Shades of Red: Ruby, Fire, and Blood

by paxnirvana

Rating: R Pairing: Jean/Scott, Rogue/Remy, ensemble X-Men [mostly Hank]

Archive: Ask first. Author's Note: Some ideas just spring out and take you hostage until they get written. Go figure. Accidents will happen. But for superpowered mutants, the consequences are worse.

Warning: Life sometimes reminds you just how shitty it can be. Should have finished this story before it got around to me. This didn't end up quite how I'd originally intended. [Goodbye, Mary. We promise to take care of your mom for you.]

Disclaimer: The X-Men belong to Marvel. I belong to myself. My brain wrote this. However, I'm not making any money, just losing sleep.

Part One: Ruby

The two women sat on opposite sides of the medical bay, careful not to look at each other. But one could sense the other glance over from time to time when she thought she was unobserved, glowing red eyes watching the unfolding tableau with agonizing concern.

I can't even hold his hand, Jean Grey-Summers thought raggedly. She stared into the Shi'ar healing tank at the battered body of her husband, her mind numb, her heart pounding sickeningly in her chest. All the while holding the mental link, the precious rapport with him stubbornly closed. She didn't dare touch it, not now when emotions were so raw. Mind to mind communication was no guarantee of efficiency or clarity, only of privacy. She didn't know what to say to the woman who had destroyed her life, her heart, her very soul.

"Jean, my dear." A huge, blue-furred hand settled delicately on her shoulder. She turned then, looking up into the fanged and worried face of her old friend Hank McCoy.

"How long?" she asked shortly. He glanced across the room then down into the tank.

"Truthfully? I have little idea," he said, his tone defeated. "The machines can heal his body, but not his. . . well, not his mind."

Jean could feel the approach of the other, sense the link strengthening with proximity. She struggled to hold back a shout of rage, of pain. Hank's hand tightened reassuringly on her shoulder, but she shrugged it off, whirling suddenly to face the interloper.

"Jean, it was an accident," the other woman said, her tones clear and sharp. "Don't blame her, please." No trace of the lazy Southern drawl remained - instead the flat tones of a Midwesterner had taken its place.

"Rogue, don't," Jean snapped, glaring at the other woman. "Just don't."

"Honey, listen, please. . ." The other woman held out her gloved hand, the red eyes so out of place in that feminine, heart-shaped face, under that white-streaked hair. Eyes blazing ruby red with restrained concussive energy. But it was the endearment that snapped her thin restraint. She violently slapped the offered hand away, making her own hand sting at the sharp contact with the nearly invulnerable woman.

"Don't try that on me, Rogue! You are not Scott!" she screamed, her long hair flying wildly around as she spun back to face the motionless body of her husband, leaning desperately over the clear case, staring down at his slack face.

"But I am, sweetheart. I'm here too. Just open the link again, Jean. . ."

"No!" Jean shrieked, her hands rising to press against her ears, blocking out the voice that was so wrong, saying words that were so familiar, so right. Feeling the truth of him, his love beating at the other side of the link. In the wrong body. She cried out, dropping to her knees beside the case, her hands spread wide over the shield keeping her from his chest, his face. Then she heard Hank speak to the other woman quietly and earnestly, escorting her out of the medical bay. Away from her. Away from his body. And away from the other unconscious member of the team, Gambit.

Jean could only laugh wildly, knowing she was at the edge of hysteria and not caring, but feeling in that moment, a sudden sharp compassion for the ex-thief. When he woke up, he was in for one hell of a shock.

* * * * *

The medical bay again, merde, was his first thought upon awakening. Bete hovered over him anxiously. It was only Henry's reassuring presence that kept him from leaping off the bed and sprinting away from the lab. Henry and the strange sense that they weren't alone. He saw a long fall of hair in the blessedly dim light of the lab, the slender shape of a woman silhouetted against the blinking lights of the complex machines that ringed the room. He could hear the gentle beeps and whirring noises of medical machinery in use and tensed slightly. Old fear. Old pain. Old habit.

"Rogue? Chère?" he called softly, his voice scratchy from lack of use. He'd been out for a while then, but still, he didn't feel too bad. Stiff, sore, but whole. He tried to rise up on the bed, but Beast put a huge paw in the middle of his chest to keep him in place, a distracted frown aimed across the room. Who was there?

"No, Gambit, not her," came the strangely acid tones of Jean Grey-Summers. "Strange, it took this . . . accident to make me actually sympathize with you."

"Now, Jean . . ." McCoy began, his low rumbling tone attempting futilely to soothe her.

"We have a mutual problem, LeBeau," Jean spat, stalking over to his bedside, her arms crossed over her chest, her green eyes blazing. "Your vampire girlfriend has sucked the life, the very soul right out of my husband."

"Dieu! She has Cyclops in her head?! Merde!" His mind reeled at the very concept.

"Yes, shit indeed, my Cajun friend," Henry said, looking anxiously at Jean. "Jean, it is my considered opinion that you should allow your psychic link to operate again. Perhaps reassuring yourself that he's intact in there - indeed, that his psyche is safe and whole as Rogue has assured us - will help yo . . ."

"No!" Jean shouted, her hands clenching and an ominous telekinetic glow beginning around them. "Not him, them! She absorbed him, all of him! Our link even went to her, Hank! There isn't even enough left of Scott to keep his heart beating, his lungs moving. The machines have to do it all! She took him from me." She began to cry then, great tearing sobs that near to broke Remy's heart despite his own pain.

Henry turned toward his distraught friend, his strong, furry arms closing tenderly around her. Jean buried her face against the white lab coat that covered Henry's blue chest, her shoulders heaving with the force of her sobs. Gambit took the opportunity to slip off the bed on the other side, limping stiffly over to the humming machinery. Inside a clear box eerily reminiscent of a coffin lay the body of Scott Summers. Wounded, but not grievously, yet lying with unnatural stillness inside the alien healing machines. Breathing only because of those machines. A mindless shell.

Jean's sobs echoed throughout the room, grating on Remy's raw nerves like fingernails on a blackboard. He glanced back at Henry, catching the doctor's eye over the red head buried against his chest. The weary, defeated look in Henry's eyes made Remy's heart lurch, his eyes sting. Hope sank, drowning in the tears of the sobbing Jean.

His Rogue. With Scott Summers locked inside her mind. Perhaps forever.

He placed a hand on the box before him, over the heart of the man lying within. "Get y' back home, homme, t' y' wife, Remy swears it," he said softly. Then he turned and left the medical bay, Jean's sobs still echoing painfully in his head.

* * * * *

He found her - them - on the mansion roof, sitting in his favorite spot. She had her knees drawn up, her arms wrapped around them and her cheek resting on top of her knees. An inward, defensive position. It didn't bode well. She watched his approach with calm resignation. He paused for a moment when he saw her eyes. Glowing red, almost like his own, but with a white sclera. They glowed brighter than his own ever did, no matter how dark the night. For they were glowing with the stolen strength of Cyclops's mutant power which was restrained without the aid of ruby quartz by a brain that had suffered no damage as a child.

The sight shook him to the depths of his tattered soul. The magnitude of it. The reality of it. "Chère?" he called gently. She closed her eyes briefly, lifting her head to look at him warily. He stepped closer, settling himself down carefully beside her, his body still aching with the aftermath of battle.

"Not really, Gambit," she said quietly, her normally lilting voice sounding strangely flat to his ear. "Rogue's not . . . well, she's hiding is the only way I can describe it. She doesn't want to deal with this right now."

"So she left Mr. Summers in charge, hehn?"

"Yes," she said, looking at him with curiosity. "You know, I have a great deal more respect for her strength of character. I had no idea there were so many people still lurking around in her mind. It's amazing she's sane at all."

"Dat's my girl - tough as nails," he said dryly.

"Really, Gambit," she said reprovingly, her face stiff with disapproval. And so reminiscent of their fearless leader that he nearly gaped in astonishment, stopping himself just in time from making a complete fool of himself. "She wouldn't care for that comment at all."

"Maybe, mon ami," he said with a shrug, recovering his aplomb. "And maybe not. Rogue and Remy, we understand each other some ways."

"Yes," Scott/Rogue said, eyeing him thoughtfully for a moment before continuing with quiet import. "You're in here too you know, Gambit."

"Yeah, figured dat."

The soul that examined him so closely from those fiery red eyes wasn't the soul that he loved - instead it was the soul of the one man in all the team that he had the least in common with. He felt a shiver run up his spine.

"Well, den," he said, challenge clear in his tone, his body tensing. More secrets to spill? Recriminations to parry? Or a battle to fight?

"Well nothing," Scott/Rogue said calmly, to Gambit's intense surprise. "That piece of you? Well, it watches out for her in here - you're taking care of her now."

"Nice t' know somet'ing good came out of dat mess."

They sat in silence for a few minutes, each studying the other warily. Then Rogue sighed deeply. Remy wanted to put his arm around her, but refrained, knowing Scott wouldn't appreciate the gesture. The words finally came, reluctantly.

"How is Jean?"

"Truth?" The white-striped head nodded slowly. "Not good, mon ami."

"She's shut down our link, blocked it from her end." The pain in Rogue's flattened voice was thick, but ruthlessly controlled as only Cyclops could be. "And she won't talk to me - to Rogue."

"She's hurting, mon ami. Afraid. Give her a little time yet."

Rogue fell silent again, staring out into the night, at the stars, expression grim. Remy lit a cigarette, smoking it in patient silence. Each waiting for the other one to speak again. Finally, Rogue turned and looked at him again. "How is it you don't seem to have trouble talking to me? To Scott, I mean."

Gambit took the dangling cigarette out of his mouth, staring down at the glowing ember on the end, his mouth pursed thoughtfully.

"Drives me wild, mon ami, knowing you in her head, in her heart," he said, his tone even, but his eyes blazing as he looked up at her. "But I know ma chèrie, an' I ain't talking t' her now. You be careful in dere, Cyclops. Respectful. Remy's ready t' do just about anyt'ing t' get y' out of her soul."

Rogue's eerily altered eyes met his. She nodded shortly once.

"Fair enough," Scott replied.

* * * * *

Okay, enough sulkin', girl. Time ta get back ta work, Rogue thought reluctantly somewhere in the depths of her mind. Behind her the lush banks of the Mississippi River faded into the shifting green-gold endless plain of her mental landscape. The shade of Remy watched her from under a huge willow beside the river, fading, but not disappearing entirely. He had agreed to stay behind, this time. And she knew he'd stay - unless there was more trouble. In here, often as not depending on her mood, he wore a demon's horns and prodded her endlessly with his sins. But this time, when she needed him most, he was just himself; red-brown hair falling in his eyes, quirky smile on his lips, a clever retort always ready. She didn't think too closely on that, grateful only that he was there for her. Her secret. Her support. She gave him one last lingering look over her shoulder before turning firmly away.

She moved slowly through the rippling waves of grass-like stuff, not concerned with defining it, just passing through it. It never impeded her unless she looked too closely at it, then it snarled and tangled about her - doubts and fears and nightmares given grasping form. She looked firmly beyond, not surprised to come suddenly across a tall slender man with brown hair. His uncovered eyes were brown as well. The weeds faded away, not daring to come close to him. A glowing golden cord stretched from his chest, his heart out into the distance, disappearing into the blackness beyond the boundaries of her mind.

This wasn't Remy.

This was Scott Summers.

He was solid and real, mentally dressed here in his original X-Men uniform, the chunky visor lowered around his neck. His form pulsed with resolve and hope and longing. His sum psyche. His soul. She flinched away from him at that though. The only other person she'd ever encountered in her mental landscape with this much solidity had been Carol Danvers. Until the Siege Perilous had finally taken her away. But Scott was even more clearly defined. Her power had taken everything from him. Caused by fickle fate; torn uniforms, a fall into darkness, the stunning energy bolts of a foe knocking her out just too long. The fact that it had happened while they were both unconscious and injured didn't change her guilt.

She'd killed him.

Hank had said that the only thing keeping Scott Summers' body alive was the Shi'ar machine. And it could only do that for a few weeks at most before the lack of a mind, a spirit, a motivating force caused the body to wither and die.

He didn't have a lot of time. They didn't. There was certainly no time left anymore to hide from the harsh facts.

"Scott?" she called to him. He turned and smiled at her, welcoming her calmly back to the core of her mind. She'd left him in the lurch, retreating like that, but she'd needed the chance to escape him, to tamp down her guilt and regret until she could function again. Mind-Remy was always good for that. He helped take those feelings away from her as if it were his sole reason for existence. And maybe it was.

"Are you feeling better now, Rogue?" Scott asked gently. No blame, no recriminations, just gentle concern.

"Yeah, Ah am. Thanks for the breather, Scott," she said. He looked at her and smiled, his brown eyes crinkling warmly. It transformed his whole face to be able to see his eyes. He was nearly as handsome as Remy, but without the flash, the danger, the edge. Instead he radiated warm strength, patient confidence and fortitude. All very attractive traits too. She felt the jealous brush of Remy's shade against her back and sternly warned it away. It faded obediently, returning to the riverside, but not without a lingering caress. She shivered. Scott frowned past her, sensing something in the dimness beyond her.

"Ah guess it's time to face the music, sugah," she said, unwilling to delay further now that she'd found the strength to go on. Scott smiled encouragingly.

"I'm right behind you, . . . Rogue," he said. They traded looks. A petty secret, but hers. And he'd respect that, she knew. He was a man of honor.

Then with a deep mental breath, she looked out through her own eyes at a world turned the color of blood.

* * * * *

Beside him, Rogue shivered. Gambit glanced at her with concern.

"Okay, mon ami?" he asked quietly. Rogue turned to him, her eyes sad, her hands clutching each other until the knuckles were white.

"Hi, Remy," she said hesitantly. His heart stuttered in his chest.

"Back 'gain, chère?" he asked, smiling gently at her. "Better now?"

"No, not until we find some way ta get Scott back where he belongs," she said softly. Tears welled in her glowing eyes. He almost expected them to boil away, her eyes looked so hot, but they trickled down her cheeks without a sound. He raised a gloved hand and lifted a tear from her cheek, as he had once before in what seemed like another life, another place and time, pressing it to his lips. He sipped it into his mouth, tasting the salt, the sorrow. She met his gaze, hope and fear and guilt lurking in their flaming depths. He smiled tenderly at her.

"We will, chère, Remy swears it," he promised, his gaze holding hers for a long moment before they settled back, together, to watch the stars.

* * * * *

Rogue went to bed in her own room, feeling the uncomfortable sense of unease that came from Scott's psyche, so closely enmeshed with her own. It was unnerving going through her nightly routine feeling the occasional odd impulse to close her eyes in front of the mirror after her shower. She scolded him gently in her thoughts.

"Ah know ya can't help it, sugah," she said to the watcher inside. He didn't reply directly, instead sending her a confused sense of curiosity / reluctant male interest / shame / betrayal wrapped up in an image of Jean, his wife. She closed her eyes then, just to spare him, as she hastily dressed in a nightgown and turned off the lights.

"Tomorrow," she promised him, fighting back tears. "Tomorrow, we'll talk ta Jean, come hell or high water, sugah."

Part Two: Fire

Jean lay sleeplessly in her cold bed, on Scott's side, her arms wrapped around his pillow. Breathing in his lingering scent, trying to summon his presence. The link pulsed in her heart, in her mind like a wound, sore and aching from her denial of it. But she could never sever it - not her heart, her very soul. And it might be the only way to save him; a lifeline to retrieve him from his strange prison.

But tonight, she was so alone.

Henry had tried for hours to chase her out of the medical bay, threatening her with dire consequences if she didn't rest. She had refused to leave. Then he'd used his brain. He needed her strong and rested if they were to have any chance of moving Scott's mind back to it's proper place. She had to take care of herself, rest, prepare, he'd said.

It was the only thing that could have pried her away from Scott's side, and damn him, Henry had known it. She had been wavering, nearly ready to refuse outright despite his tactics, when, to their shock, Gambit had come back into the medical bay. Willingly.

"Jeanne," he'd said in his sultry, accented voice, his expression somber and far from his normal lighthearted teasing. "Scott needs y', petite. Needs y' t' be strong for him. Go rest."

After stubbornly glaring from Hank to the uneasy Gambit, Jean had finally relented. She'd followed Gambit up to the living areas, shying away when she caught sight of the gathering of concerned teammates in the rec room. She couldn't face them. Not Storm's quiet sorrow, not Bobby's tragic silence, nor Warren's brittle disbelief; she'd fled to their room. Alone.

Jean Grey-Summers, Alpha Mutant, founding member of the Uncanny X-Men, one of the most powerful telepaths and telekinetics on the planet, curled up and cried herself to sleep in her empty marriage bed, unaware in the depths of the night, that her mind reached out for the only solace available to it: the link with her husband.

* * * * *

Rogue woke, tears streaming down her face. Tears she knew he would never let himself shed, but that she had no compunction about shedding for him.

"The link is back," he sighed with relief in her mind. And she could feel it too, the warmth, the glow, the sheer love that flowed between the unwilling passenger in her head and the sleeping mind of his wife. It told him/her that much, that Jean was asleep, her unconscious mind reaching for her soul mate despite her pain and fear and lingering anger.

So he gently sent her reassurance, love, confidence. Low level, so as not to wake her. I love you, Red, he said gently in her mind. We will find a way - we always do. Jean's mind responded with bitter amusement, sorrow, desperate need. Rogue felt like a spy in her own heart, feeling the echoes of their love resound through her, resonating off her deepest wishes. Something stirred inside her, responding to the pure love she felt from them. Something of her own that she missed in the overwhelming glow of Scott and Jean's emotion.

She would reunite them if it cost her own wretched life, she silently vowed as the silver tears streamed down her face all that long night.

* * * * *

Rogue left her room for breakfast reluctantly. She knew she looked bad. Not knowing what the day would hold and unwilling to take any chances, she donned a full body suit, pulling on the gloves with grim resignation. She stared at her reflection in the mirror, seeing only the all-enveloping blue of the suit and her tear-ravaged face. She hadn't even tried to disguise the dark circles under her reddened and red eyes. She left her room only to find Remy waiting for her at the top of the stairs, lounging against a wall, his arms folded over his chest. He straightened up as she approached, his face somber.

"Bad night, chère?" he asked gently, brushing the back of his hand swiftly over her hair. She sighed deeply.

"Ya might say that," she said, not willing to elaborate further. Then she met his gaze. "Has Jean come down yet?"

He pursed his lips thoughtfully and shook his head. "You wanna do dis in public or private, chère?" he said. She thought for a moment, tears welling in her eyes again. She took a step toward him and, to his shock, wound her arms around his waist, lowering her head to rest it on his chest. Quickly overcoming his surprise - he could count on one hand the number of times she'd initiated hugs - he wrapped his arms around her in return, holding her close and murmuring nonsense words of reassurance into her hair.

After several long and blissful - they each thought to themselves - minutes, she pulled away, looking up into his face with a watery smile.

"Thanks, Remy," she said. "Ah'll go see Jean now - on mah own, okay?"

"Oui, chère," he said gently, stroking his hand down her shoulder and arm, squeezing her hand before releasing her. "Use da comm if y' need me."

She gave him a weak smile, then turned and walked slowly down the corridor until she stood outside Jean and Scott's room, aware that Remy was still watching her. But she had to do this - let Scott do this - alone. Taking a deep breath, she looked inside her mind, calling him. Scott sent her a flicker of a reply and she found herself back in her mind-scape, standing beside him.

"I didn't realize. . ." he began, but she cut him off with a finger in front of his lips, careful not to touch him. He subsided, frowning down at her. She met his pained yet sympathetic look with a sad shake of her head. Dodging the questions she saw clearly in his eyes, she asked, "Do ya want me ta start this off, or do ya wanna bat first?" He stared down at the glowing strand that emerged from his chest, the psychic representation of his link with Jean, longing plain on his face.

"I'd prefer if I talked to her myself. Alone," he said. She nodded agreement. Not surprised, but still strangely sad.

"When ya need me again, come down ta the river," Rogue said, turning away.

"River?" he asked, puzzled.

She smiled enigmatically over her shoulder. "You'll know." Then she walked off through the waving green-gold strands, moving deeper into her own mind, vanishing into the mists. He turned his attention from inside to out, making the transition from 'passenger' to 'driver' with greater ease this time. In the lab last night, Rogue had fled suddenly to the depths of her mind, leaving him fumbling to master control of her body, struggling with the blocked psi-link, then trying to reassure Jean that he was still alive. He hadn't done well at the last two. But today was a new day, a new chance. Without knocking, he opened the door to his own room. The room he should have shared last night with his wife.

The bed was a tumbled mess. Jean was usually a quiet sleeper, but he'd felt her anxiety and restlessness all night long through the link. The familiar room was empty. As he suspected, she was in the bathroom, probably soaking in the tub. A common pastime when she was troubled.

He paused before the mirror over the dresser, staring thoughtfully at his reflection.

It wasn't his reflection at all, of course, but Rogue's. His teammate. A woman he'd seen and lead and fought beside for years. It was different being on the inside, looking out, however. She was a lovely young woman forced to share her body with the psyche of a married man. How did that make her feel, to have this interloper inside her? She had so far managed to conceal that from him, a skill hard learned, no doubt. Beyond the surface, there were her eyes. He started involuntarily. Was that how his own eyes looked under his glasses? Red and glowing irises; ominous and startlingly akin to Gambit's, save that the sclera was still white. Demon's eyes.

Would Rogue's natural green return if they were somehow successful in extracting his psyche? Or would his mutant powers now permanently belong to her? He shook off the introspective mood. That was the least of his worries right now, because first and foremost there was Jean.

He turned to the bathroom door, opening it quietly, then hesitated as his heart surged in his - Rogue's - chest.

His wife was lying in a tub filled with bubbles. Her eyes were closed - the lavender and something-he-could-never-remember scent that Ororo had blended for Jean to promote relaxation filling the small room - and her long red hair bound up on top of her head. She looked weary and sad. He stared at her beloved form, frozen in the doorway, as desire surged through him for his wife. No, through Rogue. He shook his head then, trying guiltily to drive away the reaction, feeling somehow as if he was abusing the young Southerner's trust. But he'd always had this reaction to Jean, body and soul. She was his love, his heart, his soul-mate.

Her eyes flashed opened. "Hello, Scott," she said quietly, her green eyes like emerald flames. He moved into the bathroom, closing the door behind him.

"Hello, Jean," he replied, startled by the feminine sound of his voice. "You opened the link again."

"So I did," she said, watching his face - Rogue's face - carefully and not touching the link. Instead a brief frown shadowed her brow as she scanned his surface mind. "Where's Rogue?"

"Giving us time alone," he said, moving closer. "She has some interesting mental skills - it's no wonder you telepaths find her so hard to read." Jean warily watched him cross the small room. He sat down on top of the closed lid of the toilet, leaning over to brace his elbows on his knees, threading his fingers together. Jean's eyes closed in pain.

"I can't tell you how many times I've seen you sit just like that, in here with me," she said, her voice shaky. "Scott, what are we going to do?"

"I don't know, sweetheart," he said. "Do you and Hank have any ideas?"

"Not yet," she said, her eyes filling with tears. He couldn't stand it. He slid off his seat and down to his knees beside the tub, his gloved hand rising to brush away her tears. She closed her eyes and leaned into his touch for an instant, then turned her face sharply away.

"Please don't," she said, her voice shaking. "That's Rogue's body."

"Yes, but I'm the only one touching you right now," he said harshly, cupping her face in his gloved hand. "God, I miss you, Jean. I'm so sorry this happened. I know this is hard for you."

"Scott," she sobbed, keeping her eyes closed. And he knew why, even if it hurt him. She could only see Rogue there, even though they could feel each other through the mental link. He touched the link then, sending his love, his longing, his determined hope to her. She sighed deeply, turning toward him, her head sinking down to rest on his covered shoulder. Her wet arm crept out, wrapping around his waist, holding him tightly to her. Down the link he felt echoes of the emotions she struggled to hide from him, anger, fear, regret. He continued to send her all his love and hope, trying to strengthen her confidence.

"Scott," she whispered again, hand clutching his side.

"Jean, we'll get through this, sweetheart," he said fervently; a promise he fully intended to keep. "I'll get back to my own body soon. We'll find a way. We always do."

* * * * *

Rogue had been grateful that Scott had come for her at the river when he did. When he was around her, he tamped down on the link between him and Jean. The wonderful link that let them share so much, feel so much, yet still remain separate. If she was exposed to it for too much longer, she was afraid she would grow addicted to it. It was like nothing she'd experience before. The past night had been both torment and delight.

It was her most cherished dream, to feel a love like that. Remy had shown such promise, but there was still so much to be resolved between them. Her uncontrolled powers being the most obvious.

"How did it go, sugah?" she asked softly, staring at the slow-moving river beyond her. It was the Mississippi of her youthful memories, warm, slow and locked in a perpetual, lazy summer afternoon, the sound of insects and birds faint in the distance. In her mind-scape, bugs only bit if they were manifestations of concerns. She scratched absently at her arm. Mind-Remy was keeping out of sight, she knew, by her wish. There were some things she didn't want to share with Cyclops - Scott Summers. Her body especially, but she knew, in order to preserve his psyche, she'd have to allow him control with some frequency.

"She's adjusting," he said with a relieved smile. She turned to look at him, struck once more by the disconcerting fact that his mind-self's eyes were uncovered by a visor. So brown and warm, revealing more of him than she'd ever known. "She'll keep the link active now. I hope it doesn't bother you."

"No," she swallowed, looking desperately past him, to the shadows of the great willow looming over the riverbank. To the hidden figure sitting there, watching her protectively. "It's nice. Ah just don't wanna pry. This whole mess is bad enough already."

"It's one of the risks we take," he said calmly in typical Scott fashion. But seeing his eyes gave his words a warmth she'd have missed before. Gratitude. Relief. "If the Sentinel's blast hadn't caught you first, I'd probably be dead. With the way we all run through uniforms, it's a wonder this hasn't happened before. It's not your fault, Rogue."

"Thanks, Scott, that means a lot ta me," she said, smiling at him tentatively. "Now the important stuff. Ta keep ya psyche fine an' dandy, we're gonna have ta share the 'outside' a little more. Ah've got good reflexes for keepin' trouble down in mah mind, but that only makes things fade faster, an' we don't want that." His brown gaze met her green one seriously, understanding plain. "So, we trade off. Eight hours at a time. That might just do it. Sharing at the same time is confusing, but we can try that too, if we need to."

"This is your mind, your body, Rogue," he said, his face somber, his eyes faintly troubled. "Your rules. But I trust you - we'll make this work out." Staggered by his confident words and the shining truth of the feelings behind them, her psychic manifestation swayed toward his. She shied back at the last instant. Touch in here meant merging of self, of mind; it was far more dangerous than anything in the physical world. What was she doing? She knew better. The shade under the tree half-rose in alarm, then settled back, watching.

"Sorry, but that's just 'bout the nicest thing anyone's ever said ta me." She shooed him away from the river with both hands, a watery smile on her face. "Get back out there an' get us some breakfast. Ah'm hungry," she said lightly. "And don't forget - eight hours." With a nod, he turned and faced reality.

* * * * *

When Rogue entered the kitchen silence fell. She stood straight and tall in the doorway for an instant, then calmly moved toward the table. Sam stared at her with wide eyes, flushing furiously. Bobby shifted nervously on his chair. Warren glowered at her. Gambit sat in a tipped back chair in the corner, his red eyes intent. Ororo rose from her place at the end of the table, her expression faintly worried.

"Any coffee left?" Rogue asked. Gambit looked at her keenly.

"Ma chère takes it black, Cyke," he said quietly. "No sugar." Warren and Bobby snapped their heads around to stare at Gambit in shock. Warren recovered first, turning to look at Rogue again with a speculative frown. Bobby just rolled his eyes in exasperation.

"We've agreed to disagree," Scott-as-Rogue said with a wry smile as he took his usual seat at the table. Gambit shrugged, swiftly hiding a dangerous gleam in his eye.

"How the hell do you know it's Scott and not Rogue?" Warren demanded as Gambit let his chair drop to the floor with a sharp bang returning the winged man's glare with equal heat. Storm shot the Cajun a reproving look, prompting him to flash a falsely charming smile in response, before she moved to the counter to gather a clean cup for the newcomer. Warren folded his arms over his chest, glaring at Gambit as if this mess were somehow his fault.

"She's got no accent," Sam said suddenly, his expression clearing faintly. The young man still looked confused and embarrassed, but appeared partially relieved that there was some way to keep his strangely conjoined teammates separate, at least in his own mind. Rogue quietly thanked Ororo for the cup and poured herself coffee. Then pointedly stirred in Scott's customary two sugars.

"Why is it you . . . out here. . . and not Rogue, uh. . . Scott?" Bobby asked, waving his hands in the air helplessly and looking pained. When you looked at Rogue, the red, glowing eyes made it plain, as when she'd absorbed Gambit, that she wasn't alone in there. It was just hard to imagine that all of Cyclops was there. It boggled his mind.

Rogue paused as she helped herself to breakfast, glancing around the table. "We need to share, she says - to keep me from fading until we can find a way to get me back to my own body. Awkward for the rest of you, I know, but necessary." Gambit stared at his hands, strangely silent.

Ororo sat down again, glancing from Remy to Rogue. "Does Henry have any ideas yet?" she asked, gaze locking intently on Rogue.

"No," Scott said, pausing momentarily in his eating.

"What about Jean?" Warren demanded, his glare hostile.

"Jean has several ideas she needs to run by Rogue," came a new voice. Heads snapped around to stare at the red-headed woman in the doorway. She was pale, but calm, dressed in her full blue and yellow uniform. Businesslike. Jean entered the room slowly, pausing for the barest of instants behind the woman seated in Cyclops's chair before sitting down beside her. Scott in Rogue's body reached out and carefully took her hand. Jean allowed it and even returned the reassuring squeeze he gave her. Jean managed a tentative smile for the young Southerner. Gambit watched them both from hooded eyes. Sam leaped to his feet and fetched Jean a cup. She accepted it with a tiny smile of gratitude. Warren poured her coffee, his expression grim.

"Bon matin, Jeanne," Remy said quietly. "Da rest did you well." She glared at him for an instant before relenting. Then she moved her hand from under Rogue's to stir her customary cream into her steaming cup of coffee. Rogue glanced from Gambit to Jean, far less animation in her face than normal, her glowing eyes watchful.

"So what are we going to do?" Bobby demanded. "When's the Prof due back?"

"We do not know," Ororo said, folding her hands in front of her on the table. "It is not often he has an opportunity to visit with the Empress. I attempted to contact him last night, but there is disruption on the link with the Shi'ar."

"When isn't there when we really need it?" Bobby snorted in disgust.

"It isn't simply a question of strength," Rogue said in Scott's flat accents. "Rogue's mutant power makes it hard to read her in-depth, isn't that right Jean?" She nodded beside him, her green eyes shadowed. "It's difficult to read me in here - even with Rogue's full cooperation. There'd be no guarantee a psi-transfer would be entirely successful - so we may have to come up with something else."

"Dere's one who's got mind-transfer equipment already," Gambit said, his expression closed and hard. Everyone at the table turned to stare at him. He lifted his head defiantly and glared around the table. Storm shot him a surprised stare, searching his face in concern. Bobby and Sam had identical expressions of confusion on their faces. Warren looked thunderstruck. Jean glanced worriedly at Rogue beside her.

"You're not thinking about. . ." Jean began, dawning horror on her face. Rogue leaned back in her seat, crossing her arms over her chest, expression thoughtful. The motion, her contemplative silence, her body language screamed 'Scott' to everyone at the table.


"Should have known!" Warren snarled, wings flexing behind him, his hands fisting. "Anything to get back good with that monster, eh, LeBeau? He's been after Scott for years! Would you hand him over that easily?"

"Da only other choice might be death," Gambit said quietly, watching Rogue intently and ignoring the Angel's histrionics. Rogue's red gaze calmly met the Cajun's.

"It's a possibility we have to consider, but only as a last resort," Rogue said firmly. Warren gaped at Rogue.

"Scott, you can't be serious!"

"There are still other avenues to explore first, Warren, but we can't rule out the possibility of contacting Sinister," Rogue rose to her feet, glancing down at Jean as she tossed her napkin down onto her half-finished meal. "I'm going to talk to Hank now. I'd rather make that option moot."

* * * * *

Hank McCoy stared at the young woman before him, knowing it was his old friend and long-time team leader inside her who was proposing this outrageous plan but he was still having a lingering, fundamental trouble making the adjustment.

"Well, do you think it's worth an attempt, Hank?" she said tightly, red eyes narrowed intently, her arms crossed over her chest, her posture straight and tall. So very like the disciplined Scott Summers and so very unlike the casual Rogue. She was even dressed differently, in a plain, dark blue all-enveloping bodysuit and low boots, gloves thrust into her belt. Her hair was pulled back and braided tightly against her neck, getting it efficiently out of her way. Hank could only speculate that Scott had learned how to braid hair somewhere - from Jean, perhaps - or maybe he'd learned it directly from Rogue's mind. He drew his wandering attention back to the matter at hand.

"I don't know, Rog- - uh, Scott," he said hesitantly, stroking his chin with a huge blue hand. Rogue's lips pursed tightly, stifling a frown.

"Rogue's fine, Hank," she said grimly. "I know it's tough to get past the exterior. I still flinch every time I walk past the mirrors in the hall." When she'd entered the lab, Hank had been quick to notice, she'd pointedly avoided looking at the gleaming Shi'ar machine that held Scott's body. Just like Scott to keep his focus even in a borrowed body.

"Indeed. However to address the mechanics of your proposition, it has always been difficult to scan Rogue's unique mutant/Kree physiology with any accuracy to determine the full potential of her underlying mutant ability. It is possible, however, with your influence on her psyche, that it may render your hypothesis viable."

"Great," the combined Scott and Rogue said, clapping her hands together in front of her once. "When can we start?" Hank sighed deeply. Definitely Scott.

"Determining the physical cerebral location of both her and your mutant power is a complex endeavor, Sco- - uh, Rogue," the mutant doctor said with a quirky smile and a shrug for his continual stumble. "It will take considerable and careful preparation even for a genius of my caliber to initialize and format the examination systems, as well as coordinate the appropriate simulations."

"In English, Hank?"

He sighed. Why did no one appreciate his skill with words? "Come back in two hours."

* * * * *

Quite a bit more than two hours later, Jean was hovering anxiously behind his left shoulder in the Danger Room control center, Gambit his right. He'd had to chase out Bobby and Warren when their questions began to distract him. Ororo had departed as well in an effort to keep the peace. Henry McCoy hadn't expected quite so many observers for their little examination.

Rogue stood in the center of the Danger Room, the shattered remains of several training robots littering the floor around her. The concealing bodysuit she'd worn earlier had been exchanged for a brief leotard and an extensive sensor net. Wires and monitors were attached all over her mostly-bare body and under her hair. The relay pack with a transmitter and battery were secured to a harness on her back. The straps and windings provided her scant covering. But Henry McCoy wasn't interested in the surface - he was intently studying the multitude of readings the sensor net was sending him. Interesting, intriguing and fascinating data on the internal workings of a supremely unique mutant ability. And much better quality than he'd ever been able to obtain on Rogue previously. The imprint of Scott's psyche had somehow re-ordered the structure of both her mutant power and her Kree matrix - not lessening them, or masking them, but making them more efficient. The implications were staggering.

"Well, Hank?" she said impatiently, her arms crossed over her chest as she waited for the next sequence to begin. He'd quickly come to recognize the tonal changes that occurred when Scott had dominance in the symbiotic relationship. That was definitely their fearless leader in charge down there. Exactly how the two of them had come to this strange sharing agreement was a mystery - but an acknowledged necessity.

"Just a moment, Scott," he muttered, adjusting a display, intrigued by the sudden strange spikes on his graphs.

"It's kind of chilly in here, sugah," Rogue said, shivering slightly for dramatic emphasis. "What'cha got planned for us next, Hank?" But Hank, lost in contemplation of readings and data, did not reply. Remy leaned over and spoke into the microphone.

"How y' two doing dere, mes amies?" he said. "Tired o' dis rat maze yet?"

"Not yet, Remy," she said with a wide smile. "It's kind of fun. Scott's got a whole different way of lookin' at stuff."

"Well, wit' eyes like dat. . ." Remy trailed off with a low chuckle. "Better watch what y' look at, petite - some t'ings might not be so easy to replace." Rogue glanced up at the booth and stuck her tongue out at him then blew him an exaggerated kiss. He smiled his quirky smile back at her and gave her a mocking wink. Jean made a sharp sound of disgust, and he turned toward her, a brow raised in inquiry.

"How can you joke around?" she all but hissed at him. Her green eyes blazed angrily at him, her face pale. His amused façade faded away and he met her gaze directly.

"It's either laugh or cry, Jeanne, an' Remy's pretty face get all blotchy when he cry," he said softly, his sober expression belying his deliberately light words. "Relax, chère, just trying t' keep some perspective here. Hard as it is for us, imagine it's a t'ousand times worse for dem, henh?"

She stared at him, stunned by his perception. She had only felt her own loss, Scott's loss. But the imposition was just as great for Rogue. She'd seen her struggle for years with the difficult side-effects of her mutant power. The near madness. The loss of self. The stark isolation. Jean couldn't imagine a life without touch. How would she feel if she could never touch Scott again - then her breath caught as she realized that was still a definite possibility. Her heart thudded painfully in her chest, fear surging inside her, and she turned her thoughts away from that before it leaked through the link and alarmed Scott.

Then there was Gambit - his tumultuous relationship with Rogue was legendary. Why did he - an acknowledged flirt - pine so obviously over a woman it seemed he could never have, could never touch? To come so close, time and time again, only to have her drive him away, to deny him. Did that make him a masochistic fool? Suicidal? Or just a man hopelessly in love? And now the woman he loved had another man's thoughts and mind inside her, locked with her in an intimacy that he could never hope to achieve.

"I'm sorry, Remy," Jean said softly, ashamed of herself. None of them could afford to indulge her self-pity any longer. It was high time she shaped up and began to deal with this situation. "I know its just as terrible for them. It's just. . ."

"Dat you feel so helpless, so angry. When da one you love is taken from you so strange an' sudden-like," the young man said, a shock of red-brown hair falling across one eye as his head lowered slightly. She was surprised. He'd taken this horrible mess in such seeming stride that she'd been unwilling, wrapped up in her own emotions, to fully acknowledge the pain and fear he must be feeling as well. "I know all dat, Jeanne. But I gotta hope, somehow, wit' all da craziness we been through - the aliens, the pan-dimensional beings, the scientific maniacs - dat one o' dem might give us da answer we need t' save dem both. Or why else we X-Men, hehn? Don't we come back from da dead once a night an' twice on Sundays?"

The last joke was weak, but she made herself smile at it. "Yeah, we do, don't we?"

"Jean? Are you okay?" Rogue's voice, filled with Scott's concern came to them over the intercom. She felt his steady, reassuring presence through their link as well.

"Yes, I'm okay, Scott," she said. "Back with the program and ready to go, my love." Remy lifted the corner of his mouth in a tiny smile. It was the first time he'd heard her refer to the Rogue amalgam that way.

Hank looked up from his readings, puzzled confusion on his face. "To my shamed dismay, I must confess I'm overwhelmed. Too many things occurring simultaneously inside our Southern Belle," he said with a shake of his head. "It's a virtual impossibility to decipher exactly which is Rogue's power, which the Kree signature, what is Scott's power and what may be spillage from Scott and Jean's psi-link."

"What you need, Henri?" Gambit asked, a resigned expression on his face.

"To record Rogue's mutant power in process," Hank said apologetically, glancing up at Gambit over his half-glasses. Jean gasped.

"So you need her t' touch someone," Remy said, red eyes gleaming. Then he straightened up and looked out into the Danger Room. "Hear dat, chère?"

"Ah heard him, Remy," she said solemnly. "Sounds mighty dangerous right 'bout now."

"Vraiment," he said under his breath. Then louder, "I'm coming down, chère."

"Remy, no!" she cried, her red eyes wide with concern.

"Who else den? We made it t'rough dis before. It'll be okay, chère," he said with flip reassurance, slipping out of the control booth and out to the main door. Hank and Jean watched as Gambit appeared in the Danger Room, walking calmly toward a frowning Rogue.

"Ready, Henri?" Gambit said, not taking his eyes off Rogue's. She shook her head in reluctant admiration as he stopped barely half a step away. Close, as only he would willingly come when so much of her skin was exposed.

"Of course, Gambit," came Beast's calm rejoinder over the intercom.

"Ya got a taste for danger, don't ya, sugah?" Rogue said, lifting her bare hand toward his face, a pained twist of a smile on her face.

"Non, chère," he said softly as her hand slid across his cheek and he felt the familiar tug at his mind. "Jus' for you. . ." He crumpled as her mutant power drained him. She caught him before he could hit the floor, lowering him carefully down, brushing his unruly hair back tenderly from his face before turning her attention to the chaos inside her.

* * * * *

"Y' have brown eyes!" Remy blurted out to the passenger in her mind, his mental self strengthened by this latest contact into a full manifestation. As always, he appeared in complete thief regalia; the strangely sleek magenta and black armored suit without the duster that she recognized from New Orleans. His red eyes gleamed as he stared in shock at Scott.

Scott frowned back at Remy, looking his psychic manifestation over in surprise. He'd never seen Remy in thief garb. From a short distance away, Rogue watched the two of them warily, unwilling to hurt this image of Remy, but not wanting trouble. She knew Scott's manifestation was the more important of the two. He had nowhere else to go. While Remy would fade again. Since the two of them got along only passably in reality, inside her head she didn't need a brawl. She would be forced to defend Scott if anything went wrong.

"Since the day I was born," Scott replied finally. Mind-Remy gave him a wolfish, dangerous smile.

"Behaving y'self like I asked, Cyke?" he said, red eyes narrowed.

"Of course," Scott said, glancing briefly down at the glowing link that emerged from his chest. "Rogue has no complaints." With a satisfied nod, Remy looked around until he found the silently watching Rogue, then walked up to her. He held out his bare hand to her. She smiled weakly at him.

"Ya know better, sugah," she scolded him gently, shaking her head. Scott frowned at Remy's back, taking a warning step forward. She waved him back.

"Not a good idea, Gambit," Scott said, his tone hostile. Remy ignored him, his red-on-black gaze locked with her green one. Scott's unease deepened. Remy smiled wickedly at her as the gloves on his mental hands became solid, all the fingers now present.

"It's a shield, chère," he said with determination, moving closer but not touching her. Not yet. Behind them, she could see Scott turn reluctantly away, giving them what little privacy he could in her now-crowded mind. Dimly, she felt her body stagger, a muted impact on her knees and palms as she landed on them on the hard Danger Room floor, then a surge of love/fear/worry/love through the link with Jean. Remy's eyes widened in shock and his head swiveled around, searching for the source of those overwhelming emotions.

"Dat Jeanne?" he said. Rogue nodded. Remy whistled, his expression awed. "No wonder. Tres incroyable."

"Isn't it though?" He felt the envy that filled her response and frowned as he took her hand in his, drawing it up to his lips and pressing a kiss to the center of her palm. She gasped, feeling a shock as his mental self started to merge with her. An overwhelming sense of need/love/regret filled her. She pulled her hand away sharply.

"Remy - we don't have time for this!" she gasped, glaring at him through her white forelock. "Wait by the river!" But this presence wasn't the faded shade she was used to dealing with - this was Remy's full personality fueled by his unconscious psyche. He just shook his head at her.

"Dere more of me left in y' head dan you told me, eh, chère? Used t' ordering me 'round, hehn?" His face was thoughtful and still. Her heart pounded in her chest, fear and uncertainty filling her. This new version of Remy was daunting; apparently a great deal of his former dark despair had burned away in the fire and aftermath of the trial.

"Remy," she said warningly, moving away from him another step. "Ah'm serious. Ah want ta know if Hank's found anythin' useful. Okay?" He followed her retreat, pushing her further back into the depths of her own mind.

"Non, chère, let Cyke do da asking for now. We need t' talk."

* * * * *

After touching Gambit and lowering his limp body to the floor, Rogue had staggered to her feet, her eyes wide. Then she'd swayed and fallen hard on her hands and knees, shaking her head. "Hank!" Jean cried, simultaneously reaching through her link to Scott, only partially relieved to find him strong and steady, if distracted, on the other end of the link. The rest of Rogue's mind was in chaos. "What's the matter with them?"

"Hmmm?" Hank replied absently, engrossed in the new data scrolling rapidly before him. She frowned, staring anxiously at Rogue where she remained on her hands and knees in the middle of the Danger Room. Then the Southerner looked up, a grim smile on her face as she glanced at the unconscious Gambit beside her.

"That's something I could have lived the rest of my life quite happily without experiencing," she said, shaking her head and climbing to her feet. "It's all right, Jean. Rogue's, ah, dealing with Gambit. Does Hank have anything good from this?"

"I don't know yet, Scott," she replied, relieved enough to smile back at him. "He's making those humming noises he makes when he's being a smug know-it-all."

"I heard that Jean. Was that a joke?" Hank said, not turning his attention away from the analysis running before him. His big hands fairly flew over the control panel, making adjustments, verifying readings, running data.

"Not a good one," Jean said, putting her hand on his huge furry shoulder. "Anything?"

"Actually, a great deal," he said, his voice a distracted rumble. "And absolutely fascinating, all of it. Oh, I've isolated Rogue's power now, and am now working on separating the Kree from the rest. Interesting." Here he leaned closer to the displays, trailing a huge clawed fingertip over the readouts. "That must be Gambit. Scott, is he waking up yet?" Rogue knelt down beside the still form of their teammate, peering at his face.

"No, not yet. . . oh, wait, yes, he's stirring."

"'Ello, chère," Gambit said huskily. Then he reached up and trailed his gloved fingers over Rogue's cheek. Scott-as-Rogue flinched back, almost falling onto her butt. Gambit gave a rueful smile. "Sorry, Cyke. Remy forgot."

"Uh, that's okay, Gambit." Rogue flushed slightly. Gambit sat up, letting his hands dangle over his knees as he watched Rogue steadily. She looked back at him curiously, Scott still in charge, a faintly puzzled expression on her face. Where was Rogue? Scott wondered suddenly.

"Get what y' need, Henri?" Remy asked quietly.

"Absolutely! Thank you most kindly, Mr. LeBeau. This is unprecedented, precious, matchless data!" Hank was fairly bursting with excitement, his enthusiasm lifting everyone's spirits. If Henry McCoy was this elated, a solution couldn't be far away. Beside him, Jean breathed a sigh of relief.

"Glad t' be of service, M'seu le Bete," Gambit said with a grin, holding his gloved hand out to Rogue, who helped him to his feet with a tentative smile, Jean's hope radiating down the link. "Should have an answer for us den before supper, hehn?"

"One can only hope, my fine Cajun friend," Hank said fervently. "One can only hope."

Part Three: Blood

Rogue stood in the center of the Danger Room, clad once again in an enveloping blue bodysuit, seething with frustration. Eight hours had passed and she was back in control of her own body, Scott reduced once again to merely a mental passenger. Hank's full analysis and findings had had to wait.

"It is dangerous to bring you along, Rogue, Scott," Storm had said as the rest of the team hastily prepared to depart for a mission. An alarm had come in - another of the strange new Sentinel-like robots that had caused their current predicament was harassing a subway train in New York City. There were numerous civilians and undoubtedly a few mutants at risk. "If Rogue were to absorb someone hostile," - there Storm's gaze had flickered briefly to Gambit - "it could endanger both of you beyond any hope of recovery."

They understood the need to stay behind, but it galled both of them. Rogue was a fighter. Scott a leader. And this was the same foe who had defeated them before. They were both itching for a rematch. Jean had elected to remain behind with them, as Hank had been reluctant to leave Scott's body without someone to monitor it despite the sophistication of the Shi'ar machines that kept his body alive. Jean had willingly agreed to take on the chore. Gambit had trailed gloved fingers lightly over Rogue's cheek again, a devilish smile on his face as he glanced between Jean and Rogue.

"Play nice, y' two," he'd said, eyes twinkling mischievously. Jean had rolled her eyes at him in exasperation. "We'll be back soon's we settle wit' dis trifle."

"These Sentinels are hardly 'trifles', Remy," Rogue had said sternly, both she and Scott united in the scolding reply. "Be careful, ya swamp rat."

"Mais oui, chère," he'd said with a careless wave as he followed Storm and the others to the hanger, her heart following him. He didn't know of course. The transfer was one-way. He had no idea what he'd said to her in her mind. Not the exact words, anyway. But the thoughts, the feelings, the emotions of that encounter had all come from him. She shivered in place; fear, frustration and longing tearing at her heart.

"Computer," she snapped. "Run Alpha-level simulation Rogue-5."

"Warning: monitoring required for Alpha-level simulations." "Override safety interlocks: gamma-three-epsilon-one-delta!" she snarled, her hands fisting impatiently at her sides. She wanted to break something. "Engage program!"

"Safety override code acknowledged. Simulation begins." The room darkened and shimmered, the complex Shi'ar systems creating a nightmarish world of flickering light, ominous technology and the stench of death around her seemingly out of nothingness. A world Remy was intimately familiar with. These were images that still haunted him. She shivered involuntarily. "Greetings, my dear," a chillingly familiar voice said out of the darkness. "Shall we begin?" Inside her, the psyche of Scott Summers blanched in shock.

"Rogue, alone against Sinister? At Alpha level? He could kill you - kill us!" he said to her, struggling against her control. She let a feral smile curl her lips, her mental grasp firm on her body's responses. She had something to prove here. To herself.

"Ah don't think so, Cyke," she said grimly in her own mind. "Ah've got a secret weapon. You." Then, with a thought, lethal beams of red force shot from her eyes, spearing across the room to strike the ominous shape standing in the shadows. The Sinister simulation roared in rage and pain, then teleported elsewhere in the room. She smiled in cold satisfaction, leaping into the air. The hunt was on.

"Rogue!" Scott yelled in her mind as she launched them at Sinister. "Don't fly straight at him, he's expecting that. He'll just blast you." As if on cue, the Sinister sim raised his hand toward them, unleashing a devastating blast of bio-energy, a sneer on his cold face.

"Ah got news for ya, sugah - Ah'm practically invulnerable," she replied dryly, flying defiantly into the teeth of the blast.

"I am aware of that," Scott said, wincing at the strength of the explosion that blew their combined body across the room. It was unnerving - intellectually, he knew the force of that blast would have killed him, but in Rogue's body it felt like being caught in a brief sandstorm; harsh, abrasive, but not overly painful. Much like the blunt force of the explosion acting on them to propel them across the room into a concrete pillar; more of an irritation than true pain. "But he also expects that - and uses it to delay you and prepare his own offenses in the time it takes you to recover."

"So, what do ya recommend, Scott?" she asked, considering his words even as she climbed out of the pile of rubble, fists and teeth clenched as she prepared to launch herself at the Sinister sim again.

"Distract him as well," he said, looking toward the other pillars holding up what appeared to be one of Sinister's typical subterranean cavern complexes. She grinned.

"Not bad, sugah," she said, easily hefting a chunk of concrete nearly as large as she was. She heaved it toward the sim, first distraction, then flew at lightning speed around the room, plowing through three more support pillars in rapid succession. The roof above began to groan and crumble. Second distraction. The sim of Sinister cast a startled gaze above himself, and they took the opportunity to spear him with an optic blast, splashing the villain's malleable form open. Rogue laughed out loud, a harsh sound, and flew toward the staggered sim, arms extended, fists clenched, to give the coup de grace. But her gloves had been torn by breaking concrete, and on impact - as it was an Alpha-level simulation - a flood of psychic bio-feedback, designed by the Danger Room to simulate her mutant power, staggered them both. Rogue screamed, unprepared for the assault on her mind. Scott threw up their arms automatically, though it was a mental rather than a physical attack. They burst through the sim, dissipating it temporarily.

"Computer! Cancel program!" Scott shouted out loud to the Room, reeling from the turmoil in their shared mind. Random energy and psychic manifestations swirled within them - he looked inward at the normally tranquil plane of Rogue's mind, seeing the upheaval as towering pillars of black rock piercing the grassy plain. Rogue's manifestation was crumpled near the base of one, as if it had erupted beneath her, stunning her. He glared at the spikey tower - and for the first time his own mutant power manifested in this place. Red beams lashed out and he blasted the tower to rubble without hesitation. To his shock, the remaining pillars instantly subsided, returning her mental plane to it's usual placid, grassy state. Except for the crumpled form of Rogue. He moved quickly to her side, crouching beside her.

"Rogue! Are you okay?" he called, concerned by her stillness. She had warned him about touching her in this place, but he nearly reached for her anyway. She moaned, finally, rolling over and bracing herself on her hands, head hanging between her shoulders. He leaned back, keeping close, but giving her space.

"A truck? Asteroid M? The Hulk? What was that?" she mumbled blearily.

"Just the Danger Room, I'm afraid," Scott said with relief. She seemed okay. "Alpha-sims have psi-feedback."

"Sorry, Scott. Seems Ah forgot 'bout that. An' it got the drop on me," she said with a disgusted hiss as she looked up at him ruefully through her tumbled white-and-brown hair. Puzzlement transformed her expression. "Now why are ya wearin' your visor 'gain, sugah?"

"I am?" he asked, reaching for his own face curiously. Feeling the familiar shape over his eyes, though it didn't interfere with his vision as he was used to. "Well, so I am." He shrugged. "I used my optic beams to settle things down in here."

Rogue stared at him in surprise for a moment, then rolled over to sit down, arms wrapped around her knees. The stunned look had swiftly faded. She looked fit and fine, now.

"Well, Ah doubt that, sugah," she said thoughtfully. "But ya certainly did somethin' to stop that mess."

He watched her with equal thoughtfullness.

"Symbolically, the visor is control," he said quietly. "But you don't have any problem controlling my optic blasts - so it's not a natural function of my mutant power. It should turn off when I want it to, but it's stuck on due to physical damage sustained when I was a kid. However, I've had years to work with my power, to refine it. What if my control can extend to your mutant power? It most likely comes from the same portion of the brain . . . . damn it, where's Hank when we need him?"

Rogue was obviously taken aback, her mental manifestation staring at him with wide eyes and frightened face. She surged to her feet, hands fisting at her sides. He rose to his own feet, stepping back a cautious pace. She just stared at him, the field of grass rippling away uneasily behind her, like the ocean before a storm.

"Whoa, now, Cyke. Are ya sayin' ya think Ah can control mah powers with your help?"

"Yes," he said simply. "I think I can teach you how to switch it on and off."

"Well, hell, sugah," she breathed. "Let's get started."

* * * * *

Jean knew it was Rogue's time in charge - Scott had explained the rotation to her earlier. And the amalgam had been in the Danger Room ever since the team departed for the city several hours earlier. The link was subdued between them. Scott was concentrating heavily, thereby blocking much of it.

She had been dividing her time between the monitor room and the medical bay, keeping watch on her husband's body as well as the progress of her teammates and friends.

Hank had called briefly to tell her that they'd discovered a lead about the new robot threat and were going to follow it up. The team would be gone longer than they'd first thought, but hopefully not too much longer. And could she run just a few more tests for him in the lab. . .

* * * * *

Jean stood inside the doorway, pausing uncertainly. She had been drawn away from Henry's experiments by a quiet mind call from her husband. Rogue was standing at the window of her bedroom, dressed in a long silk robe, staring down through the open curtains at the night-shrouded grounds outside. Her gloved hands were folded behind her back in a pose so reminiscent of Scott that she did a brief double-take. It was eerie how the young Southern woman seemed to almost physically resemble her tall, lean husband when his psyche had charge of their shared body. Or perhaps it was simply her own wishful thinking, imbuing the other woman's form with the psychic print of her husband to make the ordeal more bearable. A daunting thought. It was almost as if Rogue was ceasing to exist for her; there was only Scott.

"Scott?" she called softly. Rogue turned around, a tender smile on her face.

"Jean," he said, holding out a hand to her, his love and welcome pulsing warmly along the psi-link. For an instant she seemed to feel a strange echo on the link, but disregarded it as she returned his smile.

"What's the matter, honey? I shouldn't leave the medical bay for too long," she asked, with concern, crossing Rogue's darkened bedroom to take his hand. "And isn't this part of Rogue's time in charge?" He nodded once as he squeezed her hand with exquisite care, conscious of Rogue's enhanced strength. Details. Scott was a master of details.

"Nothing's the matter, Redd," he said, raising his other hand to cup her cheek. The red eyes staring into hers were alive with love and mischief. She found herself smiling back with silly abandon. He was so seldom whimsical and it was so refreshing to be able to see the emotion in his eyes and not just feel it in his mind. "I wanted to spend some time with you, is all. It's been hard to relax during this whole mess. Rogue agreed." His hand trailed lightly down her chin, a slender, gloved thumb brushing across her lips as red eyes stared at them.

"I can't tell you how much I want to kiss you, honey," he said, his tone tight with regret. She felt his frustration and desire rage like fire along their link and moaned in response, her heart pounding in her chest. They belonged together. It wasn't fair that they'd been forced apart like this after all they'd endured.

"I think you just did," she said with a soft moan. "But we don't dare. Rogue's powers aren't under control, and -," her voice caught as the knowing thumb slowly outlined her lips sending tingles of desire through her body, " - it's not fair to Rogue."

He smiled tightly, the mischief returning. "What if I told you she's given us her blessing?" he said softly. Jean's eyes widened in surprise as she felt the truth of his words through their link.

"I - I don't know," she gasped as he leaned closer, his breath now warm on her cheek.

"We've been working together, on each other's powers," he continued quietly, the red eyes flaming. "There's something I'd like to try, sweetheart, if you'll agree."

"Scott. . ." she moaned, her green gaze searching his. She was so used to either the visor or ruby quartz glasses concealing his eyes and his expressions from her that she relied heavily on their psi-link to read his intent. And he was sending her such reassurance, such love, such desire over that same link that she nodded almost helplessly. This was Scott, her husband, her soul-mate. The form didn't matter.

The red eyes gleamed with gratitude, the face around them showing relief. The hand tormenting her lips fell away. He drew her closer, slipping an arm around her and pressing their bodies together. Jean stared into the eyes on the same level with her own, entranced. Then he leaned toward her, watching her the while. She couldn't look away, fascinated by his eyes. The eyes she'd never truly seen before. His eyes in Rogue's face.

"Trust me," he breathed. She nodded.

Soft lips brushed hers, easy at first, then firming. Shaping her mouth, demanding her surrender. She moaned in her throat, lips parting to allow a knowing, clever tongue inside. The kiss was oddly disturbing; familiar in form, but wrong in taste and texture. Scott's knowledge and skill, combined with Rogue's mouth. She stiffened, shock and dismay racing through her. Rogue's mouth!

She tore herself away with a gasp, staring with wide, startled eyes into the red eyes so close to hers. "Nothing happened!" she cried, astonished. "How? What did you do?"

He smiled gently at her, pleased. "Alpha level sims have bio-feedback," he said. "Rogue ran a custom sim with Sinister." Jean's eyes widened in alarm. That was a highly dangerous simulation to run - it had been known to put the full team on the defensive. "And she touched him."

"She touched the Sinister sim?" Jean gaped.

"It was an accident, actually," he said with a sheepishly pleased smile. "One I was able to control. And after Gambit, I had a good feeling for how her power works. It gave me some ideas, but we needed to test on something other than a sim. Apparently, it worked."

"That was risky," she said with an astonished smile, simultaneously torn between exasperation and wonder. He smiled back at her, drawing her close again. She snuggled into his arms, laying her head on his shoulder. She felt gentle lips at her cheek, a soft whisper in her mind and in her ear, "Some things are just worth the risk, my love."

* * * * *

The feelings were overwhelming. Love. Desire. Need. Comfort. Scott's link with Jean tormented her. Not because they were emotions she hadn't experienced before, but because they were fulfilled. Jean and Scott shared the certainty of their love, able to do so both through their bond and their bodies. The lure of it was so tantalizingly clear and strong, the link so seductive, that she'd subtly pushed them together, fanning their desire until it overcame their sensibilities and reservations.

Then he kissed Jean. Used her body to kiss Jean. His idea had worked. Her power was controlled. And her heart shuddered. It felt so good, so normal, so right to finally be able to kiss another without fear. And their desire spiraled out to include her.

It fanned her own feelings, bringing insight and understanding. She loved Remy just as much as Scott loved Jean. There was no clearer yardstick to use. But under it all, she could see now through the filter of Scott's perceptions, she was still afraid. Afraid of love. Afraid of herself. Afraid of failure.

When she'd touched Remy earlier, for Hank's experiment, he'd confronted her directly, leaving Scott far behind.

"Let me in, chère," he'd said, driving her back to the illusory safety of her mental riverbank. But there was no safe, comfortingly familiar Mind-Remy waiting for her there. Instead, he had changed and become the one pursuing her. Filled with a fresh infusion of Remy LeBeau's surprisingly iron will; no longer the compliant, guilt-ridden, memory-bound companion of her daydreams but a vengeful, demanding force.

"Let me in, chère," he'd repeated, finally cornering her and pinning her against the gnarled trunk of the willow. "If you don't we both regret it forever." Insects whined around her, biting painfully at her psychic flesh, fears and doubts made manifest. Inside she wasn't invulnerable. Far from it. And he'd been relentless.

"Not both of us - ya'll never know!" she had snapped back, defensive and frightened, but his red-on-black gaze had bored into hers, fierce and demanding. "This don't work both ways!"

"T'ink so?" he'd said and her heart had sunk. "No use running, mon coeur," he'd added, his harsh expression softening. "Y' can't get rid of me 'til I wake up - an' dats a few minutes away. I got time enough for dis."

Then he'd leaned down and kissed her, and with that symbolic contact, his self merged with hers.

Raw emotion had flooded her, his emotions fresh from his heart; frustration, love, jealousy, underlain by longing, fear, pain. Frustration: he had ideas for loving her, for touching her, ways to work around her power. But she rebuffed his every attempt - terrified of the possibility of failure. Love: his love for her filled her, pure and piercing, like the link between Jean and Scott. Jealousy: Scott Summers had access to the heart and soul of his lady-love, leaving him out in the cold. Longing: he had wanted her for so long, needed her to love him as he loved her. Fear: what if Scott could never be separated from her again? Pain: she was suffering and there was nothing, nothing he could do to stop it.

His shade had finally pulled away, leaving her mental self reeling. "Y' want what dey have, chère," he'd said. "But y' afraid of it at da same time. Y' gotta take da risk, chère. I love you. You love me. Jus' like dey do. Give us a chance, chère."

Then he'd awakened there on the Danger Room floor and the fierce determination had faded from his shade. She'd banished it, no longer able to take comfort in that mental presence. It had been a crutch, she now realized, a pale shadow of the reality of Remy that had grown familiar and safe. No longer.

She'd sat by her mental riverbank, huddled under the willow and contemplated herself. She wasn't used to thinking of herself as a coward. A force of destruction, a danger to others, maybe, but not a coward. The idea had galled her, made her angry. But there was no focus for the anger other than herself. She was a coward.

In Seattle, she'd turned away from Remy when he'd offered this, offered himself, too afraid to even consider what it might cost him, a man recently awakened from a three-week coma that she had put him into with her impulsive desire. A kiss before dying. He'd been willing to take the risk again, despite the fear she'd seen deep in his eyes. At the time she'd thought him only afraid of the truth being revealed, and that had been part of it, but his deepest fear had been that she'd turn away, that she'd reject him without ever giving him another chance. And that she had done, for a while, shattering him. But he'd endured. Survived. And was stronger for it.

The true miracle of it all was that he still loved her. Despite everything. The way Scott loved Jean.

"Remy," she moaned inside, lost in her memories, lost in sensation, lost in desire.

* * * * *

"Remy," Rogue whispered against her lips. Jean stiffened and pulled away, her eyes flashing open, the mood disrupted.

"Scott?" she asked tentatively. The red eyes opened and looked lazily into hers, she felt his presence strong and loving through the link, no sign of Rogue.

"Jean, honey," he said huskily, a hand brushing her cheek, her hair. She sighed, relaxing back against him, not even feeling the shape of the other woman against her, feeling only her memory of Scott's strong body, his arms enfolding her. He leaned toward her again, lips skimming over hers in a teasing caress, breath mingling. She smiled, melting against him again.

"Love you," he said against her mouth. She wrapped her arms around him, tangling her hands in long hair obliviously, stroking it away from his face, staring into those red, red eyes. She felt his hands working at her shirt, slipping the buttons, baring her to his touch. His mouth feathered over the side of her breast as his hands unerringly found the hook of her bra in front, freeing her to his exploration. She sighed in pleasure as his mouth captured a nipple, drawing it deep into his mouth and sending pulses of need through her.

"I love you, too, Scott," she breathed as he rolled her under him on the bed, hearts beating as one, minds linked. Together again.

* * * * *

"Fils de la putain!" The harsh French words broke them apart, Jean gasping, Rogue rearing up in surprise to look over at the opened door. There was a blur of motion, then Gambit's gloved hand caught Rogue's silk-covered shoulder and wrenched her away from the other woman. He was half out of uniform, having shed his duster, breastplate and cowl, but was still wearing the dark tunic, leggings and boots. The team had obviously returned from their mission.

"Connard!" he yelled, drawing back his fist and plowing it into Rogue's face. She yelped, falling backwards onto the floor, her hair flying wildly, blood flashing in the dim lamplight. Gambit stood over her crumpled form, his red-on-black eyes blazing down at her. "C'est vous, Cyclops! Rogue, she never forgive dis! Jamais!"

Rogue looked up at him in sick horror, her eyes blazing with power. But no red beams emerged. A trembling, astonished hand wiped the thin trickle of blood away from her mouth. Gambit glared down at her, vengeful and unafraid, teeth gritted, hands fisted.

"Summers, if y' ever get back in y'r own body," he growled savagely. "I'll kill you - bastard!"

"Remy, it's not his fault!" Rogue gasped, looking up at him with shimmering red eyes. "Ah know it's hard ta understand, sugah, but Ah did this."

"Pour quoi?"

"For them, sugah," she sobbed, staring at him with pleading gaze. "They love each other so much, Remy. So very much. And Ah wanted ta feel it too, just once. Oh, Gawd! What did Ah do ta them? Ah'm a monster! It's not fair. . ." She buried her face in her own hands, her shoulders shaking with sobs. Jean sat stiffly on the bed beyond them, holding her unbuttoned shirt closed over her chest, her face pale with shock, blinking as if waking from a dream. Remy glanced at her briefly, his furious glare now tinged with his own shock and confusion.

"I'm sorry, Remy," Jean said softly, her breath hitching in her throat, her green eyes swimming with concern and shame. "The link. . . things just . . . got out of hand."

"Sapriste!" he snapped, anger flaring again at her words. "Out of hand? Whose idea was dis anyway?"

"Mine, Remy," Rogue sniffled. "All mine. Ah wanted ta let them have some time together again." Remy stared down at her in amazement, then realized that she was practically bare, the silken robe having fallen free of her shoulders when she fell. He gaped at her, but not simply because of her nudity - stunning as it was - but because she'd been mostly naked and pressed against Jean. Skin to skin.

"Chère," he said carefully, feeling as if he was walking a thin edge over a deep abyss, his fragile heart in his hands. "Y' ain' wearing a collar. How're y' touching her?"

"That part was my doing, I'm afraid, Gambit," Rogue said, her voice calming into Scott's controlled tones. Remy's glare intensified. Rogue climbed slowly to her feet, ignoring her dishabille and him. She took the few steps back to the bed and took Jean's bare hand in her own, sinking down beside her. Jean smiled tremulously at her. Scott/Rogue favored Gambit with a narrow stare, an ironic smile on her full lips. "Actually, we worked it out together in the Danger Room - I just showed her how to find the right switch."

Gambit's eyes widened comically. He blinked several times in rapid succession, then glanced at Jean. She nodded, confirming what her husband had said. Then Remy LeBeau collapsed where he stood, sinking to his knees in stunned disbelief.

"Dis true, chère?" he asked hoarsely, his red-on-black gaze locked with Rogue's red-on-white. Her head nodded solemnly. He shook his head sharply once. "Say it, mon coeur, so I know it's you."

"Yes, it's true, Remy," Rogue said with breathless intensity. "Scott helped me control mah powers."

"Dieu." His voice was little more than a weak croak. Then he lunged forward, catching Rogue in his arms and kissing her with all his heart, all his soul. For an instant, she was rigid in his grasp, struggling with both the other personality in her head and with the fear that only Scott could maintain control. But then, as no transfer occurred, her arms went around him too, returning his embrace with all the longing and love in her own heart. Jean gasped, feeling the echo of Rogue's relief, her passion, her cautious joy down the link she shared with her husband. She shifted nervously beside them, breaking Remy's attention away briefly.

"Pardonnez nous, Jeanne," he whispered huskily, a charming smile on his face. "Prior claim, mon amie." Jean smiled at him weakly, faintly embarrassed, and moved back further across Rogue's bed to give them more room. Remy obligingly used it, pressing Rogue back on the bed, draping his lanky form over her trembling body.

"Damn it, Gambit!" Rogue said sharply, stiffening in his arms, her head turning to watch Jean's retreat. He held on to her tightly, catching her chin to turn her face back toward him. Remy smiled at her, a sharp, feral smile. "Go 'way, Scott. Dis is 'tween me an' ma chèrie. I thank y' later, mon ami."

Then he leaned down and kissed her again. Long and breathlessly. Attempting to redeem years of frustration and denial, pain and love with the eager pressure of mouth on mouth. Her arms wrapped around him, holding him desperately close. He pulled back finally, to let them both breathe, and frowned to see tears streaming down her face.

"'S'matter, chère?" he asked gently, even though he had a good idea what had caused her tears, framing her face with his hands and tenderly wiping the tears away with his thumbs. She smiled weakly up at him, her hands rising to touch his face with wonder.

"It's just like Ah always dreamed," she said softly, her red eyes sparkling. Red that should be green. A constant reminder.

"Not quite, chère," he said with a small, rueful smile. "We didn' count on guests." Her gaze flicked to the side where Jean was lying quiet, trying not to disturb them, her face pale, her eyes closed. Shielding her thoughts, blocking them out for privacy. Remy never looked away from Rogue's face.

"They both gonna stay for now," he said softly and without hesitation. Jean's eyes snapped open at his words and she felt Scott's answering disbelief down the link. Rogue gave a short laugh of real amusement at her alarmed expression, at Scott's automatic outrage. She shook her head and rolled her eyes.

"Naht like that, sugah," she said reassuringly, blushing slightly as she reached out to Jean and took the other woman's hand. "Just ta be together, here, all in a pile or somethin'. Jus' bein'. Remy an' me can wait."

"Rogue, I'm sorry . . ." Jean began, but Rogue just shook her head, squeezing her hand lightly, tugging her closer. Jean slid over reluctantly, shooting Gambit an apoligetic and slightly wary look. He just smiled and made room for her beside them, slipping easily over to Rogue's other side, his gaze seldom straying from Rogue's face. Jean sat beside her, looking down at the other woman with a nearly maternal look on her face; sad, resigned and wise.

"Now don't worry, Jean," Rogue continued softly. "This is an odd situation Ah've gotten us all inta here, but now Ah just can't regret it. Yer husband helped me get mah heart's desire." She turned and gave Remy a blinding smile before meeting Jean's gaze earnestly again. "Ah owe ya both so much Ah can neva repay ya. The least Ah can do is let ya sorta be together."

"Thank you," Jean said solemnly as she squeezed Rogue's hand in return, feeling Scott's humble shame and weary sympathy through their link. "This should really be your time right now. You've both waited so long."

"We're good at that part, sugah," Rogue said with another blinding smile for Remy. "We can wait a little longer."

"Vraiment," Remy said gently, meeting Jean's gaze with patient understanding. "'Til ever'one get safely t' where dey belong."

With a last reach for Scott, and his added reassurance, Jean settled down on Rogue's shoulder, her hand curled over the other woman's bare stomach. Across from her, Remy did the same. And no one protested when Remy tugged off his gloves and laid his hand over Jean's linking all of them together by simple touch.

* * * * *

They had wanted to do this alone. Despite the concern and worry of their friends and loved ones, both had felt the need for solitude. In the dark and alone, as the accident itself had occurred. It seemed fitting.

Slipping away from Remy and Jean had been the hard part. Leaving the bedroom without waking a master thief or a telepath was a difficult proposition. Somehow, together, they managed it. Over the last few days, Scott had been amazingly patient with her fears, her worries, but she could sense his growing impatience and need to return to his own body before it was too late. Especially since yesterday and their fifth successful run on Alpha sims in the Danger Room. Hank had been cautiously optimistic, but whether that success actually meant what they believed it meant was another matter entirely. He'd scheduled them for more sessions the next day, promising full analysis of the days results as well, asking them to wait a little longer despite his deep concerns over Scott's suddenly failing body.

Neither of them had felt it necessary to wait. They knew what to do.

Rogue stood now in the medical bay, her heart pounding in her chest, staring down at the life support machines. At Scott. To open the case would set off alarms; alarms that would bring Hank - and Jean and Remy - on the run. Opening the case would also distrupt the life support field. But to touch him, she'd have to open the case. All of it could cause his weakening body to go into shock - even die - if the transferrence didn't work as they'd figured. And maybe even if it did work.

"Are ya sure about this, Scott?" she said in her own head, biting her lip as she set her hand on the latch. Her hands were already free of gloves. She hadn't worn them in the three days since they'd first perfected her control. She felt strangely incomplete without them, almost wicked. Freedom with only the lingering remnants of habit to dull it. But Scott had shown her the way. It was like a switch. She now had total control over her absorption power. On and off. Able to touch and kiss Remy now at will, something that still embarassed Scott to no end. She let a brief smile cross her lips. Almost as much as it embarassed her, now, when she let him kiss Jean. They had settled into an uneasy alliance of sharing, the four of them.

It was the other part of Scott's work on her powers that she was still a little uncertain about. An aspect of her mutant ability neither she nor anyone else had ever considered even as a fantastic possibility before the accident had happened. But Scott and Hank now thought it possible to reverse the effect. To put back what she had stolen, however inadvertantly. For a moment she felt a pang, knowing that soon she'd be alone in her mind again. One way or another. She shielded the grim thought from him desperately.

"In theory," he said dryly, then responding to her question with a boyish, encouraging smile. "Actually, yes. I'm quite sure."

She shook her head ruefully, hiding her concern over his bravado. The truth was they were out of time. His body was dying. "Shouldn't tease right now, sugah," she said. "Ah'm the one in control here."

"Sorry," he said, letting his smile fade, but not the strength and trust behind it. "I'll be good. Ready?"

"Ah'm ready as Ah'll ever be," she said with a shiver, staring at him through strange dual perceptions; at his still, pale form inside the Shi'ar machine and his tall, straight figure on the psychic plane. He smiled at her encouragingly, his brown eyes conveying warmth, trust and confidence. She smiled weakly back. Hoping against hope that they weren't making a horrible mistake.

"Point 'o no return, sugah," she said, taking a deep breath and using her strength to jerk open the case against the sealing controls. Immediately alarms shrilled, echoing through the room, lights shifting to a warning red, a puff of highly oxygenated air in her face making her briefly giddy as it escaped from the case. Then she leaned over and placed both her hands on his cool, slack face.

"Go!" she cried out loud and in her mind, activating her mutant power and pushing out, pushing Scott out, with all her will. He had turned away, eagerly, lifting his visor to cover his eyes again, looking out to face the darkness at the edge of her mind. Then receeding from her inner view, disappearing into the black that was nothingness beyond the edge of her mind. He went gladly, trusting her, and trusting the work they had done together. Her heart thundered with fear. She couldn't let him down. Her power was no longer her enemy, and now his only salvation.

She held the path open, letting him go, hopefully, back where he belonged. Sending him strength to keep his body alive, his mind sustained until he could settle himself, become himself again, learn to live again. She would give him everything, if it would only erase this terrible error. Keep another life from being destroyed by her. Under her hands, his skin warmed. But he did not move or speak. And he was gone from her mind.

She staggered, feeling strangely drained and empty, like something vital was missing. Her vision swam; first the alarms and now familiar voices raised in shouts were ringing oddly in her ears. She felt herself falling, falling away and back into someone's arms, heard a cry of dispair, then nothing, nothing but blackness rushing in to overtake her on the empty, grassy plane of her mind.

* * * * *

A beloved voice, hoarse with strain, was calling her, talking to her. But something was dragging her down, holding her back. She struggled against the blackness, striving to reach that voice, to reassure. There was something she had to say, to do, to know. She fought long and hard, but she was just so tired. She fought on anyway, beyond exhaustion and darkness. There was water, somewhere, she could hear. A river? Not yet. Finally she felt hands tight around one of hers, the weight of something leaning against her shoulder, as if someone, weary beyond belief or crushed by grief had leaned their head against her, desperate for contact.



//Lucy-Mae!// "Gawd, don't call me that!" she said.

"Chère? Henri! She's tryin t' talk!" The weight moved away, her hand was lifted. Lips caressed her knuckles. She tried to squeeze back reassuringly, but felt too weak, too weary, too diminished.

"Easy, my excitable Cajun friend, yes, I see the changes," a deep, soothing voice said. "Now let me see. Yes. Hmmm."

"Don't let that swamp rat get away with anythin', Hank," she whispered, her mouth dry, her throat stiff with disuse. At least that's what she tried to say. About all that came out was a croak that sounded vaguely like "Hank."

"Welcome back to the land of consciousness, m'lady Rogue," Henry McCoy said gently, his voice thick with emotion.

Then there were warm hands on her face, breath against her skin, the faint scent of cedar and cigarettes and salt. She tried to open her eyes, failed. Still too tired.

"Mon amour, y' dere? Rogue?" Remy. Remy with his hands on her skin. Remy with hot tears dripping on her cheeks and a suspicious hitch in his voice.

"Remy, mah love," she croaked. "Did it work?"

"Ah, chère, we was so worried."

"Remy, did it work? Is Scott. . . ." Remy was crying. Fearing the worst, she felt tears leak from her eyes, mingling with his. Why was Remy crying?

"Oui, chère, it worked," he soothed, stroking the hair back from her face, the slow tears from her cheeks. His touch felt like heaven. No gloves or barriers between them. Just his skin on hers. She still had her control. "Cyke's fine. He's . . . more dan fine. Jeanne fine. Now . . . you gonna be fine."

She felt a smile tug at her mouth. She'd done it. She'd saved him.

"Love ya, Remy," she breathed, feeling the darkness rising up around her again.

"Non, chère, don' go," he begged her, his voice harsh again, his hands clutching her face. She felt his mouth on hers, his breath mingling with hers. But it was dark, and now cold, and she was so very, very tired. In the darkness she saw a flare of light, like a distant flame, shaped like a bird. It's voice echoed in the swallowing darkness faintly, barely reaching her.



//Thank you, Rogue, for my husband's life. But you gave too much, honey. You gave him . . . everything you had.//

//Didn't want ta ruin any more lives. He was dying. Ah had ta help him, since Ah hurt him in the first place. An' he helped me so much - let me kiss Remy at last without hurtin' him. Ah'm just glad everythin' turned out fine. Ah'm just so tired now - can Ah go?//

//Rogue, Remy loves you. He's crying for you. Can't you come back for him?//

//Just to sleep, Ah promise. Ah'm so tired. . . an' Ah gotta find the river. . . Remy's waiting for me by the river. . . gotta tell him how much Ah love him. . . //

//No, he's not, Rogue. He's out here with me. Tell him out here. Fight longer, honey! Hank's trying to save you. . .//

//Tell him, by the river. . . //

* * * * *

He sat for hours, holding her body close, his tears tracking across her cold skin. When he finally set her down, he turned to find himself nearly alone, with only Jean and Scott still sitting behind him, hands clasped tightly together, heads bowed in grief. The new white streak in Scott's hair was jarring, as was the lack of glasses covering his red, glowing eyes.

"Dat girl had da biggest heart in da world - her biggest dream was t' be a momma an' have little ones of her own - she neva wanted t' be a soldier in dis war of ours. She loved so big, she even taught dis ol' t'ief how ta love. Do right by her, mon ami," Gambit said, his voice hoarse with grief and loss. "Make her proud."

"Ah will, Remy," Scott vowed.

- - fin - -

Visit my fanfic page: