That's when my chin hit the concrete sidewalk and I bit my tongue--hard--instantly alighting my head with all sorts of new and uninteresting varieties of pain. And wouldn't you know, invulnerability didn't cover that. Go figure. Instantly, a hand was under my arm and the stars in front of my eyes left me completely vulnerable to whatever the poor unsuspecting person was planning on doing.
It hurt a *lot*.
"Are you okay?" The voice was dangerously close to my ear, and I jerked away instinctively, knees aching, wondering if I'd torn my pants, and God, these were brand new and my budget didn't allow for new clothes right now. Pushing my palms into the ground, I lifted my head, blinking away the dizziness, getting a hand to my mouth and rubbing at the drip of blood.
"I'm fine," I said slowly. No broken teeth. No broken bones. Or so I assumed. Closing my eyes briefly, I shifted back onto my heels, rubbing at my head. God, I hurt, and it just wasn't fair.
A tentative hand on my arm drew my gaze up to meet clear blue eyes and a small, worried smile. "You sure?"
I blinked back. "Think so." My voice sounded slurred, like I'd been drinking all night. Messy blond hair interfered with my view of his face, but it seemed familiar. He began dropping things in my bag, conscientious little citizen of Salem, and that was a surprise. I would have sworn they would sooner step on me than help me sit up. "Uh, you don't have to--"
"S'okay." My change was deposited in my hand, and I stared down at my gloved fingers, aware of the shape of the paper and coins, aware I couldn't feel the warmth of the metal and paper. It--felt different, and even to myself, I couldn't quite explain why. "You need a ride?"
"No," I said slowly, tasting the words. "I--have my car." When he reached for me again, my body reacted, shying away, and the look on his face hurt. "Sorry. I--my skin." Almost apologetically, I held out my gloved hands in explanation--they *knew* me, it's not like it should be a huge surprise that I'm--different.
"No problem." His smile widened as he looked down on me--and damned if this entire situation wasn't fucking with my head, because I could swear I knew him. The curve of his mouth when he smiled. "Sorry I hit you like that."
--I'm so sorry--I didn't, I swear I didn't see you.--
His hand under my elbow slid me smoothly to my feet, and I almost stumbled at how easily he touched me. Still careful, but everyone's careful, that's just common sense. Leaning down, he picked up my bags. "You need help carrying these?"
---can I carry these for you? To your car?--
Blinking, I reached for them automatically.
"No, it's okay." It was so stupid, but the words just slid out, like my head was on repeat. Taking the bags, I looked around, aware of the people that had paused to see what the entire drama was about. It felt wrong. Full parking lot and the sounds and feel of a town during the busiest part of the day. Overhead, the sky was clear and blue, and I thought I saw a plane pass by.
Taking a step down the stairs, I shivered, grabbing at the rail at the burst of pain across my head, chased with the kind of dizziness that I would have expected after a serious hangover. Was my blood sugar too low?
"Whoa." The guy's hands caught me before I could make even *more* of a spectacle than usual, and he braced me down the stairs, finding hard asphalt that seemed relatively solid. God, I had a headache. Me and bed and ibuprofen, the *second* I got home, no question. "Let me--"
"Everything okay?" A blue-uniformed police officer, and really, this was just surreal. Clutching my bag to my chest, I started to edge away from them both.
--Is he bothering you?--
"Everything's fine, sir." The pounding in my head got worse by the second, and I wanted more than anything to just give up, sit down, and psychically shout until Xavier or Jean came running, because acting ten years old was such an attractive idea. God dammit, what was wrong with me? "I just--I need my car."
"Where did you park?" he asked, and Christ, he sounded like an adult talking to a little kid, but then, I sure as hell was behaving like one, so no surprise there. The empty lot--no, the full lot--blocked my view.
A full lot of cars, just like five minutes ago when I left it, and I rubbed absently at my forehead. *Logan?*
I took an uncertain step--my mind felt weird as shit, and I wondered if I'd hit my head. Concussion shouldn't be possible, but what the hell, every day was an adventure when you're a mutant. For all I know, I could be having an aneurysm *right now* and okay, bad thought, seriously so. *Logan? Answer me. Dammit, you would pick now to be a prick. Did I hit my head or something?*
"Ma'am, did you drop these?" The nice guy extended a hand, silver winking in the full sunlight, and I stared at the chain looped between his fingers. "Sorry, it was on the steps, so I didn't see it. Yours?"
My hand went to my throat, feeling under the collar of my shirt--how the hell had they fallen off? Slowly, I extended a hand, fingers trembling--and okay, what was that about? My breath caught as the metal slid into the palm of my hand, chain trailing like water behind to coil around it, and I stared at it like I'd never seen it before. Except I'd worn it every day of my life, rubbing into my skin so the back was smooth like *that*, I'd held it when I slept as a silly seventeen year old girl in love, and it'd gone with me everywhere I went, even my dreams.
Slowly, I let the looped metal twine around my fingers as I slowly lowered it over my head, feeling silly as hell but not really able to stop myself. For a second, comfortable, right, *resting* there on my skin--then it slid away with a slither of metal. I caught it just in time, staring at the broken clasp blankly, then feeling the back of my neck. It looked like it'd been *ripped* off, and I had no idea how the hell *that* could have happened.
--"I was--I was waiting."--
Hysteria bubbled up. This was all so perfectly normal that I could barely stand it. Staring at the circle of wary, worried faces, I almost thought just flying away would be the greatest idea ever, and dammit, falling must have seriously rattled my brains or something.
"Sorry," I heard myself whisper. "I--just feel a little dizzy. I'd better go."
"You sure you're okay to drive?" The guy again, with the smiling eyes and the bright grin. --Who cares what happens to a mutie bitch?--
I stumbled another step back, dropping the bag. Forget the groceries. Forget the fucking car. Spinning on my heel, I turned away, my head aching so much I could barely see.
"Someone should call the school," a voice said from behind me.
I swung back around, aware of the brush of my hair against the back of my neck, tickling my chin. Automatically, my hand went to push it out of my eyes, because my hair *always* gets in my eyes, Logan said I should cut it or something. Except it wasn't. What-- "Don't. They can't know--" The words froze on my tongue. A full parking lot, a group of concerned looking citizens, and the money still clutched in my hand. I lifted it, slowly opening too tight fingers to stare at the faces of dead presidents from any high school history class, and stupid, stupid, flipping through to stare at every picture of Washington so carefully, like I'd never seen him before.
Oh God, I knew this money and it was completely unfamiliar and I reached out through my mind, frantically searching out Logan, who would tell me what an ass I was. Who would say--
*Logan, fucking answer me!*
--something, tell me why I couldn't make sense of my own body, the crowd around me, the full (empty) parking lot, the broken clasp of the tags, and the fact that these people were scaring me to death.
I'd never felt so alone in my own mind. But I recognized the feeling, even if I could barely remember it.
This had been my childhood, my adolescence before David. This was--
Oh God, this was me alone.
I crumpled to the ground, money spilling like an accusation of something I'd never done, and I ignored the worried voices around me to stare at it covering the ground before my knees, fingers sifting frantically through it for a face that I knew shouldn't be there at all.
I didn't remember a lot of what happened after.
The school rose up like a beacon of hopelessness, though I couldn't figure out why it scared me--I remember grabbing for the wheel and shouting I couldn't go back, I just couldn't, and Bobby trying to drag me down but my shirt was riding up and I'd pulled off my gloves to grab for Scott's face and *make* him stop.
It shouldn't be there, that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, beyond the questionable state of my own sanity. It didn't make *sense*.
"You promised," I heard myself hiss between clenched teeth while Bobby's gloved hands held my wrists inches from Scott's shocked eyes. "You promised and I believed you, I believed you meant it, that it would never happen again, that you'd never let it happen again--"
"Rogue," Bobby whispered into my hair, and then Jean's hands covered his, latex gloves coating her fingers in cool strength to push me back into the seat, Bobby straddling my waist, fingers ice cold. I was strong enough to kill them all, but I could barely find air. "Rogue, please, stop--"
"Fuck off, I saw what you did, I *felt* it, oh God, it didn't work, it didn't work at all..."
"The man who called us--" Jean was saying above my head, and somehow, magically, she had a syringe and I really started to fight then.
"He's following," Bobby answered tightly, blond hair falling in his eyes. "He said she hit her head, but she seemed okay for a while there."
"Concussion?" Jean's voice was sharp and practical, and I thought of all the power behind those brown eyes that glanced me over impersonally.
"No," I heard myself whisper, and even to myself, I couldn't explain my sudden start of fear. "I--Jean, I can't, make it stop, I can't hear them, I can't hear anyone--bring them back, please bring everyone back, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I did it right, I did the right thing, didn't I?" My empty mind, like an overinflated balloon that'd been abandoned on the floor, air seeped away, leaving nothing but empty skin. I couldn't feel *anyone*, and their absence was like pain. "Bring them down. I need them, Jean. I didn't know--"
God, everything was so mixed up.
"It's okay, Rogue. Just--"
"Marie," I whispered, and everyone seemed to go still. Turning my head, I felt the tears slide down my nose, wetting the seat beneath my cheek. "He said I wasn't Rogue anymore. He was right."
The car came to a sudden stop, and I heard Scott yelling for something, giving orders, maybe, but I couldn't focus enough to figure out what he was saying. Gently, someone pulled me from the car and I tried to find my feet under me, swaying beneath Bobby's arm.
"It's okay, Rogue," he whispered into my hair, slowly turning us around, and my eyes fixed on the school--huge and imposing, full of new building for the school, the basketball court, the lake, the open fields where kids played all day, the empty ground that shouldn't be empty.
I knew that, like I knew my name and my mind and the fact that something was horribly, horribly wrong with this cheerful sunny day, with kids laughing outside and towering, ancient trees that died in fire.
"Jean," I heard Bobby whisper, trying to keep me moving, but he was no match for my strength even at the best of times. I just stared up until my eyes blurred, knowing that nothing on earth could explain how I felt at that moment. I wouldn't even try.
"I destroyed it," I whispered, and I *had*. I *knew* it, knew I stood on the roof that building and felt the rush of heat and endless pain and sheer relief like being drunk "I destroyed everything."
"Jean," Bobby said, and I saw her in peripheral vision, needle down, red hair blowing on the wind. "Jean, help me out here. I can't get her to move."
Her hand closed over my arm gently, and I turned my head to look into her eyes. Warm and soft, no burn of barely checked power, and that felt wrong, too.
"Jean?" My head whipped to the door, the slim body of St. John jogging down the stairs. Bright blue eyes glanced around the group of us, and he came to a wary stop, eyes fixing on Bobby for his answers. "Professor said--"
I didn't even know I was going to move.
One second, Bobby and Jean were shouting in my ear when I pulled--the next, I was stumbling through the dirt and grabbing at Johnny's arm, losing my footing and knocking us both to the ground.
"You said it would be gone. All of it. That you could do it again. That you *would*."
--Johnny stared back at me from the other side of the bed, leg curled up under him as he looked at me soberly over the length of the coverlet. "It won't be hard. You just have to get down in time--"--
--"No," I said, and seeing his expression, I reached across the bed and grabbed his hand with my bare one. Pale skin against dark gold, Johnny, who tanned in the dead of lightless summer. He stared at our joined hands, then back up. "It all ends with me."--
--"You fucking lost your mind?"--
--I shook my head slowly, holding his eyes. "Everyone needs a symbol, you know that. This is the one I want. Don't fuck with the plan--there's no way I can get out of that machine in time, it'll kill me anyway, we all know that. Don't hold back because you think you can save me. You can't."--
Maybe this was my penance, and hell if I wanted to be a martyr for anyone, but I wasn't left a lot of choices. My first death had changed the world. The second one was going to set it straight.--
--"Let it go."--
--For a wistful second, I couldn't even answer the question, or maybe it was something of Rogue who was sitting in the far back of my mind, shivering and quiet and so alone because I'd rejected her with all the other personalities. The girl who liked her coffee black and her morals monochrome and ate blackberry pie on long summer nights that reminded her of Memphis summers she'd never lived.--
--"Rogue was a believer in Xavier's dream, Johnny. I owe her this."--
"Why didn't you?" I forced his hands down, irrational anger coursing through me, and for the life of me, I couldn't understand why. "Why the fuck didn't you fix everything?"
The smell of burning ozone was my first clue--the second was heat from his skin, burning beneath my fingers, Johnny's eyes going distant and dark, like they always did when he started his little fire games, and I didn't give a shit. Jean's hands scrabbled at my arms, Bobby was pleading beside me, and I couldn't even answer them, couldn't find a way to explain because there wasn't an explanation that made sense. Endless rage and fear and disappointment like an ache, and above it all, blank horror. I'd done it all for nothing. I'd done it all--
--"I can--Johnny, I can change everything."--
I hadn't done a damn thing.
Jean's latex covered hand touched my forehead, and I *felt* it go out of me--not the same as how it felt to take a mind, but so close. No pain, not like the machine, an echo of memory, of my hands on cold metal and my mind open, my wrists warm, unshackled, and that feeling--oh God, that feeling--
"No," I whispered, and I felt Jean against my back, her softly indrawn gasp against my hair. "No, I didn't, I couldn't, I *couldn't*. Never again. I never would have gone into it. Never." That couldn't be real, but I raised my palms, stripping the gloves away, staring down at unmarred skin.
"Jean," Scott said somewhere behind me, and then I was pulled sideways, rolling in dirt like a, like a--
--like a norm, on a street I'd never walked, in a world I'd never seen. Oh God, I was going crazy.
I looked up into Jean's eyes, kneeling above me, and all her power showed in her eyes in that brief second that lasted forever between us.
"What's happening to me?" I whispered, and watched her drop the needle into the ground beside me. "I can't feel them anymore. I can't feel anything."
Gently, she stripped off her glove and reached out--I tried to flinch away, but I couldn't find the energy to so much as twitch, and soft, silky skin brushed across my forehead, coming to rest on my cheek. The dark eyes filled with tears, and I saw Scott kneel beside her, his instinct to find out competing with his terror. All eyes stared at the soft hand stroking my cheek.
"You changed everything, Marie." Her voice was hoarse. "Tell the Professor we need him, Scott. Now."