Little, sad smile now, and I could hear Magneto's voice, impatience straining it, and I reached out, grabbing Scott's sleeve. The platform was almost empty now--Magneto, Mystique, the guards. Kitty and Bobby had already gone down, and that was--good.
"One last thing, Scott," I said softly, and he nodded. "Get off the platform with Polaris. Promise me."
It was instant, suspicion and something dawning on his face that could have been the beginnings of understanding. Good thing I'd left this for last--I knew somewhere in me that if I'd told him everything, he'd never have let me do it. This was the one thing I'd known that he could not accept.
"Promise," I said softly. "The second my hands go down, go. You'll have thirty seconds. That's all the choice you have now."
"It's time," I said softly, turning toward the waiting platform, Magneto standing beside it. Carefully, I stepped up and the posts were ready for my hands. No shackles this time--the one difference, the big one that kept me even, made this more real in some indefinable way.
Magneto stood before me, stripping off his gloves, and I saw Scott's shocked face briefly over Magneto's shoulder. Knowledge, consulting with Jean probably, and they weren't stupid, they were going to figure it out.
They didn't have time to change anything, though.
"Are you ready, Marie?"
A thousand strange thoughts chased themselves through my head--Scott and Jean's wedding only last spring when I'd been a bridesmaid and Bobby and I drank so much champagne that Logan carried us both up to bed. Giggling at home with Jubilee over a porn we'd found in Logan's closet years before. Hating my gloves because they symbolized everything that I was and would ever be--a mutant with the power to kill.
I took a breath and reached inside, felt the other personalities begin to shift--and inner Logan, who always knew me better than I knew myself, moved the second I did, braced warm and hard around me, the strength I needed.
--Thank you.-- I felt his touch, warm and thick and comforting, his tags around my throat and his promise in my mind. He'd help me do this.
"Marie--" Scott said, and it was in his eyes. All of it--shock and suspicion and dawning realization. With a smile, I reached out too fast to be caught and held Magneto's face between my hands, looking into his eyes.
Thirty seconds. Start running.
"It was seven years ago, and her name was Marie," I whispered softly, and his eyes widened as my skin began to pull. "Logan said to look them in the eye when I kill them, so they'll know who and why. Now you know."
"What are you doing?" he whispered, and I smiled a little, thinking that it was really going to hurt when he figured it out. Then the connection snapped like heat between us and jerked my body.
The rush was as hot and fast and addictive as it had always been, and I held on, feeling the pull, feeling him try to push away, his power weak but reflecting off of what he'd already given me, realizing in that second what I was going to do. Gripping closer, I kept hold--dragging him into my mind, letting him rush through the personalities that inhabited my head and heart for so long.
He was building in my mind, in my memories, stronger than any of the others, brilliant and bright and I wondered a little on what he could have been--if there had never been an Auschwitz or a Miami or a meeting in Amsterdam that sealed the fate of the world when Scott made that final deal.
Facing me with blazing grey eyes and the *hate*, and I took it in, tried to absorb around it, but I'd had him in my mind before--and his were the thoughts that had pushed my hands into the posts seven years before.
Not this time. This would be me.
--It's over, all of this--the camps, the hate, the war. I'm doing it, Magneto. I'm changing everything.-- I paused, letting him see what I only knew in theory, letting him see Johnny's room only seven hours before. "We're changing everything."
I felt it happen, like an elastic band snapping in my mind, in his body--the same with Carol that long ago summer day I could never forget, that choked second where the last of his life was jerked free of his body and into mine, and I let him fall from my fingers, my hands dropping to the posts and I smiled--the power ran through me, hot and swelling faster and farther as Magneto's power twisted inside of mine, and the pain was *there*, as the machine drew it out of me inch by agonizing inch....
Jesus. Johnnie. Do it. God, do it.
...like my organs and blood and soul being drawn through my skin all in slow motion and I felt myself scream and didn't even care. There was nothing but pain and dark and the thousands of people that would *not* die today, not for me, not for anyone else.
It was right. I was doing this, and it *was* for the right reasons, all the right reasons, and that was--God, that made it *worth* it. So worth it.
Time stretched and I felt the heat start beneath my feet, heard the sharp gasps of realization, but four point eight seconds wasn't nearly enough time to do anything but *know*.
Looks like the thirty seconds were up. Scott sure as hell had better gotten Polaris off the platform and out of the building.
Hands closed on my face, warm and large and I smiled, because it was Logan--
--and he was forgiving me. And for some reason, that was important, so important now, this moment. He understood why I had to do this. Why I made it true. All of it.
Finish it, Johnny. Christ, do it *now*.
I did believe enough. They needed the symbol and they needed the legend, and they were getting both right the fuck *now*.
Then there was nothing else but the pure darkness that I reached for with all of my soul. I was taking my sixth life--my own--and all that was left was the sheer relief that it was over.
Interlude 5: The Martyr
It was like the end and the beginning, all at once.
A column of pure white heat, brilliant against the night sky, turning the camp bright as day. Visions of screaming people running as each tower became nothing but flame, one after the other.
Frightening, fascinating, utterly beautiful, and Scott was unable to move, even breathe.
Fear like something tangible in the thick, humid night air, but Scott watched without wincing, fascinated despite himself with the pure beauty of it. Scott had seen it in the field far too many times to not recognize the sheer power of wht he was seeing--not the fire itself, but the control that kept the damp grass unscathed, the people safe even as they ran.
Two years ago, St. John had been vegetative, and Jean had held him on the field, earning the name Pyro. Eighteen months ago, they thought he'd never be able to function independently again, locked in that tiny Canadian refuge. Twelve months ago, they'd thought he'd burn himself out.
Now--now everything was different, and Scott tore his eyes away, scanning the perimeter. St. John had been trained and trained well. It was easy to find him, almost invisible through the struggling crowds of running people. Scott didn't understand how he'd missed him--small and inconspicious, but it was all over him, as brilliant and unmistakable as the colums of fire that lit up Salem.
"Scott, what happened?" Polaris' voice was shaking, and Scott gently disengaged her hand from his arm.
"I--" He stopped, taking a breath. "Get everyone back here. Call everyone out. Now."
A quick glance, a nod, and she was moving, already disappearing into a car that started at her touch. Slowly, Scott made his way through the people, stumbling as they knocked into him, panic making them blind to the man they most feared in their midst.
Clear of them, he stood on the sidewalk only feet away and looked at the young man who was destroying two years of work--and ending a war.
Glazed blue eyes dilated into pure black, hands slightly raised, sweat standing out on his forehead from the effort of control. Heat surrounding him like a halo, almost visible to the naked eye. Little smile turning up the corners of his mouth, and it was like seeing him for the first time, or the last time, and Scott hesitated briefly. Emotion wasn't to be trusted, not now, and Scott clenched his hands into fists at his side, feeling Jean's echoing shock, echoing anger--and something else he couldn't quite define.
All it would have taken was one twist of the controls, and St. John would have been so much dust.
Then it was over--sudden, swift, black darkness taking over, leaving a glare in Scott's retinas even through ruby quartz. St. John stumbled, dropping into a crouch, hands pressed into the ground briefly before the blonde head lifted, finding Scott without effort.
The smile didn't fade--if anything, it widened, though tears were streaking the tanned face, and St. John pushed up, coming to his feet unsteadily.
Scott winced, taking another step, and St. John watched without moving, maybe without breathing. A thousand questions raced through his mind, fast and hard and uncontrollable, but only one was important, only one.
St. John shook his head, almost as if in thought, before turning his eyes down, fixing them briefly on the ground.
"I promised Dagby," St. John whispered, and the smile widened even more, even through the tears. "The war's over, Scott, today, now. The camps will all come down. Rogue started the war and now she's ended it."
Scott nodded slowly, thinking over what she'd said, what it'd meant at the end. She'd never been a believer, not until then, not until now. Not until she'd chosen the martyrdom they'd given her, but not before she'd gotten it on her own terms.
Rogue had died for humankind, following Xavier's dream, like the X-Man she was.
"She wanted to be a symbol," Scott said slowly.
"She told me to tell you that she believed in you, what you would do when this was over," St. John said softly, and Scott shivered. "She said--this was the only way, to be sure. That if she died, if she did it this way, everyone would know. That this was her choice and it was her legend. And that you'd tell the truth about what happened, how she died, and why she chose it." Rubbing a hand across his face, St. John smiled. "She believed, Scott."
The night seemed too big around him--Magneto and Mystique were dead, and everything in the world hinged on Rogue's faith in him. It was seven years ago and they were removing her body from the Statue, and it was five years ago and he was in Canada with Logan, and it was three years ago when he'd cut the deal wiht Erik that won them a war.
He became only conscious of the real world again when St. John moved past him, toward the ruined fences of the camp. Crossing the street, stepping lightly over chain fence and razor wire, emerging onto the ground that only days before had seen the lives of thirty people end in a rain of gunfire. Scott moved, all unwitting, following wiht a numb shock as St. John approached the smouldering ruins of the building where Rogue had died.
"What are you doing?" he heard himself ask as St. John stepped into the rubble.
Bright, brilliant smile, like the sun rising, and it was St. John at eighteen, all lines erased, young and unscarred and so alive, more alive than he'd been since they'd taken him from Canada.
"Symbols are good when they're dead," St. John answered, pushing through the rubble, "but better when they're living."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
St. John turned to face him, shaking his head.
"She can walk through my fires, Scott. Carol could, and so could Rogue. This is the one thing I thought we might change in the legend, you know. She didn't think so, but I figured we'd try."