Disclaimer: Marvel owns the characters; I'm merely borrowing them.
A/N: Does anyone else cringe when they read some of my earlier chapters, or is that just me? I spent six hours going through the entire story, actually reading it, to refresh myself on what has happened thus far. Then I spent an hour going through my notes for all the upcoming chapters before restarting this one. It was half finished when my computer crashed and I lost it all those months ago, but I think it turned out better in the second go. Thank-you to everyone for being so patient, I know it was a long wait.
Chapter 57 – Doomsday
Remy moved quickly, keeping Rogue in his line of sight as he skirted the edge of the battlefield. His other eye was on Apocalypse, who was still engaged in a fight with Angel. Remy didn't know how the angel boy was able to keep going; it wasn't like he was a match for Apocalypse – but Remy wasn't going to stop and question it either. He only had this one chance, and he was going to take it.
It had been a no-brainer the moment Rogue had gone after Phoenix. In that singular moment he had realized that whether she knew it or not, Rogue's vendetta against the possessed redhead clouded her judgment. She had come to the temple with every intention of taking out Apocalypse, but the moment Jean had arrived, Rogue had forgotten her mission. In a sense Remy wasn't surprised. There was always a little more life to her when Jean was around, just as Jean seemed to have a little more life in her as a result of Rogue being nearby, too. For better or for worse the girls had a connection… But Remy couldn't worry about that quite yet either.
This would probably be the only chance they got to turn the tides of war. It was a sobering thought, made even more so by the fact that Remy had no idea how the damn dagger was supposed to work. Sage had only suggested it, giving a brief history of the damn thing, and Remy had more or less tuned out. It didn't look very imposing, but perhaps there was more to it than met the eye. He didn't have the ability to sense power, and he didn't have time to try and find Caliban in the melee. Remy would just take his chances and hope that that inserting the dagger somewhere on Apocalypse's person would do the trick. And if not… well, Remy could only hope that his death would be swift and painless.
In the air Rogue was crackling with power. Rather than fight the powers held at bay by the mental barriers in her mind, she had let them sweep over her, giving her access to every single one of them at the same time. But even with that much power within her, Rogue found herself gritting her teeth as Phoenix sent a wave of energy at her. Rogue was able to deflect it, but the pressure sent her reeling backward a few feet. It wasn't a pleasant feeling. Despite the times she had bested Phoenix before, it didn't seem as though she was gaining the upper hand this time.
And Rogue knew why.
She was afraid. It was hard to admit that to herself, but she was afraid. The reasons varied; with the powers came the personas, each one fighting for total control of her; there was the fear that she wouldn't make it out of here alive, or that she might fail those below – people that were counting on her to win; and then there was the fact that Rogue had accessed all the powers of people she had drained… save one.
"You are no match for me," said Phoenix, a dark laugh cutting off Rogue's thoughts. The southerner didn't reply. Of all the powers within her, there was one she feared most of all. She could still remember the last time it had tried to take control, and how much it had taken for her to fight it. She had barely won that time. What made her think she could do so again?
What makes me think it even matters? We'll all be dead by dawn, she thought to herself, her eyes sweeping over the battlefield alone. The small group of X-Men that had arrived were scattered across the temple, using their powers against Apocalypse, likely trying to save Angel before he got himself killed.
"Looking for someone in particular?" asked Phoenix, her voice mocking Rogue. "Your attachment to him has weakened you."
Rogue still didn't answer. She didn't have to. They both knew already knew what the answer was, and it was the reason why Rogue seemed to be hesitating on her next move. She felt herself torn – torn between the mission she had come to complete, and the loathing she felt for Phoenix. She couldn't think of Phoenix as Jean, because though she looked like her, she was nothing like her. But it was Jean. It was a part of her that had been locked away for so long before being set free. She had known about it in some respects, had feared it, and now couldn't seem to fight the part of her that had taken hold. Rogue didn't know how many people had known about this part of her, but she couldn't dwell on it. She couldn't think of her as Jean, or else she would falter, and everyone would die.
Phoenix seemed to revel in Rogue's silence, the sinister smile on her face widening. Her obsession with besting Rogue, in ultimately destroying her, clouded her own judgment. She was focused solely on tormenting the other woman, and she took Rogue's silence to mean that because of her own human nature, Rogue couldn't compete with her. It gave Phoenix a thrill, one she wanted to draw out.
Her own eyes scanned the ground, landing on the lone figure of Gambit. He was almost behind Apocalypse now, blending into the shadows as best he could. Phoenix studied the dagger in his hands. She didn't know what it was for, or what it would do, but she didn't care. The fate of Apocalypse hardly mattered to her. "I don't think your lover is going to last the night," she said, her finger pointing down at him. Energy burned at the edge of her fingertips as though she intended to shoot it at Gambit. Rogue turned in time to see it, shooting through the air quickly.
"Don't!" she said, her hands wrapping themselves around Phoenix's wrist, twisting it away from Remy. "Stop it! Just stop it!" A sudden tiredness seized Rogue, and words tumbled out of her mouth. "Is this just a game to you? Don't you see what's going on down there? Our friends are fighting for their lives, trying to battle a mutant they can't defeat! The only ones capable of fighting Apocalypse are us!"
Phoenix snarled, trying to wrest her arm out of Rogue's grip, but Rogue only tightened it. She yanked Phoenix closer to her, looking straight into her eyes. "I know you're in there, Jean. You have to fight to come back. We need you. I need you. I can't do this alone. I don't even know what I'm supposed to do. I'm tired – I'm tired of the voices, of the memories that aren't my own. I want it all to go away. But I need you to help me. I need you to come back, Jean, because if you don't, it'll be just me, and I'll fail. I'll fail and he'll take control. He'll destroy you the moment I'm gone, and you know it. Fight, Jean. Fight!"
New York City
"Mutants will be the death of us!" The voice boomed across the loudspeakers, echoing across the gathered crowd. Murmurs of agreement rippled like a wave, going from one side to the other. Gabrielle was quiet where she stood. She couldn't remember why she had come, but now that she was here, she felt it had been a big mistake. With everything going on across the world it was no surprise that humans were gathering in fear. Even Gabrielle was afraid of what might come to pass.
But she was even more afraid of what would come should the X-Men be victorious against Apocalypse. The last two years the planet had lived in fear, giving anti-mutant groups more fodder for their cause. In some ways she could understand it. As a human she had no way to protect herself from a human. Her tie to Xavier could only go so far, and would likely mean nothing to mutants outside of New York itself. Alone, Gabrielle wouldn't stand a chance going against a mutant with superpowers. And it was that sentiment that many other humans shared, giving them reason to want to do something to protect themselves from the mutant population.
It was easy to want to give into those fears. They would probably all die if Apocalypse won… and if he didn't, mutants would be in for a lifetime of harassment at the hands of the human race.
Gabrielle turned away from the crowd, intending on returning to the mansion. She didn't need to hear more anti-mutant sentiments. If she was going to die today, then she wanted to die at home. But as she turned, her eyes caught sight of a familiar face. "David." The name came out as a hoarse whisper, and Gabrielle found herself moving in his direction. If she could just reach him, if she could get him to see her –
"I wouldn't dare, if I were you," hissed a voice, a hand reaching out to grip Gabrielle by the elbow, pulling her to a stop. Gabrielle turned around and found herself face to face with the mutant Selene.
"Let me go! He's my son!"
"Do you think I care about things like that? He is a mutant, and you are a human. You've held him back far too long for me to let you get your hands on him again," replied Selene darkly.
Gabrielle shook her head, her mouth agape. "I tried to help him. His powers are a danger to him, to –"
"To others?" finished Selene. "He will be one of the greatest mutants you will ever know, and it will be with my help. You would do well to stay away from him, or else you'll find yourself six feet under before you can even blink."
A chill went down Gabrielle's spine, and she found that she was too afraid to move. The seconds ticked by and then Selene finally let go of her, taking a step back to study Gabrielle carefully. "Good," she said. "Then we have an understanding."
There was nothing for Gabrielle to say; nothing she could do. She watched as Selene walked away, leaving Gabrielle staring helplessly after her.
Pain flashed through Rogue as Phoenix swiped at her face, nails drawing blood. But she refused to let go of the other woman's arms, pushing the feelings swirling within her to the back of her mind. She knew Jean was in there, and as long as Rogue could keep herself from trying to kill Phoenix, then she was determined to get Jean out.
"Fight it, Jean! You have to."
"I don't have to do anything! I am The Phoenix, and you are nothing!" Her words were said through clenched teeth as her eyes began to turn a murky black color. Rogue let go of the other woman, a warning bell going off in her head. This was it; this would be the end.
Then she glanced down. "And what about him?" she asked, her voice soft. Rogue extended her arm, pointing a single finger toward Cyclops as he entered the temple, leading a combined team of Brotherhood and X-Men members. Phoenix's gaze followed Rogue's arm, her eyes returning to normal. For a split second they looked as though Jean was looking out, and then the shine was gone, leaving the dull blue color Jean had become known for under the rule of Apocalypse.
But that was all Rogue had needed. Jean was still in there somewhere, and it was enough to get her to snap into action. "If you can't fight for him, Jeannie, then we both deserve to die today. And you know who will be the one to take his life. Not you; not me."
Pulling away from Phoenix, Rogue shot through the air again, headed in Remy's direction. He saw her coming, his hand tossing the dagger into the air. She caught it, moving straight for the back of Apocalypse's neck. She didn't know how this would work, or even if it would. The southerner had never liked the idea of trusting Sage to begin with, but what choice did she have? If the woman was wrong, Rogue could at least die knowing Sage wouldn't be far along behind her.
So without thinking, without pausing, Rogue raised the dagger in the air, bringing it down into the middle of the back of Apocalypse's neck. He let out a strangled cry, Warren falling to the ground in a weary heap. But Rogue couldn't think of that; she was too busy pulling off a glove with her teeth, and then placing a hand down on Apocalypse's skin. Her mind had sorted through the powers in her possession, and in the end she knew that there was only one power that she knew well enough to do serious damage: her own.
Twisting the knife, Rogue refused to let go of Apocalypse, gritting her teeth as he fell to his knees, another cry of pain. She knew he was fighting against her, trying to use his powers to reach to her – but he couldn't. She wasn't in his line of sight, and they could both see another problem headed his way.
Whether it was Jean in control, or Phoenix, the red streak moving through the air became engulfed in flame. Part of Rogue knew what was coming next, but even then she refused to let go. Memories flashed through her mind, a new psyche entering the crowded mess in her head, struggling to take control. But Rogue fought it with all her might, her eyes focused on Phoenix as the woman barreled into Apocalypse's chest, pushing him and Rogue backward through a wall and into another chamber.
Blood seeped through the hand wrapped around the dagger, and Rogue could feel herself losing control of her mind… so she did the only thing she could think of to protect herself. She let down the barrier keeping Phoenix's psyche at bay, allowing Jean's powers to rush over her.
A new warmth flooded through Rogue's body as the Phoenix Force surfaced. Her own powers were still working; draining Apocalypse, but it was all different now. She could feel her eyes clouding over, though what color they had turned, she didn't know; beneath her fingers she felt the skin begin to flake away like dust, as though her touch was burning him bit by bit… but there was no smell of burnt flesh. Apocalypse was simply breaking apart…
Phoenix reached out with a single hand, placing it atop Apocalypse's head, her eyes glinting in pleasure as he yelled out in pain. She wasn't aiming for his head, determined to break his control on her mind.
And it worked.
Rogue could feel a searing pain in her mind where Apocalypse had first consumed her after his awakening. It was sharp and sudden, worse than the pain she had felt when Professor Xavier had tried killing off the mutants at Mastermind's behest. She bit down on the side of her cheek, tasting blood as she struggled to remain conscious. All around her Rogue felt fire tickling her skin, but it didn't hurt… it almost felt as though it was reaching out to wrap around her like a blanket – a very warm and welcome blanket.
For the first time in her life, Rogue felt safe. Her hands loosened of their own accord, her eyes fluttering shut, and then there was darkness.