"Wait a minute…" Wolverine realizes, sniffing. "You're not Sabertooth!"
"Fight me!" the doppelganger demands, swinging the light post.
"No, I know you're not Sabertooth…" muses Logan, absently dodging the steel aimed at his adamantium plated skull.
The X- Van roars up, the team jumps out, and as Cyclops' hand goes to his visor it abruptly clicks in Wolverine's mind. He stretches out a hand. "Cyclops, no!"
'Sabertooth' is through the wall with a flash of red and a crash.
"Corner of Brant and Tyler Boulevard," reports Cyclops, running up to the hole. "I just punched him through a wall. And now we're gonna finish this."
"No." Already gazing speculatively into the warehouse through the hole Cyclops just made, Wolverine puts out a hand to halt the younger X Man. "That's not Sabertooth… it's Rogue."
"How can that be?" blurts Nightcrawler, loping up to them with three New Mutants trailing him.
"I dunno," Wolverine admits, turning from Kurt's shocked face back to the dark warehouse, "but it is. And she's not thinkin' straight."
"Okay, you four hang back and wait for the others." orders Scott, having pushed aside shock in favor of his good friends Calm, Cool and Collected. "We don't wanna spook her." He follows Wolverine inside, stepping forward and calling out while Wolverine assesses the situation.
Sabertooth snarls, stalking down an aisle lined with boxes.
"Are you in here?"
Is she? Sabertooth grunts in pain, shrinks into Rogue. She clutches one of the shelves, turns, clutches her head and arches her spine.
"Talk to me," urges Scott, unaware. "Tell me what's happening. We're here to help you."
Jean cradling Scott, smiling-
panting, can't control it-
Her face twists and her eyes close, it hurts-
"Jean!" blurts Scott, and she knows his eyes are wide with fear behind that ruby visor-
Her eyes snap open, stormy grey-
confessing to her in a freezing cave, you've been lied to-
fingers on his forehead, pure power blasting forth from her eyes-
Small, pained sounds escape her and she shapeshifts into Cyclops, a sliver of white teeth bared.
One Cyclops presses further into the warehouse. Another pads quietly toward his objective, sets himself up, and leaps down as the target passes.
"Hey bigshot," and the first Cyclops turns, takes on a defensive position too slow- "better help yourself!" The doppelganger looses the force beams without ever touching a hand to the visor on his head.
"Whoa!" Scott flies backwards, crashes through an empty wooden crate and lands at Wolverine's feet.
Logan bends from his ready position and stretches out a hand to help the younger man up.
"Agh," groans Scott, gratefully taking the proffered limb and cradling his abused torso with one arm, "hurts more'n I thought!"
"She's shapeshifting," Wolverine notes, dropping Scott's wrist and looking around. "She could be anybody."
"Like Avalanche?" Scott queries dryly as the ground begins to pitch. The X Men raise their arms, but it doesn't help much with the rain of boxes and shelving.
The Brotherhood's de facto team leader strides forward, only to grunt with wide eyes and fist his hand in front of his chest. He stares at his hands, and shifts into Rogue. She sucks in a breath, looks at the pile of boxes.
The breaths turn to frightened pants, and she leans against one of the shelves as Cyclops and Wolverine unbury themselves.
"Help me," she pleads, watching Logan help lift a box bigger than he is off of Scott.
"We will, Rogue," he pledges, hands up. Scott turns to face her. "Just stay calm."
"We're your friends." adds Scott, stretching out his own gloved hand.
Rogue's eyes widen, and her purple mouth takes a definite downturn.
Sitting next to a girl that looked almost tolerable at one of the interminable assemblies-
Risty turning her head and smiling-
Rogue's own head drops as her eyes begin to glow. "I have no friends," she says in bitter realization, stretching her arms out to the heavens, the white streak in her hair spreading to take over the russet brown. Her clothes shift too, a cape suddenly flaring straight up in the sudden wind.
Outside, Nightcrawler and the younger mutants back away in trepidation as the warehouse flashes and the wind picks up. The windows explode with lightning; newly arrived X Men squint and shield their eyes, and all keep a wary distance from the show.
Wolverine and Cyclops are tossed out on their behinds.
"We've surrounded the warehouse," Jean informs them, crouching behind Wolverine and forming a loose fist. "What's wrong with her?" Red hair flares out in the wind, waving like a flag.
Scott gets to his feet, clutching an arm. "It's like every person she's ever absorbed is fighting to take over." The tightness in his tone betrays his worry to Jean as plainly as reading his mind could have.
The majority of the warehouse disintegrates as a tornado rises from within it, laced with lightning; a female form floats up and out, Storm segueing into Rogue.
Lightning gathers at her hands, red at her eyes.
She growls and looses the optic beams; Jean throws out her hands and pulls them back as the lethal glare punctures the asphalt they'd been standing on seconds before.
Nightcrawler joins Jean, Cyclops, and Wolverine.
The Professor's first two students are staring up at their wayward teammate; Kurt looks at Wolverine as he speaks. "It looks like she's gotten control over all those powers at once."
They both return their eyes to Rogue.
"And it's not a good thing." Wolverine concludes, watching Rogue watching them. Her eyes have gone white.
She turns in the air as the Blackbird comes screaming toward her.
"Oh no," murmurs Ororo; Hank and Xavier's expressions are grim as all three look at the girl at the epicenter of the twisting winds.
"Ergh!" She waves a hand, and the jet rolls off course. Beast and Storm manage to keep it upright for the crash landing onto the street but there's no making it smooth; the Blackbird tosses aside the parked cars in its way before skidding to a stop.
Hank is slumped forward; smoke rises from the control panel, accompanied by ominous sparks and the buzz of disrupted electricity.
Rogue is on the move now, hands fisted at her sides, blasting things at random. Sunspot leaps out of the way as she hits a car; Magma pelts after him. Berzerker and Iceman aren't so lucky; both are tossed into the air as the pavement under their feet explodes.
Storm gets up, makes her way over to the Professor and briefly touches a hand to his shoulder. "Charles?"
Their gazes lock.
"Go, Storm," he nods.
She runs out; troubled brown eyes follow her.
Nightcrawler ports out of the way of the red light; Shadowcat runs, not wanting to test the effects of phasing through force beams until she has to.
Nightcrawler reappears beside Jean and Wolverine; Kitty comes to a stop in front of Cyclops as he orders, "Jean, pull her down."
She touches her hands to her temples, closes her eyes.
The red light of Cyclops' stolen optic beams disappears as Rogue's body jerks and begins to descend.
"Errrgh!" Rogue rights herself, touches her own hands to her head-
desperately clutching a frayed cable, stretching out a pale hand-
contact! Her fingertips press against the other girl's forehead-
Jean lets out a startled cry as she's flung back; her teammates whip around to follow the movement before turning back to Rogue.
Cyclops steps forward and returns fire when Jean hits the ground; Rogue stretches out a hand in forming a telekinetic shield, then drops it to fling lightning at them from her other hand.
"Agh!" Cyclops throws himself backward not a second too soon.
"You're coming with me, Rogue!" proclaims Nightcrawler, throwing his arms and legs around her.
She wriggles as they disappear; she reappears in the same spot almost instantly, arms outstretched as though she'd flung him off.
For his part, Kurt reappears scant inches above the street and can only fling out his own arm to cushion his tumble along the pavement.
"Aw…" he rubs his aching head.
Rogue cartwheels in a backdraft; Storm floats up with a determined face.
"Rogue! I'm sorry, but I can't let you hurt any more people!" A thunderhead gathers behind the weather witch, and a bolt of lightning hits Rogue dead on.
She cries out, backs up- and stretches out a hand.
Ororo's face twists as the lightning hits her; then another, and another. She drops like a stone.
Rogue turns away, making soft distressed noises, closing her eyes and bringing her hands to her head again.
Jean Grey looks up from her crouch, gasps, and stretches out her arms; Storm's plummet slows, and she drifts along with the rest of the X Men as they fall back on Wolverine's order.
"Ice up, kid, now!" he barks at Bobby Drake, and Iceman obligingly grows a column of ice under Wolverine's feet.
Rogue tosses and turns in the midst of the winds, and finally curls up into a fetal position.
A growl alerts her to Wolverine's presence, and she lifts her head as he launches himself at her.
She phases out of Logan's hold, watches as Iceman hastily erects a curvy ice slide to catch him as he falls.
She's so intent on Wolverine that she doesn't notice Cyclops' hand go to his visor, doesn't notice the red beam in enough time to block it.
It knocks her clear out of the sky, though she retains enough control over the winds to cushion her fall. Six other Rogues appear when she hits the ground with a dull thud, ringing the fallen one and glaring out at the X Men as they press forward, Wolverine leading the charge.
One cocks her head curiously, and Logan feels a tugging on his bones.
"Rogue!" he says, not quite desperately. "I know what it's like for nothin' to make sense in yer head. I've been there."
The clone exercising Magneto's power narrows her eyes and raises her hand in front of her; Wolverine's arms and legs are stretched out, the joints locked, and he rises a couple of feet above the ground.
The other five step forward and blast him with the optic beams.
The magnetic control weakens slightly as he soars backward, and his claws pop out, ripping along the roof of one of the few cars remaining parked on the street. They stay out as his back slams into the armored van, then his face to the ground. Wolverine drags himself up to his knees while his back knits itself together.
The Rogues charge, one of them overturning the car Wolverine clawed and the rest teleporting in a circle around him. All five bring up their right hand and Wolverine resumes his position in the air and starts revolving.
"Listen to me, kid!" he bites out, moving his head to try to see the real one, or even the remaining clone. "The others inside you- you're lettin' 'em push you around! The Rogue I know wouldn't take that offa anybody!"
The Rogues pause; he stops turning. He stares into the eyes of the one nearest to him, willing her to take back control.
She makes a noise between a laugh and a sob. "D' you have any idea how many people're in my head, Logan?"
All the X Men gape as the Rogues abruptly lash out at one another- each girl punching or kicking the one closest to her. The clones create more clones and all begin shifting, sliding into other forms, each one different. The X Men begin to recognize Rogue's victims. Mutants and normal humans alike; themselves, and the Brotherhood; a boy Jean recognizes as Cody Robbins, the first of them all, down to the people Rogue accidentally touched at the concert that night.
It's quite a crowd.
A scream breaks the team's awe; the real Rogue, somewhere behind the echoes of the people she'd absorbed. Logan, released from the magnetic hold, takes a step forward; Sabertooth blocks him with a snarl.
Jean can overhear the Professor. Don't resist, Rogue! Help me!
She adds her abilities to his own, but the psyches usurping Rogue's mind provide a block unlike any Jean's ever seen. By the look on his face as he wheels up to them, she's betting it's something the Professor's never encountered before, either.
Without warning, the doppelgangers part.
A small girl stands in front of them, maybe four years old. A few of the girls gasp as they realize who she is.
The Rogue in front of them is a far cry from the one they're used to.
Kitty and Jean can't help but approach her, despite the Professor's low warning.
Bright green eyes, alight with curiosity and intelligence, peek out at them from behind brown- red curls. She's wearing purple overalls with a pink plaid patch on the leg- maybe it's a bear, maybe it's a dog, but whatever it is, it's as adorable as the child herself- and a white shirt with short, ruffled sleeves. There are tiny, tiny white sneakers on her feet.
Scott gawks. It's the complete opposite of all the clothes he's ever seen Rogue wear.
Those big green eyes fill with tears, and the little girl sniffles.
"Mama!" she wails.
A shadow on a nearby rooftop detaches from the rest, starts slinking toward the scene below.
Meanwhile, Jean and Kitty take slow, small steps forward; their likenesses flank the child when Jean and Shadowcat are within touching distance. The girls spare a glance for their doubles, then look at each other before returning their attention to the crying little Rogue.
The rest of the shifted clones form a defensive ring as the rest of the X Men try to follow.
The little girl looks up at Jean, sniffles again. "Yer purty." she says, with watery eyes. Her accent is thicker than the one their Rogue has.
Jean's smile feels like it's going to crumble. "Thank you. You're very pretty, too."
The little girl doesn't break eye contact as she shakes her head. "Rogue's not 's pretty as you."
Kitty blinks, but her tone is gentle when she asks, "But aren't you Rogue?"
The child starts crying again, but this time the tears are silent. "'s what Mama calls me. My new mama. But my real Mama always called me-" she hiccups slightly, and the tears start coming in earnest- "Anna Marie."
"That's a beautiful name." Jean soothes. "Anna Marie."
Anna Marie shakes her head violently, and her small voice breaks. "No! No! Mama- Mama called me that, an' Mama went away, an' they said Mama died. So she never came back. Not really. I saw her, but she was in a box- an' she wouldn' wake up, an' Daddy said she was dead, an' Daddy was meeeean to me," she wailed out the word, the story coming faster and higher and more jumbled as she went- "he didn' want me. He fought with Aint Carrie, an' Aint Carrie didn' like me any more'n Daddy did, so I ran away. An' then one day I ran away, I was runnin' t' the graveyard t' see my Mama 'cause my Mama always came back, even when she was really mad, 'cause'a me. She'd get mad at Daddy 'n Daddy'd get mad at her an' somebody'd leave, but they always came back, an' Mama always came back 'cause'a me." Green eyes burn jade as the girl looks up at Jean, pleading with her to understand.
And understand she does- Jean cries even harder than Anne Marie, because this girl's mind isn't the troubled, guarded, chaotic mess the real Rogue's is. This is Rogue at four, when her world fell apart. This is Anna Marie, who became Rogue.
Jean sees what the little girl is talking about. A big man, with the same russet hair, always wearing a trucker hat. His eyes were always hard when he looked at her; they were hard when he looked at her Mama, too, but in a different way.
And her Mama, her beautiful Mama with auburn hair that shone more red than brown in the light; her tall, slender, strong Mama with the bright green eyes that danced when she smiled at her little Anna Marie.
Mama and Daddy were always either fighting or making up; both were scary. Even at four Anna Marie understood that the fighting was usually about her; Daddy didn't like her, didn't want her, and while Mama would stand up for her to Daddy she wouldn't give either of them up.
The making up was almost as bad. Her parents would spend most of their time in the bedroom; Mama would forget to make meals for Anna Marie, or to make sure she bathed or brushed her teeth or went to bed on time, and whenever she caught Anna Marie taking advantage of it she'd look so tired and plead with her to please, be good; it'd be different this time, so could she please be a good girl for Mama? There would be a tentative peace in the house for anywhere from hours to days to weeks; and then suddenly, inevitably, Daddy would get mad about something, Mama would give as good as she got, and they were fighting again.
Daddy never hit Mama and Mama rarely hit Daddy, but when things got bad enough one or the other of them would just take off- for days or weeks at a time. So when Mama left that last time, Anna Marie wasn't worried.
Daddy didn't worry either, until they found Mama dead.
Then the fights were with Aint Carrie, who didn't like her any more than Daddy did; and while Aint Carrie at least didn't yell at her, she was strict.
Anna Marie didn't like strict. Anna Marie liked the woods, and the river, so when Aint Carrie cracked down Anna Marie ran.
And the last time Anna Marie ran, her new mama met her on the road in a car, drove her to the graveyard, and explained to her what death meant.
When it dawned on Anna Marie that she had nobody- that the one person in the world who had loved her was gone, gone, gone- her new mama had knelt, taken her into her arms, wiped away her tears and said that she wanted her, that she was the only person who did, and she'd take her away from Daddy and Aint Carrie and all of this.
Anna Marie never looked back.
Jean opens her arms and the little girl stares at them, clearly torn.
"Anna Marie…" chokes Kitty, crouching down next to Jean.
The girl takes a step forward, face crumpling into a wail-
And a blue woman leads a blonde to them.
"Rogue." says the blonde, and all three girls look up.
The wail is sucked back into a choked sob, and the little girl's bangs turn white. With a miserable face she steps forward, away from Jean and Shadowcat, and settles herself quietly at the blonde woman's side.
Middle age reverses itself, pale skin turns blue, and blonde hair darkens to red as Mystique reveals her true form.
Anna Marie stares up at her adoptive mother with fearful, wide eyes and a squeak.
"Rogue." coos Mystique.
The little girl takes a wobbly step back toward Jean and Kitty, but when the girls try to step protectively in front of her their own clones hold them back.
"It's okay." the mutant terrorist soothes. "Mama's here, remember? They can't help you," she flicks a disdainful glance over the X Men being held at bay, "I'm the only one who can. I'm the only one who wants you, sweetheart, don't you remember?"
"That's not true, Anna Marie-" Jean starts heatedly, but the part of her that Rogue had absorbed claps a hand over her mouth and stares into her eyes.
You can't help.
A sixteen year old Rogue steps forward, wearing her usual green and black garb and the trenchcoat Scott recognizes from the field trip to the caves.
"Then why'd you try to kill me when I didn't choose your side, Mystique? Why the hell would you pose as my friend and lie t' me if you only want to help?"
Glowing eyes go from one Rogue to the other. "I wasn't trying to kill you, Rogue. I raised you, I taught you everything you know- you wouldn't die so easily. I was trying to get rid of Charles Xavier's star student."
"An' it didn' matter t' you that he was helpin' me." Rogue says with quiet venom. "It didn' matter t' you that he was willin' t' be my friend, even knowin' what I c'n do, 'cause you wanted to keep me isolated. Keep me weak, so you could use me."
"I did what was best for you." Mystique counters with complete conviction. "You think the X Men can help you? You think that they won't hurt you? They don't know you, Rogue. Pretty words and empty promises are the only thing Xavier can give you; I'm working to make you a better world, a world where you won't be hated and feared for what you are. You saw what happened when they found out about us. It will only get worse from here. It's stupid and naïve to think that humans and mutants can live peacefully together."
"It's all about the 'cause,' isn't it?" Rogue bites back. "What about me, Mama? What about my happiness? What if I don't care about the humans?"
Mystique laughs. "Rogue, if you think Xavier and his team of do- gooders can make you happy, you're deluded." She waves a hand at the scene around them. "They've done a bang- up job so far."
"An' you didn't?" Rogue yells back, only to stop and widen her eyes as another scream comes from the real Rogue somewhere behind them.
The doppelgangers start disappearing, ghosting away. Within seconds they can see Rogue on the ground, still lying where she'd landed when Cyclops sniped her down, back arched, gloved hands fisted, face twisted in agony.
Mystique runs to her. "Rogue! Take back control!"
Another scream rips from the girl's throat, but instead of being calmed by her mother's voice she flings out a hand and Mystique is tossed into the shadows.
Nobody follows her.
They group around Rogue, at a prudent distance but close enough to see what's going on. Wolverine takes hold of her shoulders as she starts thrashing; the Professor approaches, fingers to his temples and eyes closed as he applies his powers. Jean links with him without being told. Scott, Kitty and Kurt hover nearby, a bridge between the older X Men and the others hanging back.
There are several minutes that feel like hours of tense expectation before Rogue utters a moan that rises into a whimper and she goes completely limp in Wolverine's arms; the Professor and Jean both grunt and snap their eyes open.
Logan takes the girl into his arms, looks down at her. "She's gonna be okay, right, Charles?"
The Professor can't meet his gaze.
"Charles?" Logan demands, Rogue's limbs swinging slightly as he leans forward.
"I- I don't know." Xavier admits painfully.
The other man's eyes widen slightly, then soften with sorrow as he looks down at the unconscious student he's holding. Equally grim- faced students press closer, and the X Men head for home.