I'm BAAAA-AAAAAACK! Okay, why don't we go ahead and start with that humongous apology I owe you all? -gets on knees- FORGIVE ME! I AM NOT WORTHY! And just because you were all nice enough to not attack me with torches and pitchforks, you all get your very own superpowers! And I give you a once-in-a-lifetime chance to flame me without being eaten alive by the Giant Headless Chicken that Sees and Glows in the Dark…except The Last Ronin, because I've been waiting for his next chapter for as long as you've all been waiting for this. (In case you couldn't tell, Ronin, that was a subtle hint that YOU NEED TO UPDATE!)
In other news, I just got the Alias x-box game (as though I needed another Alias-related thing to become addicted to) and it has given me an idea. I have one word for you: prequel. It would start with Rogue's recruitment, and go from there. It might even become something of a spin-off, with Rogue's involvement in the CIA being the only connection. Hmm, a fanfic of a fanfic…oh, the possibilities! At any rate, my plan is to write it and this fic somewhat simultaneously (y'know, to satisfy my lust for top secret Alias fun). Before I get started, though, I want your opinions. If you think it's a good idea, then please tell me what kinds of things I should include. And if you think I should focus solely on this story, please say so.
Alright, you guys have waited to read this for much too long. I shall stall you no longer.
Rogue's eyes snapped open. She immediately rolled over and deposited the contents of her stomach onto the floor. Images from the past three days flashed through her mind, and she retched horribly. After several minutes of stunning digestive pyrotechnics her stomach finally seemed to be empty. Rogue shakily wiped her mouth off with a corner of the bed sheet.
The room was dark; it couldn't have been later than about four in the morning. A small oil lamp burned atop the dresser next to the door. Rogue didn't recall lighting it. It had probably been placed there by a maid at some point. Her backpack was also sitting on the dresser. Rogue glanced out the window. She could just make out a few trees in the starlight.
How long had she slept? Hours? Days? It had been morning when she'd fallen into bed, and now it was past midnight. So several hours at least.
Rogue stood. Every muscle in her body screamed in protest. Not even Logan's four-hour, full-throttle, keep-working-till-you-see-stars-and-can't-walk-a-straight-line training sessions made her ache like this.
She slowly made her way to the bathroom, snatching up the lamp on her way. There was a tub in the middle of the small room. A cabinet sat against one wall, with a small hand mirror atop it, next to a folded towel. Rogue glanced in the mirror and wished she hadn't; her face was smeared with blood. She held her arms up in the light, and saw that they were as well. There was a newly healed cut on her arm that she didn't remember getting. Rogue pulled her shirt over her head to reveal more cuts and scratches, only some of which she remembered receiving.
She looked like an animal. It was a fitting comparison, considering the things she'd recently done. Her hair was matted down and stuck to her face. Dried blood covered her skin like war paint. It was almost frightening to look at. The cuts and scrapes all over her body just added to the animalistic appearance.
Rogue wondered if the men she'd killed thought she looked like an animal. At that thought images of battle raced across her field of vision. Dead faces stared at her with unblinking eyes. She remembered running them through with her sword, jabbing them in the heart, skewering their stomachs, slicing upwards…
Another dry heave passed over her. Rogue fought to get control over herself. The wave of nausea finally passed, allowing her to finish undressing. There was a bar of soap on the side of the tub. She grabbed it and stepped into the water, glad to find it warm.
For awhile she just rested with here eyes closed, enjoying the relaxing heat of the water. Then she took the soap and began scrubbing so hard it hurt. She wanted the blood out. She wanted to scrub the dirt—and the memories—away. Every time one of those horrible images entered her mind she redoubled her efforts, as though cleaning her body would somehow wipe away the bad memories.
Only after she'd scoured ever inch of her flesh did she begin to calm down. Rogue realized she was gripping the soap so hard her knuckles were white, and let go. There were finger marks in the little bar. She quickly washed her hair and got out.
It didn't take long to dry off and then clamber into some clean clothes. While she dressed, Rogue did a quick check of her bag to make sure nothing had been removed. It was all there. She put the bag back on the dresser. As she turned for the door, she noticed something was wrong. She was missing something.
Her hand flew to her chest. The Amulet. Terror gripped her. Had she lost it in the fight? It could have come off without her knowing…but no, she'd had it afterwards, in the infirmary. And then she'd come up here and—oh yeah. It was nestled in the drawer of her bedside table, right where she'd left it.
Rogue slipped it over her head. The weight of it was comforting.
Memo to self, she thought, to avoid early-morning panic attacks, keep Amulet ON.
The halls were empty, save the occasional soldier going through his rounds. When she passed they would salute with a fist to their heart, but otherwise they ignored her. Rogue figured that if she was stuck working the night shift, she wouldn't be very sociable either.
She wandered aimlessly for a while, content to simply explore the cavernous hallways that made up the intricate networking that was the palace. Everything was so lavish, it made the Institute appear like a dilapidated old crack house. Nothing in this building was second-rate: The carpeting was red and gold silk woven into gorgeous designs, the statues that dotted the halls were made from marble so highly polished they almost glowed—even the ceilings were decorated with paintings from time to time. Even in the dark of night, the palace was stunning to behold.
Rogue turned a corner to find someone else walking towards her. She peered down the hall, but couldn't make them out. Whoever it was didn't have on the silver armor of a guard, nor were they wearing a sword.
"Hello?" she called. The person looked up, and she saw a flash of yellow eyes.
"Rogue? What are you doing up?"
"I'm hungry. Any idea where they're hiding the food?"
They started down the hall together, with Kurt being uncharacteristically silent. Rogue thought he was probably just tired, but when they passed a soldier with buckteeth and Kurt didn't tell a single redneck joke, she knew something was wrong.
"All right, spill."
He continued to watch the ground as they walked. "Spill what?"
"We've been walking for fifteen minutes and you haven't said a word. What's wrong?"
He stopped walking. "I killed people yesterday. I picked up my bow and I shot at them, knowing what would happen. I murdered them."
Rogue realized she had been an idiot. Of course that was why he was upset; he had never even seen someone die before, let alone killed them himself. How could she have been so blind?
There were tears in his eyes now.
"I didn't try to at first," he said, "but then after Kitty got hurt, I just lost it. I stopped caring about who I hit, or where. I didn't care if I killed them. Sometimes I think I wanted to kill them. Enjoyed it, even. What kind of person does that make me?" His voice broke a little.
Rogue spied a bench a few feet away, and pulled him over to it.
"Kurt, what you did yesterday wasn't murder. Those men attacked us, not the other way around. If you hadn't killed them, they would have killed you, and anyone else that crossed their path. By doing what you did, you were saving innocent lives."
"And what about the innocent lives I ended? Those men had families, and I destroyed them. How many children are going to grow up without a father because I killed him?"
"What about the children on our side who didn't lose their fathers, because of what you did?" she replied gently. "What about the women who get to see their husbands again, because you shot down their would-be killers?"
"That doesn't change what I did. I still killed them, when I could have just wounded them."
"Why? So they could come back later and kill you? This is a war, and in wars people die. You can't blame yourself for that."
"I'm the one that killed them!" he shouted. "It's my fault they're dead! I did it!"
This definitely wasn't working, so Rogue decided to try a different tact.
"Do you remember that night you caught me sneaking back into the house, and I told you I had been out walking because I couldn't sleep? And then we stayed up all night watching movies?"
He nodded. "Let me guess, you just got back from a CIA mission?"
"That was the first time I killed a man."
Kurt's tail, which had been swishing back and forth agitatedly, suddenly stopped moving. He glanced up at her.
"You mean you've killed before?"
"A few times, yes. But the first time was the worst. I was on a mission in North Korea. Korean intelligence was working on a massive weapon, something bigger than any of the atomic bombs we have today. The plan was to loop the security video and then I would hack into their computer mainframe and copy the plans. Everything was going smoothly at first; I got over half of the information downloaded before a guard walked in on me, completely by accident. He saw what I was doing and tried to shoot me. I shot him first." She tapped her chest. "Right here."
"That sounds awful."
"It was. I felt horrible for weeks afterward, and I always felt like I'd made a mistake. I thought it would have been better to just knock him out, or something, so I could escape."
Kurt nodded. "That's how I feel. Like what I did was too extreme."
"But there's a difference between your feelings and mine," Rogue said. Kurt looked up, confused. "Mine are justified. I did make a mistake. I could have resolved the situation differently. That man was just a security guard. He probably didn't know what he was protecting, or why. He was just at the wrong place at the wrong time." She became aware of her voice turning frigid and sharp as steel. "But those people you killed deserved what they got. They weren't meddling rent-a-cops; they were murderers."
She placed a hand on the Amulet, remembering the dreams she'd had of the destruction caused by those beasts. They had almost killed her best friend. With that thought her hand tightened into a fist, the Amulet's stones digging into her palm.
"But the man you killed was going to shoot you. It was self-defense."
"No it wasn't. I didn't fully realize it until after I pulled the trigger, but he wasn't trying to kill me. He was aiming at my leg."
They fell silent, each lost in the darkest corners of their thoughts. Well, for him it may have been the darkest corner, but for Rogue it was merely a hint of gray. Killing that man had changed her life, it was true, but she had long ago come to terms with it. The deepest recesses of her mind were home to things far more sinister. For now, however, a hint of gray was all that she could handle.
It was Kurt who finally broke the silence.
"So then, how do you deal with it?"
"You have to decide what's really important. Evaluate your beliefs. Some people can't kill, even to save their own lives, or the lives of people they love. It just isn't in their nature. Other people find ways of rationalizing it. They tell themselves there was no other way, or that it wasn't their fault."
"I want to know how you handle killing, not everyone else," he reminded her.
"I just have to remind myself that I'm fighting for the greater good. I know it sounds corny, but it's the truth. No matter what happens, at the end of the day I know I'm one of the good guys."
Kurt hunched forward even more. "I don't feel like a good guy. I feel like a murderer."
Rogue sighed. She hated seeing Kurt like this. His ears were drooped, and the usual light was gone from his eyes. Even his fur seemed to be a duller shade of blue. It made her heart break.
She put a hand to her chest, and felt the Amulet hanging there. It was her fault that he was in this mess. She should have realized this would happen, and told him to stay at the Institute. A blind man could tell that Kurt wasn't suited for war. Why hadn't she been able to? Somehow, knowing she was responsible for Kurt's pain was even worse than killing that man, or any of the people she'd killed sense then.
"You aren't a murderer," she said.
"I still feel like one."
"Listen, Kurt, we could talk about this all night, but I doubt that there's anything I could say that's going to make you feel better. This is something you're just going to have to work out for yourself."
"You're probably right. He stood up. "Come on, let's find that food."
Rogue smiled, and followed after him. They stopped the next guard they passed and asked for directions. He told them the way to the main kitchen, adding that if the head cook found them swiping food, she'd throw them in a stew.
"I'd like to see her try," Rogue said while reaching into a barrel of apples. She found one that was satisfactory, and sat on the counter to eat it.
"Atterall, ookin sist unas karmig ami?" Kurt asked around a mouthful of cookies. His mood had greatly improved since finding the kitchen, although Rogue knew from experience that it would take him some time to come to terms with what he'd done.
"Sorry," she said, " I don't speak idiot."
He swallowed. " I said, 'after all, who can resist one as charming as me?'"
"I think that argument might have worked better if you weren't eating at the time."
Rogue took a bite from her apple. It tasted extremely sour. She tossed it aside, taking one of Kurt's cookies instead.
"What kind are these?"
Hoping that "Enuhur" was peanut butter, she took a bite. Thankfully, she was right. And unlike the apple, it tasted exactly like a normal peanut butter cookie, if not better.
After they had finished the cookies, they began sampling some of the other foods that had been left out. There were a few slices of cake, glazed rolls, several kinds of muffins, cookies with nuts, and different types of breads with cheeses and nuts baked in. There was even pita-type bread rolled up around peppers. (A/N: Crazy, if you don't recognize that last one I'll have to slap you. ) They were just getting to the blueberry muffins when Kurt scratched his head.
"Do you think anyone will get in trouble because of this?"
Rogue shook her head. "Nah. And if we find out someone did get into trouble, we'll tell everyone it was us. We can't get in trouble; we have Amulet Immunity."
"Works for me." He wolfed the muffin down in two bites.
Rogue rolled her eyes. "Pig."
"Ay! Azzet er ithe," he said through a very large mouthful of muffin.
Rogue held a hand to her ear as though adjusting a com. link. "Blue Boy, this is Stripes. You're coming in broken and stupid, over."
He threw a muffin at her. It missed, bounced off the wall behind her, and landed on the floor.
A bird sang up in the trees. It was joined by another, and then another, all singing out of unison. They were like an orchestra with no conductor, and nobody knew what the song was. Luckily, nobody cared.
Rogue took a deep breath, inhaling the sweet scent of the flowering plants all around her. After her midnight snack with Kurt, she had gone back to roaming the castle. It had been by sheer luck that she'd found her way out into this garden. Curiosity had overtaken her, and she'd begun following the path of stones into the seemingly endless expanse of plants and trees. Then the sky had been black. Now it was a light blue. It occurred to her that the others might begin to wonder where she was.
"Let them wonder," she said to a nearby tree. "I'm not going back inside until I feel like it."
"Is that a fact?"
Rogue spun around.
"What do you want, swamp rat?" she demanded with her hands on her hips.
Gambit spread his hands innocently. "I was just out for a walk, same as you, chere."
"Well then run along." Rogue was in no mood for conversation. She turned away from him and started walking. He walked along side her.
"What's the matter, chere? Gambit done something wrong?"
She walked faster. "I'm not in the mood, so just go away and save yourself the trouble."
"What trouble?" He smiled.
"The trouble of my foot up your ass," she shot back.
"Ouch. That'd be painful, no? But then," he reached for her hand, "maybe it'd be worth it."
"Go away." She wrenched her hand free.
"What's wrong?" The playfulness had left his voice. Somehow, him being serious just made her angrier. She whirled on him.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" she shouted. Several birds erupted from a nearby bush. "We were just in a fucking battle, that's what's wrong! Forgive me if I haven't gotten over the shock yet, but I'm a little new to slaughtering people." When he didn't say anything she continued. "How can you look so happy? I saw you fighting; I know what kind of things you did. How can you smile like that?"
"Looking at you, how can I not?" Despite his words, his face was sullen now. "I've been trying not to think about it," he admitted. "That's why I came out here. I wanted to distract myself."
He took her hand again. This time, she didn't protest.
"Maybe we'll find some better distractions up ahead." They began walking through the garden. Shouting at Gambit had failed to make Rogue feel any better. If anything it made things worse. She fingered the Amulet with her free hand.
"I don't think I can do this," she said.
"Yes you can."
Rogue glared at him. "Do you even know what I'm talking about?"
"It doesn't matter. Whatever it is, you can do it."
Rogue smiled in spite of herself. It faded quickly. "I can't stop this war."
"Not yet. But then, you've just started learning how to use that thing around your neck. Give it some time. For now, just relax."
That was easy for him to say. No one expected him to divert a cataclysmic war; they would all be happy if he just left their wallets alone. But if she failed, people would die. The free people of this planet would fall. All hope would be lost. Rogue didn't see how anyone could relax under such dire circumstances.
Never in her life had she felt the weight of so much responsibility. To her friends, her brother, these people. Everyone was counting on her for something she couldn't give. The sheer hopelessness of it brought her to the verge of tears.
Gambit saw the pain on her face and tried to put an arm around her shoulder. She shrugged him off. Powers or no powers, she was still The Rogue.
"Chere? What's wrong?"
With those three words, all the emotions that had been building up inside Rogue burst forth in a tirade.
"What's wrong? What's wrong? Everything is wrong! Aren't you paying attention? My best friend almost died! That's what's wrong!"
Gambit rolled his eyes. "Is that all?"
His playful smile evaporated when he saw her death glare.
"No that's not all, you stupid prick! Kurt's going through depression because of the battle, Jennsen is more convinced than ever that I can perform miracles—which I can't—there's a whole city full of people waiting for me to start leading them in a war, and I don't have a clue what to do! And on top of it all, now I have Mr. Tall Dark and Clueless asking me what's wrong, when the whole freaking world can tell that I'm in over my head! Tell me, Gumbo, were you born with your head up your ass, or is that a recent development?"
"I just meant that, y'know, since Kitty's okay now…I didn't mean to…"
She turned and stalked out of the garden.
"Are the rumors true?"
"I'm afraid so, Excellency. They have found a Savior to wield the Star. It is only a matter of time before she uses it to destroy our forces."
"Perhaps. Then again, perhaps not."
"Tell me, Nomed, did this Savior use the Amulet during the battle?"
"Then perhaps she doesn't know how to control it yet. That means there is still time. I want you to infiltrate the palace. Find out everything you can about this woman."
"As you command, Excellency."
A/N: Uh-oh, spy alert! Long live the espionage! OK, I have had a HARD time writing this for some reason. I would sit down, write a few lines, then nothing. My get up and go just got up and went. So if this seems choppy at times, that's why. Coming up with a good ending was especially hard. The idea of L'Kal sending in spies came out of nowhere, but I figured why not? The more covert stuff, the better!
Anyhoo, time for the long delayed replies to your lovely reviews of chapter one. I shall try to answer these without becoming distracted by the random items being dropped on our front lawn by the guys fixing our roof.
Chelle: Its nice to know that new people are finding my story, despite my laziness. :) Seriously, reading your review made me think "gee, maybe I should start working on my story some more." So THANK YOU! Everyone else should worship you for getting me back in line P
Silver Ink: Wow, five greats! And a spectacular! Well don't I feel loved! I actually do plan on becoming a professional author when I finish school. Thanks for the vote of confidence.
Danfred: You have a list? Lol.
UncannyAsianGirl: Yes, the title is a bit weird, bet it actually doesn't have ANYTHING to do with fighting/killing/etc. It's all part of my master plan (Ha, as though I have a plan!) As you can see, I have every intention of making Kurt deal with his non-innocence. How could I not? Wait, I screwed up breathe and breath? -slaps forehead- I plead temporary insanity. The Last Ronin will back me up on that. P And you're right, a LOT of the people on this site need to read more. (Although it doesn't seem to help some of them…have you read the Harry Potter fanfics lately? There is some pitiful writing on that section!) Anyhoo, -does Apu voice from The Simpson's- Thank you; come again!
The Last Ronin: -picks jaw up off floor- Yay, a cookie! -does happy dance- I hope that by now you've gotten more writing done, and that you'll be able to update soon (or else…-evil look-) Yes, school is a pain. It needs to die. And LONG LIVE SUMMER VACATION! Yeah I've run into a bit of a roadblock with my writing (well 2, actually) first my mom has started teaching music out of the house, from the computer room, so I have a limited amount of time to write. And my dad has just taken an interest in my writing, so every time I write a curse word, graphic scene, etc., I'll be thinking "Is my dad going to read this?" Hopefully this will be like last time he took an interest in my work: he'll read a chapter or two, tell me what he thinks, and quit. That way I can go on writing w/o looking over my shoulder, as it were. (Y'know, except to keep an eye out for the Asylum guards. They'll never catch me! -is grabbed by 2 guards- Damn it.) OK, I think that's enough rambling for now. Wait, one more thing: I've updated, so now it's your turn. Well, what are you waiting for? STOP READING THIS AND UPDATE, DARN YOU!
Purple-NightSky: Would I REALLY kill off Kitty? Come on, now, let's be serious! Now if it were Jean…
Crazed Maniac 02: Wazzup mah homie? Playa playa! Dat review was tight, yo, no doubt! (sry, I just watched the Xiaolin Showdown where Omi gets lost in NY and meets a gangsta kid. As usual, he screws up all the phrases. "Am I, as you say, bling blinging?" "I believe I have obtained game!" "Why are you always up in my busyness!" LOL). But in all seriousness (yeah right. Are we EVER serious?) I appreciate all the shameless flattery. In the words of Omi: Peace up!
Pixie Flyer: That seems to be the overall response I've been getting. It's a wonder the angry mob didn't burn my house down before I could post the last chapter. And as for medical papers, I have plenty pf them. ALL LIES I TELL YOU! I am NOT delusional; don't listen to a word the aliens say!
Dragon: I hate to think of what all these reviews would have been like if I HADN'T brought Kitty back…Scaring you was my intention Glad to know I succeeded. P
OK, boys and girls, time to leave a review! Don't forget to tell me what you think about my prequel/spin-off idea! And meanwhile I am going to try and have an update posted within the week. -crosses fingers- Well, that's all folks!