Chapter 20: Hand in Mine Part II Chapter 23: When farewell is forever.

Remy seized the sides of Rogue's head, dropping the ring on the bed, stroking her skin with his fingers as he shouted for help.

"Jean! Beast! Help!"

The Professor was the first person to burst through the door, Logan hot on his trail. Xavier quickly crossed over to the bed, taking in Rogue's open eyes and glancing up at the machines around her prone form. His fingers fluttered over her wrist, finding her pulse as Jean came through the door, wiping her eyes, followed by the majority of the team. The Professor shone a small torch into her eyes as Remy watched on helplessly.

At last Charles Xavier stepped back, trying desperately to keep his face calm and impassive.

"I'm sorry," knowing he was failing miserably at being strong. "Sometimes things like this happen…a reflex….it doesn't mean she's awake." Words, his safety and security failed him. "I'm sorry."

Fresh tears sprung to Remy's eye as he glanced at Jean. She was unable to hold his tearful gaze, her eyes dropping to the floor, a wordless conformation of what the Professor had just said.

A sob burst out of Remy's body, as the hope that had just filled him deflated. He stumbled back to the bed, tears dripping from his face as he stretched out his fingers and gently closed her eyes.

Panic suddenly rose in him, filling up everything that had once been love and hope. With another sob he fled the room, pushing his way roughly through the crowd.

Pietro moved to follow him but his sister rested her hand on his arm, restraining him with a touch and a shake of her head. Pietro remained where he was but his eyes followed the direction that Remy had taken to the bedroom he shared with Rogue.

"I think," Scott said strongly, his voice breaking through the silence and the sorrow felt for the gambler. "That we should take this opportunity to say our goodbyes, while there's still time." Everyone looked about abashed, not sure who should move first. Again, Scott fulfilled his role as leader. "I'll go first."

And with that, the leader of the X-men was left alone with his successor in all but name.

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"I'm not sure what I should say," Scott said from his seat from across the room, too afraid to approach, not worthy to approach. "Except for thankyou perhaps." He stood up sharply with an angry sigh. "But that word sounds so empty. How can you say 'thankyou' to someone who has saved your life, in more ways than one?" He stepped closer, his courage building. "But I will say that I will do as you suggested. I will fight, Rogue, because you taught me how. And words cannot express how much that means to me. You were right Rogue, as always you were right. And I have changed because of it, because of you." He lingered at her left side, unsure of what to do. Eventually, he stooped and kissed her cheek, a brotherly kiss. "Goodbye."

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Pietro and Wanda stepped in, knowing it was only fit that they said goodbye together. They stared down wordlessly at their fallen leader. To touch her seemed disrespectful, to speak seemed a slander. So they said their goodbyes in silence, with respect and love in their eyes, almost like a prayer. After a moment they left. Together.

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"This is for you," John said, placing a lantern on the bedside table. With a spark, the lantern ignited. "Not the lantern, the flame. That flame is yours. It's going to burn forever in me, because fire is purifying, cleansing. And that's what you did for me. I am a better man because you ignited it in me. Thankyou."

He bowed to her still form as light flickered over her.

"Thankyou."

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"If you were awake now, you'd tell me what to do," Jean said quietly from the seat she had dragged to beside the bed. "You'd say 'Red, you are a plastic assed, bonehead. Ah always thought you were stupid but this is ridiculous'." She smiled. "Only it'd probably be a lot more insulting. I'm going to miss that, I think. The insults and the honesty seemed to go hand in hand with you. I'm sorry we weren't real friends," she looked honestly into Rogue's pale face. "I really am. I think you would have been a good one. I suppose we were too different. So I'm going to ask for one more bit of advice. Scott or Tom?" Rogue remained still. Not an eyelid flickered, not a hand flinched. Jean nodded. "That's what I thought you'd say."

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"I will love him Rogue." Kitty promised. "I will love him as I always have. And I wanted you there, my best friend, to see it." She gripped her friend's left hand in hers. "And I am going to miss you everyday. A part of my life is going to be forever empty. I will have Lance, but not you. It's so…ironic. Everything was going to be good, I had Lance and you. But now I have only one. And I feel guilty. Part of me is so happy, happy to be alive and to be with Lance but so sad, because you are gone. I'm sorry," she threw her arms around Rogue. "All of this is because of you and the only thing I have to offer is I love you. It doesn't seem to be a fair trade. I love you, Rogue, and with every step you will be with me. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou," each thankyou was punctuated by a kiss as Kitty clung, like a child, to her friend.

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"I will take care of her. This I swear to you on the blood I have spilt for you, on the blood you have spilt for me. The loyalty I feel for you will be hers, as it should be, the way you taught me, Captain."

Lance saluted smartly, the way he had done for the last two years, whenever they were inspected by superiors. And now there was no greater authority than his fallen leader.

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Beast and Storm entered together. Neither was sure of what to say. They had always known Rogue as a student, rather than a peer. This newfound respect for the child they had known, grown into a woman was new and somewhat alien.

"I'm not going to lie, Rogue," Ororo began. "You were never much of a student," Hank chuckled good naturedly in agreement. "But what you lacked as a pupil, you made up for in spirit. You were one of a kind." She glanced at Hank, tears in her eyes.

"And that spirit," Beast continued. "Is what will live on. Such leadership, such vivacity, the like of which we will never see again. And so, my dear," he laid a hand on her forehead. "Sweets to the sweet, and from thy fair, unpolluted flesh may violets, for faithfulness, spring. I thought thy bridal-bed to have decked, sweet maid, and not have strewed thy grave." He glanced down at Storm's questioning face. "Hamlet," he informed. Ororo nodded and leaned over to kiss the girl's cheek.

"Goodbye." She took the hand Hank offered and together they walked to the door. Before he closed it in his wake, Beast turned back.

"Farewell, rose of May."

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"My arrogance led us here," the Professor whispered. "I am well aware of it now. I lost my way, Rogue, and you are a casualty of that…misdirection. And the ripples of your sacrifice, I don't think they will ever fade. I don't want them to fade. They must echo, they must remain so that I will remember all that I have done, to set me on course once again. I only wish it wasn't at such a cost." His eyes travelled to her face. He smiled. "It's funny, I thought this whole time that it was I who was the teacher, and you the pupil. Now I see it is the other way round." He rose from the chair. "I will obey your lessons, Sensei." He bowed, a closed fist pressed against an open hand.

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"If you think I'm going to say goodbye Stripes, well you've got another thing coming," Logan growled, prowling by her bed. "'Cos I don't think you're going anywhere. You see you can't. Cos we need you here, cos your so damn important, to everything." He looked over at her form, pale and still, and the bravado melted away. He stopped his steps, moving closer. He ran his fingers over her face. "But I know you're tired, so tired. I looked so hard for you because in you I saw, I saw so much. Of myself and something more, something better. And you were better, better than I could ever have imagined. I'm proud of you, Rogue," he paused for a moment. "Marie. As proud as any father would be." He leaned down and kissed her forehead with fatherly affection. "Sleep tight, Stripes."

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"My sister," Kurt whispered. He sat beside her prone form, gently holding her hand in his. His face was dry now, his expressive, human eyes, were not tearful. If anything they were hopeful, grateful as he gazed on her face. There was a wonder there, a wonder at their relationship. His sister was a hero, a saviour. Pride, loyalty, wonder, love all mingled in his gaze. "My sister."

He could say no more.

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"You have to say goodbye."

Remy looked up from the bed to see Logan's stocky form in the doorway.

"I don't want to," he muttered like a sulky child, turning away. He expected Logan to leave, to give him the respect that a time like this deserved. No such luck.

He found himself being yanked off the bed ad his legs were unable to respond speedily enough. He clattered to the floor at Logan's feet but before he had time to recover, Logan's hand seized him again, pulling him upright in a painful grip. Remy tried to struggle but it was in vain, he was caught in Wolverine's claws.

"Get off me!" He hissed, thrashing.

"You have to say goodbye!" Logan repeated, this time shouting, holding him fast. "Because if you don't you will never, ever forgive yourself! She's hanging on in there to say goodbye, I know she is! Who are you to make her wait?! Who are you?!"

"I'm the man who loves her, who is in that room dying with her!" Remy raged back. "And if I say goodbye, that's it! That is it! She's really gone! I'm not ready for goodbye, I'm not ready!" Hot tears spilled over onto his cheeks as his struggles grew weaker still. "I'm not ready!" He sobbed, feeling his legs give out beneath him.

Instead of falling he felt Logan's arms enclose him, support him, holding him close. Remy gripped the other man's shirt in claw like fingers, trying to hold on desperately as his body was wracked with sobs, shaking uncontrollably. His sobs escalated until he wailed like a wounded animal. Still Logan held on.

Eventually, his sobs ceased, his legs grew firm again. Remy pushed away from the smaller man and looked earnestly into his face, also streaked with tears.

"I have to say goodbye," Remy said quietly but firmly.

Logan nodded wordlessly.

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Apologies, I gave false hope for rogue's miraculous recovery. I hope you are not too disappointed. I'm pretty sure that the next chapter will be the last so the end is very much nigh. But is Remy going to say goodbye, can he bear to be parted from his love? Is the question he never asked going to be answered?

xxnightdwellerxx