It had been two years since she died. Two years since he slashed through the steel doors and soft flesh of the laboratory and the scientists to arrive seconds too late. Two years since he cradled her marred body in his arms, feeling the blood in her veins grow cold while he clutched her head to his chest.
They had mangled her body with their experiments, the purpose of which he never bothered to find out. She was malnourished, her body scared by a patchwork of incisions, her lips dry and cracked. It was her hair that bothered him the most, but it took him ages to understand why. They had dyed her tell-tale white streak brown, making it indistinguishable from the rest of her hair. Perhaps they had even done something chemically or genetically to make it return to her natural color. No matter how they had done it, it drove him mad. The simple white streak in Rogue’s hair had been a constant reminder to Wolverine of the history the two shared, how much he had been willing to risk for her, how much she meant to him. And the fucking scientists had erased it.
He often wished that there had been even just a breath of life left in her when he found her, so he could tell her something, anything. But he never could figure out what would have been the right thing to say. He never had been good with words.
These days he hardly ever said a word. There was no one worth talking to, nothing worth saying. Officially, he was still an X-Man, the mansion was still his home. Yet he spent most of his time treading the grounds, occasionally killing a stray deer that crossed his path. Once in a while he would go to a bar to try to get good and drunk, which was difficult for him. He needed to be fully intoxicated to even attempt to fuck one of the bar-room skanks, something that had never been an issue before. The release that had once been so easy, now became a struggle for him. Any human interaction was.
The other X-Men had tried to console him at first. They reminded him that she would have died years earlier if it had not been for him. Told him how important he was to the cause and to the young mutants still alive in the mansion. He couldn’t force himself to care about the kids or the cause, but he kept fighting for them. He saw it as penance for the greatest failure in his life. For not saving her. Maybe if he saved enough of them, he would in some way be worthy of her memory, worthy of being beloved by one so kind, so pure.
In the days immediately following her discovery and death, his mind was focused not on penance, but revenge. The military research organization that was responsible had not hidden their tracks well, and the X-Men were able to ferret out all their facilities and backers. Storm and the others had mostly used legal means to destroy them, but even the highly ethical X-Men were happy to hand over the names and whereabouts of the most vile culprits to Wolverine.
He had made them suffer. But never enough for his liking.
Neither vengeance nor atonement had appeased him, for neither could bring her back to him. It had taken him the last two years to realize that not only had Rogue died in that cold lab, but the last shred of his humanity. When she had first found him, he was still struggling to try and find the man inside the monster. Not only had she seen that struggle when she peered into him mind, but she had accepted him – both sides of him. She trusted him, enjoyed spending time with him, even loved him. She was the final piece of the puzzle, although he realized it too late. He had long thought that the only way he would have ever truly be loved was to find a way to be human. It had been the reverse.
The moments of introspection that led him to these conclusions invariably took place as he stood vigil at her grave. No one disturbed him there, no one was foolish enough to. Once or twice he tried to work the mess that was his own mind out while visiting the graves of Jean or the Professor. It wasn’t the same, they may have meant something to him, but nothing on the level of what Rogue had.
It was deep into a moonless night when Storm hesitantly approached Wolverine in the graveyard. She whispered some information about a facility that might have been connected to the organization that had taken Rogue, the one they had thought they had taken out. He nodded to confirm that he heard her, but stayed planted to the spot, looking down at the grave and silently promising her to prolong the suffering of anyone who had a hand in her death.
The X-Men’s attack on the facility went as planned until they broke up to try and find any stragglers or valuable pieces of information. Wolverine found himself barreling through a series of heavily reinforced doors, half-mad with blood-lust that he was unable to sate with the cowering peons he encountered. His feral rage gave way to confusion as he entered a room filled with sights and smells unlike any other. Half-formed bodies suspended in green, brackish water brought back flashes of memories that he struggled against. Scents both familiar and foreign assaulted him. Through the sensory overload he was able to hear the cocking of a gun.
Slashing through the weapon with a swift swipe of his claws, he pointed the adamantium spikes menacingly at the man’s throat. The man gasped and whispered his name. From the resulting interrogation and beating of the man, Wolverine learned a few things. First, that the organization that had caused Rogue’s death had merely been a puppet of this, the far more sophisticated research organization. Second, these people had the ability to clone and accelerate human growth. Third, the Rogue that had died two years previous, had not been Rogue.
The last confession of the beaten and bloodied man made Wolverine halt in his tracks. The barely breathing man gestured towards a barely visible door before passing out. Wolverine could not find the strength to move, his mind still reeling. Pushing back the creeping hope that was invading his mind, he radioed for Beast, who showed up seconds later. Wolverine gestured towards the door but did not follow Beast through it. He didn’t wait around to find it empty, which was what he assured himself it was. Just another tactic used by the sadistic scientist fucker to save his own hide. He walked out, even as he heard the Beast’s gasp and radio for Colossus’ help.
With uncharacteristic lethargy, he walked to the X-Jet and waited. The other X-Men shuffled in, Storm greeting him with a look of shock upon her face, but no words, as she passed him heading towards to cockpit. The last to board were Colossus and Beast.
He couldn’t look at them, he didn’t want to see that body that they were holding. The body that they surrounded and put on the single medical alcove. People buzzed around the body, but he turned his eyes downward, ignored the worried and exited tones of his fellow mutants, and tried not to breathe in the smell – her smell.
Something caught his eye. A wisp of white hair standing out amongst a sea of brown. He choked out a sob he didn’t know was there and barreled over to her unconscious form. Glancing at the various monitors hooked up to her body, he could tell she was alive, but weak.
The others fell back to take their seats, leaving Beast to monitor her and Wolverine to protect her. Disbelief did battle with joy and despair in his mind. She was alive, but it had been two years. Two years since they took her away from him. Two years of experimentation and torture. Two years of her constant questioning of why he had abandoned her. He realized that it was now that his real penance would begin.
He gently grasped one of her delicate hands in his gloved hand. He watched as her eyelids started to flutter and her breathing became more regular. Slowly opening her eyes, which were assaulted by the harsh light, she struggled to discern her surroundings.
Her eyes fully opened and focused on him, looking at him with disbelief. He held her hand tighter as a tear rolled down his cheek. The edges of her lips crept up into a small, sad smile that was echoed in her eyes.
She opened her mouth to speak, but seemed as tongue-tied as he was. She pushed out a single syllable, so soft it was audible only to him. “Hi.” He never heard sound that rivaled its beauty.