My Own Prison
by Alicia McKenzie
DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Marvel, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I'm writing this before the rest of the Slaver storyline comes out, so clearly I don't know how it ends. I'm assuming Cable gets his body back, somehow, so I've made reference to that. I'm also probably fudging the timeline horribly, as I have no idea in what relation to the Slaver storyline that the X-Men annual 2000 (where Stryfe returned) stands, time-wise. As with my earlier, similarly-themed (but NOT otherwise related) story, Mindful Of Each Ghost, I'm also being purposefully vague about the living arrangements of the teams and so forth, as we don't know anything about that yet. This is, I think, turning into a series, so I may use that sort of vague starting-point as a jumping-off point from continuity. Feedback would be more than welcome.
THE CONCEPT (for those of you who didn't read Mindful Of Each Ghost): Cable's lost his father. The future he grew up in has been reduced to a shadow. He lost his powers like everyone else when the High Evolutionary stepped in, and spent an indeterminate amount of time in a techno-organic cocoon after the virus took over his body. He's had immortal demons running around possessing his friends, been forced to decide between two possible futures, and had his body taken over, yet again. On top of all that, Apocalypse is still running around out there somewhere, in Scott's body. And yet, when you see him on panel these days, he's walking around, cool as a cucumber.
Yeah, right. ;)
The sunrise had been a pale, gentle thing this morning, its light only now beginning to burn away the mist that lay like a blanket over this particular corner of Westchester County. It had rained last night, rained long and hard, and as Rogue walked slowly across the still-wet grass, a bird called from a nearby tree. Its soft, melodic cry seemed like the only sound in the world. Rogue glanced in that direction, but couldn't spot the bird through the tree's thick green leaves.
Her gaze went back to the water's edge, and him. Paying no attention to her as she approached, he moved through something that looked a little like tai chi, if you ignored the psimitar in his hands. The long staff with its wicked-looking blade seemed to be the center of every move he made, as if his body was just an extension of it, along for the ride.
Rogue shook her head at her own fancy. It was fascinating to watch, but deceptive. Someone who didn't know who he was, or what had been going on, might be fooled. They'd look at him and see someone at peace with himself and the world--and they'd be wrong.
She grimaced, asking herself again why she was out here. *Taking this field leader business a little too seriously, girl.* Cable wasn't even on 'her' team. But it had been a member of her team who'd spilled the beans about Stryfe's reappearance in the most mind-blowingly undiplomatic way she could have imagined. Not that she'd been planning to pussy-foot her way around the subject. Logan had pointed out that the truth was the only way to go. He'd actually offered to tell Cable himself, but she'd turned him down. She'd thought she could handle it, been prepared for the predictable sort of reaction. But she hadn't realized how much Piotr had been stewing about the whole thing.
*Tell me, tovarisch,* Piotr's disgusted words echoed in her mind. *How long are we and the world to suffer the consequences of your unfinished business?*
Cable, who'd been close-mouthed and bleak-faced since Jean had freed him from Gorgon's telepathic possession, had actually seemed to take the news itself pretty well, but he'd utterly lost it at Piotr's final, accusing comment. *Lost it? He damned near took Pete's head off before Jean dragged him away to calm down--* Sort of ironic, she thought suddenly. Stryfe had done the exact same thing to Nathan that Gorgon had, hadn't he? Taken over his body, used it to attack friends, teammates.
History had a funny way of repeating itself. She stopped a few paces short of Cable, who still hadn't acknowledged her presence. She tilted her head, smiling wryly, knowing he had to know she was there. He was just ignoring her. "Nathan?" she called softly.
And blinked as the blade of the psimitar stopped about an inch from her nose. "You want to point that stick o'yours somewhere else before ah feel obligated to stick it where the sun don't shine?" she asked, surprised by how fast he'd moved.
Pale and grim-faced, Cable stared right back at her. Only the hard line of his jaw and the look in his eyes - one blazing gold, the other burning cold gray - gave away his anger. "Make me," he said, the words clipped and icy, and the blade of the psimitar started to glow faintly, reflecting the light from his eye.
Rogue stared him down, not budging. "Ah did not come out here to pick a fight," she said quietly.
"Yes, you did," he said, with a flicker of a humorless smile. "Just not this sort of fight."
Rogue raised her hand to push the psimitar aside and down, only to realize she couldn't touch it. Some sort of telekinetic barrier stood in the way. She pushed again, experimentally, and her fingers started to tingle, even through the glove.
"Maybe you're right," she agreed calmly, letting her hand fall back to her side. "So let's stick to words, then."
"What if I don't want to stick to words?"
She tried very hard not to roll her eyes. *Men.* "Knock it off, sugah," she said evenly. "Ah'm not Logan, and ah've got no intention of letting you goad me into a wrestling match. Besides," she smiled thinly, "you'd lose, and you know it."
The psimitar was suddenly withdrawn, and he stood there staring down at her, that cold mask never wavering. "You're such a child," he murmured, very softly.
"Ah beg your pardon? Ah'm not the one pulling the macho bullshit."
"Never mind. What do you want?" He turned his back on her, lowering the psimitar as he moved a few steps away.
"Just to talk," she said, hoping he was done being peevish. "That's all."
"I don't want to talk. I'm sick of talking," he said tonelessly, slashing the psimitar through the air a few times, quick, violent slashes that seemed frustrated, somehow. "Conversation is highly overrated."
"Well, we're gonna talk anyway," Rogue said firmly.
He lowered the psimitar again, and turned back to her. "Let me make this perfectly clear," he said, biting off the end of each cold word. "I'm only going to say this once. I wasn't in on the decision to make you field leader, so you can take whatever authority you think you have over me and choke on it. 'Sugah'."
Rogue folded her arms across her chest. "You this way with Remy?" she asked, surprising herself by how calmly the question came out. Remy still wasn't a subject she liked talking about with anyone, even now.
"No," Nathan said with a grating chuckle, "I'm worse." Rogue bit her lip and then blew irritably at the stray lock of hair that fell into her face. He raised an eyebrow at her. "I take LeBeau's orders," he said, the ice creeping back into his voice. "Most of the time."
"When it suits you to, you mean?" His dismissive shrug infuriated her, and she scowled at him. "Y'know, Nate, being on a team means you've gotta be a team player."
"If you've got complaints about my performance, give them. Otherwise, go flonq yourself, girl."
"All right," she said crisply, ignoring the profanity. He was just trying to piss her off, so she'd go away. "How about letting Gorgon take you out like that?" Nathan's eyes widened, then narrowed dangerously, but she continued, in just as professional a tone. "Ah heard about this right from Jean, sugah, so let's not argue about details. You followed her onto the astral plane - NOT part of the plan - and fell right into a trap like a sloppy amateur." His face reddened, but Rogue didn't let up. "Then Gorgon used your body to take down Ororo and Remy. If you don't call that screwing up, Nate, ah'd love to hear your definition of the term."
His hands flexed on the staff of his psimitar, but his expression had gone dull, oddly wooden. "Point taken," he muttered and turned away again.
"Anyhow," she went on, following him as he moved closer to the water's edge, "that wasn't what ah came out here to talk to you about. Besides, ah'd imagine Jean's already raked you over the coals for it."
It had been meant as a joke, but his shoulders jerked suddenly, as if she'd hit him. "I frightened her," he murmured. "I don't think she's quite forgiven me for it yet."
"She will," Rogue said, not unsympathetically. She understood why Jean was angry; come to think of it, she understood why Nathan had followed his mother onto the astral plane that day in Moscow, however much of a mistake it had been. They'd lost Scott, and it had made the two of them afraid of losing each other. Grief and love made people do strange things. "But like ah said, that's not why ah'm here."
"Then why?" He didn't look down at her as she stopped at his side. His eyes were scanning the waters of the lake restlessly, as if he was searching for something. "Some other complaint? Or is this about Colossus?" His mouth twisted. "You want us to kiss and make up?"
Rogue couldn't help a faint smile at the mental image. "Well," she said, evenly, "ah'd prefer you refrain from trying to put permanent dents in him, but frankly, ah'd have smacked him one, too, if ah'd been in your shoes. He was out of line." She'd told him so, as soon as he and Nathan had been safely separated, but it hadn't taken her scolding to make him feel ashamed of himself. She knew Piotr well enough to know he'd been wishing he could take his words since right about the moment he'd said them.
"Unfinished business," Nathan muttered almost feverishly, his grip on the psimitar tightening again and the glow returning to his eye.
Rogue reached up and laid a gloved hand on his arm. She wasn't going to apologize for Piotr - he'd have to do that himself - but she needed to say something. "You know why he said what he did," she murmured softly. Nathan jerked away, and she let her hand fall back to her side with a sigh. "Ain't an excuse, but there it is."
"Colossus," Nathan said harshly, "hasn't gotten it through his thick skull that I don't have a CHOICE about wearing the same face as--the person responsible for Illyana's death." He paused suddenly, his expression tightening as he stared down at Rogue. "That's why you're here," he said bitterly. "Stryfe."
"More or less," Rogue admitted. "Ah don't--" She hesitated, chewing on her lower lip again for a moment. "Ah feel like we should've been faster, back in Belize." They'd beaten him, stopped him from creating a personal army of Prime Sentinels. That was the important thing. But they hadn't finished the job, and that rankled. "If we'd just managed to keep him from teleporting away--"
"You would have turned him over to the government, they would have put him in the Vault, and his 'getting away' might have been delayed a few days. At best." Cable's smile was tight, clearly forced, but there was something so real underneath it all, just for a moment. "I'm sure you did the best you could."
It didn't sound like a platitude. *Ah wish we could have stopped him for you,* Rogue thought, staring up at him. All of them knew about Cable's face, and what Stryfe had done to them. Instinct told her there was probably even more to the story, but Nathan wasn't much for sharing, and she for one would never presume to push.
Nathan sighed heavily. "Ask me," he said suddenly.
Rogue blinked. "Ask you what?"
"How Stryfe can be running around out there hijacking Prime Sentinels, and be in here at the same time." He tapped his temple lightly. "Isn't that the million-dollar question?" There was a sort of desperate irony in his voice, as if he was trying like mad to convince himself he was making a joke.
Rogue smiled ruefully. "It's been a long time," she pointed out. Quite a while, since Stryfe had taken over Cable's body, and Scott had found out the truth about his 'sons'. "Are you sure he's still there?"
"What, you think he went for a walk and created himself a new body out of thin air?" Nathan snapped, and then gave a harsh, tearing laugh that made Rogue wince. "Then again, why the flonq not?" he said. "It's been known to happen, I suppose." He shook his head violently. "I can never seem to kill him," he said, an edge of hysteria creeping into his voice. "I try and try, and he keeps coming back--"
Rogue reached out and took him by the shoulder, shaking him slightly. "Nathan, stop it," she said, and couldn't help a gasp of surprise as he reached out and grabbed her, his techno-organic hand tightening in the collar of her coat as he pulled her close.
"Or what?" he snarled, very nearly nose to nose with her, his eyes blazing with terrible anger. "I'm having a hard enough time coping with being told what to do at the moment, Rogue. You start trying to tell me how to feel, and I swear, I--"
There were countless ways she could have broken his grip, gotten him out of her face. She didn't use any of them.
"Life's just kicking you every which way these days, ain't it?" she interrupted him, very softly. "Things keep coming at you, so fast you can't keep your balance, no matter how hard you try." Rogue reached up, tracing the side of his face with the back of her gloved hand, ignoring the way he flinched, his jaw clenching even tighter. "It'd help to talk about it, you know," she continued, not sure where the hell all of this was coming from.
She'd come out here intending to confront him. To let him know that running off after Stryfe wasn't an option, and that she didn't have any moral objections to throwing him in one of the mansion's cells if he tried it.
"Pipe," he rasped, his eyes blazing. "Absolute pipe."
But there was something so lost and hurt underneath all that anger in him, and somehow - maybe because of this mess with Stryfe, or maybe because she'd just happened to catch him in a vulnerable moment - it was right there at the surface, so close she could almost reach out and touch it. And even though she was still hesitant about the idea of herself in a leadership position, she knew one thing about the 'job': there was a whole lot more to it than just being tough enough and smart enough when it came to a fight.
You had to care. "Pipe?" she said lightly. "Never heard you use that one before. That new?"
"Stop trying to change the subject," he said vehemently. "If I'd know I was going to have to deal with you and LeBeau trying to--"
"Help you through your troubles?"
"Whatever you want to call it!" he almost shouted, clearly flustered. "If I'd know, I'd have thought a little harder before I signed on!"
"This ain't the army," Rogue said thoughtfully, deciding that a change in tactics was in order. "You don't have to stick around if you hate it this much." She advanced on him slowly, ignoring the way his psimitar came up, almost defensively. "You can walk away whenever you want. Go off somewhere and wallow. No one'll stop you."
"Wallow?" That soft golden glow was gathering around the psimitar's blade again.
"We all feel like we wanna take the coward's way out sometimes," she continued, knowing she was goading him but following her instincts and doing it anyway. "Most of us get over it. But ah suppose we can't hold you to the same standards. You're not REALLY an X-Man, after all. You're just a washed-up religious fanatic who couldn't hack it when it came down to the moment of truth--"
A tightly focused telekinetic blast strong enough to KO an eighteen-wheeler sent her flying back into the air a goodly distance. Catching herself, she shook her head to clear it, and dove at Cable where he stood, his psimitar leveled at her. *Ah'll say this much for him--the man CAN hit--*
She hit him at something only slightly less than 'full ramming speed', tearing his psimitar out of his hands and tossing it aside. He went over with an oof, hitting the ground hard, and she pulled him back up to his knees, an arm locked around his neck from behind, before he could even begin to recover.
"Okay, Nate," she said as amiably as she could, still wheezing faintly, "you wanna try that again? Or are we gonna knock this shit off before one of us gets hurt?"
Still gasping for air, he somehow managed a weak, breathless laugh. "You're--complaining? Thought that was--what you wanted, Rogue. To see how--far you could before me--before I snapped."
Rogue swore under her breath and let him go. He doubled over, clutching at his side with a wince and then grinning at her unnervingly as she moved around to face him. "Cute," she said with a twisted smile. "You get off on these head-games?"
"Don't--get me wrong," he said, straightening. It sent him into a brief coughing fit, and she reached out with a muttering curse to help him up. "It was worth the broken ribs." He rubbed at his side, giving her a slightly bleary, but still baleful look. "So I'm a religious fanatic, am I?"
Rogue flushed. "Ah was trying to get a reaction," she said stiffly. "That was it."
"But part of you believes what you said," Cable said, his eyes searching hers. "You must. Or it wouldn't have come to mind so easily." The bitterness in his voice was so heavy it almost hurt to hear.
But she shook her head firmly. "No way, sugah," she said. "And ah'm resistant to telepathy, remember, so don't try and tell me ah'm giving off that vibe, or something."
His jaw tightened. "So give me the lecture, then," he said harshly.
"You know what lecture I'm talking about," he snapped. "The one you were planning to give me after you goaded me into losing my temper? Remember? That one?" He took a step towards her, hands clenching into fists at his sides. "Come on, Rogue," he invited, his voice savage. "I wouldn't want to take the fun out of it for you."
Rogue shook her head. "Ah'm not going to play this game, Nate," she said warningly. He'd deliberately played into her hands. She wasn't positive, but she thought she had a pretty good idea why. "If you're that bored with kicking yourself in the ass and want someone else to do if for a while, maybe Logan'd oblige you."
Nathan suddenly smiled. It was a terrifying smile, enough to give you goose bumps. "Are you telling me to go and pick a fight with Logan?" he asked, his eyes widening slightly, almost in delight. "Really? Do I have your permission, fearless leader?"
Rogue could have yanked out her own tongue. "Ah was making a bad joke," she said tightly, inwardly wincing. Nathan and Logan had been tiptoeing around each other for months, ignoring each other when it was possible, being scrupulously professional when it wasn't. The rest of them knew that couldn't last. Something was going to break sooner or later.
She suspected that when it did, it would be bad.
"And people say my sense of humor needs work."
Rogue took a deep, unsteady breath. "Ah wish to hell ah knew what was going on in your head," she muttered, and then stiffened as he suddenly took two quick steps towards her, not stopping until there was barely a whisper of space between them.
"Go right ahead," he murmured, staring down into her eyes. She could have pushed him away easily, sent him flying head over heels if the whim had taken her, but instead she felt trapped, somehow. Caught in his eyes like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck. "You really want to know what's going on in my head? Take a look."
"That ain't funny," she whispered.
"You think I'm not being serious?" He grabbed her wrist. She started to pull away, half-heartedly, and he held on, pulling her glove off in one smooth tug and letting it drop to the ground. "Go on, Rogue," he urged her, a hard, wild edge to his voice. "Do your leaderly duty. Find out what's bothering me. No one's going to begrudge you a little peek inside my head if it's for the greater good of the team--" He smiled that awful smile again. "Who knows?" he said softly. "You might enjoy it."
"Damn you!" She yanked her hand free of his grasp, carefully, and bent to pick up the glove. "You think this is something to joke about?" she snarled, straightening.
"I'm not joking," he growled, something almost feral surging up into his eyes. "I'm tired of people looking at me sideways, wondering if Nathan's going to explode today--"
"They wouldn't do that if you weren't acting like a damned lunatic!" Rogue blazed, fury swelling up inside her. "You keep blowing up in people's faces! You've caused so much trouble in town that every bartender in Salem Center cringes when they see you coming, and now you're screwing up on missions!" She pulled her glove back on, her hands shaking violently.
"So?" Nathan asked harshly. "Have a taste, Rogue. Find out why." He leaned closer, and she flinched backwards, instinctively. "Go ahead," he breathed. "I dare you."
"You know damned well what my power does to people," she hissed at him. "Ah ain't a telepath, Nate. You think you're inviting me inside your head? That ain't the way it works!"
"Either do it or get out of my face, Rogue. I mean it," he rasped.
Before she quite knew what she was doing, she'd reached up and taken his face between her gloved hands. She didn't pretend to have the patience of a saint, and he was pushing her hard. "You got mind-raped once already this month," she breathed. "You that eager to have it happen again?" There was a faint tremble to the hard line of his jaw, just for a moment as she brought up Gorgon, but the challenge in his eyes never wavered.
"Who are you more afraid of?" he said through gritted teeth. "Me, or yourself?"
Rogue leaned up and kissed him.
It wasn't much of a kiss. Just a brush of her lips against his, a split-second, no more. She might not be able to control her powers, but she knew how they worked, knew how to take only a 'taste', as Nathan had put it.
She caught him as his knees buckled, lowering him gently to the ground and then kneeling there beside him, squeezing her eyes shut tightly as she tried to cope with the thoughts and memories cascading through her mind, vibrant with color and emotion. So much. So bright. Her eyes snapped open and she stared blindly around, seeing the kinetic potential in everything, sensing the pressure of other minds against her own. The world around her was overlaid by another, a blazingly bright, undeniably real world of the mind that she didn't remember from the time she'd absorbed the Professor's abilities. New, she realized hazily, tapping into Nathan's memories. This was something new, something the High Evolutionary's tampering had caused.
The astral plane had changed. But before she could try and understand it further, Rogue found herself lost in his memories, in the thoughts that had been going through Nathan's mind when she kissed him. Stryfe was there, right on the surface, but there was so much more. The anger and guilt and fear went so much deeper, layer after layer of it, memories and nightmares so tangled together it was impossible to tell which was which.
Domino, lunging at him with the tattoo of the Undying blazing on her forehead. That was real. Rachel, looming over him in the heart of the Phoenix-effect, her face twisted in contempt as she told him how badly he'd failed--that wasn't real. At least, she didn't think it was.
Logan, as Death, with his sword at Caliban's throat. Real. Jean, lying dead, pinned to the ground by a psimitar. Not real.
Scott, leaping towards Apocalypse. More real than anything else she saw, every detail etched into his mind like acid, carved on his soul.
And what she felt--all of that was real. Pain and guilt and grief and fear and anger, all underlaid with exhaustion so intense that it ached, and a sense of imbalance so profound it felt like real vertigo.
She'd hit the nail right on the head, Rogue thought dazedly as the impressions faded and Nathan stirred. He HAD lost his balance; he was reeling like a punch-drunk fighter, too damned tough to fall, to give in to the pain and let it pass.
Nathan opened his eyes, blinking up at her. Swallowing past a lump in her throat, she reached out a hand and helped him sit up. "You surprised me," he said, sounding dazed. "I didn't think you'd do it."
"Well, ah do hate to be predictable," she said hoarsely, stifling the momentary urge to hit him. *Ah knew he was goading me--why the hell did ah do it, then?* Rogue shook her head, wincing as her mind went back to the image of Scott and Apocalypse, fixing on it. "Answer a question for me?"
He rubbed a hand across the back of his eyes, still blinking, as if his vision wasn't quite clear. "I thought you'd have all the answers, after that," he said unsteadily. She opened her mouth to tell him it didn't work that way, but he went on before she could. "But sure, why the hell not."
"Do you really see him every time you close your eyes?" she whispered, inside the memory again for a moment, seeing and feeling what Cable had felt as he pulled himself up off the sands, the pain of the injuries he'd suffered blasting Apocalypse's shield open forgotten entirely as he watched his father charge through the hole he'd made and merge, in one horrifying instant, with the creature he'd come two thousand years to stop. "Even now?"
A tremor crossed Nathan's features, and he looked away, ducking his head. "Every time," he whispered, his voice broken and battered-sounding, the defeat in it heartwrenching. "Even now."
All of her irritation with him and the lingering daze from absorbing his mind vanished like the mist as the sun climbed into the sky, and Rogue leaned forward and hugged him carefully. After a moment, his arms went around her, almost hesitantly, and she felt his broad shoulders shake, just once, in what might have been a sob. She couldn't be sure.
He took a deep, shuddering breath. "You're much better at this than LeBeau," he muttered with a feeble chuckle, and she closed her eyes, telling herself that it really wasn't funny. The mental image could go right to hell--
"And you," she said, pulling back gently, "are a stubborn son of a bitch--"
"I thought you and Madelyne were friends."
She swatted him lightly on the shoulder. "You know that's not what ah meant," she said, trying to sound repressive and failing.
"I know," he said with a heavy sigh. "And you're right." He gave her an ironic little smirk and a half-shrug. "But you can't teach an old dog new tricks."
Rogue reached up and brushed the silver hair out of his eyes with a gentle hand. "Ah can sure as hell try. Now come on--ah bet you haven't had any breakfast yet today, have you?"
"Don't mother me," he muttered as they got up. He looked around, blinking far too rapidly again, and his psimitar twitched where it was lying on the grass, then flew straight to his hand.
"Ah wouldn't dream of it. But ah do make a wicked pot of coffee, if ah do say so myself."
"Promises, promises," he said, giving her a grudging flicker of a smile, much more real than the last, as his eyes met hers.
Anything she might have said would have sounded trite. He wasn't in the mood for a pep talk, even if she'd been inclined to give him one. So as they started back up towards the mansion, she reached out and took his hand, squeezing it gently.
Not only did he not pull away, he actually squeezed back. "Coffee sounds good," he said, dryly.
And Rogue smiled.
on to Frozen Sun
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