Disclaimer: The disclaimer is torturing my muse again. It's making him watch Barney over and over again, with no end in sight. I really don't want to get involved...

A/N: Thanks to everyone that reviewed, especially to the anonymous reviewers that I couldn't review-reply to! ;)

CHAPTER 11
Flowers and Fools

The rays of sunlight pouring into the garden were almost blinding. They showered the area with so much love and warmth that Ororo couldn't prevent the contented sigh that escaped her lips. The soft, silky grass beneath her feet perfumed the air with its freshly cut fragrance, making her nostalgic and giddy. She leaned down to breathe in the sweet scent of a nearby rose, rich in its red hue and perfect bloom.

She raised her eyes to survey the garden in its full glory: bright and shining, and bursting with every flower and color imaginable. There were beds of roses, carnations, lilies, dandelions, orchids and forget-me-knots. Patch upon patch of blue, orange, red, yellow and purple -- as far as her eyes could see.

A gentle wind picked up and fluttered through the cream-colored folds of her skirt. She watched as a rose petal broke free from its perch and caught onto the swaying breeze. It danced up and down, turning, coiling in the teasing wind, running further and further from where she stood. It finally drifted slowly to the ground, as the carrying wind began to die. It fell short of a wide stone entrance that opened out into the garden.

Her eyes focused onto the stones, knowing that she had entered the garden from that entrance -- how long ago, she was not sure. She knew only that beyond the opening was a gray tunnel that she had suddenly woken up in. The tunnel had neither been cold nor dark. It had simply been... there. Before she had time to contemplate the thought further, a light at the end of the tunnel had caught her attention. A feeling of contentment radiated from that light, and drew her closer. She moved toward it willingly, and when she stepped through the opening, the feeling of contentment intensified a hundredfold.

This was her paradise. This was her home.

As she stared at the gray stones that had led her there, she felt a small tug at the back of her heart. It was infinitesimal and minute, but it was there. Her brow furrowed slightly as she tried to identify the odd sensation. It felt as if... she was missing something?

Another breeze struck up from behind her, and she turned. She was surprised to see a tall golden gate shining in the sunlight.

All thoughts of the old stone entrance left her mind as she strode purposely over to the gate. It had never been there before. Where had it come from? She pushed curiously at the metal, and it easily opened for her.

Tentatively, she peeked through, and slowly took a step inside.

- oOo -

"She's gettin' worse, ain't she?" Rogue asked, as her best friend claimed the seat across from her. She had been 'hiding out' in the cafeteria for the better part of the afternoon, fearing that the next person that would find her would be the bearer of bad news.

"'Bout the same." Bobby nodded to the cup in front of her. "How long have you been nursing that coffee?"

For the first time in hours, Rogue looked up at the large wall clock that was hanging at the far end of the room. Her vision blurred slightly and she had to blink a few times to clear it. "Six hours, Ah guess."

"You want me to get you a fresh one?"

"Ah want you ta get Logan ta listen ta me."

Bobby sighed. "You and me both know he's about as likely to do that as you are to drop the idea altogether."

"Ah can help, Bobby."

"I know you think you can, hon, but you just might be making things worse." He caught her gaze when she looked up at him. He could see the fire burning clear in her eyes. More than that, he could see the stubborn set of her jaw that marked the un-relinquishing stand she was making. "Try and look at it from Logan's point of view: 'Ro's hurt bad and he's feeling pretty crappy right now because there's nothing he can do to stop her from hurting. And here you are, his little sister, claiming that you can cure her; but he was there when you tried it before and almost died. He knows that if he lets you have your way, he'll be trading one person he loves for another. He's not willing to do that."

"Then he's a fool," she said, bitterly. "He's gonna let 'Ro die because he thinks Ah don' know what Ah'm doin'."

"Do you? I mean, do you really? We were just kids when you tried to save your parents. What makes you so sure you can do it now? It's not like you could practice on anyone since the last time you tried."

She turned to him, focusing her green eyes onto his blue. "Ah jus' know, Bobby. Ah wish ev'ryone would have a bit more faith in me." Her hands fiddled with her long-forgotten coffee cup.

"I do," he insisted, reaching over and resting his hand on top of hers. "I really do, honest. It's just that... I remember how scary it was when we didn't know what was happening to you." He squeezed her hand supportively. He knew she was just trying to help. Everyone was dealing with their feelings of helplessness, and this was simply Rogue's way of dealing with her own. "Okay, let's say we get Logan to agree -- hypothetically speaking -- what are you going to do when he finds out the secret you've been hiding?"

"An' jus' what secret would dat be?"

Both Rogue and Bobby looked up as Remy spoke. His eyebrow was cocked sharply as he waited for the answer to his question.

"Ahh damn, here we go..." Rogue cursed under her breath.

- oOo -

If there was one sound in the entire room that Logan was focused on, it was the steady beeping of the heart monitor attached to Ororo's body. His ultra sensitive hearing allowed him to distinguish and pick-up every minute sound around him, but at that moment he was only interested in one. As long as one beep came after another, in that comforting and stable succession, he could ignore everything else.

He had been cradling her hand for nearly nineteen hours, his own fatigue having been chased away long ago. Crazy as it may have sounded, he was afraid that if he let go of her hand, even for a second, that she would slip quietly away from him. And so he sat, holding her hand in his, willing whatever meager strength he had to give into her body, trying to connect his thoughts to hers.

"Yer doin' good, 'Ro," he whispered encouragingly, caressing the back of her hand. "Slow an' steady, that's all we need ta do ta get you better."

He focused his attention back to the rhythmic beating of her heart. As long as it was solid and strong, there was hope. She had made it through the night without complications. Dr. Reynolds didn't want to get their hopes up, but at least things weren't turning for the worse.

Rise... and fall. Rise... and fall. He watched as she took each breath, filling her lungs with the oxygen she couldn't quite get on her own. That was all he needed to concentrate on: the rise and fall of her chest, her breathing, and the continual beating of her heart.

So intent and focused was he on those two singular sounds, that he was stunned into inaction when the flat-line screech of the heart monitor reached his ears.

- oOo -

"Still keepin' secrets from me, chère?"

Rogue glared at her best friend. "Nice goin', ice-boy," she hissed.

Bobby shrugged his shoulders. "He was going to find out one way or the other."

Pulling out a chair, Remy turned it around and sat down, resting his forearms on the backrest. "One o' you better start spillin'."

Rogue leaned back and folded her arms across her chest, cocking an eyebrow and challenging Bobby into speech.

"Okay, okay. Quit with the death glare already. I'll tell him," he began, running a hand over his tired eyes. "You know how Rogue can see into people's memories and lives when she touches them, right? How she gets a glimpse into their thoughts, along with whatever knowledge or mutant powers they might have?"

"Oui. An' whoever she gets dose mem'ries, t'oughts an' powers from get knocked out f'r a bit in de process."

"Yeah well, we sort of found out that when Rogue uses her powers on Logan, he kind of gets a glimpse into her memories."

Remy looked slightly confused. "Excusé moi?"

"With Logan, it's a two-way street," Rogue jumped in. "Ah can see inta his head; he can see inta mine."

"That's how he found out about Rogue and me fooling around back in high school. He almost gave me major organ transplants that I didn't know I wanted."

Locking gazes with Rogue, Remy asked, "So ya sayin' ya brother will know about...?"

"Us, yes," she confirmed. She turned back to Bobby. "But that shouldn't even be an issue here. We're talkin' 'bout gettin' 'Ro better -- period. Nothin' else matters. Ah can try an' stop Logan from gettin' any o' mah mem'ries."

"You can do that?" asked Bobby.

"Ah can try. Ah stopped him from seein' a couple o' things last time. It'll be like tryin' ta stop a river from flowin', but Ah can try."

"Stripes!" a loud voice called from the cafeteria entrance. The trio turned and was startled to see Frank rushing over to them in a panic. "Let's go! She's crashing!" He practically yanked her from her seat in his attempt to get her moving.

"What?!" She stumbled to her feet. "Ah thought you went home, Frankie. What th' hell happened?!"

"I just got back," he bit out, racing through the hospital corridors with Rogue right beside him. "I went straight to 'Ro's room and saw Patch outside. The doctors are with her now, trying to save her."

They rounded the corner and saw exactly the picture that Frank had described just a second before. Logan was standing outside the large glass window, watching stonily as the team of doctors and nurses worked frantically to stabilize Ororo's condition.

"Logan!" Rogue yelled. "What's happenin'?!"

Her brother stared blankly at the scene before him. All hope had drained from his eyes. "We're losin' her," he whispered.

"No, we're not! Stop talkin' like that!" she said angrily, pounding her fists at his chest. She wouldn't accept that -- she wouldn't! "She's a fighter! She's goin' ta pull through!"

"She's lettin' go..."

"No, she's not!" Turning, Rogue began to yell through the glass. "Fight, 'Ro! You ain't leavin' me here with this blockhead! Do you hear me?! Fight!"

She felt, more than saw, the hands that wrapped around her upper arms firmly. "Chèrie, you can't be doin' dat..."

"No!" She turned angry eyes to Logan again. "This is yoah fault! Ah could save her! Ah could help!"

"Stripes..."

"No! Ah ain't a kid anymore! When she pulls through this, we're goin' ta save her! Ah'm takin' away th' choice from you!"

- oOo -

The scene before her took Ororo's breath away. If she had thought the garden had been beautiful, then the landscape ahead was simply astounding: golden light, flora, fauna, and quietly flowing falls. It was calling to her like a siren's song. She took another tentative step forward...

---

C'mon, show the li'l blue button down there some affection! ;)