Chapter III: Lilium Inter Spinas

"None of us really changes over time. We only become more fully what we are."
- Anne Rice

This is the end, and this is the beginning.

Truer words were never spoken, save over those who find themselves misaligned and led astray from whichever purpose so set to them. Either way, the road's a knotty and thorned pass, and it leads forever downwards.

This is how we find ourselves growing old: the heartbeat's metronomic rhythm synced with heart monitors. Time measured in a haze, weighed against the caliber and speed of a bullet (twenty two, on the first count, to be precise; eight hundred miles an hour, on the other, roughly.)

Incredible, that a man could peel back the clotted haze of congealed blood, borderline pneumonic collapse, and wake to new truths:

The first thought to cross Remy LeBeau's groggy mind upon reviving to the dimmed confines of a hospital room, was: Toto, we ain't in Kansas anymore.

The second, being: Who cut the lock off the gates to Sesame Street?

The bespectacled blue monster tending to his dressings was surprisingly gentle, and even more disorienting, eloquent.

With all the unconquerable wisdom in the world, the doctor said to him, "Ah. You're awake."

From those who thought to ask her if she needed anything, she demanded, "Tylenol."

There was a half-empty bottle sitting on the blotter in front of her, before the empty space for a chair that once belonged to Charles Xavier. The glass of water to go with the Tylenol was conveniently absent, along with the little nameplate that ought to have read, "Ororo".

Perhaps that's why the "Ms. Frost" engraving seemed a prelude for the cool sort of silent punishment Wolverine was giving her, the lack-of-water torture and all.

Just as Rogue had begun contemplating swallowing her tongue to generate enough spit to consume two pills to ease her pounding hangover-inspired headache, her tormentor spoke,

"You know you're not legally old enough to be drinking."

She'd hauled a mostly-dead man, wrapped in his trench coat, halfway through Pennsylvania before the big lunker she'd absorbed had worn off and his truck had run out of gas, and all Logan wanted to do was remind her not to hang out with her three new best friends: Jim, Jack and Jose.

"Is he dead?" she asked in return.

Logan continued to examine her in that unscrupulous way of his, arms folded across his barrel-like chest.

She raised an eyebrow. It hurt. Rogue gave up, letting her eyes shut when Logan's direct appraisal began making the roots of her hair tingle from discomfort. (Granted, that may have been the hangover still at work.)

"Where's Ororo?" She tried a different tactic.

The mansion seemed to sigh around her; all that oak paneling filling in the blanks left open by her former mentor.

Still, Logan left her floundering.

Left her with thoughts of screams and splintering furniture, the gunshot wound and subsequent, slowing breath of the man who had taken an errant and stray bullet intended for her; its place marked over her heart to still the pains caused by her own hand; fingers clasped over hers for too long a second as she tried to shelter the man, eyes already too dark around the irises to be natural. A mutant - surely, he was - smiling with the beautiful, serene acceptance of those souls promised to the velveteen shadows of the grave; seeing the gates beyond and already reaching for them.

Rogue checked herself, realizing she'd stopped breathing from the momentary hysteria wrought from Wolverine's maddening silence.

From the errant click of lungs unable to draw air, suffocating because she couldn't cover his mouth with her own and breathe for him...

Lordy, she did not want to ask the next question. It seemed so futile:

"Am I in trouble?"

In response, at her back, the door clicked shut.

Damn, Rogue thought, cracking open an eye to find the spot that Logan had occupied, now empty.

Hugging herself, she shifted in her seat, in the hush and with the pounding of her pulse her only company. Her gloves had left smears of darker substances on her sleeves - the green wool stained beyond repair in too many places to count. Already, the coat - her favorite - was fit for the dumpster at the back of the school: telltale markings of the struggle for survival.

Something stayed her from taking it off, from picking at the stiff satin of her gloves stained red. She flexed her hands into fists, making the fabric crackle, peeling away from where the man's blood had made her only protection stick to the skin of her hands.

He'd had no ID on him. No wallet. A broken cellphone that deflected the bullet but only just.

Two, Rogue thought, pulling her lower lip between her teeth: the thing making her heart pound, that kept her from shedding the evidence of her failure, was numbered at the number of lives that she'd failed to save in as many weeks.

Tasting copper, she bit down harder as her vision swam.

Instead of crying, Rogue lifted her stiff limbs, and drew her hood low over her eyes.