless of circumstance. At other times, I miss it like crazy.'
'I know how you feel,' Storm consoled.
'I'll bet you do,' Jessica agreed.
Not too long ago, Storm had lost her powers when she had been struck by a ray, intended for Rogue, fired by the notorious mutant-hater Henry Peter Gyrich. She continued to lead the X-Men, the team would not have it any other way, but she often felt more of a hindrance than a help nowadays.
'When I had them, I felt my powers were a curse,' Storm explained. 'I always had to keep my emotions in check, lest I drive the weather out of control. I felt that I could never truly express my feelings. I thought I'd be glad to see my powers gone.'
'But you're not, are you?' Jessica asked. 'You feel incomplete without them.'
'Too true,' Storm agreed. 'You never realise how valuable something is to you until it's gone. What is Storm without her weather powers? With them I was a goddess. Now I'm just plain Ororo Monroe.'
'Take it from me,' Jessica assured her, 'to the X-Men, you'll always be Storm.'
'I wish I had your faith, Jessica,' Storm replied, 'but how long will it be before I place the X-Men in danger? If they've always got to protect me, how long will it be before they realise that they're better off without me?'
'You'll face that problem when it arises, and not before. I know you, Ororo, and I know you'll come through with flying colours.' Jessica went back over to the wardrobe. 'Now, what do you think? This skirt or that one?'
* * *
While the others spent the early morning relaxing, the youngest X-Man was already hard at work. Kitty Pride, the X-Man formerly known as Ariel and now referred to as Shadowcat, may have come all the way from New York to join the rest of the X-Men, but Magneto insisted that she keep up with her studies. And so, every morning, she found herself in San Francisco's main library, buried in books. She did not mind too much, though. She enjoyed her studies and liked reading. Her mutant powers were not the only things that set her apart from her fellow students.
She may have publicly come to San Francisco to be with the X-Men, but privately there was another reason behind her desire to leave New York. Recently, she had been the victim of an anti-mutant assault. No, assault was too weak a word; it had been an attempted murder. Had not Rachel and Magneto intervened, she felt sure she would be dead now. Worse, even, than the attempt on her life itself, the assault had been carried out by a group of her fellow students. People she knew. People she had considered friends. She did not know whom to trust anymore. She no longer felt welcome in her own home city.
So she had jumped at the chance to get away for an unspecified period of time. It gave her a chance to put some distance between herself and the immediate problem while she tried to put the issue into perspective within her own mind. Was this how it was always going to be? She did not want to be an outcast, hunted and hated. Up until recently she had enjoyed her life. She was having fun. She had lots of friends (people said that she was an extremely likeable young woman). She even had a somewhat serious relationship with Peter Rasputin, Colossus (though if she heard one more rumour regarding marriage proposals she was going to scream). And, perhaps best of all, she was a superhero. She had powers that made her special. She was different from ordinary people and it was a great feeling.
At least it had been. Now, though, she was not so sure. Were her powers going to ruin her life forever? She was a sociable girl, but how could she have a social life when her own friends wanted her dead. Was she destined to become part of some oppressed minority? She certainly did not want that. She had her whole life ahead of her and it was one that she intended to make the most of. But how could she do that if she was hated and feared by everyone she met? Were her powers more of a curse than a blessing? And, if so, what could she possibly do about it? She was not prepared to give up her powers, but neither was she going to cut herself off from the rest of the world. Somewhere there had to be a compromise she could reach. She only had to work out what it was.
For now, though, that problem would have to wait. She had an organic chemistry text to read. She watched as the diagrams of aromatic hydrocarbons blurred before her eyes. She yawned, shook herself and then yawned again. She had spent the night worrying and, as a result, had not got much sleep. Exhaustion, unsatisfied with the night's rest, was taking its revenge. Well girl, she thought, you're no use to anybody in this state. You need to wake yourself up a little. Maybe if you go for a walk-
The voice rang in her head with incredible volume. Kitty was so surprised that she phased right through her chair and ended up on the floor. Fortunately, nobody else in the library had noticed. Recovering her wits, and her composure (if not her pride), Kitty wondered who could be communicating with her telepathically.
Kitty, it's me, Illyana.
Well, that answers that question, Kitty thought. Illyana, alias the New Mutant called Magik, was on Muir island, but she and Kitty shared a bond that allowed them to communicate telepathically. Illyana had been Kitty's roommate back in New York. She was also Colossus' sister.
Kitty, you're in terrible danger. Something is on the loose in San Francisco.
When Illyana said something she meant it. As well as being a mutant teleporter, Illyana Rasputin was also a demon sorceress and queen of a magical domain she called Limbo. The things she talked about could only be monsters from another dimension.
And I thought I was going to get a bit of piece and quiet to sort out my problems, Kitty mused. As if I didn't have enough to worry about, now there's a demon come to call.