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She closes the door of Irene's house behind the final funeral guest as the woman departs after exchanging goodbyes and well wishes. For such an elusive person, Irene Adler certainly had known many people during her lifetime- people from her time as a S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist, from her knitting club, from her church. Even her adoptive son Doug Ramsey left Dartmouth College for a few days to reach Caldecott County for the funeral.
For a moment, Rogue leans there against the cool, dark carved wood, just trying to control her breathing. She almost regrets not calling anyone from the Institute to be with her when she buried one of her mothers. She could have asked one of the Avengers, she knows, but she doesn't feel comfortable with any of them, as friends, teammates, or even as people she can trust.
She should have at least asked her boyfriend, Joseph, but this situation is personal. It would almost be as though she were baring her soul to him.
Besides, Irene's funeral is something she always intended to do alone when the time came.
Her throat constricts briefly as she thinks of Irene, but she pushes away that feeling within seconds. The last time she cried was when she discovered that Mystique had only been using her to bring down Ms. Marvel (not Carol, because to Rogue, she's not a real person, just some figurehead). That was nearly three years ago now.
She takes several steps forward, the hard heels of her black leather pumps clacking on the slate floor of entrance hall; the noise resounds on the richly-wooded walls of the vast, empty stone house, the lonely echo her only company.
She opens a closet near the end of the hall to retrieve the garment bag she has stowed away there. A calender falls from the hanging rack on the other side of the door, the pages splaying out on the cold floor, and when she lifts it up, she notices that it has opened on December, that very month.
An ironic smile mirthlessly twists her lips as she places the bound bunch of paper back in the closet. Her peers are already on winter break of their first year of college, while she's playing superhero to protect ungrateful people who would like to see her and all other mutants imprisoned.
God, what a waste. When she was still with the X-Men, at least she was doing something to help mutants. Now she's on the government payroll, a propaganda-endorsed thug who only does bare minimum to help out the community and thus maintain good publicity.
And of course, none of the big-name superheroes ever can be bothered to lift a finger to help out mutants. Rogue isn't planning on ever revealing her true identity: she'll just let the public assume she's just another mutate.
Pushing aside her worries, she trades her simple, long-sleeved black dress with the similarly black stockings and shoes for the armored bodysuit and thigh-high metal-ridged boots of Ms. Marvel II (Who she had become when she disabled the original one because it was her fault). She's glad she was able to change the costume: she would've looked horrible in that awful leotard.
The garment bag goes out to her car, where a few other cartons of items from the house are already waiting, and Rogue goes to the garage to locate the gasoline.
Supposedly, the phrase "burning bridges" originated from a military tactic the Roman army developed whilst invading other countries. The technique was famously utilized by Napoleon Bonaparte during his retreat across Russia when he and some of his troops finally managed to pass the Berenzina River at Studienka. He was forced to burn his hastily-constructed bridges behind him to prevent the aggressive Russian army from following them, leaving ten thousand odd of his own soldiers behind.
And that's the way life is, Rogue knows. You leave others behind when you burn your bridges. The two concepts are inextricable.
She drifts from room to room of the downstairs, large red canister in her hand tilted so the its contents spills out the nozzle and splatters onto the floor. Using the petroleum, she walks in a wide circle and lines the perimeter of each room, and once she's finished with that, she returns to the main hall.
Rogue knows she should leave, get out now, but the she still has time before she rendezvouses with the other Avengers. Unconsciously, her eyes travel up the long, carved staircase, to the loft-like balcony that overlooks where she is now and serves as the entrance to the upper floor, and a sudden impulse to visit the second story of the house surges through her.
It's illogical to do so, of course. Spreading gasoline around the upstairs is unnecessary: the ground level is already doused in the fuel, and the fire will bring the walls and ceiling to collapse anyhow.
As for revisiting old memories . . . she's not sure she wants to do that.
But before she realizes what she's doing, an urge has carried her halfway up the staircase. Mirrors of varied designs border the wall alongside the stairs and ascend with the steps, one of them with a spiderweb of cracks in the center. Rogue catches her reflection in several of the frames: a tall, sylphlike young woman with a pretty face but lean, defined muscles, her pale complexion accented by the skintight black bodysuit that made her look whipcord thin and deadly.
To protect her identity from any reporters or enemies, or even the other Avengers, her hair is now a long, wavy golden blond rather than her natural rich auburn color with its dyed white streaks, and her icy green eyes are now a sapphire blue thanks to tinted contacts.
(Any resemblance to the original Ms. Marvel is entirely coincidental.)
The rug that lines the wooden stairs muffles her footsteps as she moves swiftly to the second story of the house. At the apex of the staircase, she opens the door to the upstairs hallway.
Flooded by a rush of nostalgia, her pace slows as she proceeds down the darkened passage with the doors to the bedrooms on both sides. Then as her legs carry her to the end of the hall, she forces down the emotions that are quickly overwhelming her, and she twists the crystal knob on the door to her childhood bedroom with a mask of stoicism.
The room is just like she remembers it. Cheerful yellow walls with white features, pale blue and white-checked gingham curtains, a light blue bedspread sprigged with tiny yellow flowers accompanied by matching plush toys and lace pillowcases, and a thick white carpet.
There are posters on her walls: Indiana Jones, Star Wars, The Sandlot. A few posters with horses, some with landscapes, a couple with The Beatles and the Clash.
She gently runs her fingers across the spines of the books on the polished oak bookcase. There are a few Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, but more The Three Investigators and Trixie Belden. Classics like Alice In Wonderland, The Giver, and The Secret Garden rest on the shelves, alongside lesser known but equally loved copies of Becoming Naomi Léon, Holes, Gilda Joyce, and The Ghost Children.
The Outsiders, her favorite book of all time, is front and center. Harry Potter is here, sandwiched between the Warriors series and the Girls of Many Lands books. Her favorite childhood authors, Caroline B. Cooney, Ann Rinaldi, and Joan Bauer, have remained on the shelves; she can still recall segments of their books, like old friends returning to greet her.
Memories of sitting outside on sunny summer days, munching on an apple while reading comic books surface, and she has to restrain a smile when her eyes land on the collection of Calvin and Hobbes and a few issues of Batman (the ones with Poison Ivy in them).
Her eyes flicker about the room, to the ornate jewelry box sitting on her dresser and the bottles of nail polish beside it. To her desk, with the ceramic pencil pot that she had made herself in middle school art class, to the blotter she created by taking a large piece of poster board and cutting out images from magazines and layering them over one another till it was entirely filled, then laminating the whole thing and adding a few of her own doodles with glittery gel pens and vibrant Sharpies.
To the picture frame on her beside table.
Wistfulness pervades the barrier of aloofness she has constructed, and as Rogue picks up the frame and runs her thumb over the thin glass pane that protected the photo within, her heart clenches painfully. A family, two women and their young daughter, stand close together and smile for the camera, even though one of them cannot physically see but undoubtedly knows what was in store for all of them one day.
She remembers that day the photo was taken, a vacation in Maine. The fisherman's wharf is visible in the background. The photo's frame was bought on the same vacation, a souvenir she had selected because she had though it was beautiful, with the pewter casing decorated with enamel seashells.
Mystique is an attractive blonde woman in the photo; this was back when she was "Aunt Carrie," the supposed half-sister of Rogue's absentee mother and when Rogue was still Anna Marie.
A bitter taste rising in her throat, Rogue's thoughts flash to her father, who remains oblivious to the "superpower" aspects of her life to this day. Too busy with his corporation and stocks to care for a child, Rogue's father had sent his daughter to boarding school during the winters. He had been all too eager that a relative of his wife had appeared and offered to take Rogue off his hands for the summers as well. So eager that he never bothered to verify the identity of "Carrie."
All of that time . . . Rogue was deluded into believing that Mystique, Carrie, whoever, had loved her. But even then, Mystique had been training Rogue as her personal agent, for her own criminal purposes.
And then, when Rogue was fourteen, she had tricked Rogue into nearly killing Ms. Marvel (not Carol), realized that Rogue was traumatized by the ordeal and her psyche shattered, then dumped her off unto the X-Men when she confirmed that Ms. Marvel's powers resided latent in Rogue's mind and could be of no use to her.
Anger spikes in her, and Rogue grits her teeth as her reminiscing turns sour. She concentrates on the (somewhat) positive events to result from that fateful night on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Almost a year ago, she had mastered Ms. Marvel's Kree abilities soon after learning to control her own mutation. And almost four months ago, she had joined the Avengers Initiative after weeks of Professor Xavier and Logan negotiating with Colonel Fury. She had hoped to bring the concerns of mutants to the big league heroes.
So far, they have proved rather ineffective and disinterested in helping the mutant community, but if Rogue has to go at it alone, she will, and she will do it proudly.
Gazing back at the photo, Rogue wonders if Mystique was here today to say goodbye to Irene, her leman. As one of the neighbor, church ladies, book club members.
Closing her eyes, Rogue wonders why it matters to her.
Restlessness and impatience gnaw at her, and Rogue starts towards the door, picture still in hand. She hesitates for a moment, tempted to rescue it from the flames that would soon consume the house and all of its contents. To carry with her one tiny little reminder of who she had been and where she had come from. To always remember that at one point, her world wasn't constantly ending and she wasn't always standing in its ruins to begin anew, to somehow forge a new life for herself.
This home is a prison in disguise. Whatever dreams she had formed here are lies. Her hopes for the future had been useless.
Nothing here can help her any longer.
Nothing here can save her.
Her childhood is here. Anna Marie D'Ancanto had played on the front lawn, had fashioned a swing on one of the enormous oak trees in the backyard, had climbed out on the roof to read her books and wave to passerby.
"Your first mission," Mystique says. "Your position will be on the Golden Gate Bridge, but first you need a code name. How about . . . 'Rogue'?"
But Anna Marie D'Ancanto is dead, as far as Rogue is concerned. She died that night when Ms. Marvel (not Carol, because she isn't real person, she's just some celebrity, and Rogue does not regret hurting her) entered the comatose state in which she remains to this day (And it's Rogue's own fault she's barely alive).
Rogue is going to burn these bridges, burn all of them, so that the only direction for her is forward. Forward into the future, into a life of her own making, free of the machinations and manipulations of a woman who had claimed to love her and then cast her aside like a broken doll.
Deliberately placing the picture face down on her desk, she turns her back on it. For good measure, she liberally pours gasoline all over her bookcase and splashes some over her shoulder onto her desk and then exits the room, quickly leaving the upstairs before she can regret it. She descends the stairs rapidly, halting for a few seconds when the mirror with the splintered glass catches her eye again, and she swings her hand in an arc of pale, knocking it off the wall. It crashes down and shatters on the steps behind her, and irrational satisfaction surges through her.
Mirrors can be fixed, but you will always be able to see the cracks in your reflection.
She is standing on the threshold of her childhood home. One final look as a choking sensation fills her throat, and then she lights a match, not bothering to move it away from the small container, and soon both the box and all of its matches are ablaze. With a flick of her wrist, she flings it into the puddle of gasoline a few feet away. Fire blazes up from the ground, the heat so intense she can still feel it on the back of her neck even as she walks down to the driveway where her car is parked.
As she walks, the wind blows back her (fake) golden hair.
The cold of winter is removed by the devouring flames demolishing the house, the snow surrounding the construct melting at the fierce conflagration.
The sky has already darkened, the fiery orange glow a contrast to the indigo hue of the night. The stars and moon are audience to the once beloved home burning below, set aflame by the one occupant who had wholeheartedly believed it would always be her most treasured place, a safe haven from the rest of the world.
She backs her car out of the driveway, taking one last look at the house where she grew up as she leaves home behind for the final time. Home, which is now an inferno with bursting with flames that will demolish everything inside.
Rogue glances at the carton of Irene's diaries on the passenger seat, the volumes filled with visions of the future.
Of course, some things are just too valuable to abandon forever.
Her last bridge has been set ablaze, and now the only way for her is onward, into a future that now burns brighter than ever.