Because Thorns Have Roses

Part 3



With the engines firing and the all the computerised systems triple checked, Rogue felt comfortable enough to leave the Blackbird in the others' hands. She wanted to have a talk with Storm concerning the mission.

She found her history teacher in the atrium, staring at a potted lemon tree. That stupid tree bloomed like crazy in the spring time but never had more than one fruit. When it ripened, they'd make a single, perfect glass of lemonade and give it to the younger kids and the newbies to taste. At least, that's what Bobby told her. Last fall, the tree didn't have any fruit at all; Stryker's soldiers had shaken all the blossoms and young fruit off when they tore through the school.

"Scott bought this tree," said Storm. She lightly petted a waxy leaf. "It was his first date gift to Jean. She's crazy about lemons, or anything sour for that matter. We used to joke about--" Her voice faded away. "But I think that may be an uncomfortable joke to hear about your teacher."

Rogue shifted in place. She'd come loaded for an argument against her commanding officer, not a melancholy woman. With a start, she realised she had no idea how old Storm was. With her features, she could have been anywhere between twenty-five and forty-five.

"I think I know what you're going to say," said Storm. "And despite the information you've given, I still think you should stay here."

"Do you know how useless that makes me feel?" Rogue claimed.

Storm's face tightened. "It's not just about being in the front lines. I have to distribute the X-Men as I see fit--"

"And you don't think I'm fit."

"I certainly do not appreciate your tendency to refute my orders," Storm retorted. "Rogue, this isn't just about you. If you could step back a moment and see how important protecting the school is, you'd understand that."

"All I understand is that my friends are going to fight a war and I'm not going to be able to protect them." Rogue stepped forward, trying to reach out to make her understand but Dr. McCoy came through Storm's comm-link.

"Magneto's army has all amassed on the Golden Gate Bridge. We have to go now, Storm."

Storm nodded and headed for the door. "Put the jet into full rev and suit up. Tell the others to buckle in as well." As she passed by, Rogue thought she was about to say something but instead, she just patted her shoulder. "Hank, make sure that we have as much medical supplies as usual; when those cure guns fire, we're going to have a lot of injuries on both sides."

"What about Doc-- Phoenix?" Rogue asked. "How are you going to stop her?"

That made Storm paused. She didn't turn to look at the lemon tree so Rogue did it in her stead. "We'll stop her," Storm whispered.

If you knew where to look, a Blackbird had plenty of hiding spaces. None of them were comfortable but the jet could go from one side of the States to the other in about an hour and a half; Rogue could bear it. Her hiding place was flat but wide, leaving her plenty of room to (quietly) move her arms and legs as she lay on the metal floor.

During the flight, she practiced recalling powers as much as the boundaries of her hiding place would allow. Erik's magnetic field, John's flames, Pete's metallic form, Bobby's ice, and Remy's charging all fire on and off as she strained to bring their psyches to the front of her mind. She imagined the astral plane that Dr. Grey showed her-- floating islands with giant bonsai trees-- and placed the psyches on their own little islands.

She stayed hidden for another ten minutes after she heard hiss of the door's hydraulics release. When she ventured out, all hell was breaking loose on Alcatraz and the X-Men were right in the thick of it. Kitty was nowhere in sight but Pete and Bobby-- Colossus and Iceman-- stood and fought side by side, unlikely barriers against hundreds of Brotherhood followers. Storm was locked in battle with a long-haired speedster while Wolverine clawed through a half-dozen people on his back. Angel circled above, clashing with other flyers simply by bashing them with his huge wings. Beast blended into the shadows, leaving crumpled, moaning bodies as the only markers of his presence.

Rogue leaned over the roof, searching for an entry angle. A blur in her peripheral vision forced her to dodge to the right.

The blur was actually a huge, bald man with an uncanny resemblance to the Frankenstein monster. "You're dressed like the gene-traitors," he snarled.

"Well, you're dressed like a bad nu-punk video," she retorted. He obviously didn't take too well to the insult because he raised a fist the size of a bowling ball. She rolled away and the impact of his blow left cracks on the concrete roof. Rogue blinked at the sight.

The big guy wasn't done yet. "You think life's so easy, protecting humans just 'cause you're a passer." His other fist went down and, almost before Rogue could avoid it, his right one smashed just behind her, clipping the back of her head. It was enough to send stars whirling around her head.

"I'm sorry you're ugly," Rogue said, shaking the dizziness away. "But I really can't--" she dodged another fist-- "talk right now--" she jumped backwards-- "I've got to find-- oh, to hell with it."

Snatching her gloves off-- thank God for wrist snaps-- Rogue dove for her opponent's bare arms. They were so huge and his strength so great that hanging on was a feat unto itself. Gradually, the memories started sinking in.

She crushed bricks into powder, making room for others in his den.

Special ed! Special ed! Big, fat, loser's in special ed!

Magneto was right. He'd been kicked all his life even though he was big and strong.

Rogue let go as the big guy-- Sunder, he called himself Sunder-- tilted floorwards. She felt her body growing more solid, not a visible change but a heaviness in each cell. Her hands felt weighed down.

"What did you do. gene traitor?" Another Brotherhood mutant came screeching down at her, her cat-like claws aimed straight for Rogue's neck. Too sluggish still from her absorbed power, Rogue could only leaned back and brace herself for pain.

She didn't feel a thing.

The other mutant bounced right off. Yowling in rage, she pounced Rogue again. This time, Rogue swung her arms out. Her forearms connected with a sick crunch and the cat-like mutant sailed to the other side of the roof, unconscious. Leather shreds of her uniform flapped in the air, sliced through by the other mutant's claws, but Rogue's skin was unmarred.

"Nice." Absorbing Sunder had been a bit of good luck but she could already feel his personality fading. Rogue ran back to his still unconscious body to absorb a few more minutes' worth of invulnerability and strength. As she pressed one bare hand against Sunder's cheek, she searched for a token with another. Sniffing him was the last option; even without his memories swimming in her head, she could tell that it had been a while since he'd seen a shower.

With enough absorbed power and a better sense of how to carry it, Rogue made a flying leap into the fray.

"Rogue?" Wolverine just stopped short of spearing her through. "You're supposed to be back home."

"Rogue!" Bobby's reaction was much more welcome; his smile was equal parts relief and excitement. "I knew you'd find a way to get-- behind you!"

Rogue ducked the blast of ice that Bobby threw over her left shoulder. Someone screamed but she didn't have time to see who because there was a scaly-faced guy swinging a pipe at Bobby's head. She pulled Bobby down and stood over him. The pipe clanged against her head and came away with a substantial curve. It had felt like a pat on the cheek.

"Wha-bzuh?" Bobby stared at her, wide-eyed.

She laughed, pulling him up by the sleeve. "Come on, Iceman. Let's put that cannon out of commission."

He pulled away to shoot a few fast ones in a sideways arc. "They've already fired them once," he said. "It's all made of plastic so Magneto can't do a thing about them but he's got a mutant with--"

"Heads up!" Rogue twirled to one side, punching out several mutants then quickly rolled behind Bobby to take out a few more.

"Thanks," he said. "Yeah, some mutant with shock-waves took out two of the cannons. They're running on rifles and one empty cannon."

Rogue searched the bridge. There was Magneto, like a king over-looking his pawns, a queen on one side and a jester on the other. Pyro wouldn't like being called a jester and she was fiercely glad she thought of that analogy. "We should be getting rid of Magneto. He's the head of the snake."

"What are you doing here, Rogue?" Storm flew in on a gale, whipping sand into Rogue's eyes. Invulnerability didn't cover dust, she thought. "Who's taking care of the school?"

"I've done all the backups and shutdowns that you told me to," said Rogue. "And Mrs. Rasputin knows evac-ops as well as I do."

"I gave you an order."

"With all due respect, Storm, there's seven of you against an army of them." She waved her hand towards the bridge. "You could use as many hands as possible."

Storm threw out a lighting bolt at a small mob of approaching mutants, sending them cracking against a cylindrical tank. The smell of gasoline filled the air. "We'll talk about this later. For now, just keep this line."

"Yes, ma'am." Rogue took a deep sniff of the gas fumes. A blanket of magnetic energy whipped around her body.

Iron was but clay in her hands.

I will not see my people destroyed again.

Rogue raised her hands over her head and pulled. Two cars shot straight into the air; she felt their weights like tennis balls balanced shakily in the palm of her hand. Throwing her shoulders back, Rogue braced her feet and heaved the cars towards Magneto's inner circle. Another car lay crumpled near the base of the bridge; Rogue pulled it out of the rubble, unbalancing the bridge.

The magnetic field was an extension of her fingers, her arms, her very will.

A half dozen loose orange cables that once held the bridge up shivered. Like charmed snakes, they writhed up, whipping across the bridge and crashing down on the Brotherhood's army. Magneto threw a protective shield over his inner circle, tearing apart the cars and reforming them with a speed that Rogue found astounding.

Her knees shaking, Rogue lowered her arms. Lordy, that last trick cost her. She'd already lost Sunder's invulnerability somewhere between transitioning into Magneto's powers and she hadn't even managed to hit him. She needed to find something else to throw at him.

Even as she scanned the vicinity for another mutant to absorb, the Phoenix rose, both light and darkness haloing her floating body. She pointed at a group of soldiers; they disintegrated into dust. With her other hand, she dissolved one of the soldiers' barricades, leaving them vulnerable to the mutants waiting on the other side. A great, roaring slurp dragged water away from the island only to form a huge wave half a mile away, at least a thousand feet high and growing.

"Wolverine!" Rogue yelled, looking for the signature muttonchops and double-pointed hair. Two leap-frogging mutants surrounded him, moving too quickly for him to catch with his claws.

Rogue rubbed at the bandanna she'd ripped out of Sunder's jacket. The scent of greasy fast food take-out and musty towels wafted up to her nostrils. Rogue closed her eyes, held it... Strength seeped back into her body, heaviness in her limbs. Now how did Colossus deal with big masses of people?

Oh, yeah.

Rogue crashed through the crowd, head down, shoulders braced, recalling shades of linebackers that she'd watched in the football crazy town of Meridian.

Wolverine took advantage of his opponents' distraction to snag one by the neck. His adamantium knuckles cracked against the guy's temple and he fell, out cold. "Hey, short stuff. Storm give you detention yet?"

"I'm beginning to think it's going to be stable duty for life." Rogue swung her arm out at the other mutant but he jumped over it. Instead, her arm bent a lamp post in half. Logan kicked out, catching the froggish mutant in midleap. As he fell, Rogue used the downed lamp post as a bat to finish the job.

Whistling, Wolverine said, "What did you put in your Wheaties, kid?"

She beamed. "I told you to eat more spinach. Have you seen Iceman?"

Wolverine nodded to the right. "He's holding the building with Colossus and some of the soldiers. Shadowcat hasn't come out yet."

"Dang. I was kind of hoping he could help us with that." She pointed at the wave.

"Holy shit," said Wolverine in an otherwise calm tone. "Do you think your boyfriend can handle that?"

Rogue shrugged. "It's worth a try. Maybe if he helped Storm out--"

As though conjured by devotees, Storm landed behind their shelter, crackling with lighting and thunder, her lips set in a frown. She nodded at Magneto. "We need to take them out."

With a wry twist to his mouth, Wolverine said, "Yeah, you think?" They all ducked as an explosion threw shrapnel in all directions with uncanny accuracy. Wolverine glared so hard through the barricade, Rogue felt sure Magneto sensed it. "They're a pretty tight team. We'll have to take 'em out altogether."

"I can get the Phoenix," Rogue said cautiously. "If I absorb her power--"

Wolverine made a cutting gesture. "No way, kid. I don't care if you absorb every mutant on this island right now; you're not getting within ten feet of the Phoenix. Hell, even if you absorb every mutant on this island, you couldn't get within ten feet. She's..." His eyes darkened into what might have been fear.

Surprisingly, Storm didn't dismiss the idea immediately. "What other choice do we have?"

Wolverine stared at the Phoenix as she floated with sickening grace over a growing number of dust mounds. "I could take her. Whatever she throws at me, I can heal."

"Not if she does it quickly enough," Storm countered. "She's growing more powerful by the minute."

"I can absorb her, take away some of her power so you can go in and... and... do whatever." She couldn't quite maintain her self-assurance as the wave roared closer. If it hit, it would drown the entire island.

"Neither you or Colossus can take Magneto and besides, Colossus is the only student who could protect Jimmy even without his gift," Storm continued, her logic deepening the furrows on Wolverine's forehead. "You and Rogue have to team up on this."

"Fine," Wolverine growled. "You sure you have handle this, kid?"

Rogue nodded. "I'm pretty sure."

"We don't have room for 'pretty sure'. You can do it or you can't, " he said bluntly.

"I can do it," said Rogue with more confidence. "I can take her."

Storm nodded. "Good. You and Wolverine head over to the Phoenix. Colossus can continue aiding Angel and the soldiers after he's taken Jimmy to the safety of the Blackbird. Bobby will take care of Pyro while Shadowcat, Beast and I neutralise Magneto."

"And how do you propose to do that?" asked Wolverine.

At that moment, a glint of stainless steel caught Rogue's eye. Her two instructors must've seen it as well because they all turned with her to stare at it. A broken cure gun cartridge lay six feet away, four of the six darts still intact and filled with green fluid.

The asphalt at her back smelled like scorched sugar and gas. Heat stung through Rogue's Kevlar. She wiped her forehead and the feel of skin-- even her own-- startled her for a moment. She couldn't hear a thing over the roar of the chaos that the Phoenix had created.

With the wave roaring closer, the din from the two armies and the shouts from civilians, Rogue couldn't hear Wolverine's approach. She braced her hands on the edge of the upturned asphalt slab and peeked through her fingers. Rogue barely recognized Dr. Grey-- she looked possessed. If it was possible to glow with darkness, she was doing it. Blackness shone from her skin, throwing every tendon and vein in bizarre relief. Her hair whipped up like a flame, catching the very real flames from her eyes. She looked like a goddess, terrible and beautiful at the same time.

Wolverine stood before the Phoenix, his body tilted forward against the energy she threw at him. Patches of his uniform, his flesh, the metal off his bones burnt off and regenerated, over and over again. It must have been painful but he silently gritted on, his jaw locked resolutely.

In the distance, Bobby's ice fought head to head with Pyro's flames, the blunt strength of the elements creating pools of water and clouds of steam. Storm shot bolt after bolt of electricity at Magneto while keeping his lackeys at bay with gusts of wind. Beast and Shadowcat, as planned, were nowhere to be seen. Rogue hoped they would come soon-- the rest of the Brotherhood's army were becoming wise to Storm's powers. They trickled into the island to distract Bobby and Angel who was the only X-Men on aerial defence for this operation.

Meanwhile, she stayed hidden behind a barricade just like all those Danger Room sessions.

Rogue didn't know how long she could wait. With every step, more and more of Wolverine's flesh sloughed off as the antithesis of Dr. Grey floated higher. Wolverine's tenacity seemed to anger her. The tidal wave now surrounded the island in thousand foot wall of water; chunks of concrete, cars, thick steel bars all orbited the Phoenix; the island groaned as she tore it apart in an attempt to destroy Wolverine.

He walked on.

Rogue bit her lip as she pictured the clean, smooth wall of her mental shields. Dr. Grey taught her the basics of telepathic shielding and, as she predicted, they grew stronger in the constant presence of telepaths but the Phoenix didn't have Dr. Grey's sense of morality. She wouldn't have any qualms about breaking down mental shields. Rogue just hoped that the Phoenix's immense power only manifested in telekinesis and not with telepathy or they'd all be screwed.

"Jean!" she heard Wolverine shout. "I know you're in there."

Instead of words, the Phoenix hurled half a car at him. Rogue dropped back under the asphalt before she could see the projectile connect. A self-disgusted breath later, she stuck her head back up. Wolverine hugged the ground, ducking under the car which was now rolling out to the sea like a dustball.

"Jean!" he called out again. As he pushed himself up, Rogue saw that half his face was missing. She covered her mouth, afraid she'd either throw up or scream, both of which would give the plan away. She only had to wait a few more yards.

Wolverine dug his claws like a climber up a cliff as the Phoenix continued to flay him telekinetically. Rogue didn't know how much more he could take; she didn't know how much more she could take watching him. The last two yards stretched out into painful miles; the closer Wolverine got to the Phoenix, the more damage she inflicted not only to him but to the rest of the island. Rogue couldn't even see the Golden Gate Bridge anymore if it even still existed.

At last, Wolverine stood within arm's reach of the Phoenix. Her fury melted Rogue's hiding place. She stepped away, scanning for a new hiding place and finding none. She had to go up.

"You would die for them?" the Phoenix demanded, her tone threatening.

"No," said Wolverine quietly. "No, Jean. I'd die for you."

A bright gathering of energy flowed up to the Phoenix's face. She floated lower, her toes inches from the ground. If ever there was a time for action, this was it. Rogue scrambled up from the base of the debris, her view of Wolverine obscured by the Phoenix's jacket, and jumped up on the Phoenix's back. Her bare hands locked under the Phoenix's chin while her legs came around and crossed around her waist.

The Phoenix screeched. Rogue felt pressure all around her body, like a huge clamp trying to wrench her off. Tensing every muscle in her body, she pressed closer to the Phoenix and hung on tight. Her skin… her skin burned.

Lights exploded in Rogue's brain. Heat poured down her arms, sluicing down her veins and burning her heart. Her head snapped back, jaw dropping in a scream that she barely registered as her own. She heard a million voices and felt a thousand sensations but saw nothing but white heat. The whiteness grew and grew and grew until there was nothing at all except Rogue and the Phoenix and the want and the need.

Then there was nothing at all.

Floating islands bobbed above a turquoise ocean. Bonsai-like trees grew profusely, their roots hanging free as they made their way to the water-- pines, maples, yews, firs all chained together by delicately arcing boughs of climbing roses. Rogue bent to sit on a tree root, only to jump up as thorns pricked her skin.

"What is this place?" Rogue asked Dr. Grey, rubbing discreetly at her rear.

"This is the astral plane," she answered.

"This is what psychics see?"

"Not really. This is what I want to see. Call it a long-repressed princess syndrome." She smiled self-deprecatingly. Waving a hand, the islands, oceans, trees, icy misted away into the school's rose garden. "That's more familiar."

Shyly, Rogue said, "I kind of liked the other place."

"Well, then next time we have this exercise, we'll do it there," said Dr. Grey. "For now, I want you to be able to focus on someplace tangible. It'll make it easier for you to meditate when I'm not there."

Doubtfully eyeing the grassy patches between the rosebushes, Rogue said, "I'm not to good at thinking about nothing. We used to do some meditation in my old school for Health class and all I could ever meditate on was how stupid I felt."

"Mediation doesn't have to be about nothing," said Dr. Grey. She sat cross-legged on the grass and patted the area in front of her in invitation. "It takes a long time to learn how to meditate properly. I don't even do it properly sometimes. We need to do it-- telepaths especially-- as a sort of mental cardio exercise, a way to block out everything except our power."

"Okay." She sat down in the same position and rested her hands on her knees. "Is this like that shielding exercise you showed me last week?"

Dr. Grey nodded. "A bit. The professor and I have been studying your powers since you arrived last week and we think it might be at least partially psionic-based. There's a telepathic or empathic element to it as well as a physical." Seeing her bemusement, Dr. Grey explained further. "We think that your skin is a trigger for a psionic power kind of like how a switch turns on the light. The switch itself doesn't produce the light but when you press on it, it sends a signal to the bulb to turn on. The problem right now is that your switch is over-sensitive; it turns your power on at every contact instead of when you want it to."

"So, this meditation will help me learn how to keep the switch off?" said Rogue slowly.

"It'll build up your mental muscles so that when we figure everything out, you'll know what to flex."

"Okay." Rogue straightened. "How long did it take you to get a hang of your powers?"

She couldn't be sure because Dr. Grey brushed a strand of hair out of her face but Rogue thought that she saw anger in how Dr. Grey's forehead wrinkled and how her eyes kind of glowed. But when her hand moved, her expression was as smooth and soft as always with that little smile always playing in one corner of her lips. "I'm still learning, Rogue. Psionic abilities are some of the most powerful so, of course, they'd be a royal pain to control."

"Wonderful." Rogue sighed, her posture going all to hell again.

With a full-blown smile, Dr. Grey leaned over to rub her shoulder. "I have faith in you, Rogue. At the risk of sounding like a PBS commercial, I think you're capable of doing anything you want to. You just have to gain a little more confidence."

That did sound like a PBS commercial but Rogue decided she didn't care this once.

There was nothing at all.

Then the darkness grew and grew and grew until she heard a million voices and felt a thousand sensations and saw shades of darkness fluttering behind her eyelids like bats swarming a cave.

Rogue opened her eyes.

The whiteness had spots.

She squinted. And seams?

She closed her eyes, counted to ten then opened them again.

The whiteness was actually kind of blue like the medlab. She blinked a few more times until the medlab ceiling came into focus. An IV hung to her left, the contents of the bag mostly gone. Turning her head-- lordy, that hurt!-- she found Bobby sleep on his arms on her bed's one free strip of mattress. Forgotten school books lay stacked on the night stand with the greasy remains of a meal on top of that.

Rogue let her hand fall on Bobby's curls.

"Hrmmmf?" He burrowed into his arms. "Five more minutes, Dr. McCoy."

She started to smile but her lips were too cracked. Blech! Her mouth was all fuzzy; it probably smelled like something crawled in there and died! Maybe it was a good thing that Bobby didn't wake up yet.


Whoops, spoke too soon. Bobby had jerked to his feet, pleasingly ecstatic to see her.

"You're awake! I thought-- Hang on, let me call Dr. McCoy to just... Wait, are you feeling...?" He grabbed at the curls on top of his head. "Just... don't sleep again, okay?" He ran out of her field of view, probably to use the intercom by the door.

Closing her eyes again, Rogue catalogued the hurts. Something was stuck up her nose, probably those nose breathing thingies like on TV. A sharp pain was shooting from her leg. Her entire head felt like it was washed and bashed by a medieval laundrywoman. Even her hair hurt.

"Hey you." She opened her eyes again to see Bobby's forcibly cheerful face. Bags purpled his lower eyelids and pink tinged his eyes.

"Hey," she replied. Her voice sounded raspy and her mouth tasted as foul as it felt. "We win?"

Bobby took her hand once more and Rogue became aware of his thin cotton gloves. No wonder her hands felt cold. "You bet we did. You shoulda seen Pete; he went all Hulk on us. And Kitty helped Beast put down Magneto. They pumped all six darts in him just to be sure he didn't come back. But you... you were the best. When we saw you up there, hanging onto the Phoenix, I---" He swallowed audibly. "And then you fell. We thought you'd never wake up." His voice cracked.

Dr. McCoy's gentle bass interrupted his story. "Truly, she was a sight to behold." When she turned her attention to him, he grinned, teeth and fangs bright against his dark fur. "Ah, welcome back young lady. Bobby, could you please inform Lady Braddock that the hero of the hour has regained consciousness?"

"Sure thing, sir." Bobby still wasn't in view but Rogue heard his footsteps-- hard and fast-- thunking on the metal floor, receding in volume as he left.

"Can you speak?" asked Dr. McCoy as he continued his examination.

"Yeah." The response came out as a croak so Rogue licked her lips and repeated it. "Yeah. I'm thirsty."

"Ah, of course. I can't give you water but I have some ice chips you may suck on." He tipped several small chunks of ice in Rogue's mouth. Sighing contentedly, Rogue endured the rest of the examination with less fear.

"That was a very brave thing you did, my dear," said Dr. McCoy as he palpated her stomach. it tickled but if she laughed, Rogue knew a whole bunch of new hurts would make themselves known so she held back. "I read through your medical files, the ones about your gift. It could not have been easy to contain the Phoenix."

"It worked?"

"Perfectly. In fact I would say that-- oh, good evening, Betsy." Hank turned his head towards someone that Rogue couldn't' see and she was really a little too woozy to try moving her head again.

"Hello, Dr. McCoy." A tall, blonde woman leaned over Rogue, clinically taking in monitor readings. "Hello Rogue. My name is Betsy Braddock. I'm the resident telepath at Muir Island Academy. Can you follow my finger please?" She held up her index finger and moved it from left to right, up and down several times. "Good. Now, I need you to relax while I pop into your mind for a tick."

After snapping on a pair of gloves, she splayed her fingers lightly at several points on Rogue's scalp. She had the sensation of butterfly wings brushing against her head then a sudden breeze, like her sinuses were clearing.

Hello there, love. Even Betsy's astral voice had an accent. That's because that's how I speak. You language and aural centres are very tightly associated although not as much as scent and memory. I'm sure you'll cover it in biology soon.

How come I don't see the astral plane? asked Rogue.

You're a lot more advanced than I've been led to believe if you can already manifest structures in the astral plane.

I didn't, Rogue confessed. Dr. Grey took me there. We meditated in the rose garden, the astral version.

Even then, to be able to move about consciously on a psionic construct. Betsy whistled. And I can see why. I'm only scanning superficially and your consciousness is reacting in a very mature manner.

That could just be the Phoenix's powers still sticking,said Rogue. How long was I out?

A soothing wave washed down Rogue's back. You've been unconscious for two weeks, love. Four of those days, you were clinically comatose. It was very much touch and go for a while.

If Rogue hadn't already been in bed, she'd've fallen over. As it was, a shaky feeling went to her knees and her breath came in short. The beeping from the EKG machine behind her sped up.

Easy now, said Betsy. Wouldn't want all the good doctor's work to go to waste, would we?

Am I okay? Rogue demanded. I mean, does everything work?

That's what I'm trying to find out. Betsy's fingers pressed harder against her skull. This may hurt a bit.

A slim, sharp object slid into her consciousness like a psychic blade. Rogue winced, bunching the blankets in her fist. It didn't hurt precisely; it was more like sharp pressure in parts of her head with a nails-on-chalkboard sensation thrown in.

"I'm not sure if anyone accurately explained what happened after you touched the Phoenix," Dr. McCoy said, presumably to distract her. "Something manifested-- a huge phoenix made of flame that enveloped the both of you. Its wingspan nearly crossed the island."

"I felt it all the way over in England," said Betsy. "I'm certain there are a thousand telepaths and empaths who nursed migraines that day."

"We thought it was the end," said Dr. McCoy softly. "Then the phoenix disappeared, leaving you and Jean Grey's body in midair. Your friends' quick thinking saved your life; Bobby created an ice slide and Shadowcat caught and phased with you just as you were about to crash into debris."

"Good training," said Rogue. The pressure moved, bringing up a burnt caramel smell. "How's Dr. Grey?"

Dr. McCoy's eyes dropped; Betsy glanced at something in the far wall. Rogue suddenly understood the fullness in her head even as her stomach hollowed.

"Jean..." Dr. McCoy couldn't continue so Betsy took over.

"She didn't make it," she said softly. "Wolverine had to--"

"Betsy, she doesn't need to know that," protested Dr. McCoy.

Rogue shook her head. It was a bad idea; the room started to spin. She shut her eyes to calm things down. "Please, I have know."

Heaving a deep breath, Dr. McCoy stepped away and pinched the bridge of his nose. Betsy continued. "Wolverine had to kill her body. We may never know if Jean Grey could have returned but I suppose the risk was too great."

Rogue thought she heard Dr. McCoy snort but everything was starting to fuzz over again. "Is everyone else... okay?"

"Aside from some minor injuries, yes. The new school year has begun and thanks to the Alcatraz incident, we're actually holding more teacher interviews to manage the increased enrolment." Dr. McCoy smiled weakly. "Warren may have started a trend of students wandering in as opposed to being recruited."

"Speak for yourself," Betsy said. "We have all sorts walking into Muir Island. Some strays, we even keep."

Their words prompted Rogue's memory. "What about Remy-- the guy who was, ow, stealing the cure?

"He wasn't here when he returned," said Dr. McCoy

Rogue winced. She'd been afraid that would happen. "He took the cure darts, didn't he?"

"Thankfully, no, but the BMW is missing along with several laptops and a few prescription medicines that will undoubtedly make their way into the streets. He might have also attempted to access our databases but fortunately, the encryptions held true."

"I'm sorry," she said. "I thought he'd be too hurt to leave."

"He is," said Dr. McCoy. "That bullet cracked his femur. At best, he'll get an infection; at worst, the bone will heal badly and he'll be left with a permanent limp. Alas, I do not think forethought is Remy's strong-point."

"I'm confused," Betsy said both aloud and telepathically, abruptly drawing away from Rogue. Rogue's heart quickened its pace. What was wrong with her now?

"Is something wrong?" Dr. McCoy voiced her concern.

"She's healthy as a horse, Henry. That's what's worrying me. Someone without at least beta-level psionic abilities should be dead, it's simple as that. Brain-dead at best, not up and conscious and making lucid conversation."

Rogue cracked her eyes open again. "How... why aren't I braindead?"

Dr. McCoy took the floor. Patting her shoulder over the covers, he said with gravity and not a little pride, "It must be your mutation. Whatever part of your body that allows you to absorb other mutations is so flexible that it simply changed your entire system to allow for a Class 5 mutation to nearly seamlessly blend into your body." He shook his head, removing his glasses and wiping them on his shirt. "We'll have to run more tests to be certain but from the information we took while you were unconscious, you may have telekinesis from now on."

"But that should be impossible," said Betsy. "It would mean a complete change in her DNA and uncharted neuron plasticity to be able to contain telekinesis on that level of-- it should be impossible."

"We'll run a few more tests to be sure. There will undoubtedly be effects that we cannot yet understand especially after reading Jean's medical files. After Rogue has sufficiently recovered." Dr. McCoy patted Rogue's arm. "Are you all right with that?"

Rogue shrugged then winced when every muscle and nerve on her right side protested against the movement. "I guess. As long as they're not calculus tests."

Betsy was still staring at her, "We often talk about our mutations as gifts but if what Hank says is true, if you have somehow managed to transmute a Class 5 with only a two-week coma and a headache to show for it, you are truly gifted, Rogue."

Warmth flowed from her temples to her toes. A bird with far-seeing green eyes blazed in her mind's eye, black and orange wings spread wide to waft the scent of roses. . Rogue smiled and although her lips chapped, she didn't mind at all. "I know."

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