Disclaimer: As usual, nothing belongs to me.

Warning: Dark themes, some language.

Thanks to everyone who's been reviewing this story. Your reviews keep me writing more! Also, the beginning of this chapter might seem like it has nothing to do with X-Men. But read on, and more will be revealed.

She had known a silence that was timeless. A silence so smooth, it was the surface of a lake on a windless afternoon, so consuming it absorbed the ticking away of seconds and minutes within its folds, until they became as intangible as a feathery dream, the wispy tendrils of a dissipating memory.

Nurse Janice Compton shut her eyes, and fervently wished for the silence to return, for time to slow down again. Perhaps, she thought, if she focused enough of her willpower on the familiarity of the past, she could open her eyes, and things would go back to the way they had always been. Her patients would be where they belonged: old Jason Ballard in Room 115, Rosy Kendal in 111, with the constantly replenished supply of fresh cut narcissus by her bedside wafting its delicate fragrance throughout the entire suite. And the silence of the longterm care unit would return, a silence that was comforting and dependable, like the steady hum of the overhead lights, or the staccato beeping of an EKG. But, as she inhaled, she did not breathe in the accustomed dose of the beautiful stillness she had grown fond of, but rather she received a disturbing lungful of fear laced with desperation and panic.

And it was suffocating.

So Nurse Compton opened her eyes to a scene where time chugged forward like an indomitable train.

"Patient's BP is dropping! Push four mcg's of dobutamine..."

"Another ambulance is up front. Move it people! We've got to get the patients out."

"Compton! We need a gurney over here stat! "

Nurse Compton sprang to action. But it was difficult work, transporting the unmovable, maintaining a steady hand and a stoic face when worry, even terror were etched into the features of the doctors and the nurses all around her. Their fear, predatory in nature, fed upon itself, multiplied with every shaky breath they took, and consumed their very thoughts and actions. Only her patients remained blissfully unaware of it, their faces imprinted with an untouchable dose of serenity, as though frozen in time beneath their impregnable slumber. God knows, she envied them. How could she not? Was it not better to be blind to a world mutilated by turmoil? Was it not better to shut off one's consciousness with the hope of one day waking up to a time where conflict became a specter of the past?

The incessant wail of sirens reproved her thoughts, reminded her there was no escaping the here and now, or the grim fact that their resources were tight, and the number of ambulances at their disposal limited.

"I think we might have a problem," an EMT finally said, forcing the hospital personnel in charge of the evacuation of the Howard Mason Ward to face a reality they had all suspected, but had hoped to postpone. "No way our last ambulance can fit the two patients we have left."

Doctors and nurses exchanged nervous glances. But Compton knew better, and resisted the urge to scoff at their hypocrisy. Surely, they must have known it would come to this. Despite the assumed perplexity on their faces, their conviction and thoughts were one, clamped down only by a false sense of propriety.

So Nurse Compton voiced what they could not say:

"We should leave the mutant behind. It's only fitting, after all. It's her kind that means to destroy the city."


And then a steady trickle of murmured consent surged through the room, dotted here and there by a set of quiescent nods. Predictably, her peers and superiors agreed with her. It was, after all, the right thing to do. If there were ever an expendable patient, the mutant girl with peculiar hair and lethal skin was undoubtedly the prime candidate.

Within the flurry of approval, attending Dr. Jeffery Lang, whose features were known to betray a foolish idealism, looked hesitant.

"We never sequenced her DNA, so we don't really know she's a mutant for sure ...," Lang began tentatively.

"Oh please! We cannot touch her skin! We wear gloves when we handle her!"

"Are you guys forgetting that I spent two nights in the ICU after accidentally touching that thing's forearm?" Nurse Carson added animatedly.

"But," Lang continued, "We have no justification to leave her behind. Aside from her obvious coma, the girl is in excellent health. We mended her broken tibia and fractured ribs quite nicely when she was first brought in."

"The girl's practically brain dead. You said so yourself. You said that her MRI's showed no signs of neural activity, save the bit that keeps her breathing."

"I also said that the MRI's showed no signs of head trauma either, despite the nasty fall that had caused her other injuries."

"Which means she's been here over a year, and we still have no clue why she's comatose."

"So what?" Lang cut in exasperatedly, "We're going to leave her behind to die?"

"She's as good as dead already." rejoined Compton, the bleakness of the reality she was facing shedding away her remaining inhibitions, "Or do I have to remind you that the odds of emerging from a coma after a year are very slim?"

"Nurse Compton," Lang said admonishingly, using her title in an attempt to reassert his authority over her despite the rising color in his cheeks, "Need I remind you that ALL the patients in this ward are comatose?"

"None of them are mutants, Doctor. Save one, of course."

Taking Dr. Lang's angry silence as a signal to continue, Compton added:

"If you'd let us report her to the proper authorities long ago, we wouldn't even be having this conversation!"

Dr. Lang looked livid, but Compton believed in the soundness of her arguments.

"Guys, we're running out of time here ..." someone thankfully interjected.

"Maybe there's another way," Lang said thoughtfully, switching gears.

"We know she needs minimal life support. I'd take her, but I'm needed on one of the ambulances. Can't one of you can fit her in his car?" he added, turning to face the rest of his colleagues. But, the instant his mouth formed the words, an awkward silence descended upon the reception area, and Nurse Compton noted the deliberateness with which nurses and doctors avoided Lang's gaze.

But the good doctor was relentless.

"Peloski, you have space in your car, don't you?"

"I'm sorry Jeff, but the MCF is arresting anyone suspected of harboring mutants. I really can't risk that..."


"What? No way man. Those fucking mutants are bent on destroying New York, and you want me to help them? They're our enemies, for Christ's sake!"

"What about you, Susan?"

"Sorry Doctor. You can't expect me to bring that filthy genetic screwup anywhere near my car. I have a family to think of."

"Fine." Dr. Lang sighed resignedly, but his voice was lost in a rising crescendo of protest, "I said fine! Compton, help Terrance move Mr. Ballard to the last ambulance. Then, we can all leave."

Exhaling a sigh of relief, Nurse Compton carried out Dr. Lang's orders to the best of her abilities, after which she was free to leave. Felicity, her large overfed tabby, was waiting for her in her car, and Compton knew how dangerous it was to linger any longer than she needed to.

Yet somehow, the mutant's room drew her in: she couldn't explain how she found herself gazing at the girl's faultless slumber from her bedside. Perhaps she wanted to take one last glance at the specimen of a people whose strange and powerful abilities threatened her very lifestyle. Perhaps she wanted to flaunt her very small victory over the species who considered themselves superior just because of one fluke in their genetic makeup, who were currently uprooting her from her home, the city she was born in, who were threatening the homes of millions of people, and for what?

She was so lost in her disdain for the creature that she did not hear the swinging doors burst open, or the man and red-haired woman who marched through them until they were three feet away from her.

Nurse Compton blinked.

"Sir, we're evacuating the hospital. You can't be in here," she managed to stammer at last.

The man's brusque response threw her off balance immediately.

"Save us the speech, Missy. We're evacuating this patient ourselves."

Evacuate the mutant themselves? Nurse Compton all but snorted at that irony. She did not know what compelled her to lie at that precise moment, but something about the man unsettled her.

"You don't understand Sir. The hospital is taking care of the evacuations. The patients in this ward need special attention and the correct equipment to maintain them. I cannot let you endanger the life –"

"Trust me darlin', we have all the equipment we need," the man said, and he glanced at his companion, who nodded silently.

A sickening wave of familiarity coursed through Nurse Compton's veins. She knew this man. She had seen him before. But where? As soon as she saw the warmth and concern creep into his eyes when he glanced at the girl, Nurse Compton remembered she had seen him during visitation hours in the past.

But, she had also seen him on the MCF's most wanted list.

Her heart beat madly with realization.

"It's your call, Sir," she said hurriedly, wanting to escape the man's glowering scrutiny as soon as possible, "You can take her, but you'll need to leave soon. I hear traffic on I-90 is clogged the entire way." And without a glance behind her, Compton rushed out with one single intent: she needed to get to a phone, and fast.

"You sure about this, Jean?"

Sure? No, no she wasn't. Then again, when was the last time she had been sure about anything? It felt like a lifetime ago. Long before Alkali Lake, and long before –

No. She couldn't think about that now. She had a job to do, and Logan believed in her. Rogue's life depended on getting this right. She owed her enough to try. Still ...

"Logan, I haven't done anything like this in a very long time."

Although they had once rippled through her like billowing waves, she didn't even dare to skim the surface of people's thoughts anymore. There was a time when she couldn't have gone a day without shutting a door or leafing through a book with her mind, but now even a passing mention of her abilities made her feel sick to her stomach. Logan knew all this, and yet the small hint of disappointment she caught in his eyes was tantamount to slamming a sledgehammer against the confidence she had scarcely begun to coalesce.

But then he was at her side, his hands resting upon her shoulder reassuringly.

"I trust you Jean. I know you can do this. I know she's shut down Rogue's mind, but you can face her. You're stronger than her."

Jean glanced away from unwavering faith she saw in his eyes. Hadn't she seen that look in Scott's eyes so many times before? It was always the same, this protective look, the look that betrayed a certain belief that she would somehow get better. It made her feel like an impostor. And heaven knows ... she's been trying. She still couldn't comprehend how Logan could stand to look at her at all. She was nothing but a coward, a terrified child. She had waited far too long to help the girl brave enough to bare a burden meant for her shoulders alone.

"It's just a theory Logan. I can't be sure until I'm inside," she said, tugging the edges of her sleeves further down her wrist nervously. But when she realized she was drawing Logan's attention to her arms, she stopped immediately. There was only cruelty in reminding him of what she had nearly done.

And she too longed to forget ...

She also longed for ... something else. She couldn't quite label it. She only knew that her existence had become a meaningless, flavorless act. Maybe Rogue knew the answers that eluded her. She had, after all, saved her life. Perhaps if Rogue were awake, Jean could finally ask her what had justified trading in her own life. What had convinced her the life of one Jean Grey was worth living anymore?

Logan gave her shoulder a final squeeze.

"You know it's the best shot we've got. You ready?"

"I think I'm as ready as I'll ever be."

"Alright, Jeanie. But, you'll need to work fast.

So Jean closed her eyes, and allowed her mind to expand beyond the confines of her own awareness, meticulously tuned out the static of other ambient thoughts, until she could only sense the tingling periphery of neural activity emanating from her desired target. She had forgotten how exhilarating it felt, this melding of neurons, how liberating this merging of minds. But she needed to plunge in further, deeper still.

When she was deep enough, Jean found ... nothing. No semblance of thought, no echoes of sentience. Only a cavernous darkness that enveloped her, engulfed her sad attempt at courage with a voracious hunger. She gasped when she felt her heart drop, felt her consciousness sink through the seamless void that lay at the core of Rogue's mind.

Alone and lost, she was falling ... falling ...

Apparently, now she was screaming as well. Oh God ... she couldn't do this ... she had to get out ... she had to –

No. Wait. She was a telepath. She was Xavier's student, and she had been trained to handle a plethora of situations, some of which were magnitudes worse than the one before her. Despite her feelings to the contrary, she was not helpless. All she needed to do was ... relax ... focus ...set up mental barriers ... and there! She was no longer falling, but rather hovering within a void that remained unfilled, and a silence that was insatiable.

"Phoenix!" Jean yelled out.

But only the gaping emptiness seemed aware of her, and it swallowed her words.

"Phoenix, show yourself!" She challenged, louder still.

Suddenly, with a sound like a fuse being lit, a comet rippled down through the blackness. As it crashed into the vacuum around her it kindled a searing fire that encircled her, flickering threateningly in the shape of a magnificent, yet terrifying bird. Jean's throat went dry as she watched it fold it's wings and gradually coalesce into human form: a woman with fiery red hair, and eyes the shade of nightmares.

" I have awaited you, Jean Grey, for so very long."

Jean gasped as she felt her skin begin to hum with a familiar warmth. She watched with horror as her entire body began to glow with an ethereal aura, the tips of her fingers prickling with a sick desire to scorch everything in her sight.

"No! Stop!" she yelled, gritting her teeth. She doubled over with the staggering effort, as she focused hard on quenching the flames that threatened to burst from every inch of her skin.

"Do not resist me, Jean Grey. Do not resist your nature, or your power. Unleash the fire within you, and let it burn free. Let us reunite at last."

"No... no. Stay away from me," Jean said, hoping to inject conviction into her voice, but failing miserably, "I want nothing to do with you ... I'm only here to force you to release this girl's mind."

"Nothing to do with me?" Phoenix said, and she laughed haughtily, "But you are me."

"No, no I'm not." Jean said, but her words sounded small, empty.

Phoenix wasn't listening to her. With terrifying speed, she had crossed the distance between them, and before Jean could do anything, she felt Phoenix's smoldering hand grip her forearm like a vice, burning away sleeve of her shirt.

"Is this what has become of you in my absence?" Phoenix spat, indicating at the long, thin vertical scars marring Jean's flawless skin with the utmost disgust. "You've hurt yourself! You have become weak, pathetic!"

Jean swallowed the shame rising in her throat, tried to quell the images Phoenix stole from her mind, images she had fought so dearly to bury, of a steel cold surgical scalpel ... of Logan's expression, wounded ... betrayed when he had finally found her.

With a telekinetic shove, she violently threw Phoenix off of her.

"I have so much blood on my hands ... because of you!"

"I did what you could not do. I shed your foolish connection to life, a connection that makes you weak, vulnerable. I tried to prepare you for things to come."

"You killed Scott! You killed my soul-mate, the love of my life!"

"A feeble, tin soldier. A sham of a leader and an inadequate match for you. Why do you resist me? Can you not see that we are one?"

"You killed my mentor. Professor Xavier was more a father to me than my own flesh and blood and you vaporized him as though he were ..."

"No, YOU vaporized him. It was always you, Jean Grey."

"Why won't you release Rogue's mind?"

"My power over this vessel was temporary. I shut off her mind to lure you in. To make you return to me."

"I'm here," Jean said, her limbs trembling with anger, and her voice gilded with white-hot fury, "And I say release her now, Phoenix."

Phoenix only sneered at her.

"Surely, you must know I am not Phoenix. I am merely an echo of her, a shadow. The real Phoenix resides inside of you, weakened, dormant, but awaiting the hour of return."

"You're NOT me!" Jean cried, and before she could stop herself, she felt her anger explode from her fingertips in a ball of flames. She felt the flames extend around her, like a pair of wings unfolding, and she smiled as the fire slammed into Phoenix, threw her against the ground, and then erupted around her like a prison.

Even within her cage, Phoenix managed to smile menacingly, forcing Jean to realize what she had just done. She had, once again, wielded a power that belonged to her darker, baser impulses. And she had liked it.

"I will do as you say, Jean Grey," Phoenix said, the sickening smile never leaving her lips, "I will recede into the background. I will return this worthless creature's mind back to her. But, only because I have won."

"You haven't won," Jean wanted to scream. But something was horribly wrong. Jean felt a strong hand grip her shoulder, and yank her back to reality.

"We need to go."

"Logan, I just need a couple more –"


"Why? What's going on?" Jean said, as she watched Wolverine swiftly disconnect the various leads and IV lines attached to the comatose Rogue.

"Soldiers. Coming our way. Someone must have tipped off the –"

Before he could complete his sentence, Jean caught Wolverine's pupils widening, and for the first time in over a year, her mind felt the crackle in the air, tasted the static burst, and sensed the pull of a trigger before its gun actually fired.

Her instincts kicked in, a pure shot of adrenaline straight to the heart.

And she flattened herself against the wall nearest to Rogue's bed as Logan simultaneously dropped to the ground in one coordinated motion. She watched, aghast, as a large projectile, too large to be a bullet, screeched through the air, barely missing the front of her shirt, and wedged itself firmly into the wall opposite the room's entrance. It's metallic encasing sparked with jagged streaks of electrical energy, thin wispy blue flashes that pulsated ominously.

What the blazes was that thing? Was the MCF shooting electric charges at them now? Shit. They needed to get out of there fast.

Another compression of air pushed against the fringes of her mind, signifying an electric charge about to fire once more. Jean took a deep breath, and reminded herself that this was simple. All she needed to do was telekinetically dismantle the charge, or perhaps nudge it ever so slightly, enough to alter its course. Better yet, she could give the MCF soldier and aneurism.

But, for an instant, she hesitated. For an instant she thought about Phoenix's fire burning inside of her, and the old fear, all her self-doubt, swelled within her, paralyzed her resolve.

That very instant proved sufficient time for the charge to slice through the air, pierce her fragile skin, and embed itself beneath her right clavicle.


Massively excruciating pain ... with every breath ... every thought ... it coursed through her body, jolted her heart against her ribcage. Was she upright? Was she going into cardiac arrest on the ground? Difficult to tell when her organs were burning. When thoughts became disconnected entities and vision became chopped scattered frames.

Someone, somewhere called her name.

Yet the floor was cold and soothing against her cheek. She could understand it, understand its rigidity, its smoothness, and she clung to its flawless logic as she tried to comprehend the images that flashed before her eyes.

A glint of metal. A volley of shots.




Amidst it all, Wolverine. Slashing charges in the air with successive swipes of his claws. Ramming soldiers with the full onslaught of adamantium propelled rage. Wolverine, with soldiers falling all around him.

But an endless supply of soldiers continued to materialize in a flurry of black.

"Logan" Jean called, a warning, and yet nothing more than a whisper too late. There was nothing she could do to stop the electric charge that crashed into Wolverine's chest with a sickening buzz.

Wolverine's eyes rolled back in his head, and his mouth frothed over as he dropped to the ground beside her, convulsing madly. Yet, all she could think about was his arm flung haphazardly a few inches from her right hand, with their fingertips almost touching, so close, and yet so obscenely far away.

How she longed to grasp Logan's hand, despite the blinding pain, despite the fact that her synapses were shorted and her fingers refused to react to her commands. If only to reassure him that she was still there to watch over him, the man who had given everything to disrupt her path towards self destruction. How she longed to comfort him, her protector, who had always believed in her despite the fact that she had let him down, time and time again.

A/N: Hmmmm, yes, a slight shift in pace. I've always wondered what a traumatized Jean, who had survived Alcatraz, would be like. Also, Phoenix is so wonderfully evil, and so much fun to write. But, what has happened? Who are the MCF? And what has gone wrong in the past year? Stay tuned to find out. Also, please review! Let me know if this chapter was confusing at all ...