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 (for the full text see Stan's Soapbox in some of the May 1998 comics, e.g. Generation X #38):
"8. The right to practice scripting and drawing our Marvel characters for your own pleasure and amusement."
The story is (c) 2002 by Tilman Stieve (firstname.lastname@example.org). 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.
Between the Winds belongs to my series, the Tales of the Twilight Menshevik, where it is the third story of a new timeline, Twilight Yet to Come. I tried to make it understandable on its own, but some readers may prefer to read the first two stories, Hang On to Your Ego and Strange Headfellows, first. You can find them and other Tales archived on "Fonts of Wisdom," "Down-Home Charm," "MissyRedX: The Average Website," and "Stacy's Fan-Fiction Page."
Between the Winds
"It all began when Raven decided to clone my, er, Valerie Cooper’s body. Well, actually it began when Val got herself killed and Rogue permanently absorbed her memories." The blond-haired girl speaking these words looked four years old, but her bearing and some of her little movements were as out of tune with that appearance as her way of speaking. "That meant Valerie’s personality could apparently live on, even if it put a crimp on the relationship to Raven Darkhölme. Raven wanted to restore things as they were, but there were a few snags, as you may know."
"No, sorry, the matter did not concern me that much and so..."
"Understandable. It really had nothing to do with the genetic X-factor. Well, Moira MacTaggert could clone Valerie’s body from the cell samples Raven had secretly collected, but she was unable to force-grow it the way your current body was sixteen years ago. Using Earth technology, accelerated aging can have all kinds of unwanted side-effects, and Moira and her team did not have access to the Shi’ar technology that was used to create your clone."
Professor Charles Francis Xavier looked seriously at the girl who had turned up at his front door that day and now sat in a leather-upholstered chair across his desk, in the center of his wood-paneled study. "There probably would have been side-effects to that as well. You know it is comparatively easy to get a body to grow faster than at its natural rate. The really tricky thing is to return it to normal." He fell silent for a moment. Outside the window the twittering of a bird could now be heard. "This body ages more slowly than it did when Sikorsky and Moira force-grew it in the cloning-chamber in the Starjammer med-lab, but it is still significantly more rapid than a naturally born body."
"Oh my God." A tiny hand flew to the girl’s lips.
"We only found out a couple of years ago. I try to take it philosophically. I survived then and I’ll probably live out my allotted time, at least as long as I would have if not for the Brood queen. In your case it could have shortened your life expectancy by a great deal."
Under his attentive gaze, the girl haltingly continued her story. "Anyway, we decided to go ahead with the clone growing at the natural rate. Raven’s body is not subject to the ravages of time in the same way as others because of her shape-changing power. So she thought she could take the patient approach and wait for Val’s new body to grow up. And if she was going through all that to get Val back as we were before, then that was good, especially if it meant Rogue no longer had to sub-let her mind to another personality."
"So you had it transferred to the new body."
"Yes. That was at the beginning of 2004, a month before the ‘birth’ of the cloned body. It seemed longer, waiting inside. At first Moira raised the child, with some help from Rahne Guthrie. You could say little Val was a low-maintenance baby, almost spookily so. There was no potty training and as soon as she was strong enough to hold a cup, feeding was a breeze. There were some problems when it came to re-learning to co-ordinate the movements of different limbs and body parts, but after about a year most of them were overcome. The heavy head was a bother and going through teething was a pain, but it was something that could be endured and overcome with patience. So Sam and Rahne brought the girl to Georgetown."
"To live with your family again."
"With Raven, Irene and Hope. It was a strange life. I usually wore a cyclist’s helmet to avoid hurting myself, both my daughters were stronger than I, so when they became a bit rambunctious I had to watch out and it was sometimes hard to assert my authority when Raven was away. I got a bit of work done once we got a keyboard small enough for my little fingers. Raven’s patience was strong, she absorbed herself in her work and did not foresee any problems. But slowly it dawned on me that this life was a lie. It began with finding childish scribblings on documents and scraps of paper on the desk, with waking up embarrassed in the mess of a ‘potty accident’, and so on. There was another mind in my body, a child’s mind, the mind that belonged here. In a nut-shell, the innate mind of Valerie Cooper’s clone-sister Heloise."
"That’s the name she chose for herself. I blame it on the easy listening she kept hearing on the radio when I was working."
"The song must have been after my time."
"Anyway, there was no denying that inside the cloned body a young child was growing, but its development and free will was hemmed in and jeopardized by the presence of Val Cooper’s memories which had been transferred from Rogue’s mind. So what was to be done? After considering the matter for several months after Heloise appeared, after talking to her a decision had to be made."
Charles Xavier felt a slight shiver up and down his spine. "When my mind was transplanted to this cloned new body, there was no trace of another personality in it, thank heavens..."
"Heloise was such an unexpected complication. Moira MacTaggert had worked on the assumption that the clone’s mind would be a blank slate or that whatever germs of an inborn personality there were would be completely absorbed by the dominant transplanted one." The girl was plainly going through intense emotional discomfort.
"Sikorsky’s treatment prevented the clone from developing a personality of its own. The ethics of his species and those of the Shi’ar empire regard clones as sources of spare parts, nothing more." Charles Xavier leaned forward towards the girl. "So what are you going to do now, Valerie?" he asked.
"There is no Valerie here. There is only an assemblage of her memories, a gestalt, if you will, that was transferred from her body to Rogue’s mind and from there to this body. It must be removed so that Heloise can have the full use of what is rightfully hers. And as the world’s most powerful telepath, you are the best man to do it."
"Because there must be no chance of Valerie’s memories coming back to cause Heloise grief at some later point..."
"Have you gone totally wacko!?!?" Rogue’s green eyes sparkled in rage. "Erasin’ Val’s mind from her body? How could you do that?!"
Charles Xavier tried to defend himself, explain about the problems caused to ‘Heloise’s’ mind by Valerie Cooper’s implanted memories, but Rogue was too incensed and did not want to listen.
"You’ve as good as killed Val, even if she died in body years ago. You may think you only erased a collection of loose thoughts, but ah’ve had her in me for almost three years. Ah may find it hard to believe in God, but ah know that was Val’s soul! If she still was inside my head ah damn well would have forbidden you from erasin’ her, no matter what!" The leader of the X-Men’s offshoot team, the Meddlers, paused with a sudden thought. "You did ask Heloise if she actually wanted to get rid of Val?"
"Heloise is a child, and very likely held back in her emotional development by having those memories running riot in her mind." There was a stern edge to Charles Xavier’s voice. "She doesn’t know any better. I did what had to be done, in her own best interest. But yes, I talked to her before we went through with it."
Rogue said nothing, but her hardened jawline showed that she was far from satisfied with the answer.
"Rogue, be reasonable," said Xavier, "I had to act quickly, for Heloise’s sake. It was the only way."
"That’s a load of bull, Prof, and you know it. ‘Sides, y’all should’ve talked to me, you should have asked momma before you went ahead."
"I’m sorry, but even if that really had been Valerie, she forbade me getting you or Mystique involved."
Rogue’s frown would not leave her face entirely, it merely segued into an expression of despairing disappointment. When her eyes started to well up, she turned on her heel and left the room in a huff. "Ah’m flyin’ to Washington," she said, "ah reckon it had better be me who breaks the news to her when she returns."
As she left the room, Charles winced and braced himself for the ear-shattering and wood-splintering slam of the door, but — either because she sensed his fear or because after living with superhuman strength for a good part of two decades, controlling it had become her second nature — she checked herself at the last moment and closed the door with barely more force than usual.
Charles Xavier breathed a sigh of relief.
"You know, Charles, I never tell her because she is bound to take it the wrong way, but she is beautiful even when she is angry."
Charles turned to his oldest friend, who had silently observed the heated exchange between himself and his former student. Magneto gave him a melancholy smile.
"Do you think I did wrong, Magnus?"
"You’re turning to me for an opinion on a question of ethics? What is the world coming to?" The note of amusement vanished immediately, wiped clean off his face like writing on a chalkboard with a wet sponge. Not even traces remained on his somber mien. The silver-haired mutant exhaled audibly. "Had the Val Cooper persona expressed the wish to be erased while in Rogue’s mind, I probably would have leapt at the opportunity to be rid of her. At least during the first six to twelve months. But after living with her longer, it would have been more difficult..."
Charles Xavier clearly was uncomfortable, but did not interrupt him.
"Sometimes you have to make a choice where there is no right answer. You remember what happened when Rogue came out of the Siege Perilous, she and the persona she had absorbed from Carol Danvers were given two separate bodies, but there was only life force enough for one of them. Rogue wanted to live, but she could not bring herself to kill this Ms. Marvel for her own survival. I had to take the decision out of her hand or she would have died, either at Ms. Marvel’s hands or along with her. If the situation with Val and ... what’s the clone’s new name again?"
"...Val and Heloise is comparable, then you are better off than I was, because I had to kill this reincarnated Ms. Marvel against her will, you had Valerie’s consent."
"She ... it ... urged me to erase her from the girl’s mind."
"But Rogue is an optimist, she will always look for another way. And more often than not it eventually turns out that she’s right and another way is found. Which is very nice when it happens, but it unfortunately raises her expectations afterwards. First she hopes to live in a world where our kind are no longer feared and hated, before you know it she starts talking about living to see a mutant elected president of the United States."
In spite of everything Charles had to smile at that. "And you call me a dreamer!"
"Yes, she has taken up your dream and combined it with what Che Guevara said: ‘Be realistic, demand the impossible’. But unfortunately her nature will not work entirely in your favor here. Because there’s ultimately no way to prove that no other way could not have been found, she’s going to blame you and Val for not trying hard enough to find a way of, say, helping Heloise and Val to come to some kind of modus vivendi or of transferring Val back to Rogue’s mind." The expression on Magnus’ face made it only too clear that this last option was not exactly a thought he relished.
"And she is convinced that what I removed from Heloise’s mind was actually Valerie, not just her memories..."
"She’ll always be convinced of that," said Magneto. "In a way she has to. She went through a lot of trouble to preserve Val’s soul — as she describes it — in her own mind. You have to remember that at least at first it put a huge strain on our relationship, and that was easily foreseen. Rogue knew what could have happened inside her mind from the experience with the Carol Danvers persona. But then, when Valerie’s persona made it possible for us to have our daughter, it not only made her feel vindicated, she also felt deeply indebted to Val. I don’t think she could ever accept an explanation where Harriet would merely be the consequence of a self-inflicted multiple-personality disorder."
"You are somewhat circumspect in your phrasing," Charles noted. "What do you think yourself?"
"I’m inclined to think that really was Valerie, but then she and Rogue may have talked me into that belief. On the other hand, I’m not sure if she got you to believe that she wasn’t a real person. I think I can understand why she would want to make an end to it all after she discovered Heloise. I’m not sure if she thought it through thoroughly, but I can empathize. I’ve seen people give their lives for their loved ones."
Charles gave a soft, pained groan and put the tips of his fingers to his temples, gently rubbing.
"Charles, did she talk you into this? I was surprised that you of all people lent your hand to this."
"You’re right, you’re right," Charles Xavier replied miserably, "I didn’t take time to consider all implications properly. She didn’t give me the time, she said it had to be done before Mystique returned from Europe because there might not be another opportunity soon enough. If Raven got wind of her intentions she would do anything to prevent the removal, besides the ‘memory-gestalt’, as she called herself, could soon become too selfish for another attempt and the state of Heloise’s psyche would deteriorate beyond repair... If I didn’t do it then, Heloise’s fate would be on my head..."
Magnus nodded. "Put enough pressure on people to act quickly, and you can get them to do things they otherwise would never do. And maybe it wasn’t such a big matter to you. I recall a time when mind-wipes came very easily to you."
Charles started to reply, but Magnus raised his hands placatingly. "Yes, I know, it’s a sophomoric comment and I am a fine one to talk. Back in those days I probably would have said ‘what’s another dead flatscan anyway’ and not have wasted a second thought on the matter. Well, possibly not in this case, I too am indebted to her, without Val Cooper I would not have my youngest daughter."
"How is Harriet, by the way?"
"She’s fine, we left her with Neal and Monica Shaara when we came here. She gets along well with their children." Magneto sat down in an easy chair and leaned back. "But Charles, though some of your friends and students used to look on you that way, you’re not a saint. You’re not infallible, you make mistakes, you’re, dare I say it, human."
A slight wince rippled across Charles Xavier’s face. "So I made a big mistake here?"
"Just maybe. Rogue thinks so, but on the other hand it could equally be that you just saved a young girl’s life and sanity. There is simply no way of knowing for sure. Charles, you’re a leader, and being a leader often entails making crucial decisions in a matter of seconds. The choices we make may not always be the best ones, but I sometimes the most important thing is that a choice is made at all. Rogue understands that too, she has had to keep on going after making bad choices in her life and as leader of the Meddlers. In this case you made your choice, it’s now up to us to ensure that Heloise makes the most of her life. And in time Rogue will come to accept that."
"She still hates me now, though."
"Not really. She’ll say that you... ‘screwed up big time’, but she still loves you. She is just very disappointed that you of all people did this. If I had done something like that it would not have been quite such a shock, she knew me at a bad time, she knows what I have been capable of." Magneto cast down his eyes.
"So she knows how to hate the sin and love the sinner?"
"In a ‘secular humanist’ fashion, yes. But, to return to your choices, I think part of the reason why Valerie managed to talk you into assisting in her suicide was that you’re a leader, but she was someone who knew how to handle leaders, how to delay a decision if it was likely to go the way she didn’t want it to go, how to make a decision her way more likely, how to create and increase a sense of urgency in order to force a decision. She’s done her share of that in her committee work in Washington. Looking back, what do you think?"
"Actually I don’t feel too happy about all this. On one hand I don’t think I would have acted so quickly if I had believed that really was Valerie in Heloise’s mind, on the other hand ... if that was just a hodgepodge of memories, what does that make of me? Is this really Charles Xavier who speaking to you or just an artificial persona emerging from his memories?"
"You seem the same person to me whom I met in Haifa," Magneto tried to reassure him, but Charles Xavier continued as if he hadn’t heard.
"Was I just lucky because Sikorsky had prevented my clone from developing a mind of its own? For myself it would be more comfortable to believe that it’s really me, but that would by extension mean that what I did to Heloise’s mind was not just the erasure of incompatible excess information, but actually a kind of psychic mercy killing. And even if it was what Valerie wanted, it sits heavily and I’d still have to think a lot more about it. I mean, it helped my decision that Heloise also wanted it. But now I wonder how much Valerie had worked on her beforehand to make her say that. Once the process was initiated, Heloise changed her mind, but it was too late to stop, and besides she only had a very fuzzy idea what kind of an arrangement she wanted. Now she is very reluctant to talk to me at all, and I don’t want to probe her mind about it."
"Can I see her?"
"Yes, after the ordeal she is well enough, physically. Right now she is staying in Ororo’s loft..."
It had already turned dark when Magneto arrived at the brownstone on Georgetown’s 30th Street that was the private residence of Raven Darkhölme and, until a few days ago, also that of Valerie Cooper. "Sorry I took so long," he said to Rogue as she came outside to hug him in greeting, "Charles and I had a long and thorough talk. How is Raven?"
"Finally went to bed about an hour ago," she said wearily. "Hope she’s asleep by now."
"And your sisters?"
"They’re sleeping over at Alex and Lorna’s. They don’t know yet. We’ll tell them in the morning. Momma should be calm enough then." Rogue’s weary face reflected her dread looking forward to that second
revelation. "Anyway, we found this."
She handed Magnus a letter written in Valerie Cooper’s neat little handwriting. Reading through her farewell message, he found a brief recapitulation of the argument Charles Xavier had reported to him, but after that a different message followed, one that stressed that the persona transplanted into Val’s cloned body had the right and the duty to end her own existence for Heloise’s sake. Val admonished Raven to respect her decision, to be a good mother to Irene and Hope and not to think of exacting retribution from Professor X. A postscript asked Rogue and Kurt to keep their eyes on her clone-sister, and also to help their mother raise their own two sisters "until Raven has found someone to take Irene Adler’s and my place by her side, which, I am confident, will not take too long now she no longer has to feel obliged to wait for me."
After perusing the letter, Magnus silently handed it back to Rogue, who put it back on a small pile of letters and documents on Valerie’s desk.
"Momma was really mad when she heard what happened," she said in a low voice. "For a time ah was afraid she might go off the rails entirely ‘cause of Charley’s goof-up. Ah had a hard time calming her down a bit. Ah think ah convinced her it’s a bad idea to try and kill the Prof, mainly for practical reasons."
"She couldn’t easily raise Irene and Hope while on the run from the law, not with the way they look. And she knows they need her now more’n ever. Ah reckon ah should still stay here with momma for a while longer though. At least another week."
"If you think that’s best. But wouldn’t it be easier to take her and the young girls with us to Snug Valley?"
Rogue sighed. "Ah thought of that, but it would just make things harder for the girls, bein’ separated from their pals on top of everything else. And here their classmates have gotten used to Reney’s blue skin and Hopey’s fingers, they’d as likely as not have a rougher time in new classes, and ah’d rather not put that to the test just right now."
"Yes, it would be unnecessary to add another complication."
"’Sides, X-Factor are a bit short-handed right now, momma will take some time until she can go into action again, and Guido’s so badly hurt from his last mission that he’ll take at least a month to recover fully. Havok wants to reactivate Random, but so far they haven’t been able to contact him. So ah offered to help out for a li’l while."
Rogue had the good manners to look embarrassed about taking that decision without consulting Magnus or the rest of the Meddlers. Magneto nodded his approval after a moment’s pause.
"How long will you be staying here?"
"If there’s no complications, seven days exactly. Ah’ve phoned Kurt, he’ll try to tie things up in England so that he’ll relieve me when ah go. He’ll be able to join the team for a while as well as lookin’ after momma, should that still be necessary then. And then ah’ll hurry back to you and Harriet."
"Don’t you want me to stay here with you?"
"Ah’d love to have you here by my side, but ah think ah’ll sleep better knowin’ you’ll be on hand to back up Li."
There was a slightly awkward pause, and then Magnus spoke again: "Just as long as you don’t use the additional work as a way to avoid dealing with your own feelings about this matter?"
"What do you mean?"
"Rogue, you’re very upset right now..."
"Gee, how could you tell? Was it the way ah shouted at Chuck?" Rogue’s voice dripped with sarcasm.
"...but you’re not just angry at Charles. I saw how you reacted when he told you that it was what Val herself wanted. I don’t have to be a telepath to sense what went on inside you then. You’re angry at Valerie for giving up, just as Raven must be now."
"She said Val betrayed her, that much is true."
"Look, I love you and I think I know you by now. You’ve led an exceptional life. What most people may never have to face all their life is almost commonplace to you. You’ve probably lost count of how many times you’ve been in situations where you risked your life and well-being, maybe even of the occasions when it seemed what you did was tantamount to suicide. Yet you never hesitate. And that’s why people see a hero when they look at you. But I suspect it is easier for you to make a sacrifice on someone else’s behalf than to have someone else make it on your behalf."
"On my behalf? What does that have to do with Val’s..." She did not dare utter the word.
"Valerie sacrificed herself for Heloise, primarily, but she rejected an obvious course of action, having herself transferred to somebody else’s mind. Had the question arisen, you would have volunteered, am I right?"
"Of course ah would have!"
"Val knew you would have been prepared to let her return to your mind, and she knew that I’d have been prepared to share our life with her once more..."
Rogue took breath to say something, but Magnus rapidly continued.
"Yes, there was friction the first time around, but it was comparatively minor. The discomfort I went through was nothing compared to yours. We both were prepared to live with Val as part of you for the rest of our lives back then, and there would have been no reason why we should have refused it now. If anything, I, we’d feel more obliged to do it than before, because of Harriet..."
Rogue hesitantly nodded. "But if Val knew that, why did she insist on havin’ herself erased? What had changed for her?"
"We can only guess. I think it’s because she had a whole body to herself again until Heloise appeared. She said she was afraid that in time she would become too selfish — as she termed it — to share the body with Heloise, that the Val persona would end up suppressing Heloise as far as was in her power. Maybe she feared that if she was returned to your mind she would ultimately try to take your body away from you."
"As Carol Danvers did."
"I suppose so."
Rogue fell silent for a while. When she spoke again, her voice was a slight deal softer. "Y’know, Magnus, the past can come home to haunt you. Ah haven’t talked much about it to you, but back when the X-Men were in Australia pretendin’ to be dead, the Carol Danvers persona in my head grew strong enough to cause real trouble..."
"How did that happen?"
"Well, at first ah got captured and dragged to Genosha and ‘cause ah was de-powered and they handled me pretty rough ah didn’t know what to do. All ah could think of was to turn over control of my body to Carol, seein’ that she’d been a secret agent and all that. We escaped, but unfortunately she developed a taste for runnin’ the show. Ah’d hoped that the two of us had come to find a way to live together, but ah was mistaken. Everybody havin’ their mind screwed up ‘cause of a demonic invasion of Earth didn’t help any. Even after that was over, everybody was antsy and grouchy. And soon Carol and I were locked in a struggle for my body. Unfortunately she was very strong, while ah at that time was still younger, less experienced than these days, and because of the demon influence ah was actin’ pretty immature..."
Magneto smiled at that, but it was a smile of sympathy.
"So she managed to take my body away from me on a few occasions, and when ah returned to control afterwards, ah’d find she’d totally redecorated my room according to her stupid tastes or she’d dressed me up in her Ms. Marvel rags..."
"Let’s just say they simply didn’t go with my hair. Ah got so desperate that a finally asked Betsy to remove Carol’s personality from my mind, but she flat-out refused." Rogue paused and cast down her eyes, then continued miserably: "So ah’m not in any position to cast stones at Heloise for not wantin’ that kind of thing to happen to her. Leastways if that really and truly was her wish."
"Psylocke refused to help you?"
"She refused to erase Carol’s persona. Carol had been a friend to many of the X-Men, heck, as Binary she still was and is. But Betsy tried to help in a different way, by talkin’ a lot to with Carol when she was in control of my body, tryin’ to persuade her to be more considerate of my needs and to talk to me so we could come to some kind of accommodation, a compromise that gave us both our due. Ya see, she did not think of the Carol in me as just an assemblage of memories, but as a real person. But, well, it wasn’t meant to be. Shortly afterwards the X-Men came up against Nimrod, and in that battle ah fell through the Siege Perilous and ... well, you know the rest."
As she discoursed about her experiences, she had moved closer to him, and now Magnus took Rogue into his arms.
"The way the Siege separated us, it left no option for it endin’ any other way than with one of us dead, and you know ah’m glad and grateful you chose me. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t also unfair to Carol or that it wouldn’t have worked out if Valerie had been returned to my mind now."
He gave her a reassuring hug and her tense body relaxed somewhat. He heard her exhale, then a sob.
"Ah just wanted Val to be there to see Harriet grow up!"
For quite a while after the two mutants stood in silence, Rogue responding to his comforting hold by leaning against his cheek and neck as tears rolled down her face.
"Can ah come in, Professor?" Once again she stood at the door to Charles Xavier’s study.
"By all means, Rogue."
"Ah thought about everything some more, and ... ah’m sorry ah lashed out at you so last week."
"Don’t worry. I had time and occasion to reconsider the matter myself..."
"No, Charles, ah ... well, I realized ah’m not in a position to criticize what you did."
"No, you were right about some things. I really should have talked to you before going through with it. If only because you feel you were the keeper of Valerie’s soul before Heloise."
"Well, it’s too late to change it now. But, um, Magnus and I had a couple of long conversations about what happened and about the discussion you had with him after ah stormed out of this room. And ah shouldn’t have thought of you so loudly as ‘Doctor Xavorkian’."
Charles Xavier smiled indulgently. "Yes, I don’t think any telepath in the Tri-State Area missed that. But I’ve been called a lot worse, and it’s not that I didn’t give you cause for anger." Telepathically he added: "Losing a loved one is never easy, and under circumstances such as this ... if I could travel back in time I’d go and tell myself a few sharp words as well. But now I have to live with the responsibility."
"Care to talk about it Charles? Raven has been talkin’ a lot about your reasons with me this past week, and ah think that thanks to Magnus ah have a bit of a handle on them..."
"No, I did what I did, I won’t plead diminished responsibility. All in all, I’m still quite sure it is for the best. It would have been impossible for Heloise to continue living the way she was, an impotent prisoner in her own body. And I’d be very pessimistic of your chances of making it work in your body, Rogue."
"Well, ah happen to think otherwise."
"I’d be pessimistic about the odds, but I didn’t say it would have been entirely impossible. You surprised us all by making such a good job of making Val a part of your life. But that was only for two and a half years, and I think everybody was relieved that then Valerie’s memories were taken from your mind again. Who knows what would have happened in five or ten years? There’s a tiny chance you would have beaten the odds. Beating impossible odds is something at which you and the other X-Men excel. For what it is worth, I’m sorry I and Valerie did not give you a chance to attempt it."
"Thanks," croaked Rogue. "It’s too late to mend now, but at least we can learn from the experience for the future."
After an uneasy silence, Charles Xavier spoke again: "You mentioned discussing me with Raven just now ... how is she?"
"As well as can be expected, ah reckon." Rogue sighed sadly. "She’s hurtin’ badly though, and ah think she’s going to give you wide berth for the foreseeable future. Better respect that, if you don’t mind me bein’ blunt. She told me she doesn’t know what she’ll do if she actually meets you face to face."
Charles Xavier slumped in his hoverchair. "I understand. But looking back, one of the things that puzzles me the most is why Valerie made it such a secret even from Raven. Didn’t she want to know her wi-, lover’s opinion before making such an irrevocable decision?"
"Wish ah knew, Professor, wish ah knew. That’s one of the things she didn’t explain in her farewell letter to Raven." She rose from the sofa and turned to leave the room. "Well, it’s good we had this discussion, Charles, but ah think it’s time ah finally met Heloise and talked to her..."
She left the Professor in his room and started looking for Storm. She found her behind the Mansion, methodically swimming lap after 50 meter lap in the swimming-pool. When she heard Rogue call out to her, the X-Men’s longtime field leader interrupted what she was doing. She dove down and a moment later shot through the water’s surface, having increased her momentum by propelling herself upwards from the pool’s bottom. A sudden localized gust of wind picked up her body and carried her to dry land.
"Rogue! You’ve returned," she said with a bright expression.
"Yes, but ah’m only passin’ through," Rogue replied, and after the opening exchange of greetings and pleasantries she came to the point: "Guess ah’m finally ready to meet Heloise now, Ororo. Where is she?"
"She and Amani had enough of swimming," Ororo replied as she toweled herself off and put on a bathing-gown. "They left for the attic to draw pictures about a quarter of an hour ago. Let’s go together."
The two women could have flown upstairs, but they chose to walk in order to have some more time to talk.
"Amani get a long very well with her," related Storm, "but of course at the moment everything is still provisional. We’re not sure where Heloise will eventually find her new home. I assume she won’t be returning to your mother’s...?"
"If you ask me," Rogue exclaimed sadly, "it’ll probably still take a while before momma is strong enough to be in the same room as Heloise. Not that ah ain’t confident that she’ll get there in time, but for the present the pain’s too great."
"You could take her in, though, you were very close to Valerie and you already experienced something very similar to the life Heloise led until now."
"What about yourself?"
"Heloise’s trauma is still very fresh and she needs a lot of attention. And at the moment I’m not sure if I shall be able to give her enough attention for long by myself. Yukio is still tied up for months in Japan, and there is always the possibility that a long mission will keep me away from here for days. You on the other hand have Magnus to help you and you have a better idea of what she went through..."
"Ah don’t know, ‘Ro," said Rogue skeptically, "maybe she won’t want that. Actually, ah’ve been wonderin’ if maybe Val’s folks might not want to take charge. Genetically they’re Heloise’s next of kin..."
"Val’s parents are too old."
"They’re younger than Magnus."
"Granted. But unlike them he has been rejuvenated besides becoming used to deal with small children again thanks to your Harriet. Besides, the Coopers haven’t even had that much contact with Val for years."
"There’s still her brother and sister-in-law."
"Who have barely been aware of Heloise’s existed, even when it still was Val inside her mind."
Rogue grunted unconvinced, but then they arrived at the door to the attic. It was opened by Amani Munroe, Ororo’s seven-year-old daughter, who had heard them coming up the stairs. The girl had inherited her mother’s blue eyes and white hair, distinguishing features that marked her as a scion of a bloodline of priestesses and witches that spanned back millennia. Amani was glad to see Rogue, but Ororo took her in hand to retreat with her for a while so that Rogue could be with Heloise by herself.
Rogue gingerly entered the room. The nearer, larger part was sparsely furnished with a distinct Japanese touch, but filled with more potted plants than would have pleased a purist. Apart from these, one of the few decorative items was a large framed photograph of Ororo’s lover Yukio above the bed. The folding wall that could be employed to separate Ororo’s section from her daughter’s was pulled back, and so Rogue had an unobtruded view of the latter, which was furnished in a big contrast to the severity of the rest of the attic.
The walls in Amani’s part of the attic were largely covered with drawings, photographs and posters taped or tacked to them, cupboards and shelves and parts of the floor were filled with toys given as presents by Amani’s friends and relations, and both Amani’s own bed and the field-bed provided for Heloise were unmade after the girls’ nap. In the midst of it all, Heloise sat at the table, pored over her drawings and scribbling away with a look of intense concentration.
She looked up from the comic book she was drawing when Rogue, after a moment’s hesitation, cleared her throat. There were rings under Heloise’s eyes, clearly she had not slept too well.
"How are you, kiddo, ah’m Rogue," she began. "Dunno if they told you much about me, but she lived in my head for a few years before you were born..."
"I ‘member you," came the reply, "I saw you from ... when I was..."
"At the back of Val’s mind? Or rather, at the back of your own head, I guess." Rogue sighed, and cautiously moved her gloved hand towards the girl’s head. Heloise started at first, but relaxed as Rogue gently put her fingers around the back of her head and almost casually ran them through her hair.
"Reckon you already know a great deal more than ah expected, right?" Rogue added with a wink.
Heloise Cooper gave her a brief proud grin, nodded energetically, and then lapsed back into her serious face. Rogue let go of her and sat down on the floor besides her stool.
"Well, ah’m glad to make your acquaintance, Heloise. Took me long enough to coming to you. Ah’m sorry ‘bout that, but it’s probably better that way. Ah had to work out my own feelings first, get over the sadness because Val is gone, help Raven, Irene and Hope get over their loss..."
"Are you mad at me ‘cause of what happened to Val?" The girl’s eyes welled up and her voice started to break. "Magneto told me you were too upset to see me a week ago..."
Rogue’s cheeks reddened in deep embarrassment. "No, no, chile, no one blames you for anything, not even Raven." She put her arms around Heloise and sat her in her lap. Slowly the child’s anxiety grew less. "Ah’m sorry, ah didn’t mean to give you that impression."
"But if I wasn’t around, Val still would be here!"
"You’ve done nothing that you have to feel ashamed about. And just because ah like to dream impossible daydreams about Val still bein’ around in your body or in mine doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to controllin’ your own body and your own destiny or that ah can’t love you. Once we’ll get to know each other properly ah’m sure we’ll become the best of friends."
"You’re not just saying that?"
Rogue breathed in deeply. "Of course not, honey. You’ll see, it’ll work out fine, just give us all a little time. If you want, you can come and visit Magnus, Harriet and me in Snug Valley."
It was Rogue’s soothing tone more than what she said that had its effect on Heloise. She leaned against her and lay her head against her shoulder. She mumbled: "I told the Professor I’d changed my mind, that I didn’t want Val to be gone completely, but he said that wasn’t possible..."
Rogue sighed. "You’re probably better off this way, you never know what problems would have come up later."
"Val said that this was the only way for me or there would come a time when I’d never have a moment’s peace. But you just said you’d have liked to have her in your body..."
"Well, ah liked to think ah could do that ‘cause ah had previous experience in that respect. I’d have found it a little easier than you would’ve. It’s something ah know because of my power, it would have been much more difficult for you even if Charles could have fixed it so that you’d have been in the drivin’ seat and Val in the back. From what ah gather, Val put you in a terrible fix, but it plainly could not have gone on the way it did, with you never gettin’ a chance to contact the outside world. What ah still don’t get is why Val kept all this from us."
"Are you angry at her?"
"No! Well, maybe a little. Mostly sad. Disappointed. Maybe even a bit angry at myself because ah didn’t suspect what was ailin’ her till it was too late ... But ah loved her dearly and ah’ll always remember her fondly. But now the important thing is that you’re okay, so don’t worry too much about how ah feel."
"D’you think she’ll ever come back? I miss her."
Rogue gasped in at that, but she collected herself. After a momentary silence she said: "Maybe that’s because you never knew life without her. But to answer the question: Ah don’t know. Ah’ve seen stranger things happen, but ah’m afraid that she won’t ... it would be for the best if she didn’t. It would keep your life easier, at any rate."
"Should it matter if my life’s easy?..."
"Aren’t you a bit young for that kind of thinkin’? But bless your sweet li’l heart." Rogue pulled the young girl up close and placed a kiss on her forehead. "No, it’s always more important to do what’s right than what’s easy. Everyone who’s ever been an X-Man knows that. And Valerie knew that, that’s why she sa-, did what she did. Ah’m just not convinced she made the right choice when she did not get herself transferred back to my mind. But it’s useless to ponder what might have been or to second-guess Val’s decisions. All we can do is remember her and her love for you, and ... Well, you now have a new life and can make the most of the chances she gave you. And we — me, Magnus, Charles, Ororo, everyone — we’ll do all in our power to help you."
"Can I stay with you?"
"For a couple of days at least, if you want. Then we’ll see what we’ll do. We’ll have to decide about some permanent arrangement for bringin’ you up in the end, so it’d be best if you got to know the options, who besides Ororo and me would be prepared to take you in." Rogue paused in thought. "Maybe Val’s folks also want to get in on this..."
"Do you think Mystique will want me around her? Ororo said--"
"No, Heloise, ah wasn’t thinkin’ of momma. Ah meant her parents and her brother." Rogue hastily explained. "Raven understands, at least with her brain, and she wishes you well, you can be sure, but her loss is still very fresh ... Do you want to see her?"
"I’m not sure..." The girl’s expression and the slight tremble in her voice betrayed her worries.
"No problem. It’s not something that you have to decide now. You make your decision when you’re ready. As a clever lady once said, ‘tomorrow is another day’."
A few hours (and some more talks with Ororo, Charles Xavier, and the others) later they arrived at the Meddlers’ base in the mountains of West Virginia. A large part of the house Rogue and Magnus had built for their family at the eastern end of Snug Valley was underground, carved into the hillside, but Harriet’s room wasn’t in that part. The bright moon shone in through its large window when they tucked in their daughter in her bed and their little guest in one of the folding beds normally set aside for Irene and Hope’s visits.
Afterwards, Rogue and Magnus went back to the living-room. While her partner took the dishes and the dirty laundry she had brought with her to the kitchen, Rogue looked through the mail that she had picked up in two of her post office boxes on her way home from Washington and Salem Center (the clandestine nature of the Meddlers’ operations made for somewhat more complicated methods of receiving non-electronic and non-telepathic messages). As usual, the letters were in nondescript envelopes, most of them leaving little or no clue as to the sender. But for some reason Rogue’s attention was caught by one thin envelope with a computer-printed address. She noticed the postmark — Washington, DC, sent off almost a fortnight ago. Nothing remarkable about the font used for the address — just a run-of-the-mill Times Roman variant — but Rogue’s fingers trembled slightly as she hurriedly tore it open. The two sheets inside were indeed written in Valerie Cooper’s familiar hand. Quickly, but with intense concentration she read the message. Then she went into the kitchen.
"Valerie sent me a letter before she ... started out to the Mansion," she said, visibly and audibly shaken.
Magnus turned towards her and gave her a quizzical look.
"Well, after readin’ it ah’m not sure if ah can fully understand her reasons, but it does explain some things ... She says here that she made the choice on her own as she did not want it to cause bad feelings between Raven and Heloise, so that eventually they’d become friends. She was afraid that had she been consulted, momma would have wanted to Heloise’s personality to be erased."
She handed the first of the two sheets to him and pointed out the passage in question. She turned to the other one, glancing through it until she found the other passage she wanted to show to Magnus. "Here’s another thing: ‘A clean cut probably is best. Living confined to another person’s subconscious most of the time is a bit like living between the winds...’"
"An oddly poetic image."
"I think Val got that from some Western movie. Supposed to be a Comanche belief, that the spirits that can’t find their way into the afterlife have t’live between the winds as ghosts. Anyway, Val goes on: ‘It is a fate from which I want to save Heloise. I don’t know how well I could deal with such a life myself, if for instance it was possible to have myself transferred back to your mind. But I’m not going to ask you for this. I won’t risk you and Raven talking Charles out of removing me from Heloise’s body...’ Lord, she must have found out about me askin’ Betsy to erase Carol’s persona back in Australia. Well, ah have absorbed both Ororo and Betsy after that... ‘Also, I don’t think it would be that good for you to have me again, especially as you have just got used to having your body to yourself again.’" Rogue’s voice faltered. "Damn, why did she have to say that?"
"Is that all she wrote?"
Magneto looked skeptical. "Somehow, it doesn’t fully explain to me what she did. There’s still a missing element or two."
Rogue nodded. "Ah’m not sure if her decision was entirely rational, if y’ask me. She always had a wild streak, she took big risks with her old body, that’s how she got herself killed in the first place."
"Maybe she fell in love with the idea of self-sacrifice a little too much..." Magneto mused.
Rogue’s soft sigh at least seemed to allow that his suspicion was plausible, but she remained silent for a quite long time. Finally she said: "Don’t think ah’ll ever fully understand it."
While they finished the kitchen chores, Rogue went off on a tangent: As Rogue snuggled up to her man, she said: "You know, in her own little way Heloise is a bit like her sister herself, she talked of wantin’ Val back even though that would mean endurin’ discomfort."
"Well, she’s young and innocent. Probably has no conception of what she’d be letting herself in for."
"Ah’m not sure. She’s must’ve had years of experience of this kind of life, seen from the other side. She didn’t talk to me about it much, though."
"Neither did she to me."
"I’m still quite curious how Val and Heloise got along these past years. Somehow ah don’t see how Val could have hid Heloise’s existence from momma and the others without Heloise’s co-operation. And how long did Val know of her herself?"
"Maybe Heloise will tell us some day."
"Ah hope so. Well, we’re not goin’ to solve all of her riddles today," Rogue abruptly added, then slipped out to tiptoe to the children’s room. After putting her ear to the door for a few seconds, she returned. Magneto was waiting for her in the living-room, sitting in his easy chair and rereading Valerie’s letter.
"They’re still awake, but from the sound of it not for long." She settled down in his lap as he put aside the letter. "Ah must say, ah was so relieved that Harriet warmed to Heloise so quickly."
"Well, we had nearly a week to prepare her."
"Yeah, good thing we didn’t put off tellin’ her what happened until my return. Which reminds me: Did ah mention how glad I am to be back with you?"
"Once or twice." They kissed. "And I’m glad you’re here again."
"So, now you’ll tell me about how well y’all managed without me while ah was away?"
And with that the matter rested for the day. The two sat close together talking about family and team matters for hours before adjourning to their bed. By that time the two girls in the nursery had long fallen asleep.
But if Harriet had been awake or someone else had been in the room to listen, they would have heard the little girl Heloise sobbing in her sleep and softly calling out for the sister she had lost.
Normally I have a habit of reading at least some of my characters’ thoughts throughout a story, this time I tried to show things from the outside only. Blame it on recent trends in comics, where some writers tend to try to eliminate thought bubbles entirely. Mystique does not appear on-panel here, as it were. Her story will be told elsewhere at another time.
The film referenced in the title is John Ford’s classic, The Searchers.
The Twilight Yet to Come timeline diverges from the 'canonic' Marvel timeline around the time of X-Factor #1. Further details can be gleaned from the two stories mentioned at the top.
Copyright Notes: Brood Queen, Cannonball (Sam Guthrie), Valerie Cooper, Destiny (Irene Adler), Genosha, Havok (Alex Summers), Moira MacTaggert, Magneto (Magnus), Ms. Marvel/Binary (Carol Danvers), Mystique (Raven Darkhölme), Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner), Nimrod, Phoenix (Rachel Summers), Photon (Monica Rambeau), Polaris (Lorna Dane), Professor X (Charles Francis Xavier), Psylocke (Elizabeth Braddock), Random, Rogue, Neal Shaara, Shi'ar, Siege Perilous, 'Sikorsky', Starjammer (spaceship), Starjammers, Storm (Ororo Munroe), Strong Guy (Guido Carosella), Wolfsbane (Rahne Sinclair Guthrie), Xavier Mansion, X-Factor, X-Men, and Yukio are (c) and TM Marvel Comics.
Dale Cooper and Audrey Horne are (c) David Lynch and Mark Frost.
Harriet Adler, Heloise, Hope and Irene Cooper, Meddlers, Amani Munroe, Qilin (Chen Li), Dunmaya and Rajinder Shaara, and Snug Valley are (c) Tilman Stieve.
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