God, I hated the Brotherhood House. It was grimy, crumbling, and always had that lingering smell of Toad's gym socks. Nobody ever did laundry but me when I lived there, and I refused to do dishes or any of that other junk... which means it didn't get done at all. I had a hunch that this was what fraternity life was like.
"Hel-LOOO?" I called out, still standing just inside the front door, hands in my pockets. This was lame; getting called over here only to be kept waiting? If they thought I was about to hang around and waste my valuable time, they had another think comin'.
I started, turning to the kitchen door to see Wanda Maximoff glowering at me. You know, I can't lie; she had some fierce fashion sense. Girl was working the crimson and the ankhs in a way that any goth can appreciate. Doesn't mean I liked her... but I didn't hate her, exactly. Amazingly, she had an even more fractured childhood than me, and we orphans and castoffs gotta look out for each other.
"I was just leaving."
As she started to brush past me, I snaked out a hand and caught her elbow. "Hey, uh... how you holdin' up?"
"Like you care," she spat venomously, teeth clenched.
"Fine, fine," I said, letting go; clearly grabbing onto her was not the easiest way to win her over. "But I can see from here that the kitchen looks a lot cleaner than it did back in my day."
Wanda's hand twitched toward the doorknob, but she hesitated. "You... used to live here?"
"Yeah. I, uh... wasn't quite ready to be part of Xavier's 'bright future' plan when I moved to Bayville. Flopped here for a spell."
Her eyes stared away from me, boring a hole into the threadbare carpet of the living room. Then she straightened. "It's getting better. But I still hate them."
"Yeah, they're jerks. Most of the time." I hesitated, scratching my elbow and trying to come up with a way to word things so I didn't sound too mean or too sappy. "Look... this would normally the part where I invite you to join the X-Club, but-"
"That's what I figured. We'd love to have you, but right now it's so crowded that it'd probably drive you up a wall. At least here you got your own room."
The corner of her mouth twitched upward. "Yes. When that amphibious idiot isn't breaking into it."
"Just keep a lock on your underwear drawer," I told her sagely. "Everything else is whatever, right?"
Her eyes laughed, even if she couldn't bring her mouth to do it. "I agree." As she struggled for words, I noticed her cheeks flushing from trying to figure out how to behave. Guess for a second there, she really was the Scarlet Witch. "It... was nice talking with you, I suppose."
"Likewise. See you in class?"
Maybe I said it in some kinda tone that I wasn't aware of, but she gave me the doom glare like you wouldn't believe. "You will not. There are... other things I must do."
"Are you sure? I mean, you're our age. Maybe a little Biology Two wouldn't kill ya."
It shut her up, and cut off her evil eye. Why did she look so sad all of a sudden? A moment later, with a slight nod, she left.
No, Wanda isn't who I'd dropped by to visit. Still, it wasn't half bad shooting the breeze with her for a minute or two. Maybe in another lifetime, where she hadn't been locked up and turned into a nutjob by her less-than-compassionate dad, we could have hung out in school together, kicked it on the weekends. Guess we'll never know.
Once I'd checked the rest of the house, I made my way upstairs. I knew full well where I was going. I eased open the door, knocking as I did.
"Come in." When I made no move to do so, I heard, "Close the door behind you."
Only then did I do it. "Fine. You got me here, I'm all alone. We about to start some grudge match?"
Mystique was sitting on the edge of her bed, hands folded in front of her, eyes pointed at the floorboards. Everything about her reminded me of a caged tiger, anxious and jumpy and ready to run at a moment's notice. It took her a minute or so to gather her thoughts, and even then she didn't look at me.
"This..." She sighed, fidgeting with her fingers. "I apologize, Rogue. I'd hoped that when the day for this conversation came, I'd be better prepared. I've certainly gone over it enough times in my mind."
"Hurry up," I told her, leaning back against the dresser. "We ain't got all day. I should be helping rebuild the mansion you burned down, in case you forgot."
She shot me the tiniest fleeting look; it was quick and totally racked with guilt. "I don't know what to say to you. This isn't as easy as I expected it to be... and I expected it to be excruciating."
"Then just bite the bullet and get it over with."
Another sigh. What had her so worked up? "Rogue... Anna... I wanted to tell you so many times..."
My eyes narrowed to slits. I could barely see her that way, but it was a reflex; in that second I went from slightly annoyed to royally pissed. "How... do you even know that name?"
"Only the Professor knows it – and I'd rather he didn't." My fists balling, I glared down at the Brotherhood's figurehead and demanded, "Who the hell did you torture to get your mitts on it? Huh? Answer me!"
She gave up. I saw the change, saw her deflate like a hot air balloon that's lost all its fuel. "A mother knows."
Cold shakes hit me, and I felt my feet trying to slide out from under my weight. "Wh... I don't get what you're saying. What's going on? What are you trying to tell me, here?"
"It was Destiny who prompted me to adopt you," she charged ahead, tone becoming more businesslike as she made up her mind to get through this as quick as she could. "Her visions of the future are nearly always accurate. Knowing who you might become one day, I couldn't leave you to drift around in the system."
"You're so full of it," I growled, beyond angry now. "I know you're not... don't give me that! Irene is the one who adopted me, not you!"
"That is the name you know Destiny by, yes. But she isn't the one who signed your papers; it was me. I took you in, I raised you from a babe. Only when I realized my actions and responsibilities would demand I be away from you for weeks at a time did I entrust you to her care on a full-time basis. Though even after that, some of those times you were talking with Destiny..."
"It was really you?" I guessed, my fingers white-knuckling on the dresser behind me. It was the only thing holding me up. "You impersonated my foster mom, for what, so you could check in on your pet project?"
"That isn't all there is to this," she pleaded. Her tone was still all superior and had that hard edge it always does, but I couldn't pretend I didn't hear that sickening note of vulnerability creeping in at the corners. "Rogue, I know you better than you know yourself; I do care for you. I care for both of my children, deeply, honestly. But... it was clear to me from the very beginning that I would never make a good mother."
"You're not my mother!" I snapped, my voice breaking. "Shut up, you don't know me at all, why are you pulling this crap?" When she didn't reply, waiting for me to shout myself hoarse, something she'd mentioned clicked into place. "Wait... both of your children. Kurt..."
"By law, Kurt Wagner is your brother."
"Brother," I whispered. "Why? Why didn't I get to know any of this?"
"You weren't meant to." She turned away from me, breathing hard, heel drumming out a nervous beat on the floor. "As I've said, I know I'm a poor excuse for a maternal figure. For all the things I might teach you, I would still fail you in most of the important ways. Destiny – Irene, she was far better suited. She is kind and compassionate, while I am-"
"Yes." I looked up, surprise watering down my rage for a moment, but she was smiling a bleak, pained smile. "Did you think I would disagree? There are many reasons I have become as cold and distant as I have, but they matter little to you. It is too late for me to morph into Donna Reed... even though I could superficially do so."
She shook her head, dismissing that as unimportant. Guess it was. "I have been watching over you, my wayward Rogue. All your life. And I will continue to do so from afar. It is unlikely we will ever have a true relationship, but my affection for you-"
"Oh, save it," I cut her off, folding my arms to keep me from trying to peel the paint off the furniture. "You have no affection. None at all. There's nothing left but hate in your black heart."
"You are wrong. Still, I won't try to convince you otherwise when you so clearly doubt me."
My lip trembled. "I have to ask... I... do you know... I mean, any idea who-"
"No," she told me softly, almost kindly. "There is no record whatsoever of who your real parents are. I searched thoroughly; not because I wanted to reunite you, but because I wished to better understand how you came to gain the powers you have. You were abandoned with no papers and nothing with which to identify you, so if you ever had another identity it is a mystery to us all. It was the priest at the cathedral who christened you with the name you grew up knowing."
"So what," I said snarkily, "am I supposed to be Anna Marie Darkholme? Is that what it says on my birth certificate or something?" Then, when she nodded, I felt my airways closing up, like I'd caught a lungful of pollen. "Oh, God..."
"I have made it clear you are my adopted daughter, which means yes, you bear my surname. It seems a touch moot."
"Got that right," I choked out, despising my voice for breaking like it did.
"Rogue, I do not tell you this to upset you," she said quietly. "Only to make you aware."
"Then why now? Why drop all this on me today, some random number on the calendar? Is my birthday coming up, is that it?"
"Search your heart, my child. I think you know why this has come to pass."
We were both quiet for about thirty seconds. That's how long it took me to put it together.
"Your friend can be... quite insistent."
I darted away from her, running to the window and staring out at the grass and trees and anywhere but that vile woman who was trying to kill the tiny shreds of sanity I had left. "No... she knew all this time, she- why would she hide it from me?"
"I'm not entirely sure." Hesitation, just a little. "But, if I were to hazard a guess, I'd say she couldn't bear to tell you herself. Why she thinks coming from me it would matter more or be less hurtful, I cannot say, but..."
"She was way off."
Suddenly, Mystique was right behind me, her hands laying on my shoulders. I shrugged them away, a primal growl escaping my throat (it's a sound I didn't even think I could make), but when she put them on me again I didn't have the willpower left to stop her twice. "Please, Rogue, I- I know you do not want this. I've spent too much time concentrating on my own endeavours, focusing on mutantkind as a whole, neglecting what was truly important... by now, I know my flaws well enough that I can see what this must be doing to you, finding out I am a branch of your family tree."
And then the worst thing ever happened. When I say "worst thing ever," I mean that it actually threatened to bump "the mansion blowing up" and "finding out I can't kiss boys ever again" from the top spots.
"I'm so sorry," Mystique sobbed. She was crying. Totally, seriously crying big buckets of tears, and it made me want to hurl. How dare she think she deserves any sympathy? "I can't- I didn't want- you, and Kurt, and everything I've ever... all of my schemes and personal triumphs amount to a dunghill in light of the crimes I've committed against my own children. Wh... what am I?"
Okay, I gave her a little something. There wasn't much I was willing to, but for about fifteen seconds I let her hold onto my back, let her cry. I wanted to punch her lights out, but the sound was so terrible and disgusting and upsetting to me that I couldn't do anything, couldn't move. So I let it happen for a while, let her spew out those icky emotions. And then I spoke in a whisper.
"I don't know what you are. But you are not my mother." Then I pulled away, and she didn't follow. Maybe a foot, barely enough to break the connection. "Neither is Irene, not after this. I... I have no family. None."
"I am sorry, Rogue, but that isn't true." Her tone was still moist, but there was a glint of steel under it; she wasn't going to budge. "You will always be part of my household, even if you disown me. For both the sake of our future, and the sake of your well-being, I shall never stop caring for you."
"Then watch over me from afar, like you said. Because you and I? We will never, ever be good." Mustering all my gumption, I whirled and stared her in the face, our noses an inch or two apart. "You tried to kill my best friend. Three or four times, right? You blew up my home, you abandoned my brother, you kidnapped Professor X... what did you think I would do, ask to go on a mother-daughter spa trip?" I faltered, trying not to think too hard about the broken look on her face, the forlorn longing I saw there. It hurt – it actually hurt to watch. "You're no mother, you're no friend. It's way too late for a crazy old leopard like you to change her spots. All you do is spread misery wherever you go, and you don't even care. So get out of my life and quit ruining it!"
To my extreme anger, her hand drifted up and stroked my hair, tears still sliding down her cheeks. The way she looked then... it was almost enough to get me crying, too. But there was no way I was gonna let her see me like that. She hadn't earned the right.
"I love you, Daughter." Then Mystique turned away, clutching her upper arms, back shaking. "Go. I've said my peace."
"You love me," I breathed, outraged.
"Yes. Whether or not you wish to accept it, or ever will, I..." She cleared her throat self-consciously, still not turning to look at me again. "It seems my brief stewardship of your young friend's simpering soul has made this world-weary harridan go soft. After the Sentinel disaster, and your imprisonment... I would not have forgiven myself if I lost you again without having said it, even just once when it causes you agony. Do not expect me to apologize for it."
I took several heaving breaths, trying to calm myself, but it wasn't working. Not at all. I had to get out, and quick. "Then don't. Don't ever talk to me, don't come near me. And you stay away from Risty!"
Now she gave a slight laugh. "Risty has... nothing to fear from me anymore."
The room was silent for over a minute. It was one of the longest minutes of my life, her staring into the corner, me watching her back and trying to burn a hole through it with my eyes. Then I spat out the word "Good" and high-tailed it outta there, slamming the door in my wake.
"Had enough, Lavender?" Logan goaded me over the loudspeaker.
"Hardly!" I cackled. Maybe when I say "cackle" I mean "wheeze pitifully" in this instance, but who's really paying attention to petty details like that? "Bring it on!"
"You asked for it, bub."
That is, of course, the very moment the door to the Danger Room slid open. I dropped my hands to check on the reason for this, and the training robot decked me with all its might. "Whoof! Cor blimey, but that smarts!" Laughing, I gave the voice command to end the simulation as I pushed to my feet. But the moment I caught sight of Rogue's furious dial, I felt my stomach vanishing into thin air.
"Ah." Smiling sweetly, I called up toward the ceiling, "Logan?"
"I'm takin' five already," he sighed in that adorable gruff tone of his. "Damn gossipy kids..."
Once I decided Wolverine was no longer listening in, I turned back to my mate and sniffed, wiping the droplets of saline solution from my forehead and droplets of blood from beneath my nose. "What can I do for ya?"
I nodded, gulping. This was shaping up to be entirely the worst few minutes in the history of mankind. "Then it went rather poorly, I gather?"
"'Rather poorly'. That's all you got to say?" She stalked over to me, and I backpedaled as her finger jabbed into my chest, perhaps hard enough to bruise. "You lied to me!"
"When did I lie?" I protested, hands held up, palms open. "Never once did I say, 'Rogue, Mystique couldn't possibly be your adoptive mother!' Did I? If I did, then I dare you to list the time and date, because-"
"You should have told me! Don't you think I had a right to know that the stupid two-faced tramp is my MOM?"
"Of course you did, luv," I soothed as she shook me by the shoulders; my words came out in slight vibrations. "But it wasn't my place to tell you."
"Sure it was! You're my best friend, you have to tell me shit like that!"
"It was her responsibility, not mine!" I yelped. "I wasn't going to do her dirty work!"
"Are you seriously trying to-"
"She's your sodding mother, for Christ's sake!" I shouted back, suddenly angry myself. Whenever did that happen? Probably had something to do with her blaming me over Mystique withholding information – and over Mystique making this argument necessary in the first place with her astounding cowardice. "It's the least she could do for you after tossing you on Irene's doorstep and leaving you floundering in a world ill-prepared for your unique gifts! So I was quite dead-set on having her own up to her own mistakes with her own barbed tongue, even if it meant twisting her arm to make it come to pass!"
"But maybe I didn't want to know this!" she protested, eyes streaming, face contorted. "Maybe this is the last thing I wanted to find out about! As long as I didn't know, I could imagine my parents were out there, wondering what had happened to their baby, looking for me, missing me! But now I know they dropped me off at a church like a bag of old clothes, and Magneto's downsized assassin thought I might be useful someday, and that's the whole reason I'm even still alive by now! Why in the hell would I want to know any of that?"
"It doesn't matter if you did or didn't want it – because I'm fairly certain you didn't! You had the right! Didn't you claim not two seconds previous that you did? She should have told you ages ago, and shoot it all to buggery, she needed to do it herself! What would be the point if it came from me?"
"At least it would... it woulda come from somebody I love, not somebody I'd love to run over in a pickup truck!"
I rested my fists on my hips. Deep down within the hidden crawlspaces of my inner being, I felt this iota of my heart squeal with glee when she told me I counted as a loved one. Mostly, though, I was still miffed. "Be that as it may, it's too late. If you're really cross that I made this judgement call, then I'm sorry you feel that way. But I thought it was the right thing then, and even now I uphold that decision. She had to be the one coming clean, the same way I came clean that Mystique had shanghaied my body and that I'm only partially alive. I couldn't face the music on her behalf."
It seemed I was at last getting through to her; her breathing was still ragged and her eyes still leaked, but she remained silent, merely glaring at me, trying to come up with a searing retort. We had a long wait.
When she finally turned away just enough so she couldn't see me anymore, I said, "Rogue-"
"Leave me alone."
I nodded; it was plain that she wasn't going to get over such an ugly revelation overnight. "Danger Room's all yours."
And out I went, ripping off my gloves as I walked, inwardly dreading the damage Raven had dealt to my gal pal. Since, as always, it would be up to me to mop up my "better" half's messes.
••••••••••••••••••X••••••••••••••••••END CH XXII