"How do you do it?" A simple question, fraught with sorrow, helplessness, but also with genuine interest. "I don't."
I'm mixing in some newer versions (can you say "secondary mutation"?) of certain characters from the comics into this movieverse fic.
Disclaimer: Marvel owns the characters, if they're recognizable at all.
The husk looked like rotten cornflakes. Hard, dry, peeling off in flakes at the slightest touch, and covered with moldy looking brushes. It smelled of death, decay and moistness. The odor was sticky and each whiff made the group of solemn people in the room want to throw up.
Its shape was that of man, like a sarcophagus covered in ages of of dust and dreariness. The man whose appearance of roughly thirty years belied his actual age stood, only his eyes moving from one face to the next:
The white-haired woman at the window, whose face he needn't see, because the thunderstorm outside with its low black shrouds and the torrents of water beating against the window told of her each and every thought.
The bald man in the wheelchair, whose calm, serene face showed that his mind was not with them, whose furrowed brow would have tricked better people into believing his body was not an empty shape his mind had left to look for any trace of life in the brown crumpling shape on the small bed with its green satin sheets.
The woman with the fiery red hair who stood in front of the long turned off life support monitors. The faint reflection of ambient light made the phosphorous surface bask her and her fiancee's form wrapped around each other in shared pain in a strange, black blanket that was light, and wasn't.
And the strange, furry creature that knelt at the bed, various assortments of needles, syringes, probes, electrodes, little bottles and test tubes with traces of various liquids, and numerous other contraptions of the fabric nightmares were made of, scattered around him. His huge feline mouth was shaking, bared fangs seeming to glow brightly in stark contrast to the red, dry darkness of his eyes.
The monster winced, as he felt the man's eyes on his face, and slowly his face turned, eyes growing wide in fear as he became aware of the other's presence. Then his eyelids sank, for a moment cradling his tortured soul in the cold, searing gray of pain. His eyes were sore, swollen red slits as his massive skull slowly turned to face the other's eyes that stared back at him darkly and unbelieving.
The monster's vocal chords needed several attempts before they finally produced their strangely charred, voiceless sounds, broken and guilt-stricken. "i didn't know--" a strange, guttural sound crackled in his ribcage instead of a sob. "i never thought--" His strangely skewed animal form fell forward weakly, powerless paws clawing at the carpet as he tried to hide his face against the floor, but the man wouldn't have it. Fiercely, two hands wrapped around his lower arms, roughly pulling the animal back up to face him, the wordless silence screaming its demand to continue at him as another burst of thunder made the window panes shake. "i was... i ... i was supposed to cure..." At these words the man pushed the beast back from the bed, where the shaking body finally found himself buried against the carpet, his hands pounding against his temples, trying to force out the pounding pain even at the cost of bursting his skull. His body slumping at the sight of the husk in front of him, the man sat down beside it, his stomach lurching as he caught the familiar note of a scent that had always felt so pristine and pure to him amidst the foul secretions. A glint of metal drew his eyes to the thinner upper end of the hull, where a few links of a chain were stuck in the dry surface. "Too late." He croaked, as his hands slid over the filthy surface, fingers seeking out the cold hardness of metal so similar to the one in his bones. And then he just sat there, frozen, as the realization of his failure began eating its way into his chest.
It wasn't until the next morning that the four somber friends slowly made their way down an eerily quiet stairway. The halls, where on other days children would have played, noisily, were deserted, only here and there little groups sat in quiet groups, having long ago ran dry of words.
Small faces with big eyes greeted the four, the two women in front, the man with eerily glowing eyes supporting the big, fur-covered being stumbling disinterestedly down the stairs, recklessly ignoring its own safety. No word was said in the halls that were quiet, the only sound a stream of sobbing on a lower stairway. As the four had passed, and the unceremonial rumbling of the elevator announced that the fifth one had retired to his room, the children began huddling together, realizing for the first time that, no matter how much you wished, or how dedicatedly you prayed, or how hard you fought, there was still one force more powerful.
And a benevolent force it seemed to be no longer.
When the man with the glowing eyes left the monster's room, he found himself facing the same, desperate eyes. Slowly he picked up one of the smaller children, lifted it on his arm. The small group got up, and soon they all followed him to the dorms. There was nothing he needed to say. Nothing he could say. It was enough that he gave them a direction, that he led them, that he was there, ready to support them, his stance that of power, his posture that of certainty, his face showing no sign of pain, nor of fear. Not a single tear.
He descended the stairway, towards the sobbing, to find three students sitting on the stairs' lower end in the attic. In the middle sat a young asian, dressed in her usual yellow-and-blue jacket, glowing pale in dawn's light. She was resting against a young boy, sobbing loudly, crying against his shoulder. At her feet sat a brown-haired girl, her best friend, her back against the banister, one hand resting on the other's shoulder, who was repeating the same tear-broken fragments over and over again.
Regrets. Unsaid words. Their last argument. The forgotten birthday present. That she hadn't stopped her. Guilt.
He softly placed a hand on the girl's shoulder, gently gripping her shoulder, the firmness of his grip calming her miraculously, his strength unexpected but welcome. Slowly the three got up, climbing the stairs back to the dorms, the man next to them radiating the calmness and strength they had been missing.
He saw each of them to their rooms. The brown-haired girl was last, and as they stood in front of her door, she turned towards him:
"How do you do it?" A simple question, fraught with sorrow, helplessness, but also with genuine interest. "I don't." he said, the red glow over his face not giving away the slightest trace of emotion. Her face didn't change. She didn't understand. "I can't." he said. "i can not. cry" He whispered as he turned, and the eyes of the girl behind him saw, for the first time, through him, into him. She took the sad truth he had just shared with her like a blanket to wrap around her, as she weightlessly stepped through the closed door and dropped onto her bed.
"It wasn't your fault." Rogue saw the pencil scratching into her notepad. "But I should have told you about the risks!" Hank's agitated voice wimpered over her shoulder. "You did." Her hand wrote. "But I didn't make it clear! I was too scientific!" "No you weren't," her hand seemed to be writing of its own volition. "You said my chances are 50/50" she set off for a moment, rubbing the dry scarred skin of her wrist, feeling a choking in her throat at the sight of the calloused atrocity of it, of which she knew that it covered all her body. "You said it was experimental, you said you couldn't test it because there's no one else but me. You said it all." "It was my decision." her hand scribbled, pausing before the last period to emphasize the finality of her statement. Then she grabbed her notepad and pencil and headed through the door.
You know he'll never believe you she heard Jean's voice in her head. Rogue nodded to the woman leaning in the door to the library, the thick crust on her throat creaking and cracking. That's why I lied to him. she thought back. She could feel Jean's surprise at this reply as she added: I have the satisfaction of knowing he will live in pain because of what he did to me." Her eyes were glaring in cold anger. "Whenever he makes a decision about a patient, he will feel the guilt of this one mistake. she pulled the hood of her cloak over her head, hiding the bare, scarred, featureless head in its shadow: But I am not cruel. She turned and dashed down the hallway with long strides, leaving Jean behind her gasping at the cold honesty.
As Rogue's feet patted along the sidewalks of Westchester in an oppressive haze, she felt the numb thudding sensation that should have been pain in her head, throbbing behind her temples. Under her fingers they felt like soft holes that, if the pressure became just enough, would let her mind spill out in release. Her stomach felt empty, yet full of a strange, scraping sensation, as if her soul was going to throw up.
Before, she had always hated being among people. The noise, the attention, the stuffiness, the danger of touch, all of that used to drive her away. Whenever she'd had to be in places like these, she had kept her little distance from people, had avoided them as much as she'd been able to, establishing a safe zone of a couple of feet all around her, keeping everyone at arm's length, hurriedly shrinking back whenever someone passed her by closer than she wanted, avoiding even glances to make sure people went out of her way.
But to her dismay she had quickly found out that this just made them grow more interested. People would notice every time you stopped to let them pass, instead of just pushing them out of the way and hurrying past them, because it was precisely what nobody else would do. They always noticed a single person standing a little off, they were always wary of people not looking at the displays, not noticing them. And after the destruction of her skin, after touch had changed from forbidden and impossible to utterly useless, she'd one day realized that, to stay hidden, it worked much better not to seek lonely places, but rather those with great numbers of people. She began hiding in the anonymity of masses, where hundreds of faces cause everybody to block them out for the sheer number; where, when you are recognized, you can simply change direction and disappear in an ocean of eyes, sounds, smells.
As she navigated in the expected reckless way across the sidewalk, well-hidden from anyone who might talk or care or give kind words, a convoy of trucks passed by her. She glanced at the one just next to her, the distance between the second hanger and the truck in front of it maybe six feet, a little patch of light in between the dark bulk of the vehicles. "Just one little step aside..." it shot through her mind, "Just a single step at the right time, and a truck would take care of the rest." A tempting thought if there ever was one. It would be almost painless at this velocity, almost clean. And she wouldn't even have to think about the driver, because he wouldn't even see her, would probably not notice back here.
She didn't know what prevented her. It was certainly not fear of dying, or fear of the pain. Her own life hardly held any value to her anymore, and the numbness of her skin and soul had only increased since the piercing pain of the first injections. But maybe it was just that: When she made this step, she wanted to feel it, she wanted to have the final pain as a sign of her liberation, a sign it would all change now. But the way it was now, it was the coward's way out - like poison or sleeping pills. There would simply be a sound, and then it would have ended.
No, however she felt right now, whatever had happened to her, she would never become a coward. That much she owed them. They had saved her from Magnus, they had raised her. And it surprised her to admit it, but like the others, the Professor's dream had slowly grown on her. In spite of the reasons Magnus' mind had left behind inside her, of her knowledge that it was foolish. The dream was all she had left, and even though it had been Xavier who had been dreaming it each night, decades before she had even been born, it had been her who had woken with the memory each morning. And she knew that she wanted to fight for this dream, to die for this dream. For to live without it, she would not dare.
Still pacing the crowd recklessly, she was torn out of her gloomy thoughts. She stopped abruptly, and it took her a while to notice what had caused her to stop. Two feet in her path. Clad in Cowboy boots. Old, worn out jeans, a huge belt buckle and a flannel shirt. Her eyes rose to his chest, not daring to look him in the eyes:
"Come on, kid." was all the gruff voice said. She flapped open her note pad at a well-thumbed page: "'Dinner'?", it said. He nodded.
'Dinner' was the worst time of day for Rogue. With your mouth fused shut, you had the choice between starving and the medlab. Sitting there, waiting for the almost-clear liquid to slowly make it down the thin hose and into the needle that Jean had to practically hammer into her vein each time, it was the worst of it all. At least they had thought of making Jean take her over. Even though Hank was better qualified, and also had more strength that would have made the IV tube less of an ordeal. The best thing was that she could 'talk' with Jean. No scratching pencils, no damn note pad, no waiting whether anybody was looking at what she had to reply. Just words.
Thoughts. It had been frightening at first. There was no way for Jean to listen only for some thoughts. As soon as a thought had been formed in the mind she was listening to, put in words, Jean just knew. After the first half hour, Rogue had stopped apologizing. After the first hour, she had finally realized that this was the way it always was for Jean. That Jean knew what were "thoughts" and what was intended for her. Sure, Jean still had to listen to all of it, but she understood.
And by the time Rogue had gotten the hang of not forming thoughts she didn't mean to 'speak' in her mind, the two women had come to share a strange closeness. It didn't bother Rogue that Jean knew things about her she would never have wanted anyone else to know. And Jean reciprocated by often letting her feel what she was worried about right now.
In fact, they had become so close, that one morning in the medlab, it had taken Jean almost five minutes to notice what thoughts she had been sharing with Rogue. Jean had turned a shade of red that rivaled her hair when she had noticed that she had just exposed a very intimate part of the last night to the girl. Rogue had simply flipped open her note pad at the page where Jubilee had drawn her a huge, brightly yellow smilie.
For a while Rogue sat there busily trying to ignore the drip, before she noticed the encouraging look the older woman was giving her. 'Spill it', it seemed to say. Rogue leaned back a little, trying to find a way to put how she was feeling today. Jean could feel a flurry of conflicting emotions, but had a hard time making out anything. She wasn't surprised that Rogue didn't know what to say. But finally, the young girl began: Did you ever poke at an old wound in your leg to try and find out whether it still hurt, she began, her feelings mirroring Jean's surprised expression at the strange metaphor, to find it did -- but in your chest?