The Air That I Breathe

Rogue's powers come back with a vengeance and Gambit is a thief with his own problems. As Rogue learns to cope with near isolationism, she makes friends in the most unlikeliest places, while Gambit learns to accept truths about himself which he has tried to ignore for far too long. In this sweeping tale which spans more than a lifetime, Gambit and Rogue circle each other like two immortal celestial bodies, waxing and waning, but will they ever find their moment in time to come together, or are they destined to live forever, just out of arm's reach?

This story is for my best friend, Pilgrim, who made a request of me I didn't think I'd ever be able to grant. As it happened, their request not only tied in perfectly with the premise for this story but also gave me some direction.

Thanks to my writing buddy JayCee's Red Gold, for her always valuable feedback, for letting me bounce ideas off her, for her encouragement, and the fantastic summary.

This story will cover a massive amount of time and lots of things are going to happen in that time. Expect births, deaths, marriages, and world-status-quo changing events.

Canon with X1-X3, XO: Wolverine, Iron Man 1 & 2, and The Avengers.

Updates will be weekly.

Chapter 1: Back With a Vengeance

It should have been another day at college just like any other. It started that way and it had been progressing that way with no hint whatsoever that everything was about to go horribly wrong.

Rogue sat in the classroom, taking notes while her professor lectured them. She had arrived at college on her motorcycle like she did most Tuesdays, and as such was wearing her motorcycle gear: brown leather pants and boots, a green shirt; her brown leather jacket was hanging off the back of her chair, and her motorcycle gloves were in her bag. Those gloves were the only gloves she wore nowadays, thanks to the Cure.

Taking the Cure had been the best decision of her life.

Rogue was no longer plagued by voices. She could touch others freely, skin to skin, flesh to flesh, without hurting them. She still lived at Xaviers. Rogue had thought about moving out, but the student population was always increasing and she felt that she would be leaving her friends in the lurch if she went. Some of the students didn't approve of her being there, but her friends hadn't thought any less of her for her Cured status. Certainly none of them had ever even considered telling her that she didn't belong there any more in the last two years.

She and Bobby continued to date for awhile, but eventually grew apart. It had ended on mutual terms and they were still friends.

The analogue clock on the wall above the board read 3:15 and Rogue lifted her head just in time to see the second hand land on the four. In that moment, the professor collapsed and all the students slumped in their chairs or face-planted over their desks.

Rogue collapsed because she was suddenly overwhelmed by sheer volume of life energy she was absorbing from everyone else in the room. Everyone else collapsed because they had no defences against the return of Rogue's mutation, which had come back with a vengeance.

There was no time for questions, had Rogue's mind even been capable of forming questions. A part of her knew without knowing that if she stayed there she would kill them all. That same part provided the trigger she needed to stand, grab her things quickly, and head for the door.

Rogue never remembered the walk from her classroom to the parking lot. While still trying to deal with the effects of the psyches she had already absorbed from her class, she continued to be battered around with the psyches she absorbed from everyone else she passed on her way. No one was immune. They all fell to the floor around her.

Once Rogue finally made it into the parking lot, she was faced with a new dilemma. She knew she had to leave and get back to Xavier's, but the part of her which knew that didn't know where she was parked, or even which vehicle she had arrived in that day. She had to stare at her keys for two minutes before the appropriate memory triggered, and even then it took her another fifteen before she even found her motorcycle.

Thankfully, the processes of gearing up, starting her motorcycle and driving home was ingrained in her system and Rogue could do it on automatic. With her jacket, gloves, and helmet on, very little of Rogue's skin was exposed, and between that and the fact that few of the vehicles around her had their windows down, Rogue didn't absorb anyone else while she was on the road. The time travelling gave Rogue a chance to not so much clear her head as get a grip on her mind.

When she arrived back at Xavier's, after she got though the gates, she headed inside along the fence until she found a location she believed was far enough away from the population. She parked her motorcycle, pulled out her phone, and rang Storm's number.

"Hello, Rogue," Storm said when she answered her phone, and proceeded to frown in confusion at the garbled words that she received in response. It made no sense, and Storm thought she even caught a few words of foreign language mixed amongst it.

"Rogue, please, slow down, I cannot understand..." Storm said, but it was useless. Rogue babbled on a bit more and then the call was cut off. Storm attempted to call back, but there was no answer. Concerned, and knowing Rogue should be at school, Storm looked up the number for the college.

Some hours later, Logan stepped into Storm's office. He kept his mouth shut while Storm finished up her phone call and then waited briefly when Storm hung up and buried her face in her hands.

"Found her," Logan said. "She's on the property, but she's got a spot well away from any people."

He didn't add that the area he'd found her in smelt a little off. He couldn't identify the "off" part yet and didn't want to add to Storm's burden.

Storm sighed and lifted her head. "Well, at least that is one less worry."

"How bad is it?"

"Eighty-seven were affected," Storm replied.

Logan gave a low whistle.

"There has been a lot of anger, mostly directed towards myself as Rogue's...representative, but also at mutants in general," Storm went on, and she shook her head. "Incidents like this only vindicate the anti-mutant sentiment out there, and this is only going to get worse once everyone's had a chance to calm down and the news has spread. I just hope we will be able to contain the situation before mutant/human relations are set back twenty years."

"Three years is more like it," Logan replied grimly. "Look, I'm going to fish out some of the camping gear and supplies and try and find away to pass them onto her without being absorbed. At least then she'll have food and shelter for the night."

Storm nodded. "Please do."

Logan reached over and patted her shoulder, then left.

Jimmy looked out in the direction that Logan had indicated Rogue was while Logan tied a skateboard onto his back. It was starting to get dark, but there was still enough light that everyone could see what they were doing. He took a deep breath and then put on the helmet that Bobby had given him.

"Relax," Bobby said, smiling confidently at him. "Even if it turns out you're not immune to Rogue's power, we're still going to get you back safely. And you won't even be in her area of effect very long either. Logan and I will have our eyes on you the whole time."

Jimmy nodded. Logan and Bobby had approached him about passing on some supplies to Rogue, who remained uncontactable. They thought that his power of neutralising the powers of other mutants may give him a chance to get close to her. If he could shut her powers off, they might even have a chance at having a real conversation with her. He was still a little nervous; by the time he and Rogue met she had already taken the Cure so they had no real evidence to suggest what would happen.

Logan finished tying on the skateboard, and Bobby handed Jimmy the pack of supplies. Jimmy held these out in front of him, took a deep breath, and began the walk. There was a feeling of cold behind him, and Jimmy knew that Bobby had created an ice-podium for himself so he could watch Jimmy's progress from above. There were enough trees and other tall plants between them and Rogue that they needed the height to keep an eye on Jimmy.

Logan had pegged Rogue at being about one hundred and fifteen yards away. He smelt Jimmy at about fifty yards from her position when Bobby called out from above "He's down." Logan cursed under his breath. He pulled the rope to haul Jimmy back but also began walking forward to reduce the distance Jimmy needed to be pulled. The supplies weren't with him, but Logan and Bobby (who had hurried to join them near the border) could just see where they fell a few metres away.

"Well, there's nothing we can do now," Logan said, as he untied the unconscious Jimmy, "except get Leech here into bed."

"A shame it didn't work," Bobby said with a wistful glance in Rogue's direction.

"Live and learn, kid. Live and learn."

Logan picked up Jimmy and they started on their way back. They were halfway to the mansion when Logan's phone rang. He had half a mind to ignore it, but was glad that he chose to answer it when Rogue's name appeared on the screen.

"Rogue?" he answered urgently.

Bobby looked anxiously towards Logan.

"Thank you," Rogue replied, her voice sounding rather shaky and stilted. "F-for the supplies."

"You're welcome, darlin'," Logan said. "How are you doing?"

"Better...than before," she said. "Still...can't...hard to think..."

"Is there anything you need us to do to help?"

"No, yes, I don't know. I can't... I don't..."

"It's okay, take all the time you need."

"Can't...focus properly right now..." Rogue said, distress seeping into her tone. "Better alone... Will call...tomorrow..."

She hung up. Logan grunted and looked at the phone for a moment before putting it back in his pocket.

"Is she okay?" Bobby asked anxiously.

"She's probably doing as well as can be expected," Logan said as he picked up Jimmy. "She absorbed eighty-seven people in one go; it's probably a miracle she even made it here, let alone without killing anyone on the way."

Bobby blanched at that, but didn't reply.

Rogue woke up the next morning and frowned at the blue ceiling above her. She sat up, confused. She could hear voices, lots of them, but there was no one in the tent with her.

Why was she even in a tent anyway?

Rogue unzipped the flap of the tent that served as the door and stepped out. There was a fireplace not far in front of her, and an open camping backpack off to the side. Seeing these things gave her the vague recollection of setting up the tent and cooking dinner, although she couldn't remember what she actually ate.

She frowned and rubbed her face, then looked around. She could still hear the voices but she couldn't see anyone. They felt familiar too, as if she knew them, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. In her agitation, Rogue kicked at the ground, and then jumped back with a start when a spider came out with the dirt. To her surprise it didn't actually try to run away or anything. She knelt down and watched it, and then gave it a tentative prod with a nearby stick. It was definitely dead.

It was then that it occurred to Rogue that all the voices she could hear were in her head and she was actually all alone. She got the vague idea that her powers must have come back, and she rubbed her hands together as she stood. Everything was so confused and so mixed up, and despite the fact that there was no one around and no more voices were leaking into her head she still felt like she was absorbing something.

Storm looked stonily at the helicopter which landed in the middle of the front lawn, and the multiple black vans which had arrived through the front gates. She ignored the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who came out of those vans and were now lined up before her, and kept her eyes focused on those exiting the helicopter. Nick Fury she expected, but she was a little surprise to see Hank with him. Just behind her and to the side, Logan growled.

Nick Fury strode purposefully towards Storm, with Hank close behind. The last time they had met Fury was immediately following the battle at Alcatraz, after Jean Grey had died. Storm had not appreciated his attitude towards one of her oldest friends, and their association since then had been minimal.

"We're here for Rogue," Fury said as he stopped in front of her.

Storm looked him squarely in the eye.

"Even assuming I know where she is," Storm said, "I have no reason to simply let you take her, nor do you have any chance of getting near her without being absorbed yourself."

"Ororo, we know she's here," Hank spoke up gently, but firmly. "We've acquired sufficient information from cameras, both at the college, and roadside, to know that she's here."

"I don't care how you think you know stuff," Logan said, a growl in the back of his throat. "You're ain't getting her."

"She needs to be contained—" Fury began.

"Yeah? And by 'contained' you mean 'kill', right?" Logan said, looking at Nick with a dark, suspicious glare.

"No, by contain I mean contain," Fury replied evenly. "She put eighty-seven people into comas—"

"We are well aware of the situation," Storm said. "And we intend on doing everything we can to help her."

"And that is what we wish to do," Hank insisted.

"You, I believe, Hank," Storm said, nodding towards one of her oldest living friends. "But I don't trust Fury not to persecute Rogue for an accident. The Cure only wore off a small proportion of those who took it and this has been the first incident in months. We had no reason to believe that the Cure would wear off Rogue, nor that the effects of her mutation would be so devastating."

"Then believe me now when I say that we truly wish to help Rogue," Hank said sincerely. "I firmly believe that persecuting mutants for the...damage which is caused by the manifestation of their abilities is not the answer. This is to help her and to protect her, and the rest of the school. Will you at least let us talk to her?"

Storm shook her head.

"I cannot even if I wanted to. Rogue has not been answering her phone; the only times we have spoken to her is when she has contacted us." She shot a harsh look at Fury. "You may think those comas are bad, but I assure you, those comas are nothing compared to whatever Rogue is going through right now. She is struggling with the assimilation of eighty-seven new personalities in a very short period of time, and it has made communication...difficult."

Storm chose not to count Rogue's absorption of Jimmy at this time. That was information Nick Fury didn't need to know.

"But you do know where she is," Fury stated.

"As I said," Storm replied, "that information is useless to you, as you cannot approach her. Where she is right now she is not hurting anyone."

"Actually I believe there is a way to approach her without being absorbed," Hank said. "Based on the video footage we have, the few eyewitness accounts we were able to acquire, and the fact that she was able to drive all the way here without absorbing other drivers and causing an accident, I believe that someone in an airtight suit could approach her."

Storm and Logan looked at each other.

"Which means we can contain her in an airtight room," Fury added, "assuming Dr McCoy's theory is correct."

"We both want the same thing, Ororo," Hank said. "But we have the facilities to achieve our goal with minimal danger to anyone else. You do not, not in the long term."

Storm was silent for a moment.

"I do not appreciate being manipulated, Fury," she said, turning her gaze on him. "Had you come here alone, I would not have helped you. Not after the way you handled the Alactraz affair. You obviously knew this, which is why you have brought Hank here."

Hank coughed uncomfortably.

"My concerns are for Rogue's welfare, and while I can believe that Hank honestly has Rogue's best interests at heart, I do not believe that you do," Storm went on. "I will agree to allow Hank to help, on the condition that Rogue stays here."

"I don't think so," Fury replied.

"That is the only way you will get my co-operation," Storm said firmly. "She stays here. This is a school which specialises in helping mutants control their abilities. If you truly want what's best for her, you will let her stay here."

"And what about what's best for you and the rest of the people here?" Fury asked. "This isn't just going to go away. Enough people know that Rogue lives here for you to end up in some serious trouble."

"In that case we are already in trouble regardless of whether Rogue is here or not, since the general public will not care if Rogue is on or off the premises," Storm replied.

"Perhaps we can agree to a compromise," Hank cut in. "Rogue may stay here as long as S.H.I.E.L.D. is kept informed of her situation. After all, the X-Men may well require S.H.I.E.L.D.'s support to properly identify the extent of Rogue's current mutation and the containment thereof. S.H.I.E.L.D. will benefit by keeping Rogue here as they will not have to reassign agents or redirect as many resources towards protecting Rogue."

The three of them continued to argue and negotiate for quite some time, much to Logan's annoyance. He was happily distracted by the ringing of his phone, and he was both pleased and concerned when Rogue's name flashed up on his screen. He walked a little ways away, and answered it.

"Hi darlin'," he said carefully.

"Hi... I... I'm sorry, Logan, I know there was a reason why I called," Rogue said, sounding dazed and confused. "I just don't know what it is right now..."

"It's okay," he said. "How are you feeling?"

Rogue was silent for so long, Logan wondered if he should have asked an easier question.

"Lost and confused," she said finally. "My head's just so mixed up right now. And I feel like I'm still absorbing something, but I don't know what."

"I see."

"I'm hungry."

"I put food in your pack. Did you finish it already?" he asked, then added quickly. "I'll arrange to get some more to you as soon as I can."

"Oh you did?" Rogue asked as Hank turned his head to look at Logan. "I remember eating, but I just don't know..."

"Are you talking to Rogue?" Hank asked, and when Logan looked up guiltily, Hank held out his hand. "May I have a word with her?"

Logan looked at Hank, then at Storm, who gave him a faint nod. He growled under his breath.

"Rogue? Hank McCoy's here. He wants to talk to you."

"Do I know him? I can't seem to remember..."

"Yeah, you know him. Hang on..." Logan reluctantly held out the phone to Hank. "She's very confused right now. Don't say anything I'll make you regret."

"As charming as always, Logan, I see," Hank replied blandly, then put the phone to his ear. "Rogue, it is Hank McCoy here. How are you feeling?"

There was a long pause and when Hank repeated Rogue's name Logan smirked.

"Lost and confused," Rogue said. "I just... I'm not really sure where I am right now. I knew a moment ago, I think, but it's gone. There are all these voices in my head and they just won't shut up. Can't think... Can't..."

"It's okay, Rogue, I'm here to help you," Hank assured her. "I was hoping that you might concede to an experiment; I think I have a way to approach you without getting absorbed. Would you like to try?"

To Hank's alarm, Rogue started to cry.

"I want to go home," she said. "But I don't know where it is any more. I don't know anything!"

"Don't worry, Rogue," Hank said. "We're going to do everything we can to help you. Just stay where you are, and try to relax, okay?"

Rogue sniffed. "Okay."

"I'm going to put you back onto Logan now," Hank told her, and once he passed the phone back to Logan, he turned to Fury and Storm. "We're going to need a telepath."

"We don't have one on staff any more," Storm said.

"I know. I also know another telepath, quite powerful, who may be able to assist Rogue," Hank said. "I believe it would be to our benefit to have her look at Rogue first before we try moving her or doing any other experiments, which means, for now, she should remain here."

"Fine," Fury said, keeping an even tone which hid his irritation. "She stays here until she can be safely moved, then we reassess the situation."

He lifted his hand, then turned and walked towards the helicopter as the rest of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents returned to their respective vehicles. In moments they were gone.

Six hours later Storm, Logan, Hank, and the new arrival, Emma Frost, headed out to where Rogue was living on the grounds.

"By my estimate," Logan said as he led the way, "Rogue has an area of effect with a fifty yard radius. That's our drop off point."

He nodded towards the spot that was just short of where Jimmy had been absorbed the night before. Jimmy had since woken up and was none the worse for his experience. Logan put down the box of supplies he had brought with him, and Hank put down the portable generator they'd decided to provide Rogue. After all, sooner or later the battery on her phone would run out of charge, if nothing else.

"Hmm," Emma considered, placing her hand to her temple. "I may not be able to help you, not at this distance. I can sense her, but her multiple personalities will make it difficult to get a lock. Bear with me while I see what I can do."

While Emma concentrated, Storm knelt down and inspected the ground. She stood after a moment and carefully moved around, her eyes to the ground as she kept outside of Rogue's area of effect. She returned shortly to Logan's side.

"Logan," Storm said. "What do you smell?"

"Lots of things," Logan replied. "You looking for anything specific?"

Storm pointed to the ground. "Those plants are dying."

Logan looked down, as did Hank who had overheard. The men realised that there was a clear line; on their side the grass was green and flourishing, and on Rogue's it was brown and wilting.

"And look at those trees," Storm went on, pointing to the trees that Rogue was undoubtedly camping amongst. "It is spring, yet they are losing leaves as if it was fall."

"You think Rogue's responsible?" Hank asked.

"I do not know what to think," Storm replied. "She has never absorbed plants before. Of course, she has never absorbed anyone without skin contact before either."

"I have been smelling something odd," Logan said thoughtfully. "You're right, 'Ro. I'm not smelling anything living aside from Rogue, and I think I know what's been bothering me: There's nothing alive except Rogue. There should be birds and bugs and rodents and crap in there, but I'm not sensing any."

"Decaying bodies?" Hank inquired softly.

"Nope," Logan said shaking his head. "The smell of decaying bodies I know. There ain't... Wait..."

"What?" Storm asked.

"Decaying bodies attract insects," Logan said, pondering seriously. "I can't smell any bugs, but I can smell something I can't quite identify."

"Insects are part of the decomposing process," Hank said thoughtfully. "Perhaps you do smell decaying bodies, but the scent is unfamiliar because you only smell the chemical aspect of it."


"If so, this situation just got a lot more serious," Storm said. "We need to find out if the airtight thing will work as soon as possible, and produce a proper airtight facility for her to stay in."

"Agreed," said Emma. "If it works, I may be able to get close enough to Rogue to properly assist her. I cannot at this distance. Not in the state her mind is currently in."

"Well, then, there's no time like the present," Hank said. "I shall return to the mansion and change into my hazmat suit—I should have thought to bring it with me, no matter. See if you can contact Rogue and give her some warning."

Rogue gave a cry of fright when she saw Hank coming towards her wearing his S.H.I.E.L.D. issue hazmat suit. It took her a minute before she registered that it was Hank and she was perfectly safe.

"Now Rogue," he said, looking at her in the eyes through the clear face of the suit. "I need to you try and concentrate for a moment, if you can. Are you absorbing me at all?"

He didn't feel like he was being absorbed. He wasn't at all dizzy or discomforted in any way, and he had succeeded in walking to her while still enjoying his conscious state, but he needed to make sure. Rogue was silent for a long moment, and finally shook her head.

"I don't think so," she said, her voice taking on a hysterical tone. "I'm absorbing something, I know that much, but I don't know what, and I started absorbing it... I don't know when I started, but it was long before you got here."

"How long? A few minutes? Hours? Ever since you've been here?" Hank asked, keeping in mind the effect she was having on the vegetation.

Again Rogue was silent before replying: "It feels like forever. How long have I been here? I just don't know any more."

Hank rubbed her shoulder sympathetically. "Twenty-four hours."

"That all?"

"Afraid so. But don't worry, we're going to help you," Hank said firmly. "Now, we've got you more supplies—I'll return with them shortly—and I'll be back to check on your every day. We're going to organise a special place for you to stay where you can't absorb anyone, and I have a friend who's a telepath, who may be able to help you sort your psyches out."

Rogue blinked and looked at him.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I missed all that. I'm not concentrating very well right now."

Hank gave her shoulder a squeeze. "I'll be back shortly."

It took some fast talking on Hank's part, but he convinced Fury that Rogue needed to be moved to an airtight facility on the Xavier estate. S.H.I.E.L.D. didn't have a truly airtight vehicle suitable for transporting people, and Rogue was in no state of mind to be taught how to use a hazmat suit. Once Fury had agreed, he promptly insisted that S.H.I.E.L.D. would take care of the arrangements, and even started on sending out orders while still on the phone with Hank.

Storm and Logan were somewhat annoyed at the lack of consultation, but more concerned about any little surprises S.H.I.E.L.D. might decide to incorporate into the facility. Still, when the new accommodation was designed and constructed in a month, they were both appreciative of the fact that there was no way they could have done the same. They also realised from the permanent, expandable nature of the facility, that this was also Fury's way of agreeing to let Rogue live on the Xavier estate long term.

The facility was built not all that far away from where Rogue had been living, mostly to minimise the destruction Rogue was capable of causing now. The walls were thick and shielded, but designed in such a way that they could add on additional rooms in the future. There were no windows. Because it had to be airtight there was an air and water recycling system installed. There was also fresh water and sewerage tanks which would be filled, emptied, and cleaned out as need be by the outside. They were designed so that there was no chance of Rogue's powers getting out through the works. The facility also had its own power generator.

The living quarters were far more comfortable than Storm expected of S.H.I.E.L.D. to produce, although Logan felt the need to remark that a comfortable prison was still a prison. Hank suspected that S.H.I.E.L.D. just wanted to make sure they stayed in Rogue's good books so they could ensure her cooperation in the future.

Emma Frost could not be persuaded to learn how to use a hazmat suit. She was able to use Cerebro—once she was introduced to it—to attend Rogue's mind. Although Emma had been hopeful about doing the job quickly, it became obvious to her that there was no quick fix for dealing with the influx of voices in Rogue's head. Her mind had become badly damaged and it was going to take time, and multiple sessions over that time, for Rogue to recover.

Come moving day, Rogue was escorted to her new home by Hank, dressed in his hazmat suit. He firmly pressed in a button at the side of the door which unsealed and slid to the side. As Hank and Rogue stepped into the first room, scientists raced to the area Rogue had just passed over to take samples of the "recently absorbed" for analysis. Rogue gave a light gasp as the door sealed shut behind her.

"Rogue?" Hank inquired.

"I'm not... I'm not absorbing anything," Rogue said in wonder.

It had taken her three weeks to complete drain the area of life, but even then she continued to get a very light stream, possibly from the very fringes of her area of effect. When she walked over the good ground to get to her new home it had picked up again significantly. This was the first time it had been completely cut off.

"Good," said Hank with a fond smile for her. "That was the idea."

Rogue rubbed her head and looked around the room before them. In the middle of the room there was a three-seater lounge and a coffee table. Against the far wall there was a large widescreen TV and a coffee station in the left corner complete with sink and mini fridge. There were two doors on the left wall and three doors on the right.

"This is the visitor's lounge," Hank said. "There's a doorbell just near the TV over there which they can press to alert you to their presence. There are three cameras in here so you can see what's going on as well as hearing. You will appear to your guests on the TV. I'll show you where that camera is when we get into your living quarters."

As Hank explained, he wondered how many more times he would have to repeat himself before Rogue comprehended and remembered it. It had been a little frustrating communicating with Rogue the last few weeks, but at the same time his heart went out to her. He could well imagine that his frustration with the situation was nothing compared to hers.

"Now that door," Hank said, pointing to a sealed door on the right with a keypad next to it, "leads to your med bay. Only authorised personnel can get in there, and right now I'm the only one with the code. The door next to it goes to an observation room, which looks in on the med bay. It will remain locked for your own privacy, and will only be used on rare occasions, if at all. A little future-proofing there."

Rogue nodded towards the ordinary door that Hank indicated. The third door on the right—also an ordinary door—led to the toilet. Hank then drew her attention to the ordinary door on the left.

"Now, that door leads to the storeroom where we keep the hazmat suits," Hank said. "The one I'm wearing right now will be living in there. And this final door leads to the vestibule between this visitors lounge and your living quarters. Rogue, this is important; you are not to go past that door without wearing your hazmat suit. You haven't got one yet, but you will."

Hank waited until he got an "Okay" before continuing. He wasn't entirely sure if it sank in, but he also knew she didn't want to absorb anyone, and figured if anything had a chance of sinking in that day, it was that. Hank opened up the door and they walked into the vestibule. There was another door on the other side, and next to it was a table, a document holder, another doorbell, and a smaller screen.

"The vestibule will also be used as a delivery room," Hank told Rogue. "So there will be people who occasionally come in here without a hazmat suit on to drop off supplies or mail for you. However, there are cameras, so you can make sure that no one's in here without one before you come in. You can also lock the door we just came through to ensure that no one enters if you're in here without a hazmat suit. Again, another doorbell. You can also lock this door, but there is an emergency override."

Hank opened the second door, and Rogue followed him into the living quarters. There was another large widescreen TV with a few smaller screens on either side hanging on one of the walls. Underneath it was a counter which held and hid the computer, amongst other things, which could also be used as a desk. Across from the screens there was a high three-seater lounge, a coffee table, and a tabletop on wheels for eating meals or using the computer from the lounge.

There were a couple of sets of shelves on the walls behind the lounge, already partially filled with things. A kitchen was built in against the back wall of the main room, complete with fridge, freezer, oven, exhaust fan, and plenty of counter space. There was also a fire blanket and extinguisher nearby, and three other doors; two ordinary, and one fully sealed.

"The kitchen is already stocked with a few easy meals, drinks, and snacks," Hank said. "Please, don't hesitate to let us know if there's anything else you need. We also took the liberty of moving in your things from your room in the mansion. Now, the computer over here is also your communications centre. Well, you can still use your cell phone, of course, but through here you also have internet communications available, and this is also how you'll be communicating with people in the visitors lounge."

Rogue nodded, and Hank turned her attention to the sealed door.

"This door leads into the med bay. That light up there will glow red if there's someone in there, and you only need to turn on this monitor to see who's there. If I'm only in there to study the results of tests, I may not be wearing my hazmat suit, so please check before coming in. Now, this door leads to the bathroom."

Hank opened up the door and Rogue stepped in, blinking at the size and luxury of it. The room also doubled as a laundry, and whoever had designed it apparently decided that it wasn't enough for Rogue to have an ordinary bathtub; it had to be a corner spa bath.

"Wow," she said softly.

"More than just the comforts of home, it seems," Hank replied with a slight smile.

The final room was the bedroom, which was spacious as well, and had a queen sized bed as well as the usual bedroom furniture.

"I believe this may be enough excitement for one day," Hank said, observing that Rogue had been rubbing her head more and more as the tour had progressed. "I'll leave you to settle in, and I'll come see you again in the morning."

"Thank you," Rogue replied.

Hank left after they exchanged good byes. Rogue swayed on the spot for a moment, then walked into the bathroom, stripping off as she went and got into the shower. She had been living outdoors for a month, and as accommodating as everyone had been in matters of hygiene, it was nice to finally have a proper shower for once. With the voices in her head still being noisy, she didn't feel like she had total privacy, but it was close enough. After her shower, Rogue high-tailed it to bed and went straight to sleep.

Not long after Rogue awoke from her nap she heard the doorbell ring. She didn't recognise the sound for what it was at first, and it rung two more times before it registered. Rogue headed for the computer centre and pressed the button which Hank had indicated would answer the doorbell in the visitors lounge.

"Hi Emma," Rogue said, seeing the unimpressed telepath appear on the screen.

"Rogue," Emma replied in acknowledgement, then gestured behind her to the lounge. "I'm going to start our session now. You may want to make yourself comfortable."


The two women settled themselves on their respective lounges, Emma sitting and Rogue lying down. Emma closed her eyes and concentrated. The only reason why she hadn't simply used her telepathy to alert Rogue to her presence when the bell hadn't worked the first time was because Emma knew that Rogue wouldn't be able to differentiate her voice from all the others.

Emma was well pleased to find that Rogue's mind was no longer under pressure from all the life energy she had been absorbing. She immediately set about restitching up mental wounds which the pressure had been reopening. Maybe this time they would actually heal. The worst of the mental injuries were where Rogue's psyches were situated and Emma trod very carefully around there. She couldn't silence them until after Rogue's injuries had healed, but she was able to keep them from interfering with critical areas.

"Okay, I'm done for the day, Rogue," Emma said, knowing that the speaker system would pick up her voice. "You're doing a lot better now that you're not absorbing anything any more. I'll be back again tomorrow."

"Thank you," Rogue replied.

When Hank came to see Rogue the next morning, he was well pleased to find that she was looking much refreshed; the best she'd been in weeks. He changed into his hazmat suit and met her in the med lab.

"And how are you feeling this morning?" he asked Rogue as she sat on the bio-bed.

"Human," Rogue replied ruefully. "I'm clean, I had a few good meals and a lot of sleep. My head doesn't ache as much. Well, it still aches, but... I think I might have gotten used to it aching at a certain level because now that it's not aching as much I wonder how I dealt with it for so long."

"Well, you're certainly looking a lot better," Hank said. "Now, I have a number of tests I need to run which I really can't put off any longer."

"Of course," Rogue replied. "Go right ahead. I want to know what's going on myself."

"I already know that much, Rogue," Hank said as he went about his tests. "The Cure only wore off a small proportion, and of that small group two others had their powers come back much stronger than ever. They're coping better than you are, but they were only low-level mutants to begin with. You were a medium-level."

"Were, huh?" Rogue said, watching as Hank drew blood from her arm.

"I'll know exactly what you are when I've studied the results of these tests. I'm sorry Rogue, I'm afraid it's a case of 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger'," Hank said sympathetically.

"You're sure it's the Cure that's at fault?" Rogue asked, looking miserable as she did so. "It's not a virus or something?"

"Afraid so, Rogue," Hank said. "The blood test I did on you in the beginning confirmed it already."

"You've already done a blood test?"

"The last month has been a bit of a blur for you, hasn't it?"

Rogue groaned and buried her head in her hands. "You know what, Hank? Right now I'm just happy that I remember the last twenty-four hours clearly."

"That is certainly good news."

"Is this permanent?" Rogue asked. "I don't suppose there's a chance my power will settle down to its original level?"

"It's theoretically possible," Hank replied. "But please, don't get your hopes up. The other two haven't lost any of their current strength to my knowledge, and they've been like that much longer than you. Don't worry, Rogue. We're going to do everything we can to ensure that you get to live a long, happy and healthy life."

Rogue nodded not trusting herself to reply. It was hard to process things at times, but one thing had made itself quite clear:

Taking the Cure had been the worst mistake of her life.