Always in Mah Mind

Part 3 - Her Mind's Eye

One night when they had all come together to watch a movie, Rogue fell asleep in front of the TV. Gambit figured she must be exhausted from dealing with all those personalities - he didn't know for sure because she refused to discuss it further - so he gently scooped her up and took her back to his room. He was careful not to wake her when he slipped into bed a few hours later, and didn't think anything of it when she didn't stir.

But when he woke up the next morning and discovered that she hadn't moved since last night, he began to worry.

"Rogue?" he shook her gently. "Time to get up." No response. He shook her harder. Still nothing. "C'mon, chere, dis ain't funny." He checked her vital signs and was relieved that her heart and lungs were working, but it brought him little comfort.

He picked her up and started to run. "Jean..." Once again there was no response...didn't anybody get up in the morning? He yelled louder. "Jean...we got a problem.

His voice echoed through the empty halls. It was like a nightmare - he and Rogue were the only two left in the world, and she needed help that he couldn't provide. Little did he know that his cries had awakened his teammates and they were slowly but surely getting up. Wolverine was already on his way.

When he reached Scott and Jean's door, he didn't bother to knock, he simply kicked it open. The couple was awake, but even Scott was too groggy to scold Gambit before the Cajun's mouth got going.

"She won't wake up, Jean."

Jean leapt out of bed and motioned for Gambit to lay Rogue in her place. She also checked vital signs and sent Scott to grab some medical equipment. As soon as he returned, she hooked Rogue up and studied the data. Unfortunately, her fears were confirmed. "She's in a coma."

Gambit shook his head. "It's more den dat."

"I told her already," Logan said behind him. "She knows all about it."

"I don't think there's anything we can do but sit and wait," Jean said. "This is something she has to deal with herself."

"What's going on?" Scott asked, stuck outside the loop.

"Rogue's havin' some problems with all the people livin' in her head," Logan explained.

"Dat's all she told you? She told me some a dose people are tryin' to take over."

Scott's mind went back to the night before, right before they had settled down to watch the movie. He found Rogue in the kitchen, and had tapped her on the shoulder to get her attention. Her reaction was unexpected - she turned around and said "Don't touch me" in such a way that it was not merely a demand, it was a threat. Even more disturbing was that, just for a moment, her hair had become a crown of fire and her eyes blazed like the surface of the sun. He knew that look all too well, and had thought he'd never see it again. But he blinked and the illusion was gone, Rogue's hair was brown with a white streak, and her eyes were green. She acted as if nothing happened, so he brushed it off as a flashback to what he had hoped was a long forgotten nightmare.

Now he felt chills down his spine. "Phoenix," he muttered to himself.

"What?" Logan asked.

"I saw Phoenix last night."

It was Jean's turn to be skeptical. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah...I'm sure."

Gambit closed his eyes. "I t'ink we need t' gat'er de troops."

~

Minutes later, everyone in the mansion was gathered in the center of command section of the war room. Rogue was laid out on a table on the side of the room, hooked up to the best medical equipment this side of the galaxy, monitoring everything from her temperature to brain waves. The rest of the X-Men were seated around the circular table in the center of the room. Her condition, or as much as anyone knew about it, had been briefly described to the members of the team that weren't aware of it, and they were trying to figure out their next move.

"Is there anything we can do?" Jubilee asked. "I mean, if the problem's in her head, is there anything to do other than makin' sure her life signs are stable?"

"Perhaps all she needs is time," Storm suggested.

"Time may be the only thing she don't have," Logan growled. "The girl has so many people in there she must be drownin'."

Beast's brain was working overdrive trying to come up with a solution. "I'm afraid that her struggle may become ours, especially if a particularly aggressive personality is able to assert itself as the primary. With all the people she's absorbed over the years, who knows how much damage she could do."

"Well, maybe we should start a list of people she's absorbed then," Jean said. "Then we'll have an idea of what we might be up against."

"For starters, she's touched everyone in this room except Jubilee," Logan began. "Then there's Magneto, Juggernaut, Mystique..."

"This is pointless," Scott interrupted. "We'll never be able to list them all. We should be prepared for anything, any mutant we've ever come across."

"Gambit," Storm finally said, "what do you think?"

All eyes were on the Cajun, who had said nothing so far. He just stared at Rogue across the room on the cold, metal table while the rest of them spoke meaningless words. "I t'ink I gotta go in dere an' get her out." He tore his eyes from Rogue and looked at Jean. "You could get me in dere, no?"

She hesitated. "I could...but I'm not sure it's the best course of action. You've never been in someone else's mind before, it would be very disorienting for you. If anyone's going to do something like that, it'll be me."

"No," he said firmly, "it's me or nothin'. I know dis girl better den anyone. I'll be able to spot a trick a mile away. I'll slip in and out before any of dose other people even know I'm dere."

"Then I'm going too," Logan said. "There are a few things some of those fools need to learn."

"Not dis time, mon ami. Dey might need you out here."

"I'm goin' in there (snikt) whether you like it or not, Cajun."

"Wolverine," Beast ventured cautiously, "I think what Gambit's trying to say that if while he's in Rogue's mind, someone else may take control, and we may have to take...harsh steps to prevent a disaster. If that's the case, she may need your healing factor. If you're in her mind, that won't be an option."

Logan retracted his claws, and Gambit put his hand on his shoulder. "Not long ago she made me promise to do whatever necessary to keep her from doin' harm. De best way I can t'ink of doin' that is to go in her brain and help her fight de others. I'm askin' you, as her friend, to take charge of t'ings out here."

Logan shook Gambit's hand off in annoyance. "Fine. But I'm only stayin' out here 'cause there's a chance we'll have to beat her up pretty bad. An' if she needs it, my powers are here for the takin'."

Beast moved Rogue to the center table, and Gambit laid next to her. "Ok, Jean, plug me in."

"I still don't like this," she complained. "I don't think this is the right way to go about this."

"It's de only way."

"Before you go in, there are a few things you need to know. I'm going to bring you into my mind first, then place you in Rogue's...it's less taxing on me, and should make the transition easier for you. You should also know that whatever happens to you in there, will affect you out here, so if you get hurt or die..."

"I seen The Matrix, I know how dis works," he broke in. "Now do it already."

"Relax and try to clear your mind," she instructed, touching his temples. Nothing happened. He opened his eyes and was about to complain when he realized that something had happened. He was still on the table next to Rogue, but the only other person in the room was Jean.

"Dat was fast. Points for speed, chere."

"Listen, Gambit, this is very important. I've been in Rogue's mind before and it can be...confusing isn't a strong enough word. I cannot emphasize that enough. Expect anything. And remember, when she absorbs a person, she doesn't get their entire personality...she gets bits and pieces of it, along with disjointed memories. The people you know won't be the same as the versions that exist in her head."

"T'anks for de advice."

"I'll be monitoring your progress...all you have to do is say the word and you're out of there. I'm going to put you in a region of her mind that's calm and not showing too much activity. That will give you a chance to get used to your surroundings, and maybe you can find a way to surprise the locals."

He blinked and the institute was gone. He was outside, standing next to a creek with a scattering of trees along its banks. The sun was shining and the air was thick with humidity - he recognized the deep south immediately, though it was no New Orleans. He figured this must be one of Rogue's childhood memories, a thought that was confirmed when he realized he was being watched...by someone shorter than himself and unskilled in the art of stealth. A child.

Pretending not to notice, he took off his coat, laid it on the grass, and sat down facing the stream. He pulled a pack of cards from his coat pocket and began manipulating them with one hand. The child was cautiously sneaking up behind him, but Gambit was trying to be patient. If this boy was who he thought he was, he may be able to provide valuable information.

He waited until the boy was practically on top of him before he said anything. "Hello. Nice day t' sit by the water, ain't it?" The boy froze behind him. "Don' be scared, I won't hurt you...I jus' came to talk." The boy said nothing. "Where are my manners, you don' know who I am, my name is..."

"Ah know who you are," the boy said defiantly. "You're Gambit. But you're not supposed to be here."

"I'm not?"

"She told me that she wouldn't let you come to this place, that you're not yourself in here."

"Dat's interesting...but I don' live here, I'm jus' here for a visit."

The boy finally walked into Gambit's line of sight, his eyes wide with wonder. "You mean you're the real Gambit? From out there?"

"In de flesh."

"Wow! She talks about you all the time...this is so cool! Ah've always wanted to meet you! Ah'm..."

It was Gambit's turn to interrupt. "You're Cody." The boy eyed him suspiciously. "She talks about you too, you know, out dere." He gestured to his surroundings and continued. "So dis is where Rogue grew up?"

"Rogue? You mean she still hasn't told you her name? It's..."

"Some t'ings are best left alone. Her real name don' matter to me. If she wants to share, dat's up to her, but it's not your secret to tell."

Cody understood. "You're right, ah'm sorry. Ah'm surprised she hasn't told you, that's all. Ah mean, it seems like all she ever talks about is you, ah thought she'd have said somethin' by now...but ah guess it's hard for her to get close to people."

"Tell me about it."

"She comes here a lot, to talk about her life. Ah guess she only comes at night, when she's asleep. Ah'd like to think she remembers our time together when she wakes up, but ah don't think she does."

"Have you talked recently?" Gambit inquired.

Cody's face darkened. "You're here about the others, aren't you? In here. They've been causin' a mess of trouble."

"Where can I find them?"

"Ah don't really know...she doesn't let me leave this place, she says it's too dangerous. But some of the others come in." He pointed down the stream. "That's where they come from, that's where they go."

"Den dat's where I go." Gambit stood and put his coat on.

"It was an honor to meet you - the great Remy LeBeau, the legend...you're exactly like she said."

Gambit handed the boy a pack of cards. "Maybe I'll come back under better circumstances and teach you a few tricks. But now I have to go help Rogue fight off some of dose others."

"Ah'm glad she has someone like you, someone t' look after her. Someone that cares. She likes you a lot, you know."

"Feelin's mutual, Cody."

~

He felt like he was in Star Trek, beaming from place to place. Apparently each location in Rogue's mind had limits, and once Gambit hit a boundary, he'd instantaneously be someplace else. He could find no rhyme or reason to the order of locations, however, and found himself lost in the labyrinth of her thoughts.

"If you're dere, Jean, a little help, please."

Her voice entered his own head instantly. "I've been trying to get a fix on her, but it's been difficult...turn left at the next street, go about six blocks, and enter the diner in the corner. That should take you almost directly to her."

"Merci." He followed her directions and ended up where his journey began, the mansion. He could hear crying coming from inside, and when he followed the sound, it led him to the corner of her own room, where she was huddled in a ball, her face in her hands.

"Hush, chere, Gambit's here."

She looked up, tears streaming down her cheeks. "What are you doing here?"

"I've come to rescue you."

She looked annoyed rather than relieved. This was not exactly the welcome he'd expected. "Ah don't think..."

He wasn't going to argue with her, he grabbed her hand and practically dragged her down the stairs. "C'mon, let's get outta here..." There was something not quite right about this picture, but he couldn't put his finger on it. He was too concerned with trying to figure out how they were going to escape her subconscious to worry about her odd behavior. After all, who knows what she's been going through in here, there could be a reasonable explanation. Still...

"Let me go! What the hell do you think you're doin'? You're gonna ruin everything!"

They were outside now, out in the open...and Cyclops was waiting for them, hand on his visor, ready to strike. But he wouldn't shoot old friends...would he?"

"Gambit down!" The voice came from above, and he didn't have much time to think about it, so he threw Rogue to the ground and shielded her body with his. Another woman threw herself over him, a moment before the blast hit. The three were pushed across the lawn, but the figure on top had absorbed the brunt of the energy. Gambit was confused...he recognized the curves of the woman above and below him, and they were one in the same.

"Are you insane?" the top Rogue yelled as she got off him. "There really isn't a woman you won't try to save, is there? What were you thinkin'? For God's sake, mister gumbo-for-brains, when you're with a woman who's invulnerable to just about anything, you don't throw yourself on top a' her to protect her...you jump behind her." She waved to Cyclops to join them.

Now this was the Rogue he knew and loved. "What can I say, chere, I was tryin' to be a gentleman." The other Rogue also got up, and he was faced with a minor dilemma. "Now is dere really more den one of you, or are my eyes playin' tricks?"

The second Rogue, the one beneath him, changed before his eyes, her blue skin and red hair familiar. "You've ruined everything, Cajun. I don't know what inspired you to suddenly take up the cause, but..."

"Aw shut up, Mystique, this ain't the Remy in mah mind, this one's the real deal." She pushed him back down. "Only one fool enough to come in here an' try t' save me."

"Not true...Wolverine almos' joined me."

"Like ah don't have a big enough crowd in here already," Rogue sighed. "Well, scratch plan A...ah guess ah'll have to go the rest of the way on mah own."

"That's not a good idea," Cyclops warned. "They're too powerful for you to take on yourself."

"All together, yes...but right now only one of them is a real threat. If the rest a y'all can keep the others busy and let me focus on Phoenix, ah can handle it."

"Chere, you're in a coma, maybe you could use some help gettin' out of it," Gambit suggested.

"Ah know...they tricked me. But ah'm fine, really. This might be exactly what ah need, to face 'em. Ah've been experimentin' with mah powers in here." She leaned forward and whispered the rest in his ear. "If ah play mah cards just right, ah'm invincible. Trust me, ah can do this." She backed up and spoke to all of them. "Tell everyone else there's a new plan in effect, and take Gambit with you, he can help too."

"Cheatin' on me, chere," a voice said from the direction of the mansion, "an' with myself...dat ain't nice."

"Oh good Lord," Rogue said, rolling her eyes.

The real Gambit turned around to face the piece of him that existed in her mind. An exact replica, down to the last detail...it was strange looking at himself like this. He felt like he was having an out-of-body experience. "Never realized how handsome I am. How could you resist me for all dose years?"

Mystique and Cyclops stood by the real Gambit, ready to fight at his side, but Rogue shooed them away. "You two have more important things to do. Remy can handle himself. And you," she turned to Gambit, "remember, he's only a slice of what you are. Unfortunately, he didn't get some of your better qualities...he's haunted by your dark past, consumed by self-hatred, and torn between his love for Belle - who's in here somewhere - and his passion for me. Be careful." She surprised him with a kiss on the cheek. "Ah'd stay to help, but ah have other things on mah mind right now."

"I know...I'll be waitin' for you here when you're done." He handed her a pack of cards. "For luck."

~

Rogue knew Phoenix would be waiting for her somewhere in space. Her original plan was to flush the cosmic force out through Mystique's deceit, so she could face Phoenix on her own turf. In the grand scheme of things, though, it didn't much matter where they fought. Whether the memories belonged to her or not, this was Rogue's mind, and she knew every inch of it. As she flew into the stars, she was confident that she would prevail. She had just broken through Earth's atmosphere when Phoenix let her presence be known.

"I am the creator and the destroyer, the beginning and the end...I am all in the universe." She looked like Jean, but talked like the greatest force the X-Men ever had to face. Her hair was of the sun's fire, and here eyes of Earth's molten core. She wore the costume Jean had eventually adopted when she returned. And she was still hell bent on controlling everything.

"Enough with the speeches, sugah, ah'm here to end this."

Her rival laughed, "You're nothing more than a speck of dust, you won't survive a confrontation. Surrender and your death will be fast and painless."

"Ah ain't gonna let you take over mah body," Rogue said from behind the moon. "Ah saw what happened when you stepped in for Jean...you saved her, but at what price?"

"Your words have no affect on me...face me now or run, either way I'll have another body to call my own."

Rogue had been trying to stall so she could charge up all her energy, but it seemed like time had run out. She could only hope that this would work. She flew to the other side of the moon, where Phoenix was waiting. "You think you're God, lady? Not in here. This is mah mind, mah universe, the only God in here is me. And ah'm gonna cream you."

She threw all she had at Phoenix, and with all the personalities she had absorbed in the years, it was more than Phoenix had expected. She had the strength of Sabertooth, Captain America, Colossus, Juggernaut...Cyclops' optic blast, Storm's control of the weather, Wolverine's claws, Beast's intellect, Professor X's telepathy - she hit Phoenix in every possible way imaginable, in body and mind, even using her own cosmic force against her. They fell hard and long until they made a nasty dent in the surface of the Earth. Phoenix moaned and Rogue flew out of the hole. "Had enough?"

"Not nearly," she spat, catching Rogue off guard and knocking her down.

Rogue was surprised, but unafraid. They were all with her - Magneto, Mystique, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Northstar, Black Tom, Apocalypse, Sinister - anyone she had ever touched was there with her, on her side. She was in control of their powers now. She continued her assault by every possible means, and Phoenix was beginning to show signs of strain, but she was still strong. Rogue decided it was time to do what she was born to do, even though she was unsure about its effects on her in here. She blinded Phoenix with one of Dazzler's blasts and grabbed her face in her bare hands.

Phoenix screeched in contempt, but Rogue held tight as the demon tried to pry her off. Eventually Rogue was overwhelmed by the amount of power she was draining. She let go before it became too much and fell to the ground.

"I tried to warn you, child," Phoenix purred, "no mortal is a match for me. I will live again, outside of your horrid little mind, and rule what is rightfully mine." She turned her back to Rogue, who was still gasping for breath, and started to walk away. "I'll let you live, though, so you can ponder your own inadequacies in this pitiful existence which you cannot escape."

Phoenix did not see Rogue's eyes glow red, or her hands fan out a deck of cards. She was waiting for the moment, patiently, silently, like a good thief should. She was Rogue, but she was Gambit too...the others had departed, leaving these two to finish the job. They moved together, their minds and bodies one. They charged the deck, every card blazing red, ready to serve its purpose. "Sorry, chere," the southern belle/Cajun thief said. "But dat's not de way dis ends. Ah've got a full house."

Phoenix turned around as the cards hit her, seemingly from all directions at once. It was the final touch necessary to knock her out cold. When her body hit the ground, Rogue was already next to it. "Sorry, sugah, but you ain't the real Phoenix. You can only take so much." She looked around, trying to figure out what she was going to do with the unconscious woman at her feet, when a hand touched her shoulder.

"Good job, Rogue. I knew you could do it." The real Jean Gray stood beside her, surveying the scene. "I tried to tell the others to stay out of it, but you know how they can be..."

"Thanks for staying out of it yourself. This was somethin' ah needed to do on mah own."

"Well...I had planned on stepping in if it looked like she was really going to take control. I'm not sure if I'd be able to stop her, but I couldn't have her loose in the real world again, not even a less powerful version of her. It's too dangerous."

"Ah'm just glad it didn't come to that...'cause even if you did manage to stop her, ah'd a been hoppin' mad." She motioned to the figure on the ground. "Now what am ah gonna do with her? Ah'd like to chain her up or somethin', but ah don't know if there's anythin' that'll hold her."

"I have an idea, if you don't mind my input," Jean ventured.

"Ah'm all ears."

~

Rogue returned to the mansion alone, and found two beat up Gambits playing cards on the front steps. "Here ah've been runnin' around tryin' to keep Phoenix from takin' over, and you two are playin' cards?"

"Didn' want our help, chere," one Gambit said.

"What else were we s'posed to do?" the other asked. "Duel to the death?"

"No point to dat," the first chimed in, "we fight de same way, use de same moves..."

"You two can stop now, ah get the picture. Now will the real Gambit please stand up so ah can get you outta here?"

Both men stood up and glared at each other.

"I'm de real Gambit," they said in unison. "No you're not, I am."

"See, this is why ah didn't want you comin' in here...ah knew somethin' like this would happen. How am ah supposed to figure out which is which?"

"Would I lie to you, chere?" they both asked.

"Are there snakes in Ireland?" The two men looked at each other in confusion. "Yes, yes there are..."

"I have an idea," one said, "why don't we make pleas for your heart...whoever has de most convincing speech must be the real one."

"Dat's de stupidest t'ing I've ever heard. I won't do it."

"Fine, den, makes it easier for me." This Gambit proceeded to pour his heart out, and though the words sounded true enough, he just didn't seem right. The other Gambit played solitaire, pretending to have no interest in the outcome. The question was, what would the real Gambit do? Would he try to talk his way out of this, or seize the opportunity to sit quietly and come up with a plan?

She felt herself leaning towards the one who was speaking, until she realized that he was using his powers of persuasion in full force. He wouldn't do that to her, he said so himself...unless he was desperate. No, even then he wouldn't try to charm her. He respected her too much. Even so, she didn't make her final decision until he finished his speech with, "How can you leave me here, after you've gone and stolen my heart?"

Rogue responded to his query with a fist to the face. This Gambit hadn't been prepared for a blow, and was knocked out cold. The other one gathered his cards and stood up. "See, chere, some a' dose late night serious talks do a world of good."

"Ah guess so...the real you wouldn't accuse me of stealin' your heart. Not anymore anyway."

"Are you goin' t' leave him here?"

"Nah," she said, crouching down and touching his shoulder. "I'm gonna take him to Belle." She grabbed the other Gambit and used Nightcrawler's powers to teleport the three of them to the gates of an old southern mansion. "She'll be out here sooner or later to collect 'em." She stood up and searched his face. "Unless you want to see her?"

"I put dat behind me a long time ago. Don' need to see her anymore." He took her hand and they began walking down the street. "So, you goin' to tell Gambit how you took on Phoenix force all by yourself, or do I have to guess?"

"In real life ah don't have control over mah powers, but in here, ah can do anything. Ah can call upon any powers ah've ever been exposed to, an' that makes me all but unstoppable, even to somethin' as powerful as the Phoenix."

"An' where's dat crazy bird now?"

"Jean came by and helped me create a containment unit similar to the one that holds Juggernaut, only this one stores her on ice. It probably won't last forever, but it'll keep her outta mah thoughts for a while."

"What about de others?"

"The others are either on mah side an' I don't have to worry about them, or they're not. Magnito, Sinister, Juggernaut...all those bad guys are too egotistical to share their glory. They'd rather fight amongst themselves to determine who gets to take over than work together to that effect."

"It's no wonder you have issues, girl, havin' deal with all dis madness every day. I don' know how you do it."

"Ah have phenomenal friends," she said, squeezing his hand. That's when he noticed that her skin was touching his...and nothing was happening.

"Rogue?" He held up their hands in front of her face.

"It's like ah said...in here, ah have a kind of control ah've always dreamed of. Ah won't absorb you unless ah want to."

His eyes sparkled mischievously. "Den maybe we go somewhere more comfortable..." She pulled away suddenly and he stopped in his tracks. "What I do now, chere?"

"Remy, ah don't dare take you up on that offer...as much as ah'd like to." She turned around and touched his face, feeling his soft skin and prickly stubble, savoring the moment. "But this ain't real. It all smoke an' mirrors, the way things should be, but aren't. It's tempting, but it's a trap. This coma ah'm in...did you ever think that maybe ah played a hand in it? That maybe it was more than a fight for control? Not even ah know for sure...the point is that life can seem better in here at times, but it ain't really life." He reached up and touch her hand with his. "Don't make this any harder then it already is. Ah give in to you now, and ah may never leave the illusion."

"I understand. Didn' mean to put you in dat position. I jus'..."

"...wanted to take advantage of the situation, ah know."

"Maybe we not do much...maybe a little kiss? For ol' times sake?" He grinned at her.

"You'll never give up, will you? Ah appreciate your devotion, but..."

He put his fingers on her lips. "Enough said. Ready to return to the land of the living?"

"Absolutely." She looked up towards the sky. "Jean, if you'll do the honors."

"I'm on it."

Right before he disappeared, he leaned forward to give her a quick kiss. She smiled at his blatant disregard of her words. "Scoundrel..." she muttered before making her way back to her body.