Rogue walked into the medical bay with a sense of trepidation that bordered on outright panic. Rem'aillon had contacted her telepathically to let her know that Renee had been injured, though not seriously. Part of Rogue wanted to rail at the Professor and the other telepaths for letting him do the contacting, but she knew he was probably the only one that could find her among the seven billion minds on the planet when she didn't want to be found.
And it wasn't that she minded being contacted. She wanted to be there for Renee more than she could rationally explain. It was the feeling of Rem'aillon inside her thoughts that had her heart squeezed into a tight knot. He was supposed to be a stranger, but when he'd caught hold of her mind to give her the news, it had felt like being wrapped up in Remy's arms with her face pressed into the curve of his neck, breathing in the smell of him. It shook her to her core and made her furious at the same time.
Scott and Jean both stood as she entered the waiting room. Beside Jean, Storm remained seated, her head bowed. Scott wore his familiar stoic expression, but she could see the anger in his stance and the clenched muscle in his jaw.
"Rogue." Jean gave her a flickering smile. "Welcome back."
Rogue managed a nod in response, but her gaze automatically slid past Jean's face to the frosted windows of the examination rooms behind her. "Where is she?"
"First door." Jean tipped her head in the appropriate direction. "Beast is with her. And the Professor."
Rogue paused. "Where's…?"
"Rem'aillon?" Jean saved her from having to say his name. She shrugged. "Upstairs somewhere. Renee didn't want him down here so he left."
Relief swept through Rogue. At least she wouldn't have to deal with him. "All right, sugah. Thanks." Feeling lighter, she moved past the two X-Men and headed for the room Jean had indicated.
After a perfunctory knock, she stuck her head in the door and found Renee seated on the examination table, her arm propped up while Hank sutured a long gash in her forearm. Other than that, she didn't look too banged up. Scrapes decorated elbows, arms and fingers, but Rogue didn't see much bruising.
Renee looked up and smiled when she spotted Rogue. "You're back."
Rogue crossed the room in two strides. "Ah'm here, sugah. Ah'm sorry I took so long." Guilt pricked her. Maybe if she'd been here Renee wouldn't have gotten hurt at all.
"Mom, I'm okay." Renee indicated her arm. "It's just some stitches."
Hank paused, glancing at her over the tops of his spectacles. "Fortunately, there was no tendon or ligament damage so she is correct."
Rogue absorbed that. "What happened, exactly?"
Renee's expression fell. "Marrow attacked me. She figured she could hurt Remi by killing me." She paused. "Or Gambit, I guess. I don't think she understands the difference."
Rogue's heart pinched and she sighed. "No, probably not."
A noise from the doorway made Rogue turn, and she stiffened in surprise at the small figure who stood there, one hand on the doorknob. Marrow stared at them uncertainly. Logan loomed over her shoulder, close enough to grab her should she try to attack again but that seemed like the farthest thing from the girl's mind.
Rogue took an instinctive step to the right to better shield Renee anyway and studied Marrow with interest. For one, the girl was clean, which was new in Rogue's experience. Dressed in an oversized hospital gown, she seemed far younger than her sixteen-ish years. Marrow's pink hair, which had always grown in scraggly, uneven clumps, now tumbled around her face in thick waves. The bone spikes and protrusions were gone, too, transformed into beautiful shell-like whorls of bone that encircled her head and arms like some kind of exotic jewelry.
"Why can't she just heal herself like she did me?" Marrow asked with a darting glance toward Renee.
Rogue frowned. It hadn't even occurred to her.
Renee brushed a lock of hair away from her face with her free hand. "My powers don't work that way," she said. "Like my mother, I sample the genetic code of anyone I touch and, for whatever reason, I can't sample my own DNA."
Rogue blinked in surprise. Hank and the Professor had theorized that her powers might require physical contact for that reason, but Renee said it like it was a known fact. Emotions she couldn't name clamped down on her chest, crushing the breath out of her.
"Is that how it works?" she asked, her voice faint. Hank straightened curiously.
Renee nodded. "Yeah. You use the genetic sample to copy people's mutant powers and find memories in their brains. I use it as a pattern to figure out what's broken so my power can heal it."
"Fascinating," Hank said.
Renee turned to Marrow. "I don't know why Marrow's powers were so haywire, but that's not what her genes called for so…" She trailed off with a shrug.
"My name is Sarah," the girl in the doorway said in a small voice. Then, as if that pronouncement had overwhelmed her, she turned and pushed past Wolverine, who let her duck beneath his arm with a expression of pure surprise. With a last glance at Renee, he turned and followed Sarah down the hall.
Hank tied off the last of the stitches. "You've done a remarkable thing for her," he told Renee, his blue eyes solemn. "I believe this may be the first time in her life that she has not been in pain."
Renee smiled at that, but the expression quickly dimmed. Rogue couldn't guess what emotions churned in the depths of her daughter's red-on-black eyes but they weren't happy ones.
"You all right, sugah?" she asked.
Her mouth twisted, but she nodded. "I am. I just need to have a conversation with my cousin." Her voice hardened on the last word.
It took Rogue a moment to realize she meant Rem'aillon, but the spark of pain any thought of him conjured was quickly buried by curiosity. She knew Renee was angry at him for the choices he and the Professor had made - and rightly so - but she'd kept those feelings to herself for the most part. If Renee was ready to confront him on it, though, Rogue wanted to be there. She knew it was petty, but part of her wanted to see him flinch; to know, for sure, that he understood just how badly he'd hurt them.
Rogue waited quietly while Hank finished bandaging Renee's arm. Then Renee dressed in fresh clothes and headed for the lifts. Rogue followed.
They found Rem'aillon out on the driveway, smoking a cigarette as he stared up at the stars. He turned warily as they approached, the tip of his cigarette glowing brilliantly orange in contrast to the ruddy luminescence of his eyes.
Rogue slowed uncertainly, but Renee plowed ahead, her stride snapping with anger. When she reached Rem'aillon, she shoved him hard in the chest with her good hand. He staggered a half step, surprised more than anything, Rogue thought.
"I want my father's staff, Remi. He left it to me. You have no right to keep it." Renee's voice was fierce.
Distantly, Rogue heard the approaching hum of the the Professor's hoverchair accompanied by several sets of footsteps. Inside the house, a phone rang.
Renee went on. "When Marrow attacked me tonight, I couldn't even defend myself." Her hands clenched into fists. "That staff belongs to me."
Rem'aillon's eyes narrowed. He stared at Renee in silence for several seconds but then abruptly shrugged and fished a familiar silver cylinder out of his jeans pocket and handed it to her.
Renee immediately telescoped the bo to full length, her expression one of mingled surprise and relief. She gripped the shaft tightly and nodded to Rem'aillon. "Thank you."
He shrugged again, and something in his eyes made Rogue's gut clench in apprehension. She knew that look.
With a single, smooth motion, Rem'aillon retrieved a second, identical cylinder from somewhere on his person and extended it. He spun the bo casually as if checking its balance.
Renee gaped at him and he paused, bringing the tip of the staff to rest on the ground between his feet.
"Did you think there was only one?" he asked her. "I have Forge make them for me by the dozen." He hefted the staff. "For all that adamantium's supposed to be the strongest material on Earth, these things get blown up, sliced in half or otherwise mangled on a regular basis."
He cocked his head, his expression challenging. "If we could go home, Renee, I guarantee you your mother has a box of spares tucked away in a closet somewhere." His gaze flickered to Rogue, who couldn't have moved if her life depended on it, and back to Renee.
Rogue was aware of the small group of X-Men who had come up behind her, but had no attention to spare for them until Bobby cleared his throat.
"Uh… I hate to interrupt, but there's a lady on the phone who says she's a mutant." He blanched as both Rem'aillon and Renee turned to glare at him. "Uh… she said… uh... Remy LeBeau told her if she was ever in real trouble she should call here." He held up the house phone with a helpless little shrug.
Rogue's breath whooshed out of her. She hadn't heard anyone say Remy's name aloud since… since he died.
No one moved for a long moment. Then, eyes glowing, Rem'aillon stepped forward and snatched the phone from Bobby's hand. He put it to his ear.
As the woman on the other end began to speak, his expression shaded into alarm. "Whoa, Token. Slow down. Where are you?"
As he listened, his gaze swept the assembled X-Men. "All right," he finally told the mystery woman. "We're coming to get you. Just stay on the highway and I'll be there in ten minutes." He ended the call.
"Token is a precog," he told the group. "I met her-" he paused, his gaze darting toward Rogue before veering away, "after Antarctica. She just had a vision of the Shadow King coming after her and she panicked. She's in her car, headed for Westchester."
Rogue couldn't hope to digest the tangle of emotions his words conjured, so she shoved it all down and concentrated on what she could handle. The Shadow King was a threat she could at least face head on, and she hated him with a burning passion for all the pain he had inflicted.
He also terrified her, but that was something she wasn't willing to examine too closely.
Scott nodded sharply. "Then we'll take the Aurora and intercept her." Along with everything else Lilandra had brought them, they also had a new airplane; a sleek delta wing similar in design to some of the things the Air Force was experimenting with.
"I'm taking my bike," Rem'aillon said. Scott immediately started to counter him, but he went on sharply, "I can be there before you get off the ground, Cyclops. I don't sense the Shadow King near her right now, but that doesn't mean he can't portal in at any moment."
Scott considered that, then nodded. "Fine. But take Sam and Rogue with you, just in case."
Rogue swallowed her protest. She couldn't argue with his logic. Rem'aillon gave her a single hooded glance and then nodded. He started toward the garage at a jog. The other X-Men scattered and Rogue rose into the air with Sam a few feet behind her.
Seconds later, the Harley roared to life and Rem'aillon streaked out of the garage and down the drive, tires squealing as he made the turn onto Graymalkin Lane. He drove just like Remy, some tiny corner of Rogue's brain observed, but she ignored that voice with determination. With a wave to Sam she rose further into the air and followed him.
Six minutes' worth of honking horns and angry commuters later, Rem'aillon pulled in behind a tiny, efficient-looking hybrid with tires the size of dinner plates. Rogue was tempted to just pick the little car up and cart both it and the driver back to the mansion. It would be a lot simpler than following her through traffic. Unfortunately, though Rem'aillon could keep the surrounding drivers from noticing the two flying mutants with a little telepathic nudge, he wouldn't be able to keep them from noticing someone flying off with one of the cars without a full scale telepathic intrusion.
She didn't have time to think on it further, though, as a glowing blue doorway appeared in the middle of the northbound lanes. Cars veered away, horns blaring. One slammed into the concrete divider only to be rear-ended by a second vehicle. Tires screeched and in moments a cascading series of collisions had brought traffic to a standstill. The little hybrid managed not to get pancaked by dint of being small and maneuverable. It ended up straddling one of the lane markers, nosed in between a luxury SUV and a white van with a stack of ladders strapped to the roof. Rem'aillon skated to a stop sideways just behind it. He immediately hopped off the bike.
A figure stepped through the portal flanked by two of the red catlike creatures Rogue recognized. She pulled up sharply, startled despite herself.
Sinister surveyed the chaos he had created. A smile played about his lips, exposing the tips of his pointed canines. The two catlike beasts prowled a tight circle about him, heads turning warily.
A wave of anguish crashed over Rogue. The pain stabbed her through the heart, leaving her chest hollow. The world dimmed around her and she sank, borne down by the suffocating weight of despair. What point was there to fighting? Nothing made the pain go away. It never had. Her knees hit the asphalt.
Then, in the next moment, her head cleared. The pain lifted; gone, save for a series of shivery little aftershocks. Rogue sucked down a breath, suddenly glad to be alive again. Able to see, to hope. She found herself kneeling in the middle of the highway. A few steps away, Rem'aillon faced Sinister, lit cards in one hand, his bo in the other and a look of intense concentration on his face.
The Shadow King has found his first relay, Rem'aillon said inside her mind. His mental voice was tight. He's linked with the Shadow King. Channeling him. Multiplying his strength.
Sinister? Chilled, Rogue pushed herself to her feet. The people on the highway sat frozen in their cars, their eyes blank, horrified. Rogue heard someone weeping. Further away, another voice cried out weakly, begging for help.
Sinister cocked his head appraisingly. "Well, well. You have been keeping secrets, haven't you?" he told Rem'aillon.
In the car next to Rogue, a man with tears coursing down his face reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a gun. He turned it sideways, stared at it. Rogue's gut went cold and watery with dread. Can't ya shield these people like yah shielding me?
I am, Rem'aillon answered curtly. The Shadow King can't control their minds but he's also an empath and I can't do much to keep him out of their emotions.
Yah shielding mine, she argued.
Rem'aillon snorted inside her mind. You're doing that. I cleared your mind, you're doing the rest.
Sam, she realized, was still down on the pavement, paralyzed by the emotional tidal wave the Shadow King had poured out on them. What about Jean and Cable and Betsy?
Betsy's not ready for this yet. The others are here. For a moment, Rogue felt the brush of two other minds. She recognized Jean immediately. Cable didn't say anything but his presence was distinctly masculine and easily identified.
Not sure what else to do, Rogue reached in through the open car window beside her. She snatched the gun out of the man's hand, emptied it, and then crushed it in her fist as if it were made of clay rather than metal and threw it down on the street. But even as she turned to look for others who might be driven to hurt themselves, a gunshot rang out on the far side of the highway. Someone screamed.
Like a dam breaking, the emotional state on the highway changed from hopelessness to terror. The despair that had retreated to the edges of Rogue's awareness surged inward. Rem'aillon cried out and fell to his knees, cursing. In French.
Rogue reeled. French. Not Shi'ar. Panic seeped into her chest. She whirled, searching for some path of escape but her mind refused to process. She couldn't breathe.
Rogue. A new voice intruded into her mind - Jean. You're all right. It's okay. You can do this. The other woman murmured warm encouragement like a mother talking to a small child. Her voice poured over the gibbering panic in Rogue's mind, drowning it in honey and the scent of summer roses.
Rogue took a shuddering breath as her chaotic thoughts steadied. Ah'm okay now, she told Jean. Thanks.
The other woman's warm presence flitted away, leaving Rogue alone. She shivered.
"Rogue." It was little more than a hoarse croak from Rem'aillon. He remained on his knees on the street. Singed cards lay scattered around him and though he still held the bo, it hung limp in his hand, tip resting against the asphalt. His head was bowed.
He reached toward her with his empty hand. "Need you to borrow a copy of my powers. We... need another telepath."
Rogue shook her head frantically. Oh, no. Nononononono. The panic tried to whirl her away again, but she resisted. X-Men didn't get to fall apart when people's lives were at stake.
"I know how your powers work," Rem'aillon went on. "You can't... hurt me." He tensed, shoulders hunching as if he were trying to support some immense burden.
Two lanes away, Sam struggled to get to his feet. A man and woman in the car ahead of him had started punching each other, the scuffle punctuated by angry shouts and then a shriek of pain. Blood droplets spattered the closed car window.
Rogue lunged for the hand Rem'aillon held out to her. She had to help, not matter how much she hated the thought of touching this man who'd stolen Remy's life. Her fingers closed on his and her powers ignited in a heady, tingling rush. The power of an omega telepath poured into Rogue. Her awareness unfurled like a sail catching the wind and she soared. Minds sprang to life all around her, luminous glowing balls streaked through with veins of darkness and rot. She willed herself onto the astral plane. Distantly, she could feel the familiar burn of Rem'aillon's biokinetic charge in her veins.
The view from the astral plane was absolutely terrifying. The Shadow King filled the horizon as a towering black storm. Lightning flashed across its surface and constant thunder snarled like some monstrous beast hidden within the clouds. Dark tendrils snaked down from the thunderheads into the scattered field of minds trapped on the highway around the Shadow King.
No, Rogue amended. The long streamers of energy snaked upward; pain, fear, anger, hatred, all feeding the massive storm.
Directly overhead, a shimmering disc of energy held the violent storm clouds at bay. Wind howled against it, making the shield vibrate. Rem'aillon stood at the apex of the shield, arms raised. A column of energy rose from him, supporting and feeding the construct. To his left, Cable anchored a similar column. Both men looked exhausted. Between the two stretched a ropy cable in shades of ochre and gray. Jean stood between them, forming the third point of a flattened triangle. A similar cable of power stretched between her and each of the men and a shining support beam rose through her into the shield.
As Rogue watched, the wind rose to a shriek and the shield shifted a fraction of a degree. The edge farthest from Cable sagged lower than its opposite side. Rem'aillon made a pained noise as he struggled to keep the off-center shield from tipping further.
Rogue understood where she was needed, and with Rem'aillon's power coursing through her she knew how to help. She took her place on his far side, opposite Cable.
Link in, Rem'aillon said.
Tentatively, Rogue reached for his mind. There on the astral plane, a glowing white cable emerged from her and flung itself toward Rem'aillon. He reached for her in return with a conduit of molten red. The two met between them in an explosion of heat and sparks and then the cables twined about each other, twisting and darting in a dizzying dance as they wove together into a cord far thicker than any of the others.
For the first time in a very long time, Rogue wasn't alone. Joy, affection and loyalty reverberated along the braided cord, running like quicksilver reflections of a light she couldn't see and pulsing to the exquisite rhythm of Remy moving inside her.
"Oh," Jean said aloud, sounding surprised.
Not now, Rem'aillon answered. Strain made his mental voice ragged.
Rogue had no idea what to make of it and she wasn't sure she wanted to. She did her best to ignore the terrifying intimacy of the bond she now shared with Rem'aillon and reached for Cable. The link that formed between them was, to her immense relief, nothing like her link to Rem'aillon. By comparison it was thin and nearly sterile.
Jean reached for her as soon as the cord binding her to Cable had solidified. Rogue reciprocated, and the link that sprang to life between them glowed golden and hummed with a friendly energy.
Power surged through Rogue, running along their interlinked minds like electricity. She took that energy and molded it into a thick support beam like the others and sent it stabbing upward until it met the shield with a solid thunk. The weight of the shield crashed down on her, and, with a grunt of effort, Rogue set herself against it. She was used to being strong. This, she knew how to do.
Jean's column evaporated. The weight on Rogue grew heavier. She gritted her teeth as the energy Jean took back from the column became a misty golden aura that the other woman sent twirling out toward the minds around them. Golden tendrils wrapped themselves around the black feeds leading up into the storm, pulling on them, stretching until they snapped. The warm golden mist blanketed the freed minds and distantly Rogue could hear Jean's voice echoing the same gentle mantra of encouragement she'd used on Rogue. The dark veins began to fade from the minds she touched. The Shadow King snarled in his thunder-voice and beat against Rem'aillon's shield with renewed vigor.
Rogue's kinesthetic sense picked up the X-Men's approaching aircraft as the Shadow King's pummeling began to abate. Cut off from the feed of emotions, his strength waned and Rogue began to hope they could outlast him.
On the physical plane, Sinister took a step. "My master and I would very much like to know where this sudden telepathic talent has come from, Remy." The mild conversational tone in the midst of the raging telepathic battle taking place around them made him sound all the more menacing.
Rem'aillon, however, seemed unimpressed. "Y' have a master now, Essex? That don' seem like you." He said the words in a perfect imitation of Remy's rolling Cajun accent and Rogue's heart lurched in her chest. But she understood why he wouldn't want to give Sinister or the Shadow King any clues about his identity, despite how much it hurt. Remy would have approved.
Sinister frowned, but then shrugged. "Knowledge always comes at a cost."
The sound of the Aurora reached Rogue's ears. Sinister heard it, too. His head turned toward the sound and then he paused as if listening to a voice none of the rest of them could hear.
"Very well," Sinister said after a moment and refocused on Rem'aillon. "Until next time." He took two steps backward into the shimmering doorway behind him and disappeared. The catlike creatures turned and padded after him. The doorway disappeared. On the astral plane, the massive storm of the Shadow King simply evaporated, boiling away into the featureless sky. Rogue staggered as the weight on Rem'aillon's shield abruptly vanished.
A few moments later, the shield itself winked out. Rogue fled the astral plane, abandoning her links to the other telepaths and diving back into her own body with a sense of relief so intense it left her nauseous. The cables of power tying her to both Jean and Cable disintegrated as if they'd never existed, but not the one that linked her to Rem'aillon. It, too, disappeared when she let go of it, but like an afterimage seared onto her retinas she could still see it, could still feel it imprinted on the fabric of her being.
Rogue looked around. Sam was helping a woman out of a car, her face a bruised, blood-smeared mess. On the far side, the woman's husband or boyfriend stood with his bloodied hands over his mouth, his expression horrified.
The Aurora landed, spilling X-Men into the scene. Rogue heard Jean relaying information and directing Hank, Cecilia Reyes, and Renee, in particular, toward the injured.
The woman - Token - climbed out of her little blue hybrid and launched herself at Rem'aillon with a cry that was half-laughter, half-sob. She was a tiny thing, Rogue thought with an odd sense of disconnect. Not even five feet tall, and maybe ninety-five pounds soaking wet. The woman ran to Rem'aillon and wrapped her arms around his chest, hugging him for all she was worth. Rem'aillon squeezed her back, his voice rising and falling in warm, reassuring tones.
A wave of jealousy struck Rogue. This woman had meant something to Remy. Her Remy. Seeing her wrapped up in Rem'aillon's arms twisted something painfully tight inside Rogue, for reasons she couldn't hope to untangle.
Rogue forced herself to turn away and used the full might of her borrowed telepathic powers to wall up her mind and heart where the other telepaths couldn't possibly see. Then she went to see if there was anything she could do for the wounded.