Chapter Five

This is the Way the World Ends

"We're passing the time,
we're breaking apart.
We're damned at the end,
we're damned at the start.
Blame it on the roses,
blame it on the red,
running out of time
running out of breath."

-Augustana, "Hey Now"



Bobby Drake was, in Rogue's estimation, the single most annoying individual on the planet. Jean, with her perfect hair and even smile, didn't even get on her nerves this much. Boy-scout extraordinaire Scott couldn't even compare, though possessed of the usual obtuseness of the male psyche. Nope, Bobby took the cake--literally.

The outing had started innocently enough--after the disastrous exercises of the morning, Rogue had practically been shoved out of doors by the well-meaning Ororo, who had contrived a picnic lunch, evidently with the goal of building camaraderie. With any other group consisting of four teenagers, numbers equally divided among the sexes, some chemistry might have been expected…

Just not this type of chemistry.

As of the moment, Bobby had turned the entire front lawn into a giant skating rink, cake in hand and a gloating smile plastered across his face. Nothing made that boy happier than showing off. Ergo, why Rogue was ready to do some serious damage. It had started as a joke, really, with Bobby stealing the featured dessert, but the taunting and teasing of the young man had quickly escalated into something more than the girls could handle. Scott had attempted to mediate, but even he was barely in control of his temper. His hands twitched to his visor more than just occasionally, especially after his more glorious stumbles and flat-out falls on the now-slick surface of the lawn. As it was, he was spending more time on his behind than not.

Rogue couldn't appreciate the humor of the situation--that might have something to do with his taunting. Rogue was dimly aware of Jean's prattle, something about being the bigger people and not using their abilities, but Rogue was quickly approaching the point where she couldn't process anything beyond that stupid look on his face. He seemed to think that there was a certain invulnerability inherent in his powers--the smirk said it all. That smirk--Rogue was just itching to wipe it off. Preferably with something hard and damaging.

But it was only her second week at the Institute…and she was bandaged, bruised, hurt, and angry as all hell, and Bobby had been teasing and tormenting her since day one. The little voice in the back of her head was telling her not to do it, she was in enough trouble already…but that little voice was silenced pretty quickly as she spotted the deck of cards scattered over the picnic table. In fact, the little voice changed its opinion pretty quickly--after all, one little card couldn't make that big of an explosion, could it? And he certainly deserved it, that was for sure. He had it coming, everyone knew. Just this morning, Wolverine had said that Bobby would get his comeuppance soon, and he deserved it more than anyone else in the Institute. Maybe Rogue was just supposed to be the hand of justice on this one… It was only a little risky, a little scary…but still…

She thumbed the card an instant longer before pulling it into her palm, already feeling the crackle and fizz of energy just below the exposed skin of her fingers. Three seconds more, and Bobby wouldn't even know what hit him…

Two, and just a little charge, just enough to make the edges glow with undulating gold, orange, and a faintly neon pink, barely noticeable…

One, and Bobby was a bare three feet away, smirking as she let the card fly towards his feet and the river of ice he was riding…

Nanoseconds, as Bobby realized what was happening and the smile fell from his lips…

Zero, as a gust of wind changed everything.


The morphine is something like friendly, as it curls in his veins like a lazy cat, unreasonably heavy and thick—so thick, even through the pain. His eyes aren't opening, though he can hear the low growl of the feline as it gradually begins to surge, rising and growing into something else. He feels himself pushed aside, true unconsciousness beginning to claim him. It's not a house-cat now; it's grown to be something more… tiger, or lion, or prehistoric sabretooth, then something bigger, more ferocious, raging in his body, tearing it limb from limb, sinew from sinew, shred from shred. The hot breath of it stinks of the death and pain that he has been dodging all along. Still, like a shadow, they follow, dogging his every step. His own mind feels unfamiliar, as though he has forgotten the landscape. Perhaps he has—a kaleidoscope of color swirls before his eyes, memories that have run into one another like watercolors in a storm. Cacophony crescendos, scattering the last tatters of awareness—the noise swallows him, a black abyss that opens in the back of his mind.

Falling towards it, towards edges of liminal space, he feels the beast upon his chest, oppressive, the smell of nightshade and blood so heavy, so thick that he wouldn't be able to breathe, even if he remembered how. It rolls and folds him, a restriction on every side, bound in every way, even in this chasm. The last tattered scrap of thought flutters in the wind of defeat, surrenders, and blackness claims him at last.


"Lapin."

"Lapin, put that down."

"Wha'? 'M hungry. Ain't like 'e's gonna know."

"Get your greedy gob offa tha'!"

"'M a growin' boy, I need th' energy."

"Get it somewhere else, you hog."

"'S'not fair. Ya always did like Remy best."

"Den why'm I marryin' Henri, ya idiot?"

"Mercy, y'ain't very nice."

"An' ya ain't very smart, Lapin. Now get away from de candy bowl already."

"Sheesh, ya're a mean ol' broad."

"I'mma mean ol' broad what's gonna thump you over that thick ol' head of yours."

"Ah, come on, Mercy, all de shoutin' ain't good for Rems."

"You started it."

"Nuh-uh."

"Oh, shut up," Merci hissed, reclining further into the stiff, unyielding hospital armchair. Her attention was divided--half upon the still figure laid out upon the bed, half upon the skinny young man lounging in the corner, conveniently close to the various arrangements of chocolates, candies, and flowers that had already arrived on Remy's behalf. His hand edged towards his sugary goal once again--"Lapin, get your hand out of that bowl before I chop it off."

Henri chuckled wearily before glancing at his adoptive brother's still figure. It was hard to believe that even a spark of life still resided there, that the rise and fall of his chest was anything other than purely mechanical. How long has it been? Hours only, hours that were creeping into a full day, yet they feel so much like years. For fully half the night, the surgeons had picked and scrounged, vultures in scrubs, worrying at the wounds. Words like "reconstruction" bandied about with a false authority—Of course he would be fine, the recovery would be full. How did they know? How could they know? This wasn't their brother, their partner in crime lying like a slab of meat on the operating table. Their world would be no different if he left it—What did it matter to them? And so Henri reached for his fiancee's hand.

If there was one thing that he knew, it was that his kids weren't going to grow up without Oncle Remy—and every story he could remember, along with some that he would make up if he had to, of grand and glorious escapades.

Including the time that he thought he could fly.


So empty—where is everything?

The terrain was so strange, so dark…

It echoed with unfamiliarity as she came to her senses, muscles curling then stretching. What were the borders? The blind corners? The enemy was somewhere, anywhere, and she had no idea where she was…

The embers of memory flickered and fluttered as she remembered—Damn it! Damn him.

Rage flared as she realized what he has done—Rage that killed the fears of dislocation, substituting resolve, revenge, retribution….words and things that glow with a latent heat in the abyss, the torches and brands of destruction.

-------------

Mercy honestly swore to herself that Remy moved—he did, in her mind. Just as he had moved half a dozen times in the last hour. A thousand in the last day. Ten million in the last three days, since Remy had been brought in, a broken ragdoll in Henri's arms. Moved, and opened his eyes, and was Remy again. Henri would stop clutching her hand, grin, and say something stupid. Something stupid, because that was what brothers were for.

Brothers weren't made to grieve over living bodies like this.

She swirled the lukewarm coffee in the Styrofoam cup one last time before draining it away—to tell the truth, it was awful stuff, and somehow fitting for a hospital. Bitter. Stinging, even cold. A little too much like reality. And the reality of it all was that they had no idea what was going to happen.

There were no signs of awareness from Remy at all, not in all the times that they had wheeled him in and out of surgery for that shoulder. It was strange, to have Remy reduced to this, his life as defined by the emissions of odd little machines. Anywhere else, these blips would mean something else entirely, but here they documented the struggle for survival, the last attempt for the sun to shine past the eclipsing moon before darkness engulfed everything…

But in Mercy's opinion, a hospital was no place for philosophy. Reality was too much present, demanding full attention. Implications and significations were crowded into the back of the room, tucked away into closets and between the sheets, never looked at unless it could be helped. Philosophy belonged in death-chambers and schoolrooms, where there was both time and space. This was neither, though it could have been, if only it were allowed. Reality was not giving way: Mercy could feel herself caught up in the hospital's pace, hectic and varying, with every new patient, new tragedy, and new miracle.

Members of both guilds had made up a percentage of those new patients: Scuffles had already broken out in the halls and cafeterias as Thieves and Assassins clashed, each blaming the other party. Walls and floor-tiles had received the splatters of blood as one Assassin had his nose broken and two Thieves had had their faces bashed in.

To Mercy, an outsider, it was all very clear. Romeo and Juliet this was not. The deaths of one or both of the youngsters would only lead to war, not a unification of LeBeau and Bourdreaux.

And at this stage, with circumstances as they stood, the Thieves were in no position to win. She had to wonder if even Remy had a chance to win. How long, how much time did they have, before the doctors began to ask them to think about pulling the plug? Hours, a day, a week, a month… and how long before they began to think that it might be for the best? How long before they began to think of Remy as already gone, all but buried? The hospital room was enough like a tomb, a whited sepulchral hall… How long before Remy's memory was left at the graveyard gates, only picked up for a yearly visit. Maybe on his birthday--but then, no one knew when that really was.

How long did any of them have?


Falling has never been his favorite—it feels too much like the loss of control. Falling and flailing always seem to go together, with a sickening crunch as a body hits bottom.

Falling feels too much like suicide.

Suicide—and he just fought so hard for his life.

This can't be it.

It's taking too long, so long, he'll be dead before he hits bottom. He scrambles frantically, wriggling, breaking the bonds, stronger than he knows in his desperation. And then he's reaching out, holding out, desperate for something. Just when he thinks he's lost, lost for good, he finds it--A rope. Fraying and fragile, what has to be a single rope, has to be because he needs it to be, brushes his fingertips, grazes his skin, just like the rope on the tire-swing in his backyard, like the rope at the docks, like every other rope he's ever held in his life. He latches on, the friction burning raw stripes into his skin--he can feel the slippery blood welling up from palms, tracing warm lines along his wrists as he clings to this last thread-bare hope. Hope, because he can still bleed.


The most absurd thing—

A rhyme, a child's rhyme….

No, part of a poem…Ezra? Eliot? Yes, Eliot….

"Hollow Men".

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.



She would never be able to give them a coherent account of what had happened next. She wouldn't even be able to find a proper metaphor for it—it was nothing like a car crash, not like a bomb going off, like nothing else. Honestly, she doesn't even care how it happened—the matter and the mode don't matter, because it's all her fault. That is the one ringing truth.

No one had even spoken to her yet: There was a vague memory of panic, of someone yelling, being swept along in the rush down to the med-bay. It seemed much more concrete that the flooring had a seam every six feet, that there were 6 seams to her right and 7 to her left, and maybe an eighth right in the threshold of the doorway that ended the corridor.

Even halfway down the hall, everything smelled like antiseptic.

Her fingers were cramped from being curled around the bottom of the bench. The edges of her scabs had peeled away, letting red fluid soak her bandages anew. In a way, it felt right—she deserved the pain. Whether or not she had meant what had happened, it was still her fault.

Her fault, no matter what everyone else said. Jean, all-too-perfect Jean, had softly murmured something about it being an accident, not meaning for it to happen, and unpredictability. Scott had been shamefaced, claiming a leader's responsibility. Logan hadn't said a word. The professor had just given her one of those long, assessing looks.

That was the worst. Rogue could have handled him furious better—she might be just half the mess that she was now. Instead she scrubbed her sleeves over her face every few moments, pretending that it erased the tears and hid the sounds of her sniffling.

Her lips still tasted like salt.

And maybe it would have been better if she could hear something from down the hall, but there was nothing. Not a sound.

Bobby was probably asleep. Everyone else had come and gone, visiting when they were cleared. But Rogue still sat in the hall, alone. She didn't know what he looked like, what the extent of his injuries were. She didn't, wouldn't ask. And she couldn't go into that room.

He must hate her by now. Lord knew everyone else had to. Two weeks in, and she'd already screwed up beyond belief. Beyond repair.

She might as well forget about it all, right here, right now. She wasn't good for anything, and especially not for anyone.


AN: Well, I'm still alive. And kicking. Kind of. Sorry it took so long :( Review anyway? Please? (OK, OK, I know....needy, right? lol)