How many times was she going to find herself in this situation?
That was the question Rogue asked of herself as she and her teammates were lead away by the Firstborn. How many times would she face death and come out the other side? How many more times would she get to think that this was the end before it actually was? What were the chances she would get to die peacefully?
The silence of the aliens as they escorted them allowed Rogue her moment of introspection. The conscious members of her team were led in single file, while the Firstborn in front of Rogue carried Darkstar with it.
Rogue stood tall despite the aches that ravaged her body. The dirty white trimming at the edge of her cloak brushed against her ankles, and she had to stifle a shudder. She couldn’t help but picture a mass of hidden Brood tentacles snaking up from the cold hard earth to transform her into one of their own.
She continued onwards, unable to muster the strength to glance back at her teammates. She could practically feel Pietro’s ice blue eyes on her through the back of her head. Whatever he thought of her, until she was dead herself, she was going to do her damnedest to make sure they didn’t die. That was the least of what she owed them.
It still amazed her that she had managed to pull a team together at all. She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. This was not how she wanted to repay the trust that Logan had placed in her, the trust that Charles had placed in her, all those years ago.
Finally, instead of the lengthening shadows that offered the false hope of Darkstar’s revival, Rogue saw light at the end of the tunnel. She stepped out into it and gasped.
The chamber before her was enormous, and there were Brood everywhere, on the floor, scuttling along the walls… Rogue even caught sight of silhouettes above her, kept aloft by buzzing insectoid wings. The Brood all nodded their heads at the lead Firstborn, the Brood Queen commanding her children through the hive mind.
“Leave the X-Men!” The creatures chorused. “Return to the surface and lie in wait of more warm-bloods! Inform us if any more mutants are found!”
Rogue kept quiet as the Firstborn around her crawled back the way they came. She ran towards Darkstar, but tripped and tumbled, grazing her cheek along the bedrock. Her cheeks burning with more than just the biting sting of the graze, Rogue instantly felt Quicksilver and Bobby at her side. After a moment, Quicksilver helped her up, while Bobby took Darkstar in his arms.
“Thanks, Pietro,” Rogue croaked.
“I hope you have a plan,” he whispered back as he went to steer the still swaying Psylocke out of the path of the Brood warriors now corralling them. “A good one.”
She didn’t. Psylocke and Iceman could read her like a book by now, but Quicksilver still had a ways to go. Iceman remained silent, and did nothing but throw a brief unconvincing smile in Rogue’s direction in an attempt to reassure her. The metal bands, power dampeners, now wrapped around his wrists did anything but.
She remembered the speech she had given Bobby after the Professor’s funeral. She had just committed the mistake that he had been about to that day. She had given up hope. She wouldn’t be the only one to suffer the consequences. No wonder her friends couldn’t look her in the eye.
They made their way into the cavern slowly, the crowd of Brood jeering as the X-Men approached the Brood Queen, flicking their tongues out in anticipation.
“X-Men…” She hissed. Five Brood step forward from behind her, one awash with orange flame, another enraptured by its own sickly green glow. They all glared menacingly at them alongside their queen.
“That’s right. But if you want them… you’re gonna have to go through me first,” Rogue said, stepping forward, stretching her arms out protectively. Time for her to be a leader. She glared, allowing her frustratation to feed into anger. “Y’all are a bunch of cowards hidin’ down in the dark. Part of me can’t blame you for being afraid of the Kree, being afraid of us. After all Carol Danvers did to the Brood, you should know exactly what ah can do with these shackles off.”
“Then, you shall have your way,” The Queen spat. A nearby Brood fiddled with a control panel. “It suits our purposes just fine to allow the return of your powers.”
Rogue stared down at her hands in shock as the metal bands around them fell to the floor with a dull thud. Energy returned to her limbs and dizziness overcame her as the world around her became a million times more vivid. The Brood all laughed as the X-Men tottered around unsteadily.
“We know Danvers’ powers are no longer yours.” The Brood Queen mocked, once the world finally came back into focus. “You never understand what we want, do you warm-blood? You’re never as clever as the Brood. All you do is hit. Smash and grab. Twice before you’ve fallen under our sway…
“No,” breathed Psylocke, her eyes lighting up with alarm.
“Rogue, get away from her!” Iceman cried.
“Let’s make it thrice!” The Brood Queen said as she pressed a single tentacle to Rogue’s face. Nothing happened. Rogue smiled.
“Seems like you missed a memo.” Rogue taunted. “I got control over mah power now, Brood. You’re not getting your grubby paws on mah mind!”
“We have studied your ilk, mutant!” The Brood Queen roared, snaking several more tentacles around Rogue’s body, lifting her off the ground. “There is more than one way to get your power to activate!” She brushed the tip of a tentacle against Rogue’s bloody cheek. The poison rushed in.
Rogue screamed aloud as more tentacles stabbed into her skin and her nerves became white hot rooms of pain. She spasmed and shuddered. She lost all control, she merely wanted to get away, to escape from the Brood Queen’s iron grip. But she could not.
Her power activated.
She was tainted.
Rogue was lost amidst shouts and screams and blaster fire.