PART SIX

Xavier Mansion
Medical Unit


"She's crashing again! Prep the paddles!" Hank hollered to Jean. She rushed the crash cart over and squirted thick gel on the paddles.

"Clear," she ordered, and everyone stepped back, hands in the air. Leaning over Rogue's prone form, she placed the paddles on the other woman's chest. A jolt of energy rocked through the body, and the welcome blip of a heartbeat returned. With a sigh of relief, Jean replaced the paddles on the cart and returned her attention to Rogue's writhing psyche.

To one side stood Cable, his eyes closed, his face tense, straining to make contact with Rogue through the maelstrom of her unconscious mind. In a moment, Jean's familiar Phoenix form flared at his side on the astral plane. They looked in awe at the mad vortex gushing before them and exchanged a very concerned look.

"I've never seen anything like it – even considering her Kree shields. This is – insane," Jean commented.

"I'm surprised we were able to get in even this far. This is one tough lady," Nathan commented, prodding at a random image with his psimitar, probing for an entrance. Immediately a mental wall slammed down, shutting out the two telepaths.

Jean wracked her brain in an attempt to find a new course of attack; obviously a direct approach was out of the question. "I wonder if it's a matter of trust?" she murmured.

"Trust?"

"Rogue's such a private person – a side-effect of her mutant factor, I assume. She has always had a firm grip on what she allows others to see, almost as a defense mechanism." Jean pondered this for a moment before continuing, "I suppose there's only one person she's ever let in behind these walls."

"Gambit." Nathan considered. "I assume you're referring to his newly emerging powers?"

"Yes. We know he has exhibited signs of rudimentary telepathy since his ordeal in Antarctica, and the time he spent in her mind – well, he might the expert telepath in this case, Nathan."

Before them, the shield faded out and vanished, overwhelmed by the strength of the torrent within. Jean watched the play of images that occasionally flitted across the face of the whirling storm. The asteroid, a metal table, a baby She could not begin to piece together their relationship, but with the frequency they repeated themselves, she knew they had played an integral part in Rogue's trauma. Concentrating, she probed with a tendril, hoping to pick up even a glimmer of emotion from their patient. She caught a sense of overwhelming confusion, loneliness, and a desolate cry for a child – Rogue's child – before the Kree walls slammed down again, reducing her to mere "physical" sight.

"Jean?"

She blinked and opened her eyes, aware that Hank had been calling her. "Yes?"

"I need to perform a full examination now that we have her stabilized – would you mind assisting me?"

Cable opened his eyes and sighed. Suddenly he looked a little smaller, and very, very tired. "I'll go talk to Gambit." He moved slowly from the room, followed by Betsy and Kurt.

Pulling around a privacy curtain, Hank turned to a small table and laid out a few instruments, fussing a bit unnecessarily with them. After allowing him a few moments of pointed silence, Jean gave up and asked, "What is it?"

Hank looked up, surprised. Recalling himself, he gave first her, and then Rogue, a long look. Apparently reaching a decision, he pursed his lips and asked, "Jean, to your knowledge, Rogue has never been intimate with a man, correct?"

Jean stared blankly at him. "No. Because of her absorption ability – and – " She stopped, wondering how much information she should reveal without Rogue's consent.

"I only ask in a medical capacity," Hank reassured her.

After a moment, Jean continued. "Frankly, I think there might have been a chance with Remy – when they were imprisoned Antarctica - but she was not in a state of mind to go that far. And since them, they've had to relearn how to trust each other. So, no – I don't think she has ever been able to reach that point."

"I had so assumed, of course, given the unfortunate circumstances of her abilities. That makes the results of my initial scan so extraordinary." Hank padded lightly over to a computer screen, and Jean followed closely.

"I thought you wanted to do a full examination now," she said.

"Oh, I do. But I want you to see this first, to confirm that I am not losing my mind." He called up a results screen of the preliminary scan Cerebro had made of her body. Scrolling down through the sections of Rogue's anatomy, he paused at the notations on her abdominal region and read quickly until he found what he was looking for. Pointing a finger at it, he stepped aside to let Jean read it.

"Oh, my" she breathed. "How is this possible? They were only gone for a few weeks, not months!"

"But that isn't the disturbing part. Read on." He waited as her eyes flicked over the words and a crease gradually divided her forehead. Finishing, she lifted her eyes to meet his.

"She's delivered a baby?"

"Not exactly. I think at some point in her journey one of her incarnations did experience pregnancy and labor, and her body responded accordingly. It explains some of the muscle damage and strain, and yet the fact that she is still, physically, an innocent." Hank walked slowly back to the unconscious figure laying limply on the hospital bed and took Rogue's hand in both of his own.

Jean joined him, a hand on his shoulder to comfort both of them. "She cries for the baby in her mind, not even fully aware of what it is she's looking for. From the little Remy was able to tell me before he passed out, it's an image that had haunted her through most of their time in the asteroid."

They stood silently, listening to slow, rhythmic beat of Rogue's heart on the monitor. Finally, Hank gently lay down the hand he had been holding and pulled on a pair of latex gloves. Wordlessly, Jean donned another pair, and they set to work on a full examination of their beleaguered friend.


In another part of the mansion, Ororo sat beside the restless form of her old friend and wondered. He had fallen unconscious shortly after his battered skip-boat had landed on the mansion's grounds. Since then, he had slipped into a deep sleep. Now, it appeared the peace of sleep had left him to the ravages of nightmares.

As he drifted, Ororo reached out and touched his forehead gently, and he seemed to ease in the comfort of contact. After running a preliminary scan on him, Jean had determined with Hank that Remy's unnatural sleep was merely the efforts of his mind to repair itself. As such, they had left instructions to let him wake naturally, and not before- an order Ororo was finding hard to keep. Agitated by her inability to do anything
to soothe him, she sprang to her feet and paced.

"Stormy, relax," a voice croaked out of nowhere, and her heart nearly stopped. Whirling around, she pinned her friend with an anxious glare.

"How many times have I told you – " she began.

"Don' call you dat. I know, I know – couldn't resist." Remy eased himself upright, rubbing his head. "Got a monstrous headache, chere – mind gettin' me an aspirin?"

"Not at all. It is good to see you once again among the living," she told him, gliding swiftly into the attached bathroom to rummage for the medication. "You gave us a start popping out of nowhere!" she chided him as she poured a glass of water.

"Not my fault," he protested. "I just wanted t' get home as quick as possible." He accepted the pills and glass gratefully and downed them immediately. She watched him, affection mixed with concern for his well-being.

"How do you feel, Remy?" she asked, brushing a long-fingered hand across his forehead.

He closed his eyes and took stock of the situation before answering, "I think everythin's where its s'posed to be. Migraine to end all migraines, but other den dat, I'll live."

Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he grabbed for his bathrobe on an adjacent chair and pulled it on as he stood. It took a second to regain his balance, but he managed to shuffle to the bathroom, calling, "Pardon, 'Ro. Nature calls."

With a sigh, Storm turned her back on the closed door and looked out the bedroom window, still edgy. A throat cleared behind her, and she jumped. Twice in five minutes! This was ridiculous.

"Sorry, Ororo. I didn't mean to startle you," Nathan excused himself as he strode silently into the room. "I felt Gambit wake up and I wanted to talk to him about Rogue's condition."

Ororo frowned. "Are you certain that is wise? He has only just risen from the ordeal himself -"

They were interrupted by an explosive crash from the bathroom followed by a ringing curse as Remy plowed back through the door into the room, wild-eyed. "Rogue - Where is she? She all right?"

"Remy, calm yourself before you do more injury. She is resting, stabilized, in the medical bay. Hank is with her, and Jean," Ororo soothed. The red-eyed man ran a hand through his hair and took a few deep breaths. Knees wobbly, he sank back down on the edge of his bed. Cable stood chair next to the bed and Storm sat on his other side, close enough to be comforting, but not touching him.

"Rogue's mind is - well, fragmented is the simplest way of saying it. She needs a telepath to repair it, but neither Jean nor I can get through her Kree shielding. We thought you might be able to help us on that." Nathan regarded the former thief with forced calm, waiting for him to put two and two together.

Remy blinked in confusion until he realized what Cable was after. Shaking his head, he nixed the idea. "Oh, no - it too dangerous. I got no control over it! I might hurt her even more!"

Let me show you.

"I hate it when you do dat," he muttered. Grumbling, he leaned forward with his head in his hands. "If I scramble her brains, it's yo' fault."

A rare grin flashed across Nathan's face. Have a little faith, Gambit. You have the basics of control down, and Jean and I can help you fine-tune it once we go in.

"You and Rogue have shared a deep rapport," he continued, switching to the spoken word for Ororo's benefit. "It's given you a connection that might give us a doorway inside - or at least allow Jean and I to piggyback in through your link. Jean's also suggested that it may boil down to a matter of Rogue's trust - something you've got that the rest of us don't, necessarily. On this level."

"When do we start?" Remy asked, resigned.

Nathan reached out a gentle probe. "You seem healed enough. As soon as you're ready."

Standing again, Remy headed for his bureau, surges of adrenaline chasing away the last bit of grogginess. "Be out in a minute."


ROGUE

She blundered through a wind-swept desert, arms outstretched, calling until her throat was raw and she could barely hear herself over the storm.

"Charles! Charles, baby, where are you?" No reply. "Erik, I can't find him, I can't find Charles, " she croaked behind her, but no rumbling tenor voice answered her. Whipping around confirmed her fears: Erik had disappeared, just like all of the others. Except Charles. She could feel him out there, ahead somewhere, and he was alone and frightened.

Breaking into a run, she fought against the swirling sand, gaining ground inch by inch. "Charles, I'm comin'! Mama's comin', baby!"

She had to hurry - something bad was about to happen. Cursing wildly, she pushed onward, trying to see the child. Suddenly the sky lit with an unholy glare that blazed across the night sky. It was too late.

"No!" She strained to rise from the ground, but a great shockwave slammed her back into the sand. A searing wall of heat rolled toward her, and the last thing she saw before darkness took her was the backlit, burning silhouette of a child.

"Not my baby -" she whimpered as the flames engulfed her...


Xavier Mansion Medical Unit

Three telepaths of varying degree stood around Rogue's bed in the medical unit. At her head - Remy; Jean held one of the prone woman's hands, and Nathan the other.

"Ready?" Jean asked Remy.

"No, but here we go." Simultaneously, they projected themselves into the astral plane, and Rogue's tangled psyche roared before them.

Remy looked into the storm of images before them, recognizing nearly everything he saw. Tentatively, he reached out a finger and touched the "surface" of a vision. It gave gently beneath his finger, allowing it to penetrate. He looked over his shoulder at his companions.

Suddenly, Jean and Cable were not only there next to him, but also inside of his head - vague, unobtrusive presences that reassured him. Go ahead, he heard Jean prompt gently, and he wasn't sure if she had spoken or thought it.

Taking a deep breath, he cleared his mind of everything save one thought - Rogue. A step forward into the vision, another. There was token resistance, and then the strange dream surface parted and formed a doorway around him. He moved through, and it closed almost instantaneously behind him.

He could still feel Jean and Nathan with him, watching carefully, ready to guide, and their confidence in him relaxed him slightly. Here, inside, he got the impression of red shadows and intense bewilderment. After a moment of scanning, he located its source and progressed farther into the eye of the storm. Suddenly, he saw her.

She lay on one side, her right arm outstretched as if she had been reaching for something in her sleep. With a thought, he was at her side and leaning over her. Her eyes were open but unseeing, and her chest rose and fell slowly. Crouching near her, he called her name softly. A slight movement of the head, a twitch in one smooth cheek indicated that she had heard him.

Try to reach her, a thread of thought came from Nathan. Closing his eyes, he reached out as gently as he could toward the mind he sensed in the shadowed body.

Rogue? C'mon p'tite, talk t'me.

At first, there was nothing - then, faintly, Remy?

De one an' only.

I'm so... my head hurts. When are we?

Now. Home. You got us off dat floating pebble, remember?

There was a pause as she tried to digest that. No, I - I don't remember. Everything's so hazy...

Rogue -
he felt her drift away and called her back to him. Rogue, stay wit' me. I got some people who want t' help you, but you got t' trust me. You got t' let dem in, ok?

Immediately a flood of fear washed over her, and the connection weakened fractionally. No! No more people in my head! What ...

No, no - it's Jean and Nate. the good guys.
He felt her flail about in confusion and hurried to send soothing thoughts. Try to remember. I show you.

Concentrating, he sent her a picture of Jean from a recent picnic, relaxed in a T-shirt and shorts, completely unthreatening. Following that was an image of Nathan in atypical casual wear, tossing a football to Hank McCoy. Familiar, comforting images. Through their tenuous link, he detected an ease of tension.

I think - but Jean's dead , isn't she?

Not here. Not now. And she wants to help stop the confusion.
He sent her a soft caress. I'll be here the whole time.

All right -

Remy linked back to the waiting Jean and Nathan, telling them, You gotta be real careful - gentle. She's frightened.

We know,
Jean sent back. Using Remy as a conduit, the two telepaths painstakingly introduced themselves to Rogue.

Rogue? Honey, it's Jeannie. I'd like to touch your mind; it won't hurt, all right?

There was a pregnant pause; then Rogue acquiesced in a trembling mental voice. Remy felt Jean move through his mind to Rogue's as softly as a breeze, probing her here and there, assessing damage as inconspicuously as possible. As she worked, Nathan conversed gently with his frightened teammate, allaying her fears and distracting her from Jean's work.

At last Jean and Nathan withdrew with assurances to Rogue that they would soon return. She seemed calmer now, a little more centered and aware of herself. Remy kept her talking about safe, neutral things as he lent half a mind to the hurried conversation between Phoenix and Cable.

There was simply no way Rogue would ever be able to function with all of the sensory input crammed into her brain. Her time-sense had been thoroughly damaged, and she could not perceive the differences between the images in her mind and those before her physical eyes. Without some kind of pressure release, her mind would overload and shut down permanently - and time was swiftly running out. After a long moment of reflection, Nathan suggested siphoning off the memories entirely; downloading them, as it were, into Cerebro for further study.

Remy broke off from his conversation, telling Rogue that he would be right back, and shot a tight beam of communication at the two.

Wait! You can't erase everythin' - In the last place, Rogue was able t' control her powers. You can't take dat chance away from her!

They stopped, astonished. What do you mean? Nathan asked him sharply.

The - the alien - One o' dem made contact wit me t' get her outta the asteroid in the first place. He said dat the - experiment, he spat the word, - all the things she was experiencin' were based on real mem'ries. Not gonna get into all dat right now, but maybe it mean she got the knowledge somewhere inside o' her to be able to turn her abilities on and off. You gotta preserve dat.

This is getting complicated. How the hell are we going to be able to determine what to remove and what to keep?
Nathan paced in frustration.

Suddenly the plane warped, and Remy snapped his attention back to Rogue. Her limp form had vanished, but he could feel her mind screaming wordlessly, searching for something. Desperately, all three channeled their energy together through Remy to reach her. They touched a raw, open wound. Around them swirled images of the baby, Charles Lensherr, as Rogue remembered. A high keening pierced them, surrounding them in sorrow as she grieved for the lost child.

Without hesitating, Remy threw himself into her mind, projecting all the love he could summon into her. She clutched at him, corporeal once more, wild with anger and pain.

My baby's gone, Remy! Dead -

He held her close, mind and "body", murmuring in compassion and understanding. In another tightly shielded message, he fairly commanded Jean and Nathan to eradicate any images of the apocalyptic world. They readily agreed, and Jean extended a cautious thread to Rogue.

Honey, I'm going to ease some of the pain, all right? I just want you to relax.

Rogue gave no sign of hearing her, but her mind did not resist as Jean once more traveled through Remy, this time gathering up images and funneling them back through Nathan, who had connected himself to Cerebro. As the horrors of her apocalypse trickled out, the storm of anguish ebbed and Rogue lifted her head weakly. Remy hushed her and asked her to close her eyes as Jean moved around.

Can you make the images fade, like a dream? It's the baby's Age dat's the most disturbing. Do you see the part about her control yet? he asked Jean privately.

Yes. I think I found it, and I want to activate this information through Rogue. Is she up to it?

Rogue?

Her head lolled on his shoulder, but she managed to look up. Yeah?

Jeanne gonna tap into something - what you remember 'bout your powers?

She scrunched up her face as she looked up at him. I touch people, they get into my head. They got mutant powers, I absorb 'em for awhile.

What else?

I kinda remember somethin' about a switch -

Dat what I talkin' about. Jeanne gonna hit it, ok?

With a nod of consent, they waited as Jean touched the memory and studied it. After a minute of perusal she brought it to the front of Rogue's mind. Rogue, do you remember how to do this?

I - think -

I want you to reach deep down, and try to remember how to do this, do you understand?

Yeah - I -
Remy felt Rogue strain and push in her mind. They both felt an odd snap run through her system, and then she opened her eyes in awe. I feel so strange -

Rogue, I'm going to imprint you with this. I don't want you to lose this memory - it'll feel like a hot flash of light, and then it will be over.
A moment later it was done, and Jean finished up the "housecleaning". With a gentle mental hug of affection to Rogue, she disengaged and withdrew, leaving the two of them alone.

Remy looked around. The angry scarlet of the plane had transmuted into a serene blue-grey, and the spinning knot that had afflicted Rogue's mind had been skillfully dissolved by Jean's careful ministrations. At the very edges of the plane he could see scattered remnants of the images, but they were hazy and dreamlike, not stark and overpowering.

Rising, he drew her up with him. Sleep, love, he told her, and brushed his lips against her forehead. I be dere when you wake.

With a sleepy nod, she agreed, her astral form fading and dispersing. As he withdrew, he felt her exhausted mind finally sink into a deep, healing, dreamless sleep.


Xavier Mansion
Three days later

Rogue whimpered and thrashed weakly at the sheets that twisted around her. With a start, Remy woke and sat upright in the chair next to the bed, reaching out a gloved hand to touch her shoulder. At once, she calmed and settled more deeply into sleep.

Jean had popped in earlier to monitor Rogue, again piggybacking in on Remy's telepathy. After checking the healing process, which was progressing nicely, she had turned to the question of power control. With a pleased smile, she had opened her eyes and told Remy, "Something's different in her mind. There's an openness she's never exhibited before - with time and training, I think she may truly be able to control it now. How did you find out about it?"

Dredging through his own wash of confusing memories, he managed to recall the conversation between Rogue and Logan about Nate Grey and recounted it as best he could. She listened intently, and then poked about a bit more before pronouncing Rogue's manipulation to probably be a bit rough, but light-years ahead of where she had been. For safety reasons, though, Jean warned that the usual precautions of no skin contact be maintained until she woke.

He hated to do it, he wanted so much to be able to touch her, but common sense ruled out in the end. It was enough to be near her for now.

"Baby....where... have to remember..." she murmured, and Remy's stomach clenched in sympathy. The most recurrent of her dreams revolved around the baby, and it was the one thing he couldn't ease away. Even though Jean had removed most traces of that entire Age, Rogue could not release the memory of the child. It was firmly entrenched in her heart; but Jean assured him that when she woke, she would have no memory of the dream.

Ah, chere, if I could take dis pain away, I would. Nothin' hurts you more den thinkin' of d'enfant. He squeezed her hand gently. But it's all changed now, Rogue - maybe one day you have a dozen kids, maybe we -

He cut off the thought. It was far too soon to entertain such dangerous ideas; he would not do it, for her sake - and for his.

"Remy?" a husky voice asked. Remy shook his head and looked over. Rogue opened her eyes and looked at him with a vaguely sad, if clear gaze.

"Hey p'tite," he said quietly. "How you feelin'?" Reaching out, he moved a strand of hair off her forehead.

She exhaled deeply and tilted her head to look out the window behind him. "Like I've been knocked down and dragged cross-country by a Mack truck. How bout you?"

He barked a laugh. "Been better, chere. Brain's a little scrambled - otherwise, comme ci, comme ca." Leaning forward a little, he asked, "Are you on or off?"

She cocked her head at him in confusion until she remembered; with an internal wrench, she damped her powers. As a crooked smile crossed her face, she told him, "I think it's safe. Just be careful."

With a little trepidation, he took off his gloves and laid them aside, maintaining eye contact with her the entire time. Cautiously, he laid a hand across her forehead, and she turned slightly into the contact, smiling faintly. A thrill tingled through his fingertips up through his body, and his eyes widened as he realized that for one of the few times in her life, she could safely reach out to someone else.

"How's the head?" he hedged, to cover the welter of uncharacteristic emotions she evoked in him.

"Tired. Weird. Emptier than it's been for awhile, I guess. Everything's a little hazy."

"But you know where you are, right?" he asked anxiously.

She turned her head on the pillow, taking in her familiar bedroom, the walls a light blue, the simple wooden furniture, her favorite teddy bear nestled near her head. With a shuddering sigh, she nodded.

"Here. In my room at the mansion. It never looked right anywhere else - I know that much."

She ran a hand through her hair, fingering her witch-streak, starting to shake a little. "I know where I am - I can't - " Her hands fluttered weakly as she tried to give voice to her state of mind and failed.

Remy found that he could not look at her, and shifted his gaze out the window, taking in the rolling lawns that sloped down to the small stream that crossed the property. In the distance, the last of the sunlight glinted on the water. His mind curiously blank, he stood statue-like as the sun sank beyond the horizon. He heard a soft rustling behind him and he imagined Rogue pushing aside the light bedclothes. A moment later, he sensed her presence at his side. A hand slid into his, and he looked over at her, startled. She, too, was looking out over the dusky horizon.

"Something's shifted. You feel it, too, don't you?" she asked quietly. Silently, he nodded his agreement. "I see flashes of different worlds - it's like trying to grasp at blades of grass that the wind is already tugging out of my fingers. I know Jean and Nate were trying to prevent an overload, but I also know things are missing. A lot of things."

Remy closed his eyes, a wave of regret washing through him. "Dat was prob'ly my fault."

"I don't blame you or anyone else. You saved me, Rem." She leaned against him, her lackluster strength already draining. "I'm sorry," she finally said.

He drew her around in front of him. "We beyond the need to apologize, Rogue. We been holdin' back for no good reason except dat we were both afraid. After goin' through dis, we got nothin' to be afraid of." She nodded dully, not really listening. To get her attention, he put his hands on either side of her face and gently but firmly forced her gaze upward.

"One day at a time. We just need t'go one day, one step, one breath at a time. And forgive each other. Forgive ourselves."

Rogue studied him silently for a long while as the shadows lengthened on the floor. He gazed back at her, waiting with uncertainty for her reaction. At last, she answered him in a low voice. "I can accept that on one condition, Remy. I need to be sure of this one thing and know that you won't take it away from me -"

Leaning his forehead against hers, he stopped her lips with a finger. "Wait. Let me say one more thing. Please." He paused, collecting his thoughts. "I figured it out."

A small line creased her forehead as she tried to follow him, but she didn't interrupt.

"You know I love you - you've always known - but dat ain't always enough. We both suffered a lot because of it. I been foolin' myself - tryin' not to recognize that you as important to me as you are, because I'm afraid. Of hurtin' you, of - hurtin' m'self, I guess. But dat's just stupid, chere, and I finally got it. And now I gotta convince you not to give up on me. Us."

"Oh Remy..." She trailed off, swaying slightly with fatigue. "I never gave up on you," she told him finally. "But you need to trust in me. Completely. And you gotta show it, b'cause I can be a little obtuse sometimes."

Cocking a rueful grin, she started to say something else when her knees buckled, and she sank into him. He caught her easily and sat her carefully on the edge of the bed. She tilted her head back and looked straight in the eyes.

"No more runnin' away?" He shook his head. "No more hidin' things from each other?" He agreed with another nod, and she reached out trembling hands and grasped his. "Then hold me tight, Rem, and don't ever let me go."

Without another word, he pulled her against him, wrapping his arms around her tightly as sudden tears seeped from her eyes. All of the rage, the helplessness, and the pain of her ordeal washed out of her in one great flood. He rocked her shuddering form gently, silently, waiting for the grief to subside. As the room darkened with full night, she grew quiet and drowsy again.

He relaxed his arms, listening as her breathing evened out and deepened. He inhaled the fresh, clean scent of her hair, sensed her in his mind, felt her along his body. A deep sense of calm began in his chest and flowed outward, through his body and into hers.

When he felt Rogue drift off again, Remy laid her gently back on the bed and drew up a blanket. Hooking a foot under the chair's rung, he drew it close to the bed and sat down in it again. She sighed and reached out a hand to him; he caught it and gripped it lightly.

"Sleep chere. I be dere when you wake," he murmured.

"You always are. Thank you -" and she was asleep, healing. For the first time in a long time, he felt at peace with himself and her - that maybe he was healing too.

A small smile flitted across his lips before he, too, slept.


FIN