The clock on the wall read 2:58 a.m. Rogue stirred restlessly on her bed, staring first at the clock then out the window. Moonlight threaded through the thin white curtains, illuminating Carol in the next bed, the small table and chairs and the third bed. They no longer had the TV on. They didn’t need it on to stay awake anymore, after all. Their worries were enough to chase away sleep, although they gave up on talking around midnight. After quietly making what plans they could, they talked about their friends, their teams, anything to make the time go by quickly. It hadn’t worked, and they’d fallen into an anxious silence.
“Almost time,” Carol whispered, startling Rogue so much that she nearly jumped.
“I know,” Rogue replied, glancing at the clock that now read 2:59. “Are you ready?”
“Sure. What’s better than a little danger and a brave escape attempt right at the witching hour?” Carol asked with a low chuckled. She sobered quickly and looked at Rogue. “Promise me, if anything happens to me and you make it out, you’ll let my friends know. I don’t want them worried that I’ve been captured somewhere.”
Rogue nodded. “Sure, as long as you’ll do the same for me,” she said as they stood up together. They shook hands to seal the deal, and then they headed for the door.
Rogue had grown practiced at opening doors silently; insomnia can give you strange urges in the middle of the night. She let her bare hand caress the cool metal for a moment before slowly turning the handle and pulling open the door. The hinges had been well oiled, showing that the government’s lackeys were much too confident that no mutant would try to escape from here.
Using the door frame as a brace, Rogue slowly snaked her head out. She could see two guards at the end of the hallway, but she also saw many other heads start to pop out of other doors along the hall. Some of the mutants weren’t being as cautious as they should have been, and one of the guards noticed. He said something to the other guard and they both turned with their guns out.
“Carol, take them!” Rogue said fiercely. From what Carol had told her during the long hours, she would have no problem handling two mundane guards with guns.
Rogue watched Carol fly into the air, and her breath caught at the sight. It would be so wonderful to have such an amazing ability instead of being a liability to everyone you loved. Carol flew quickly, dodging a few bullets as she went. The guards seemed to be dividing their attention between Carol and the heads that were quickly disappearing into their own rooms.
Carol reached the two guards and quickly disarmed them, grinning as she bent their pretty guns into shapes that resembled pretzels. As they started to run, she gave them each gentle taps on their temples from her fists. That was enough to knock them out cold.
“Come on, everyone! Check for any locked doors. We have to make sure everyone gets out of here!” Rogue called as soon as she saw that Carol had the guards under control.
Mutants came rushing out of their rooms. Some did stop to check the doors of their neighbors if they weren’t already opened, but others simply ran down the hall, heading for the exit. Rogue knew that was the wrong decision.
“Don’t head outside yet!” she called frantically. Most of the mutants heard her and stopped, turning around uncertainly.
“There might be a lot more guards in the waiting area, and there are probably even more outside, surrounding the whole building. We have to plan this out very carefully. We have to check the other two floors, get the mutants who’re there freed, and take out any other guards that we find. They have guns, people, and not every one of us is going to be invulnerable to bullets like my friend there,” Rogue reasoned with them. She felt on fire, as if this was possibly the most important thing she could ever do.
“Not only that, but they tricked us! The government gave us a promise they never intended to keep, and we have to pay them back! We have to get the message out so that no other mutants can come here! Their little plan will be ruined if we just work together to spread the word so that no other mutant will come to these places to be made into prisoners!” Rogue let her anger show, trying to goad the others into the same feelings of misuse and retribution.
The mutters of the mutants around her told Rogue that it had worked. Carol nodded approvingly from down the hall before nodding towards a door next to her.
“I’m going to go upstairs. If there’s anyone willing to come and help me check out the situation on the second and third floor, I’d be grateful,” Carol announced as quietly as she could.
Four mutants stepped over to join her. They carried makeshift weapons in their hands, lamps pulled out of walls, table or chair legs. Carol told them to be as quiet as possible, since they didn’t know if anyone else had been able to accomplish what they had, and then they opened the door to the stairs and headed up.
Apparently, the guards who had been relieved on the other two floors were heading down the stairs as Carol and her team headed up. Rogue heard gunfire and gestured for everyone to get down on the ground. There was no use for them to be bullet fodder if the fight came back out into the first floor.
Face pressed to cool white linoleum, Rogue stared at the door anxiously. She was sure that Carol could handle anything a couple of humans would be able to dish out, but it would be difficult to escape if they were dragging along a couple of unconscious mutants. Rogue wished that she had thought to put her wrist communicator in her backpack. Maybe that little bit of forgetfulness on her part had been wishful thinking; if she didn’t bring the communicator, there wouldn’t be any need for it. Stupid thinking. Stupid hope. No more of that now.
After several tense minutes huddled on the floor and many gunshots later, Carol came rushing back through the door to the stairs, another twenty mutants following her along with the original four. Some of them looked desperate, some angry, but all were casting terrified looks behind them.
“We need to get down to the ground floor, everyone! I need any mutants with offensive abilities partnered with those with defenses, and quick!” Carol barked out, coming over to Rogue and looking at her. Rogue just nodded. They would be the front line. It went unspoken but agreed between them as the watched the others partnering up. Just as they were about to head down the stairs, Rogue heard a crack of thunder outside, so loud that the entire building shook. Sounds from downstairs filtered up to them, remarkable sounds of fighting. Carol looked at Rogue.
“It might be the X-Men. We should get going no matter what, though,” Rogue told her. Carol nodded, and they began to descend into what shortly seemed like hell. Once they reached the door to the lobby and Carol wrenched it open, they could see guards grappling with X-Men in leather as well as several other mutants Rogue didn't recognize. Carol immediately flew into the fray while Rogue flexed her bare fingers. Damn the voices, damn the pain, she was going to touch anyone who got in between her and freedom. Rogue rushed forward, feeling the press of mutants at her back following. Then all she could think of was the press of bodies, picking targets of faces and necks, grabbing a gun once she knew how to use it and pumping bullets into any guard that moved into her sight.
At one point Logan was at her side. He looked her over for a minute before nodding and jumping on the next guards to pour in from a back door. Meanwhile, thunder kept shaking the building as mutants and humans fought for control of it, and pieces of ceiling were starting to crash to the ground. Rogue wondered if they should try harder to get to the front doors, but really there was no helping it. The room was full of the press of fighting bodies and furious faces, but it seemed like no one was able to get very far after each encounter left a human lying on the ground. Finally a path opened to the door, and Rogue started pushing the mutants who seemed least able to fight toward it, shouting for them to get out of there and spread the word.
By the time only the X-Men and Carol were left inside the building, it was swaying in strong gusts of wind and pieces of wall were actually collapsing. Scott was yelling that they had to get out of there, and they all rushed for the door. Rogue was next to the last out, in front of Carol, and when she heard the crash behind her just as she made it outside into the driving rain she whipped around. It was too late, though. Carol lay in what was once the doorway but was now a gaping hole, most of her body covered in the concrete blocks that had made up the walls of the building at one point. Rogue rushed over to her, heedless of any guards that might be left, hoping only to save the woman she had come to admire in the few short hours she had known her.
“Carol, can you get out?” she screamed over the rain and wind.
Carol raised her head, dazed, and started shoving blocks off of her body. Rogue did her best to help, but they were heavy. Then Logan was beside her again, helping to lift the gray slabs off of Carol's legs when she seemed to collapse again, obviously biting back screams when they moved her legs.
“I thought you were invulnerable, dammit!” Rogue cursed as she carefully reached over to prop the older woman's shoulders up, all too aware of her gloveless hands.
Carol shook her head. “My skin is. My bones and organs...only so much,” she said, coughing. Rogue looked down and saw blood on her chin. She wasn't sure when the tears started, but they began to mix with the rain washing into her mouth, leaving the impression of bitter salt.
Logan shook his head and picked Carol up, earning a grateful look from Rogue. They made their way to one of three black SUVs parked about a block away, running through the slowly slackening rain. Rogue opened the back door and lunged inside, gesturing for Logan to lay Carol next to her so that her head was on her lap. Rogue stroked the other woman's hair as she just lay there, moaning, her eyelids drooping. She was pretty sure she shouldn't let Carol sleep but wasn't sure what to do if that happened. Thankfully, the drive was pretty quick, with Logan glancing back at them in the rear view mirror several times but otherwise keeping quiet. The only sound was Carol's labored breathing, which made Rogue worried that the woman's internal injuries might include lung damage.
Then they arrived at Central park, and Logan pulled Carol back out. Rogue tumbled out of the car, too, and watched the other X-Men congregating. The rain that was still falling had driven away many would-be witnesses, so they were able to run through the park and to the Blackbird with relative ease. Rogue kept watching Carol's face as she ran, and she wondered if the lack of color was an indication of pain or something far worse. Once on the Blackbird, Rogue was able to sit quietly by the emergency gurney strapped to the wall as Carol labored to breathe. The other X-Men gave the two women space, only throwing curious and worried glances their way. Only Logan hovered, as much as someone sitting across the aisle could hover, watching as intently as Rogue.
“We'll be home in half an hour,” was Scott's only comment.
It seemed to Rogue that the time was dragging too slowly. Each minute seemed like an hour, especially when Carol coughed again, blood pouring from her mouth. Rogue unsnapped her harness and got up, ignoring the protests of the others. She used her own sleeve to wipe up the mess, and suddenly Carol's hand reached out and grasped her wrist. Even injured she was too strong for Rogue to pull away.
“Marie,” she whispered hoarsely. Rogue leaned down to hear her better. “I'm not going to make it.”
Rogue shook her head. “No, you're going to be fine. We'll get a doctor, get you all patched up,” she promised recklessly.
Carol shook her head weakly. “No. I can tell. Please, I need...there's so much left to do. Please...” she said, a little more strongly. “You can do it, just...please...”
Her eyes widening in horror, Rogue realized what the older woman was asking. She wanted Rogue to touch her, skin to skin.
“Why?” Rogue choked out. “If you think you're going to do anyway, why do you want me to...” She couldn't even say it.
“You'll get my powers...you can still help, and this...won't have been a...complete waste of time. Of my life,” Carol said. It was the firmest Rogue had heard her speak since they pulled her out of the rubble.
Rogue's bare hand hovered over Carol indecisively. “But what if you're wrong?” she asked.
Logan's hand settled on Rogue's shoulder, startling her. “She's not,” he said gruffly. “There's blood in her lungs. I can hear it. I don't think there's anything we can do for her in time.”
Rogue bowed her head then looked up into Carol's desperate, pain-filled eyes. Taking a deep breath, Rogue reached out and placed her hand gently on Carol's cheek. The pull, when it started, was slower than it ever had been. Perhaps it was Rogue's reluctance to do this, the ultimate act of taking a life with her mutation. Whatever the reason, the pull did roar to life eventually. Rogue felt tears streaming down her cheeks as Carol's eyes widened and her hand came up so that both Rogue's wrists were trapped by her strength. Rogue was sobbing by the time the final light of life left Carol's eyes. Then the hands holding her wrists went slack, and different hands, strong and large and comforting, were keeping her from falling to the floor, were helping her back to her seat. The rest of the X-Men were quiet as Logan buckled Rogue back into her harness and found his own seat again. For the rest of the flight, the only sounds were those of Rogue crying.