DISCLAIMER: This is an unauthorized work of fiction using characters that are (c) & TM by Marvel Comics Group. No profit is being made on this story, so I'll invoke The Marvel Readers' Bill of Rights:
"8. The right to practice scripting and drawing our Marvel characters for your own pleasure and amusement."
The story is (c) Tilman Stieve (Menshevik@aol.com). You can download this and copy it for your entertainment, but don't sell it for profit, or Marvel will set their lawyers on you. Please do not archive this on your website without informing me first. Feedback would be very much appreciated.
WARNING: This story features sexual scenes [M/F], although they are not really more graphic than what you would find in the steamier kind of romance novel. If you are forbidden to read this kind of thing in your part of the world, I have to tell you not to read it. The instalments featuring sexual descriptions will be marked.
Midnight Sun is a 'between the panels' story based on Rogue and Magneto's adventure in the Savage Land (Uncanny X-Men #269, 274 and 275). It both is and is not one of my series, the "Tales of the Twilight Menshevik" -- it is set before the point where the Twilight Menshevik timeline diverges from Marvel's main timeline. In other words, this story can be read both on its own and as part of the series (where it takes place before "A Year in the Life", in January 1994). You can find the other Tales archived on "Fonts of Wisdom" (http://home.att.net/~lubakmetyk/), on "Down-Home Charm" (http://www.public.asu.edu/~alykat/X-Men/Rogue/rogue.htm) and on "Queen of Hearts" (http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Hollow/3776/queenofhearts.html). This story will soon appear in html format on at least one of these sites.
This story is for Rivka Jacobs and Alara Rogers. I get by with a little help from my friends.
By Tilman Stieve, aka the Menshevik
It is, to borrow Dickens' overused phrase, the best and the worst of times. For all practical intents, the young woman is alone in her world, in the midst of a primeval landscape, out of touch with her friends, bereft of her family and stripped of her superhuman powers. And yet she feels strangely content. She has been on the move for days without seeing any indication of current human habitation, let alone civilization. But she looks back on her road with a certain satisfaction.
A couple of weeks ago, she returned from beyond the Siege Perilous, where she had fallen months before. One moment she was fighting against the Master Mold, the huge Über-Sentinel, in America, the next she found herself back in her room in the X-Men's base in the Australia. That she reappeared without clothes was nothing to her shock to discover how much time had passed since her last battle and to seeing a television news report that her two surrogate mothers, Mystique and Destiny, were dead. She called out to her teammates, but they were nowhere to be found, and the Outback ghost town where they had lived was once more occupied by the Reavers, Donald Pierce's team of cyborg warriors. And as if facing them wasn't bad enough, she now discovered that the powers she had permanently absorbed years ago from Ms. Marvel -- superstrength, invulnerability and the power of flight -- were gone.
She would not have escaped but for the unexpected reappearance of Ms. Marvel (how could she be back?). Carol Danvers did not seem to be friendly to Rogue, but she provided a distraction. In the ensuing fracas Rogue managed to elude both her and the cyborg mercenaries. Barely keeping ahead of her pursuers she reached the top of Gateway's hill. Absorbing the Aborigine mutant's powers, she managed to create a dimensional portal to escape -- no matter where.
The portal dropped her somewhere in the Savage Land, the mysterious prehistoric 'biosphere' artificially created and maintained in a ring of volcanoes on the northern marches of Palmerland on the Antarctic Peninsula, just above the 70th degree of Southern latitude. Slowly she traveled the length and breadth of the land, trying to find Nereel or Ka-Zar and through them a way back to civilization. Ever since this land of jungles, dinosaurs and other forms primeval animals had been destroyed by Terminus and recreated by the High Evolutionary, most of the dwindled tribes had united under the leadership of Nereel of the Fall People and moved together in one village, so it was not that surprising that she did not come across any other human being. Although the Savage Land is not all that huge a place, the search for her friends is proving very time-consuming, and almost every day she has to take detours to get around a sheer cliff-face or avoid packs of the more dangerous species of dinosaur. But Rogue feels so good about being able to adapt to this environment without using her powers, about pushing her body to its limits that she almost doesn't care.
She arrived with nothing than the suit on her back, and that soon was in tatters, partly from wear and tear, partly because Rogue kept tearing off strips for bandages and a headband. But she has learned to fend for herself (her previous visit and those National Geographic TV documentaries have not been in vain, she grins to herself). There was one notable good piece of fortune, when she came across a long-abandoned hut where she found a steel knife, and now she is ready for anything. She gathers nuts, fruits and berries, builds fires without matches, and spears fish and small reptiles with self-made tools. She no longer having to live with Carol's continuous presence in her mind, and wishes her old nemesis well, wherever she might be. Although she no longer has superhuman strength, she is glad of the second chance the Siege Perilous gave them. Or seems to have given.
Being alone for days on end gives her the leisure to reminisce. As she marches mile after mile through rough country, or when she lies naked in the sun, soaking up the rays after her end-of-the-day dip in the water, she can ponder the many changes she has gone through in the nineteen years and a bit of her life. And she finally can mourn the death of her adoptive parents.
It is strange -- she saw Mystique only five times after she joined the X-Men, never for more than a couple of hours, and two of the occasions had really been confrontations, not reunions. And yet, if someone had asked her during those two years who was the most important person in the world to her, she would have answered "Raven Darkhölme" without hesitation. Or nearly so, because on reflection she would also have mentioned Destiny, who deliberately chose to stay in the background.
It was difficult before Raven and Irene arrived on the scene. Maybe the woman who had born her had been a loving mother in her early years, but as far as Rogue could remember -- back until she was about five years old -- she was a bitter person. Shunned by her relatives, abandoned by the man who had impregnated her, and given little or no sympathy by her ever-changing employers, she ultimately foundered on the challenge of making a living, raising a child by herself and paying off her debts. Her life continued to deteriorate at an increasing pace, from working as a maid in various of the larger mansions of Caldecott to ill-paid jobs in fast food establishments and on a few occasions even donating blood for money. Many was the time she let slip how much easier her life would have been if her daughter had never been born, and with increasing frequency she drowned her frustrations in drink or physically took them out on her daughter. When Rogue thinks of her biological mother now, she remembers a mixture of fear and disgust, tinged by the pity of hindsight and alleviated only by a handful of happy memories.
Back then, as her mother associated herself with a succession of abusive boyfriends, she spent more and more time away from home. She kept hanging out with other delinquent kids from the wrong side of the tracks. That was when her nickname 'Rogue' took hold. The tomboyish little girl preferred it to the classical name her mother had given her. In the end it seemed that unloved name was only used by her mother, and more often than not as a prelude to a thrashing. Moving across the Mississippi into Louisiana's Bayou Country failed to improve their economic outlook. Rogue did find a new set of friends from whom she picked up the local Cajun French, but after two years they moved back to Mississippi. That was not the only reason her relationship with her mother got even worse, but it was a contributing factor.
One night, after a bad beating, she decided to run away. She fended for herself for a few days, by begging and petty thievery, keeping on the move but not really knowing what to do next. And then one day she found an elegantly dressed old lady with dark glasses sitting on a park bench. The open handbag next to her was too good to miss. Rogue snuck up and lifted the purse from inside the bag...
...and suddenly felt herself lifted up by the scruff of her neck by a strong hand. Where had that other woman come from? "Not so fast, little thief!" said the strange black-haired woman. She turned to the older woman and spoke to her in a language Rogue could not understand. It sounded like a question.
The answer was spoken softly: "Ja, das is das Madel von dem ich g'prochn hab. Aber pass' auf, Schatz, gleich wird's versuchen, dir in die Kniescheibn zu tretn." Only later would Rogue learn that that meant 'Yes, that's the girl I talked about, but watch out dear, she'll try to kick you in the knee-cap' in Irene Adler's native Austrian German. At the time she was surprised how easily the younger woman foiled her attempt to break away and run.
That was how she first had encountered her future parents. They admitted it had been a setup: Irene had foreseen the potential of what would happen if they wait for her here, with her purse as the bait. And from that it was only a short step to learning that Destiny and Mystique were mutants with special powers that set them apart from ordinary folk. Rogue was fascinated, and soon after that, they adopted the little girl. Mystique had her ways of making things happen, starting with her appearing at Rogue's mother's trailer in the imposing shape of an official from Child Welfare and getting her to sign the necessary forms (she pulled up stakes and moved upriver all the way to Memphis a few weeks later). Arranging that they were officially recognized as Rogue's guardians -- and then seeing to it that the relevant official files somehow 'got lost' when they moved away.
Rogue wondered why these two elegant strangers went through all these efforts for her. About a year she finally mustered up the courage to ask Irene why she and Raven had sought her out, and she got the reply: "You see, dear, I know what it is like to lose a child, and Raven has been through that twice. And then I foresaw that if we found you, we had a chance to be happy with you."
In later years, when Rogue had grown more cynical, she became sure that was not the entire story. The blind precognitive mutant almost certainly had also 'seen' that Rogue would become a powerful mutant herself, she thought. But if Irene had not told the whole truth, she had not lied either, for what followed the adoption were some of the happiest years in Rogue's life. She felt great, important even, that her new parents let her in on their secrets (some of them, at any rate). Knowing that they were mutants and lovers, and being able to think "It they only knew!" about the outside world made her feel special, even before she learned that she was a mutant herself. The good citizens of Caldecott County thought that Irene was Raven Darkhölme's mother, a belief that they and Rogue encouraged; Rogue called Raven 'momma' and Irene 'grandma' or sometimes 'Omi', in deference to her country of origin.
Momma was the more active one, the one who would go outdoors with Rogue, sometimes assuming the shape of a ten-to-fifteen-year-old to join Rogue's friends as a visiting 'cousin Laura from Tupelo' as they played Cowboys and Indians in the underbrush on the banks of Old Muddy. Or Rogue and Raven would play their private version of Hide and Seek, when Mystique used her metamorphic powers to hide among the people on the streets of their small town and Rogue would have to pick her out and then buttonhole her with a previously arranged inconspicuous phrase.
At the time, Raven spent most of the time in deep cover, devoting a lot of her efforts to her career at the Pentagon, rising in the D.A.R.P.A. hierarchy. A lot of her work was in military bases and testing ranges in the South, but she still disappeared on long, mysterious journeys, leaving Rogue behind in Irene's care. In the evenings, Destiny would then sit at Rogue's bedside and tell her stories of her youth in Europe, or read her from blind readers' editions of Alice in Wonderland, the Just So Stories, or The Wizard of Oz as Rogue looked at the pictures in the old editions from Irene and Raven's library. Irene even started teaching her to read Braille. During school breaks the whole family sometimes made vacations in Louisiana and in one year even on the French Riviera so that Rogue's French would not go rusty.
And then came puberty, and the power inherent in the x-factor in Rogue's genes was activated: the ability to absorb the powers and memories of anyone whose skin she touches. It was a traumatic time. Not only did she have to go through experiencing the thoughts and memories of two of her friends and watch them fall into a temporary unconsciousness, she now was even denied the accustomed intimacy she had shared with her parents. Kissing no longer was possible, and when she had a nightmare, she no longer could rush into Mystique's arms -- the kind of nightdress they wore in the sweltering Southern heat would have made the risk of skin contact too great. Then there was the additional discomfort of always covering up the entire body at day, which also was bound to cause Rogue's friends and acquaintances to wonder sooner or later. So it was not surprising that the family moved elsewhere some time later, eventually winding up in Washington, D.C., after Raven Darkhölme was appointed head of D.A.R.P.A.
In her frustration and alienation Rogue became a willing recruit to Mystique's terrorist group, the new 'Brotherhood of Evil Mutants'. Even though she had absorbed some unpleasant thoughts on the few occasions she had touched her since gaining her power, she saw nothing wrong in it. It was what the teenaged mutant wanted to do. Being part of an underground army appealed to her yearning for adventure, it was like a game of cops and robbers magnified tenfold, like running away with Huck Finn and Jim, like joining Kim's Great Game, with Mystique and Destiny as her Mahbub Ali, her Teshoo Lama!
Her first missions were comparative milk runs that posed no moral dilemmas. Why should one see liberating a fellow mutant from being imprisoned like a lab rat as anything but a positive good? Fighting a criminal cartel like the Hellfire Club -- what was wrong with that? But it became a slippery slope: First it was a matter of knowing you did the right thing because of the enemies Mystique fought, but it gradually turned into knowing the others were evil because Mystique was against them. In retrospect it is easy to see how that happened, but at the time Rogue did not notice. This was partly because Mystique only gradually initiated her daughter into the Brotherhood, and partly because she at first genuinely tried to keep Rogue out of the more questionable actions. After some time, however, a new element entered Rogue's outlook: A thirst for revenge.
Rogue soon had started to take her licks in the Brotherhood's battles. Before she turned seventeen she had almost been killed twice and become all fired up to get her own back on the two people responsible, Ms. Marvel and the Black King. She got her chance after the entire Brotherhood was captured in an abortive attempt to assassinate the mutiphobe Senator Robert Kelly, when Mystique had only her to help her spring their comrades from prison. As a first step, Mystique sent Rogue to ambush Ms. Marvel in San Francisco -- stealing her powers would give them the edge necessary to make the breakout a success.
But something unexpected happened, something that would take her life on an unforeseen course. It was a terrible fight that once again brought Rogue within an inch of losing her life. In the end, the transfer of powers and memories became permanent, not temporary as it had been on previous occasions. Ever since, or at least until the Siege, Rogue was tormented by having a second personality -- Carol's -- in her head, and more often than not at loggerheads with the one with which she was born.
Rogue shudders when she thinks of the person she then became -- cruel, vindictive, sometimes taking pleasure in the pain of others. Someone who repeatedly tried to kill Alison Blaire out of a grudge born on the spur of a moment. How much of that came from the dark recesses of her own personality, and how much was due to her power-induced multiple-personality disorder, who could decide?
The psyche she had absorbed from Carol at any rate did not act as a restraining influence. But how could she learn compassion from her, given the circumstances? The way Rogue absorbed a person's powers and the contents of their brains could not help being affected by her victims' state of mind and other factors. As to the powers, Rogue somehow seemed to have missed out on Ms. Marvel's ability to change from clothing in a flash of supernal light, and on most of the Seventh Sense that had formed such an important part of her power makeup. Only once, much, much later, in the night when she, Kurt and Piotr fought against Warlock's 'father' Magus, was there an occasion when she thought it might have kicked in. As to the other, Carol Danvers herself possessed a deeply troubled psyche, because when she had received her powers through the Psyche-Magnitron, she had developed the phantom persona of a Kree warrior that in times of stress rose to the surface from her subconscious. This added complexity would make it impossible even for Professor Xavier to read Rogue's mind.
When Rogue and Carol had fought on the Golden Gate Bridge, that part of Carol's personality -- maybe also her training as a USAF officer and a secret agent? -- had come to the fore. It may not exactly have obliterated her gentler aspects, but buried them deep in her subconscious, from which they emerged only rarely, usually when the 'Carol' personality was in control of Rogue's body.
In that duel in San Fran, Carol had fought with everything she had to defend herself. She had not pulled her punches, she had not had any compunctions about killing her teenaged assailant. Rogue had been very lucky to survive. She probably owed her life to the fact that Ms. Marvel's gloves had torn early in the fight. So when Carol's fist finally connected with Rogue's jaw, there was a split-second's worth of skin-to-skin contact which for a precious few seconds transferred Ms. Marvel's invulnerability to her. If not for that, her spin would probably have snapped as her head was whipped backwards by Carol's punch, and her brains might well have been splattered all over the place as she was propelled head-first through a passing truck. (Rogue never would talk about this to the X-Men, at first because they were Carol's friends and probably would have assumed she was just making up an excuse for attempting to kill Carol; later, when she finally realized the enormity of her crime, Rogue herself could no longer blame her erstwhile foe.) Carol fought for her life with every fiber of her being, and that fight continued even after Rogue absorbed her powers and personality for good. Or bad. At first Rogue tried to silence the clamoring voice in her head by throwing her comatose foe off the bridge. (Unbeknownst to her, Carol was saved by Spider-Woman).
Ultimately, the unceasing conflict in her psyche drove her away from home, made her leave the ones she loved because she thought no one but Professor X could help her. Charles Xavier did help her with her problems, enabling her to become her own woman after a fashion, even if 'Carol' continued to exist in Rogue's subconscious, from where she would return to take over her conscious mind and body when she got the chance. The Professor could not help Rogue to control her absorption power; there was always something that prevented them from making the necessary tests. Rogue secretly thought that maybe it would have been possible to find a cure but for the troublesome influence of 'Carol'.
Momma took her departure very hard. At first Mystique thought that Xavier had telepathically made Rogue leave her family, and mounted an attack with the Brotherhood, attempting to kill Professor X and to get her daughter back. Rogue managed to dissuade Raven, but she then did not have it in her to prevent her from escaping and blackmailing the X-Men into letting the Brotherhood go. She found she felt bad about that and therefore did not hesitate to risk her own health and life, to undergo excruciating pain to help save her new teammate Colossus' life.
Rogue began to reassess her outlook on life and her ideals. Xavier had made her join the X-Men as a probationary member, and although the others had initially rejected her, she threw herself into being an X-Man without determination. Professor X had helped her, and she was not going to prove him a fool for trusting her. For the first week and months it was a personal thing -- putting her life on line for Charles Xavier, for Mariko Yashida, for the teammates who were slowly, and sometimes grudgingly accepting her as one of their own. As far as her own past crimes were concerned, she mainly felt happy that she had not actually succeeded in killing anybody. Then an encounter with a former lover of Carol Danvers forced her to drastically reassess that position. At the time, her exhaustion had allowed 'Carol' to surface from her subconscious, and Rogue had actually felt for Colonel Mick Rossi what Carol had felt. Only then did she realize with her heart, not just her brain, what it meant that Carol never got her feelings and emotional memories back after she was brought back from the coma into which Rogue had put her in San Francisco. She had as good as killed her victim, she was not even nearly off the hook. Her self-esteem sank to zero. Could it be possible, she thought, that she was at heart a bad person, who now only acted heroically because of what she had absorbed from Carol?
She withdrew to herself, hating herself for what she had done. Finally Storm pulled her out of the dumps, following her to the banks of the Mississippi to have a frank talk from woman to woman that taught the lonely youngster to begin to like herself again and infected her with Ororo's confidence in Rogue's potential for honor and decency. She began to recognize that the wind-rider was not just her teammate, she cared for Rogue as a friend, and for her friendship she was willing to entrust herself to Rogue, to let her touch her to enable her to see the world through her eyes. Experiencing for herself Ororo's oneness with nature was a precious gift, one given in the face of unknown risks. Rogue had been tempted to prolong it by a second touch, she recalled, but drew back fearing the transfer might become permanent. A fear born of her experience with Ms. Marvel which would take a while in overcoming. She also saw in Ororo's memories how close Storm had come to quitting the X-Men when Professor X had decreed that Rogue would join no matter what she thought, how hard it had come to her to put aside her distrust and the pain she felt for her friends whom Rogue had hurt in the past, but also how certain she was that her former enemy deserved this effort.
Ororo. Who became almost as important to her as Mystique had been when she was a girl. My God, where is she now, Rogue, wonders. At least for her there is a glimmer of hope left, not like for --. The X-Men vanished without trace from the Australian base, but that does not necessarily mean they're dead. Unfortunately with them being invisible to cameras and all, it will be a devil of a task tracking them down. Heaven knows where everybody went. When she gets back to civilization it probably will be the best to find out if the X-Factor guys are still in New York. Or she could try to track down Kurt and Kitty -- Moira should still know where they are. Of course it will come as a shock to them to find out that she is still alive after all, and not killed in the fight against the Adversary in Dallas. The city to which she had tracked Storm after Ororo had been struck by the Neutralizer, just after that supreme moment on the riverbank. Back in those eventful days, Rogue gradually learned to become what was called a hero not just out of camaraderie (although loyalty to her friends remained important), but because she knew in her heart it was the right thing to do. She was no nearer to finding a way to control her powers, but that no longer seemed as important as it once was.
Not long after, Mystique went through an unexpected about-face: Having decided that her terrorist agenda was unviable, she adapted to a world that was increasingly fearful of mutants by offering the services of the Brotherhood to the Federal government. But this was a move born out of expediency. Rogue by that time was so firmly rooted in the X-Men, that she refused to return to her adoptive mother on the two occasions she asked her, even though this was a choice that caused both of them some pain. When they last parted, Rogue apparently went to face certain death in the battle against the Adversary. And now, Rogue reflects, according to the TV news I saw in Australia, momma is dead, and who can tell if it was not because she lost the will to live after seeing the two people who meant the most to her go to their deaths?
Am I seeing Raven Darkhölme bathed in the rosy glow of a somewhat selective remembrance? After leaving her adoptive family, Rogue had come to reassess a great many of Raven's attitudes and actions, ultimately rejecting her political agenda. She also is became certain that at some points momma had skillfully manipulated her, but it would be a cop-out to saddle her with the entire blame for the kind of person Rogue became when she ran with the Brotherhood. That would be too much like not facing up to her own responsibility and anyway, it was only half of the story. Raven and Irene had given her the kind of love and security she had only dreamed of before meeting them, and they had encouraged her to be self-reliant. And whatever Mystique's hidden agenda may have been originally, it proved no match for the genuine love she grew to feel for her adopted daughter. It wasn't easy for momma, but came to respect Rogue's choice to join and stay with the X-Men, even when it appeared they would not be able to help her control her powers. She has sometimes wondered if Mystique had changed her own activities to make things easier for the 'new' Rogue. For after she had failed in her attempt to win her daughter back by attacking the X-Men, had she not gradually curtailed the Brotherhood's activities? And to what extent had Mystique's decision to 'go straight' by striking her deal with Valerie Cooper been influenced by Rogue continuing to work with the X-Men? The answers to these questions Raven had now taken to her grave. All that matters to Rogue in the end is that Raven and Irene loved her as parents should love a child, and that for all their conflicts, she loved them and never was ashamed of her love. She is certain she will cherish the memory of that love until her dying day.
And now she finally arrives at her destination, but she is in for a shock. The dense vegetation of the jungle gives way to millet fields, and then a ruined village comes into view. It is that of Nereel's United Tribes, the one she and the other X-Men helped rebuild not that long ago. She even finds the sigil they had left behind, the one Madelyne Pryor had designed. It is spattered in blood.
For a moment she is overcome by the desolation and the dashing of her immediate hopes of a return to civilization, but she pulls herself together. At that moment she is ambushed by 'Carol'.
The Ms. Marvel who had pursued her in Australia is not Binary returned to her previous state. She is the personality and powers Rogue had absorbed from Ms. Marvel on the Golden Gate Bridge -- split off and given flesh by the Siege Perilous. She looks horrifying, more like a decaying corpse than a living human being. She really is out to kill her this time, and as Rogue is fighting for her life against her, it emerges why: Rogue's life-essence is not sufficient to keep two bodies alive, and the revenant 'Carol' is determined to drain Rogue of her part. As they are fighting the balance of powers and of life-force keeps shifting between the two women. At one point, Rogue has her foe at her mercy, but she cannot bring herself to kill her again. 'Carol' has no such scruples, and ruthlessly exploits this moment of hesitation. Rogue loses her consciousness, feeling her body shriveling up and seeing 'Carol's' triumphant grimace before her.
He has come to Antarctica because someone is tampering with Earth's electro-magnetic field. Scientific bases in the frozen wastes have been raided, their crews either slaughtered or abducted. Six mysterious towers are being erected in positions that could be used to harness the planet's magnetic field either as a weapon or to concentrate a hitherto unheard of level of power in one point. He did not have to investigate long to find out who was behind this: Zaladane, after stealing her sister's magnetic powers, intends to set herself up as the new Empress of Electro-Magnetism. Her troops are overrunning the Savage Land, but she makes no secret of the fact that she sees that only as the first step in her scheme of world conquest.
For the moment, Magneto is lying low in Sauron's old citadel, analyzing the queen's moves, trying to find a way to breach her defenses and thwart her plans. He is not in peak form, he still has not fully recovered from his terrible psychic confrontation with the Shadow King some weeks before. After Zaladane's forces sacked the village of Nereel's United Tribes and drove off the inhabitants, he installed cameras there, hoping that maybe Ka-Zar and his wife Shanna will show up to investigate. It comes as a complete surprise to him that the first person to appear is Rogue, who is clearly devastated to find the village abandoned and destroyed. But he cannot help being touched by the way she overcomes this blow, exhorting herself not to be a wuss and reminding herself that Mystique and Storm had taught her better than to fold under pressure. Then suddenly Magneto's radar picks up an unknown flying object -- not one of Zaladane's pterodactyl riders -- heading straight for Rogue at the speed of sound. He rushes to the village to investigate, and arrives in the nick of time to save Rogue from being killed by the revenant of her old nemesis. He carries his former ally to the medical lab in his base, to help heal her beaten-about body. When she comes to, she asks him about Carol Danvers. He replies: "I did, child, what had to be done to save a life. Only one of you could survive. I chose you."
Rogue does not take long to relocate her bearings. Even though she is glad to be alive, she also is a bit sorry that there had been no alternative that would have permitted the Carol avatar to survive. Magneto can understand that mixture of guilt and pity -- if by some miracle the sailors of the Leningrad, were brought back to life for instance, he too would not want to see them killed again. On the other hand, he feels these emotions are misplaced in this case, but he does not stress this view. In any case, after some rumination, Rogue arrives at a philosophical conclusion: "Reckon that's another thing ah'll have t' explain to Binary when ah finally meet up with her again."
By that time they have sat down at the table in the little dining area Magneto set up in a corner of the huge kitchen. He apologizes for the frugality of the meal he has prepared from stores he picked up at the abandoned Amundsen-Scott Base: "Unfortunately the previous owner of this citadel departed without leaving any of the domestic staff behind, and I simply did not have the time to build a robot cook," he tells her half-seriously.
"Never mind," she replies, "it's already a luxury that ya have somethin' ready for me. Y'know, this is mah first meal that ah haven't prepared mahself since ah came back to Earth." And as she digs in heartily, she begins to tell him what happened to her since her apparent death in Dallas. Magneto had half-hoped that Rogue's presence might herald the arrival of some of her X-Men teammates, but that is not to be. In fact, she has even less of an idea of what is going on in the world than he himself, for most of what she knows is from a news bulletin she happened to see when she returned from her 'sojourn' in the far beyond. So now he has to bring her up to date about the sparse news he has gathered of unconfirmed sightings of some of the X-Men, and more urgently, about recent events in their more immediate vicinity.
In the days that follow, Rogue recuperates quickly, but only to a point. Even though 'Ms. Marvel' is dead, leaving her in the full possession of the life-essence that had been divided in two bodies, Rogue for some unknown reason does not regain her super-powers, neither those with which she had been born, nor those she had permanently absorbed from Carol Danvers. But in spite of her handicaps she was ready, no, eager to join him in his fight against Zaladane's plans. And they finally manage to track down Ka-Zar and the villagers. They are deeply agitated about Zaladane's new campaign of conquest. The tribespeople and Ka-Zar's family move to Magneto's citadel, which so far has not been attacked. What surprises Magneto most is that everybody is ready to trust him implicitly, in spite of his dark past and recent failures.
With Rogue and Ka-Zar (also his sabretooth tiger Zabu) they go out on a reconnaissance patrol. But they are too late to contact another group of potential allies. Radar and other electronic equipment are all but totally neutralized by the permanent electro-magnetic pulse effect Zaladane maintains over the Savage Land, and so Magneto and his comrades become aware of the presence of the UN task force only when it is already under attack. By the time they arrive at its position, there is nothing to be seen but the blazing wreckage of a squadron of attack helicopters. There is no sign of the crews.
They get into a fight though, and one that taxes them, and Magnus in particular, harder than he feared. As they survey the scene of destruction, they are set upon by the Savage Land Mutates, mounted on Allosauruses or some similar breed of carnivores. The chickens have come home to roost for Magneto, for he created the Mutates years ago by artificially investing a group of Swamp People with superpowers. Now they serve Zaladane and are after his blood and that of his allies. It is a hard-fought skirmish which tests them to their limits. Rogue does her best, but even though she is an experienced fighter, the habits of fighting using her superpowers hamper her. At one point, when Barbarus is about to skewer Ka-Zar on his spear, she desperately tries to stop the four-armed Mutate by using her absorption on him. Normally, he would have passed out immediately, but as Rogue's powers have not returned, she is trapped in his clammy embrace. Barbarus revels in having the pretty female mutant at his mercy and tries to ravish her there and then, failing to notice that in the meantime Magneto has overcome and magnetically shackled his remaining comrades.
When the Master of Magnetism turns on the last remaining foe, he sees things through a pink haze. The sight of Rogue in Barbarus' grasp touches something primal inside him. He is reminded of Anya screaming as she died in the fire in Vinnitsa, while he was prevented from aiding her and forced to look and listen on. He thinks of Isabelle, his Brazilian lover, dying wordlessly, killed by his CIA superior in 'punishment' for his efforts to hunt down Nazi war criminals. He was unable to save his daughter and later his lover, all he could do, and what he did do, was avenge them, dispensing the same mercy he, Anya and Isabelle had received. Now he is determined not to let that happen with Rogue.
He magnetically seizes Barbarus by his metal collar and yanks him away. He is in a frame of mind to permanently dispose of his defeated foes, but Rogue shouts that that would be murder and does all she can to dissuade him, saying: "We're the good guys, right? We're s'posed t'stand for something better!" Magneto can only think of the blood already spilled and of that to be spilled in the coming battles. Although he feels he is deviating from the only possible path, Magneto finally gives in to her impassioned pleas, opting to dump the Mutates in an underground cavern, leaving them to fend from themselves on what animals and fungi there were, and maybe even find a way to the surface, eventually. He is touched by the way Rogue so deeply believes in her heroic creed, in giving everybody another chance. Even if what he has lived through makes it next to impossible for him to follow her and Charles Xavier's way, he wishes it were otherwise and he could share her optimism. May nothing ever happen to you, sweet Rogue, to make you lose your faith, he thinks, but he fears the moment is not far off when he himself will disappoint her.
The search for traces of the UN strike force is frustrated: apparently the men have left, but their tracks are upset by those of the dinosaur cavalry that just attacked. Later, as Magneto stands on the balcony of his citadel, he wonders about his own reactions. In the heat of the battle, he had equated Rogue with Anya and Isabelle. Has she become that close to him in so short a time? And what does he see in her -- a daughter (she was young enough to be his granddaughter, chronologically) or a lover? And should he not better concentrate on the coming battle?
Ka-Zar and the tribespeople who escaped the sack of their village are building new defenses for the citadel, and as she joins them in the endeavor, she notices how quickly she tires without her superpowers. And there is the stress of constantly watching out for Zaladane's next attack. But what occupies her mind most is the man on whom they all now pin their hopes.
She had not really taken much notice of Magneto when he joined the X-Men a little over a year earlier, during the crisis caused by the arrival on Earth of the near-omnipotent Beyonder. Rogue always had a tendency to watch after teammates who had difficulties fitting in, and when Magnus showed up, the one with the biggest problems was Rachel Summers.
Magnus, by comparison, found things surprisingly easy at first. Since Professor Xavier himself vouched for him, and he arrived with Scott's ex-girlfriend Lee Forrester in tow, most people accepted him fairly quickly. Rachel even remembered him as a hero from the future that was her past. Only Scott continued to nurse his grudges and distrust against Magneto, but -- apart from one discussion with Logan and Moira about which Rogue only learned months later -- he took great care to hide them from his new teammates. It later became clear that he still was not ready to fully trust those teammates who did not belong to his original class. He even found it impossible to confide in his own brother, Havok, which struck Rogue as really sad.
In any case, most of the team acquiesced to the acceptance of Magneto and did not object when Professor X appointed him his successor as headmaster of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. But not too long after they lost all touch, and until then she never had the time to reflect on Magneto as a man. Now it seems that is exactly what she does most in her free time (what little there was) and at work on the outer stockade.
She is tempted to compare her new feelings to the time when she stopped an express train running into Waverly Station to prevent a disaster. Normally one thinks of being hit by a train as a split-second thing, but in Edinburgh it had seemed like hours until she finally overcame the train's massive inertia and brought it to a halt a hair's breadth from the place where the tracks had been destroyed by the Juggernaut. She had felt it in every cubic inch of her body, sensing aches in muscles and bones of which she had up until then only dimly been aware.
Now, over a period of a few days, she feels herself reacting to his presence throughout the entirety of her body and soul. It is not the first time she sexually responds to the nearness of another, but she has never felt it with with such force.
She had been too busy to notice Magneto's sex appeal before. Her flirtation with Longshot had for all practical purposes been with an almost innocent boy, but now she is dealing with a man, and that difference must be what makes her tongue-tied when she is around him. A nagging, familiar voice in the back of her head keeps asking: Are you falling in love with him? You know there's bound to be trouble.
And what if ah am, momma? Rogue asks back. Ah'm not sure if ah'm ready to tell him to his face, but ah know ah care for him a lot. Ah worry about him when he beats himself up, ah wanna to hug him when he's strong for us, ah want t'protect and comfort him when he's down, ah'm glad for every moment ah'm with him. And ah just know that between us we can deal with pretty much everything life throws at us, and if the X-Men never return and we have to set up house on our lonesome, we'll manage, like you and Destiny did when ah lived with you.
The other voice will not go away: Child, are you sure it's not really mainly physical? I know he's very dishy, even though he really is old enough to be your grandfather. I know about physical attraction, it is not enough for what Irene and I had.
Rogue blushes ever so slightly. Yes, he is quite the dreamboat, or whatever they called it in your generation. If he asked me to go between the sheets with him, now that my powers are shut down -- ah would! Unfortunately he's too honorable and considerate for that, comes an unbidden thought.
Well, when I wanted sex I did not wait for the other person to take the initiative, why should you? I'd say go for it, girl. Mystique's 'ghost' chuckles and adds: Even if he doesn't turn out to be Mr. Right, you two deserve a little fun. But maybe you'll confound my doubts and you'll become the Charlie and Oona Chaplin of the mutant world.
Rogue wonders. She and Magneto are both 'damaged goods', perhaps too much aware of their own imperfection, still they complement each other well, she is certain. They have the potential of having something more than the sum of their strengths. But considering the odds they are facing in the fight at hand, should she even be thinking in terms of a long-term relationship? If only Magnus gave an indication of how he feels about her deep in his heart.
Ka-Zar's voice brings Rogue back to the real world. Scouts have reported the approach of Zaladane's army, and he wants her to fetch Magneto. When she rushes into Magnus' chamber, she finds him asleep, tossing and turning in his bed naked except for a kind of loincloth. No doubt he is in the grip of some nightmare. After watching him for a while, and unsuccessfully trying to understand the words he murmurs in a foreign tongue she cannot understand, she reaches out to gently stroke his sweat-soaked forehead.
His hand shoots out abruptly, seizing her wrist: "What are you doing?!"
"S'almost showtime," she says, wincing at his powerful grip. She feels a little surprised how painful it is without her superstrength and invulnerability. "Magneto, you're hurting me!"
Magneto loosens his grip, but does not let her go. He is concerned: "Clearly, something went wrong when I re-integrated your bio-matrix."
"Old news, sugar," she replies with a casualness that belies the turmoil their closeness causes in her, "I'm glad just t'be me." She cannot help noticing he is almost naked, that she is not much more dressed than he, how her heart is accelerating, pumping blood through every part of her body faster and faster. She feels more alive than she has in a long time.
"Thanks to Zaladane's influence," Magnus continues his musings, "I cannot trust any of the citadel's instrumentalities to determine what that is. And set it to rights."
But as he speaks, his breath becomes ragged. Evidently he too is affected by their proximity, shaken by a strong wave of emotion that shoots through their bodies like a lightning-bolt. Almost imperceptibly, the distance between them becomes narrower, and his mouth moves ever closer to her lips. She thrills in anticipation of the kiss.
And then Ka-Zar, impatient at the delay in Rogue and Magneto's return, rushes into the room, destroying their moment of intimacy. They shrink away from each other, and Rogue curses silently. Magneto prepares himself for battle, perhaps missing the slight irony that as he stands with his arms outstretched he forms a giant 'X' while his powers assembled his costume on his body molecule by molecule.
He gives out his directives: He will try to handle Zaladane himself, leaving her army to Ka-Zar and Nereel's warriors. Ka-Zar tells Rogue to stay behind with Shanna and the children. Rogue protests in vain, as Magneto says: "For once, girl, do as you're told! Or have you no conception of the value of what Ka-Zar entrusts to your care? .Any more than of your own worth to we who are about to die?" These last words somehow make her feel that Magneto cares as much for her as she for him.
The battle does not go well. On the ground the advantage seemingly irresistibly shifts in Zaladane's favor, for whenever her forces make a prisoner, her servant Worm coats them in his slime. Subjected to his will -- and thereby to hers -- they swell the ranks of those fighting their erstwhile comrades. In the air, the duel between the two magnetic superbeings is over more quickly than expected, as Zaladane lashes out with a lot more force than Magneto would dare use so near to the magnetic South Pole. He is aware of the possible consequences, she either is not, or she is and does not care. In the end, Rogue sees his body plunge to the ground in the distance, and she hears Zaladane's triumphant cry of victory.
They are forced to beat a retreat, and joining Ka-Zar's rear guard, Rogue soon is immersed in heavier fighting than she had wished for. It begins to look decidedly black when their group is pounced by a squad of warriors mounted on pterosaurs and led by Gaza, Lupus and Brainchild. But suddenly and unexpectedly there is the chatter of automatic weapons from behind their assailants. Nick Fury's task force, missing for so long, finally makes its most welcome appearance. Now it is the three Mutates and the survivors of their squad who have to run for it.
It took quite an effort to regroup after the UN task force's first sortie had been bounced by Zaladane's pterosaur cavalry, but Nick Fury had eventually managed to assemble the remnants of his Russian and American airborne troops. S.H.I.E.L.D.'s director returned to his roots, leading a small commando unit behind enemy lines and out of touch with his home base. Seeing the aerial battle develop, he took only moments to get his force moving in order to mount a surprise attack on Zaladane's over-confident warriors. That succeeded even beyond his expectations. He is startled to find a former X-Man among the tribespeople he and his men have relieved. As the dust settles he helps Rogue up: "Well, well, well, look who ain't dead."
"Funny, ah was jus' thinkin' pretty much the same 'bout you," Rogue replies. "Been awhile, Colonel Fury. Thanks for the rescue."
Unfortunately, Fury learns, she is without her superpowers, which could have been so useful. She merely is as strong as you can expect of a woman her age. But nevertheless he is quite glad to see her. As soldiers and warriors congregate after the battle and start binding their wounds, Nick Fury remembers what happened when they first met.
One morning a little over a year ago, he walked into his office as he did on every day he was in Washington. As soon as he closed the door he sensed that something was wrong. The instinct that had saved him from injury and worse a thousand times made the hairs on the back of his neck rise. He froze and drew his pistol from its shoulder-holster. Silently he moved towards the adjoining office after pressing the silent alarm under his desk (which had been disabled, as he would later learn). He kicked open the door and saw the young aide sitting gagged and bound to his chair with telephone cables. Hearing a sound from behind, he dove for cover -- he had been wary of the wardrobe, which was certainly big enough to hide an assassin. But Rogue got out of hiding and to him as fast as a bullet from a gun and instead of hitting the carpet, Nick Fury was carried out of the window which she had thoughtfully left open. With an arm across his windpipe, he was lifted over a mile into the air within seconds.
He heard his assailant clear her throat close to his ear: "Colonel, ah'd advise ya not t'struggle. Ah might lose my grip and ya wouldn't like what happens then." The Southern accent was pleasant, but there was a distinct edge to the voice of the X-Man he had ordered to be hunted down by any means. "Don't want to hurt you, Nicholas Fury, ah just want you t'listen to what ah have to say. Got it?"
"Understood." He had no choice in his position.
"So let's be a nice director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and put your blaster back in your holster. It can't hurt me no how." Fury did as she told him. "Thanks. From what ah absorbed from Ms. Cooper, ah know ya think ah killed your agent Price. Normally it wouldn't bother me too much what you b'lieve of me, but because of your mistake an innocent woman was badly hurt."
She was referring to Henry Gyrich and Valerie Cooper's botched attempt to capture Rogue, in which the X-Men's leader Storm had been hit by Forge's experimental Neutralizer. Fury could guess that the information Rogue had absorbed from Dr. Cooper shortly afterwards -- and probably some she got from others -- had enabled her to evade security on her way into his office.
"So ah want to see the guys responsible for framin' me get what's comin' to them. So listen: When ah broke into the detention block of the Helicarrier, your man Price was already dead an' his colleague was fixin' to shoot the man ah was comin' to save as well. And that man had been beaten up so badly that he couldn't possibly have done anything. Ah reckon ya'd better take a very close look at your late agent's partner. It's likely t'be a pretty ugly story."
"How am I supposed ta know what you tell me is true?" he ventured. "Ya attacked the Helicarrier, that doesn't exactly make ya look like an impartial witness." He did not betray how much her story bothered him. The Countess had had doubts about the story Agent Garwood had told at his debriefing -- why should Rogue have bothered to use a gun to kill Price.
"If you don't know who ah was savin' from your wannabe Gestapo thugs, ah don't think he'll want me to tell ya." She paused for thought. When she continued, the brash confidence she had projected in her earlier utterings was gone. She sounded like a young girl, grasping for the right thing to say, unsure how much she could divulge. "Nicholas, what ah know from ... my sources tells me you're a straight shooter who won't stand for your men roughin' up defenseless prisoners. Otherwise ah wouldn't have bothered about this. Ah'll trust you with this: The man ah saved was undercover, investigatin' dirty dealin's in your organization. He was not workin' for an enemy power. There. Now do your job and don't make me regret tellin' ya all this."
"Don't think I will, kid," he answered. "My gut feelin' is you're not lyin' to me. If the investigation confirms your story, I might even have to thank you."
She dropped him off in a nearby forest in Virginia. "Good luck interrogatin' your mole, Nicholas" she said as she flew off, "hope ya manage to nail his employers!"
The subsequent investigation indeed confirmed what Rogue had told him, but it was never finished. Garwood committed suicide with a poison capsule hidden in his teeth, but a lot of crucial evidence was destroyed when it emerged that S.H.I.E.L.D. had fallen victim to an even greater and more immediate threat than Garwood and whoever stood behind him. Key agents were murdered and replaced by artificial human beings called Deltites. In the end, the only remedy was to disband S.H.I.E.L.D. totally. During the time after that, before the current organization of the same acronym was founded, Fury met Colonel Mick Rossi of the Special Investigations Service, who mentioned that he had been the one Garwood had almost killed. The man-hunt for Rogue was blown off, and Fury would observe her further exploits among the X-Men from a distance, until they were finally reported killed in Dallas.
Fury gathers the leaders of the airborne force, Ka-Zar and Rogue around him. A sizable remnant of the UN task force is still ready for action. But in spite of their success today, he is definitely pessimistic about the immediate future. His second-in-command, Russian Colonel Yuri Semyanov wants to go at Zaladane with the arms they still have and the four remaining Hind helicopter gunships, but Fury soberly realizes that that would be nothing more than a spectacular way to commit suicide, especially taking into account that Zaladane claims to have killed Magneto. With her still scrambling all higher electronics, he only sees one remaining option: make a way back to South America to inform the UN and the world's governments, and maybe call in the Avengers.
"It's too late for that, Colonel," says Magneto, making a sudden and most dramatic appearance. Fury somehow is not surprised. Magneto is a tough fighter. Strange that Zaladane did not make sure he really was dead when she crowed about defeating him. Maybe it is not impossible to get the better of her after all.
Polkovnik Semyanov screams at his paratroopers to seize him. Rogue, who has just taken a deep sigh of relief that he still was alive, quickly reacts and leaps in front of the Russians' gunbarrels, shouting at them to leave Magneto alone, that he is not the enemy. Nick Fury tells Semyanov to shut up and let Magneto say what he has to say, but the Russian keeps bristling: His son had been an officer on the Leningrad when Magneto sent that submarine to the bottom with all hands after it had launched an abortive nuclear strike on him.
Fury can tell from his expression that Magneto and Rogue are very much shaken by this revelation. Magneto turns and walks away, saying it was a mistake to come. The girl runs after him, but only catches up with him when they are out of earshot. Fury decides to await the outcome of their discussion first, before deciding what to do next.
He explains to her what is happening even now: Zaladane's six towers are creating a resonance field that allows her to access the power of Earth's magnetic field directly. Soon nothing will be beyond her capabilities, the entire planet will be in her grasp, unless she is stopped soon. Rogue is shocked, but refuses to give up: "Whatever's needed, that's what we'll do. With these yoyos. Or without 'em." She is determined to make the others listen.
And then at last Magneto takes her into his arms, she throws hers around his neck, and they share their first kiss. The moon has come up, it is evening, although it is almost impossible to tell as the sun does not set in the Savage Land during the Antarctic summer. When their mouths break apart, she breathlessly whispers: "Oh babe, when you went down, ah thought ... Oh, ah'm so glad you made it unhurt!"
Magneto wipes the tears of relief from her face. He raises an eyebrow at being called 'babe', but remains silent. He is confused, unsure how to react to her initiative. When their lips join for the second time, Rogue is more enterprising, getting past the hedge of his teeth with her tongue and exploring possibilities. She really could get used to this, she thinks, giving herself to the experience of their oral activities and the feel of their two bodies pressed together. His stubble scratching the skin of her face is kind of novel for her, different from when she still was invulnerable. Her passion rises, she feels her nipples stiffen inside her makeshift bikini-top. Magneto is responding too, she can feel him harden against her crotch.
She pulls back reluctantly. "Hold that thought, Magnus," she says with a sad smile, "Reckon we better get back to the camp first, 'fore Fury decides to up sticks an' take off. Maybe we can convince 'em to help us after all."
She is amazed at her own eloquence as she explains to the two colonels and the others that they have to act soon, that there is no time to fly to the nearest place in South America with a functioning telephone and call in the Avengers. It is an uphill struggle to forge the necessary alliance of inconvenience between the UN task force and the internationally sought Magneto, but somewhat to her own wonderment, she succeeds. To think that less than two years ago Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. had been after her hide!
Once Magneto, Nick Fury and Yuri Semyanov have worked out the general outline of the attack on Zaladane's base next morning, the exhausted fighters lie down for a few hours' sleep. Rogue and Magneto take a couple of spare sleeping-bags and make their excuses. They seek for a secluded spot in the nearby forest. Once they got out of the UN soldiers' sight, she took him by the hand for the rest of the way. She feels a bit anxious but, it seems to her, so does he. When they finally find a likely spot, Magneto lays out the bags on the forest floor as makeshift blankets -- the Savage Land in the summer is not a place where sleepers need to cover up, but it is nice to have something soft to lie upon.
While he is busy preparing the bedding, Rogue hastily undresses. Much of her body is uncovered anyway, and it does not take long to divest herself of the gloves, shoes, top and 'slip' that are almost all that is left of the tee and costume she brought from Australia. The knots of the bandages on her arms and legs are more stubborn, and she was still struggling with them when Magneto turns around and stares, taking in her form.
They both want this. He lets his costume dissolve into a pile of metal dust and together they settle down on their makeshift bed. Their lips meet and they kiss deeply. Hesitantly at first, and then with ever-growing confidence their hands explore each other's body.
The mechanics of the act have been familiar to Rogue ever since she absorbed grownups' memories, but especially after she could not get rid of Ms. Marvel's personality. Carol Danvers had had a moderately active sex life and the memories of it were a source of endless, tantalizing fascination for the adolescent Rogue. She had to live with the prospect of never experiencing anything similar herself, and rather suspected that the Carol persona in her enjoyed teasing her by haunting her dreams and daydreams with memories of her lovers, of intimacies, of sex.
Knowing so well on what she was missing out had increased her frustrations which she was forced to relieve in the most obvious way. On the other hand there had been few men who interested her romantically or sexually. Cody and Freddy, two callow youths back home in Caldecott: They had kissed, but more out of curiosity about the grownups' mysterious behavior than out of genuine interest in each other. No doubt they still remember her (falling into a temporary coma after being kissed is not something you forget easily), but they have moved on. Mick Rossi, Carol's former lover, whom she had rescued after losing control over her body to the 'Carol' in her mind: She had thought she loved him, but those feelings were Carol's, and he rejected her. Some flirting with Longshot which got her nowhere, except on Dazzler's bad side. So she could tell herself that even if she had not had her mutant powers or if she had found a way to control them, she would still be a virgin. There never has been anyone for whom she would have wanted to be able to control her powers. Until now.
In spite of her second-hand knowledge, it becomes a voyage of discovery for the young mutant. What she has not really taken into account is that she knew how Carol and momma felt like when they had sex, but that is not the same as experiencing for the first time how her own body responds to a lover's touch. She watches in fascination how the areoles of her breasts contract and crinkle in sensitive reaction to Magnus' hot, moist breath, how her nipples distend and harden at the touch of his lips and tongue, how pulses of excitement proceed from her throbbing breasts to other zones of her body. She started their lovemaking, but soon the initiative passes to him, and she is glad that he does not hesitate to take the more active role, allowing her to enjoy her first sexual experience fully.
His hands continue to caress her breasts as his mouth wonders down on her body, until he reaches the dark triangle of her sex. His hands firmly grasp her buttocks, their grip tightening and relaxing rhythmically as he pleasures her with his sophisticated mouth and tongue. Almost of their own accord, Rogue's thighs spread further apart under his oral assault as waves of mounting pleasure go out from her sexual center to all ends of her body. Low moans rise from her throat, gaining in volume as her arousal grows. One hand plays with his grubby hair, the other at first moves between her breasts, squeezing them, pulling the pliable flesh into elongated cones, pinching and twisting their engorged tips. But soon it joins the other, holding his head in place above her bucking pelvis. As she approaches her first climax of the night, her back and neck arch backwards, sweat breaks out all over her naked body, and she moans out incoherent words of encouragement.
As her excited body subsides, he raises himself off the ground and crawls forward, bringing his face close to hers again. Her amazement at her own reaction shows on her face and she sees that he notices. She can't help observing: "If ah didn't enjoy this so much myself, ah'd say it's worth it just to see you smile!"
True, for the first time today, his face is not locked in a grim or dejected expression. His smile widens, and he answers: "And there's more where that came from, my sweet." But his eyes remain sad, only she is too keyed up to notice now. She will only remember tomorrow.
His mouth comes down on hers and their tongues duel with each other; they are both too excited now to take it slowly. Probing his mouth feeds her flames, as does the return of his big, strong, experienced hands to her bosom. Her own right hand is locked in place at the back of his neck, but the left moves down towards his crotch. There is no doubt he is ready for the next phase. She tilts her hips to accommodate him as he slowly enters the portal of her femininity. Their eyes meet and lock in a tender gaze, she relaxes, there is a slight pain and buries himself in her entirely.
Thanks to her second-hand memories, Rogue knows what to do and matches him stroke for stroke. They quickly find their rhythm. Magnus' torso is raised high above her, supported on his outstretched arms. His eyes are glazed with sexual arousal, she can tell they are locked on her breasts which happily and wildly jiggle with the impact of his accelerating body. Her fingers dug into the ground and her heels beat a little tattoo on the small of his back as both inexorably rise to the peak. Finally, with his lids pressed together he climaxes and collapses on her with a groan.
Rogue catches her breath with some effort. Her fingers run through his hair, stroke along his jawline. "Wow," she finally whispers and, after a longish silence in which she continues to cuddle him, she adds: "Ah think ah can get used to this. Thank you for bein'..." Magneto placed a finger on her lips and kissed her forehead.
But they are still not sated. She is grateful to him for her considerate introduction to physical lovemaking and calls on her outside knowledge to reciprocate. She can tell that although he knows about the history of her power, he is startled by the former virgin's expertise in employing her mouth, tongue and cleavage to restore his erection. She is fascinated by their mingled scents and tastes as she makes love to him. They take more time now, and so their second time becomes even better than the first. "If only it could last," she hears him murmur close to her ear, but the full import of those words eludes her. He sinks into slumber with his arms around her.
Rogue's mind is in turmoil, she is still trying to come to terms with her own feelings. But it is soothing to feel his warm, moist breath rhythmically from behind. It is so wonderful just to know he is with her, that her doubts about her own feelings evaporate. At last she too falls asleep.
It was obvious what Magneto and Rogue had been up to last 'night', and the way she hugs up to the guy as they walk towards the helicopters clinches it. Lord, if Valentina was here, I too would have loved to show that we're still alive by sleeping with her! Nick Fury grimly smiles. Now the Russo-American forlorn hope is about to go into what could much too easily turn out to be his final battle. The odds are stacked high against their success, and he has misgivings about Semyanov's battle plan rumbling at the back of his mind.
Unless he totally misreads the signs, she must have done it for the first time in her life, and enjoyed it. Good for her that she made the most of their four hours of privacy. Strange, he thinks, considering the risks they are have taken so far, especially she without her superpowers, you'da thunk they'd already done it before. Or is it that only now it has dawned on them that it is unlikely that they are both going to survive this day? Rogue is noticeably silent, and Magneto looks totally preoccupied with what lies ahead. Lines of grim determination and sad resignation into fate are deeply etched into his features.
After they set off, Rogue keeps fidgeting, feeling uncomfortable in the S.H.I.E.L.D. combat armor suit they made her wear. She also has her doubts about Semyanov's attack plan, and as Ka-Zar joins in the discussion, more and more of its flaws become evident. But then it becomes clear why Semyanov talked in terms of a pre-dawn attack in a place where the sun does not set at this time of the year: Without warning, he opens fire on Magneto with one of his fancy hi-tech ray cannons -- vengeance for his son's death takes precedence over saving the world from Zaladane.
Magneto, who was flying between the Hinds, cries out in agony as he is hurled against the helicopter with Fury, Rogue and Ka-Zar, before plunging to the ground. The 'copter's electric systems short out, the engine follows, and the mighty attack helicopter is now just a big lump of metal that begins a nose dive towards the tree-tops below. As everyone gets into crash positions, Fury can see the other three helicopters being engulfed by waves of pterosaur cavalry. Without Magneto to help them, they don't stand a chance.
The crash landing is a bad one, many are killed immediately and the survivors are immediately beset by carnivorous dinosaurs. Rogue was hurled outside, but her powers are at last coming back -- just her super-strength for the moment. However, she and Ka-Zar arrive too late to save the others. Now they, Fury and Zabu have to try to succeed in an attack that was unsure of success with four fully-crewed Hinds and Magneto. Luckily this part of the jungle is so dangerous that Zaladane's forces give it wide berth. Using Magneto's image-inducer, they manage to surprise the perimeter guards they encounter, and they sneak into Zaladane's Citadel.
Rushing down long stairs, they reach a big laboratory, where Zaladane and Semyanov (who has completed his betrayal by joining her cause) gloat over their prisoner Magneto. Rogue gasps when she sees him, seemingly unconscious, being lifted from some big apparatus which may be a torturing machine or a device to drain him of his powers. But he is not out for the count, he spots the four intruders and suddenly renews the fight and provides the distraction for the others' attack.
At first Zaladane is confident, magnetically seizes their guns and armor and hurls them against the hall's ceiling. But she has reckoned without the return of Rogue's strength, and the X-Man brings the house down, literally, smashing the ceiling with her elbow. Zaladane may be powerful, but she is inexperienced -- unlike Magneto, she has not yet learned how to use her magnetic powers to move non-ferrous material. Semyanov has to push her out of the way of the tons of falling masonry. Rogue sang out in triumph at her foes' momentary dismay and because at last all her powers are back. She is full of the joy of battle, flies through the lab to pluck Magneto to safety and then start to demolish the squad of warriors that rushes in to the aid of their queen.
The others are not doing as well, Fury himself is hampered because he is up against a mentally controlled Shanna, and he does not want to hurt her. Rogue's luck finally runs out -- she is hit from behind by Zaladane's power pulse. But as the self-proclaimed Queen of the Savage Land moves in for the kill, hurling a huge piece of machinery on Rogue's prone form, she does not see that Magneto has reactivated the central device to transfer his magnetic powers back to himself. His first strike totally incapacitates Zaladane, but is it in time to save Rogue's life?
Magneto reaches the place first, frantically clearing aside the debris under which she is buried. But he interrupted in his task by Semyanov, who levels is amagnetic gun on him. While Magneto dispatches him, Fury pulls Rogue free. She desperately tries to dissuade Magneto from killing -- executing -- Zaladane, but her logic, her impassioned appeals to his better nature and Fury's threats are for naught. Magneto remains adamant that he is no second Xavier, that it would be disastrous for him to try to be: "My people are in danger -- more so than ever before. And a kinder, gentler Magneto cannot save them." And dozens of sharp iron shards converge to kill Zaladane.
Afterwards, Magneto takes off, leaving the others to see how they can get everybody out of the collapsing citadel. Rogue, despite her sadness over what Magneto did, takes charge of the evacuation with her characteristic direct approach. She absorbs Worm's powers and uses them to direct his thralls out of the building in time and then to release them. Nick wonders what Magneto will do next. For the moment he seems to have moved to a neutral stance. God help us if something happens that will push him over the brink...
The war is over, Magneto is gone, and the liberated prisoners can relax a little, because the remnants of Zaladane's army are quite docile. But Fury can tell that relaxation doss not spell relief for Rogue, but deep dejection. She tries to put on a brave face, but she can't hold back every tear. As she slumps down in the grass, it becomes clear to him that Magneto means a great deal to Rogue, more than just sex and companionship.
Ka-Zar puts his hand on her shoulder as he and Shanna try to console her, but it's not much help. The youngster gives vent to her distress. "It's not fair," she wails, "They've killed Mystique and Destiny, no one knows what's happened to the X-Men, an' now Magneto leaves me! Why does everyone ah love have to -- "
For an instant, Nick Fury feels an urge to tell Rogue that the attempt to assassinate Mystique failed (he should know, he was called in immediately afterwards). But the strictures and the responsibilities of his office put that out of the question. Raven Darkhölme is at this moment on a crucial and extremely risky undercover operation, infiltrating the Shadow King's new empire in the guise of Dr. Valerie Cooper. This is a mission that must not fail. Even by mentioning to anyone that Mystique is still alive, he could be endangering her life and make Rogue's false belief a reality. But he feels sorry for the kid.
Rogue slowly regains her composure. "Sorry about that, guys. Ah'm all right again." When Shanna and Nereel ask her what she is going to do next, she answers: "If ah wanted to follow him, ah wouldn't know where to look. Ah guess the most important thing at the moment is to rebuild the village. Reckon ah'll help y'all for a while..."
"And then?" Fury asks, lighting his last cigar.
Her green eyes look into his good one. She can guess that he would not at all mind recruiting someone with her kind of powers into S.H.I.E.L.D.'s service. "Ah have some ideas, Nicholas. But if they don't pick you up 'fore ah leave, ah think ah can take you as far as Rio. Beyond that, ah guess our ways will have to part."
As the Savage Land disappears in the mists behind him, he feels sick as a dog. It is probably well that the others cannot see just how weakened he still is. The confrontation with the Shadow King had taxed him to the limits of his natural psychic defenses, while the battles of today and yesterday took him beyond the limits of his physical endurance. He is glad of the respite. Grim times lie ahead, and Magneto must prepare for them and set himself up in a position from which he can observe the coming battles without getting embroiled in them unless he intervenes of his own choice. Time to construct a new Asteroid M and put it into orbit.
Yet his mind keeps returning to Rogue and his regrets over leaving her. Strangely ironic that although for most of his life he has thought it impossible for Homo sapiens sapiens to live with Homo sapiens superior in peace, this was actually the first time he had fallen in love with a fellow mutant. Up until now, all his lovers had been 'normal' humans.
Magda was the first, the one who became the hardest to get over. He had been struck by her sight when he first saw her in Auschwitz, being driven to the Zigeunerlager along with at least a dozen members of her clan. It was difficult to get through to her in the Gypsies' separate camp, but he was so obsessed with her dark brown eyes that he took the risks and paid the necessary bribes to do so. At the last moment he managed to smuggle the thin young woman into his part of the camp shortly before the inmates of the Gypsies' compound were all gassed in 1944. Then, as the SS tried to destroy the evidence of the Auschwitz death factory and to kill the remaining prisoners before the Red Army arrived, Magnus and Magda escaped. They fled for the safety of the Carpathian Mountains, where they married. A few years Anya was born.
And then, one day in Vinnitsa, he lost them both -- Anya died when the house in which they were staying burned down. The Party officials and policemen on the scene prevented him from saving her, and when he exacted terrible revenge on them and the idle onlookers, Magda was so horrified that she fled from him. Although he spent years searching for her, he never saw her again, and only a long time after would he learn that she had been pregnant with his twins.
After Magda there was Isabelle, the elegant doctor who looked after him in Brazil. She became his companion and lover, but what might have been was cut short by his CIA control officer. After her murder, Magneto became what Magda had feared, a man he now finds hard to understand himself, as if he had been afflicted by some madness at the time. He forswore female companionship. The women he recruited to his cause of mutant supremacy -- the Scarlet Witch and Lorelei -- he regarded as servants and nothing more.
Only after Mutant Alpha and Davan Shakari brought him to young adulthood would he again become interested in the opposite sex. The first attempt at romance, during the so-called Secret War, was a disaster. The Wasp toyed with his affections and then left him, taunting him and saying she had only pretended to have felt attracted to him so she could spy out his plans. When he finally did become attached to another woman, it was not on his own initiative.
Aleytis Forrester, the captain of a fishing vessel, found him floating in the Atlantic one day, and rescued him from a group of sharks at great risk to herself. She did not hesitate to grant his request to take him to his base on an uncharted island in the Bermuda Triangle, even though her memories of their first meeting in that very place were not pleasant (she had been Cyclops' girlfriend at the time and Magneto had treated her rather contemptuously). During their journey, they cautiously grew closer. He still is not sure what drew her to him, but he knows one quality he found especially attractive about her was her fearlessness. She knew who he was and what he had done, but she did not disbelieve his intention to start afresh, to become a different person. It had been too long since he had been with another person without either him fearing that person or, more frequently, that person fearing him. Not since his friendships in Israel, not since Isabelle had he felt this way.
Physically, Aleytis did not possess the statuesque beauty of Isabelle or the one Magda had slowly assumed once she recovered from the malnutrition of the camp and the post-war winters. Lee's looks were preconditioned by her profession more than a desire to conform to someone's ideal of beauty. She wore her nails short, and what cosmetics she used were in the main those needed to counteract the effects of the blazing Florida sun, the salty sea breezes and the industrial-strength soaps she needed to cleanse her skin of the oil and fish smell her job entailed. She had the air of freshly-scrubbed youth, but he was slow to realize her appeal.
Their relationship became serious almost by accident. One night she was alarmed by him groaning, tossing about and magnetically levitating his bed during a particularly bad nightmare. She jumped on the bed to wake him, and not long after that the two were expressing their new-found affection in the most primal way. For a time they were happy together, but their romance went through ups and downs and after a few months their ardor cooled. True, they were in somewhat separated by their jobs, but both somehow seized upon this as an excuse not to see each other anymore. They found that easier than to face up to the fact that what they shared was a deeply felt friendship, but not real love. When he found himself attracted to the White Queen during his short membership of the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club, what made him resist her charm was not so much his fading commitment to Aleytis, as the instinctive sense of danger he felt around the sophisticated, seductive and scheming Emma Frost.
Now he definitely feels something for Rogue, a woman even younger than Aleytis. In fact, he is more than three times her age, but thanks to his rejuvenation, the difference in biological age is not quite as big. Wonderful, he thinks, the first time I went through my mid-life crisis, I didn't notice because the term was still unknown. Now I get to go through it a second time!
But there is more to it than that: Rogue had been grateful for him saving her life, but she had never been in awe of him, always treated him as her equal. With a sad smile he recalls how she had taken it upon herself to try to infuse her optimism into him in the periods of calm and to act as his conscience in battle. She simply refuses to give up hope. Hope in the perfectibility of humanity, hope in overcoming whatever disasters life had in store for her, hope that he could be more as Xavier wanted to be, and, apparently, hope that there might be a common future for him and her. Tempting as it would be to indulge in these hopes himself, he was certain they were illusory.
Just after his arrival in Antarctica, a couple of weeks ago, he inspected Vostok station near the magnetic South Pole. Among the ruins and frozen corpses left after Zaladane's attack, he had found a collection of poems by Bertolt Brecht. He wonders what happened to the owner, one Vadim Pudovkin of St. Petersburg University (according to the rubber stamp on the title page). Hopefully he was among those abducted by Zaladane's forces, then he now should be one of the liberated slaves. Vadim Pudovkin could read German or was learning it, for the book was a foreign-language edition with Russian footnotes. Magneto had taken it with him to the Savage Land and sometimes read in it before going to bed. Now, as he is flying out over the open see, the ending of one poem, An die Nachgeborenen -- 'To Those Born After', comes to his mind:
Ihr die ihr auftauchen werdet aus der Flut
In der wir untergegangen sind
Wenn ihr von unseren Schwächen sprecht
Auch der finsteren Zeit
Der ihr entronnen seid.
Gingen wir doch, öfter als die Schuhe die Länder wechselnd
Durch die Kriege der Klassen, verzweifelt
Wenn da nur Unrecht war und keine Empörung.
Dabei wissen wir doch:
Auch der Haß gegen die Niedrigkeit
Verzerrt die Züge.
Auch der Zorn über das Unrecht
Macht die Stimme heiser. Ach, wir
Die wir den Boden bereiten wollten für Freundlichkeit
Konnten selber nicht freundlich sein.
Ihr aber, wenn es soweit sein wird
Daß der Mensch dem Menschen ein Helfer ist
You who shall surface from the flood
In which we foundered
When you speak of our weaknesses
Also the dark time
Which you escaped.
For we went, changing countries more often than shoes
Through the wars of classes, despairing
When there was but injustice and no outrage.
Nevertheless we know:
The hate of baseness too
Distorts the features.
Rage at injustice too
Makes the voice hoarse. Oh, we
Who wanted to prepare the ground for friendliness
Could not be friendly ourselves.
But you, when comes the time
That man shall be man's helper
These lines touch a chord in him. He is as Brecht described himself, and more. He does what is needed to make this a safer world for mutants, a place where Rogue and those like her could live in peace. And by doing this, he cannot help becoming estranged from those who come after him.
He could tell Rogue's heart was deeply hurt when he killed Zaladane, but when he last looked back, there was no condemnation in her eyes, only sorrow and a silent entreaty not to leave her. He suspects that in this case she could learn to live with his having killed -- after all, Wolverine killed and the X-Men had never thought of kicking him off their roster. But he senses that this was only the beginning, that hard times are ahead. No, a clean cut is better all around. He can never become the kind of hero she wishes him to be. If he returned to her now, he would merely delay their inevitable final breakup, which would only become more painful than it is now. Or Rogue might decide to follow him down his darker ways, and that is not what he wants. As he told Semyanov before he killed him, he feels he is condemned for his sins. He does not want to drag her down with him, to become an executioner as he is, even if Zaladane's execution was a necessity.
Still, part of me will always yearn to go back to you, sweet Rogue. We were together for a short while only, but if circumstances were not allied against us, ours could have been a great love. Maybe one day... No! Better leave things as they are. My romantic days are over, I see that now. I thought I loved Lee, but that is palpably true no longer, and whatever could have become of you and me, Rogue, is a matter for idle speculation. Magneto must walk his road alone.
Far from the End
This story started out as a flashback in Late Summer Interlude, but as sometimes happens in these cases, it soon became too long for that purpose. Midnight Sun adds some 'between the panel' details to Chris Claremont's stories in Uncanny X-Men #269, 274, and 275, which unfortunately makes for a bit of redundancy with those issues (part of the dialogue is obviously taken directly from Claremont). The story engendered some flashbacks of its own, where I attempted to explore Rogue's relationship to her adoptive family and add a little to the sparse references about Rogue's youth in UXM #178, 182, 185 and a few other places. I also tried to come up with an explanation why the manhunt for Rogue apparently was not continued after UXM #185 and why Rogue and Nick Fury seemed so strangely familiar with each other in UXM #274/5.
Bertolt Brecht's poem An die Nachgeborenen is copyright by Stefan S. Brecht 1965. The English translation of the final part is my own, but I am sure there are better (and complete!) ones available elsewhere. If you have one at hand, I'd be grateful if you sent it to me.
Heartfelt thanks to Rivka Jacobs for her research, and to her, Luba Kmetyk and Alara Rogers for their useful creative input. I guess I also have to thank (or blame) everybody who liked the erotic passages of Late Summer Interlude (you know who you are) for encouraging me to go for the R-rated version of the night before the final battle against Zaladane.