Make your own free website on Tripod.com
counting backwards
Counting Backwards
by Molly
January 2001

4. "Long is the way, and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light." -- Milton, 'Paradise Lost'

Let the last vestiges of innocence in her fade, so she can be at rest.

Let them, because she's tried everything else. Hating the taste of the cigars she craves; trying to remember the good things about a family she'd rather forget; loving the people at a school she resents and-- dare she let him admit what even he never put into words--hates; forcing smiles when she sees Charles-- she shouldn't call him that-- and arguing futilely with herself, trying to preserve a sense of childhood that wants to flee at the rare sight of Logan.

Logan, god Logan--it feels more than narcissistic, but she doesn't think this sort of thing has ever had a word all to itself. She cries on alternate nights and there is nothing to be done.

Nothing, save innocence be damned.

She plays with bits of metal, yearns to have them still within her control, and she hates the accidental bruises that just refuse to heal, or to never truly form. She indulges in specially cooked ryby, which Mama--no, no, Matka, Mama's back in Mississippi--used to make so well.

She went to the prison once, long ago and it seems only yesterday; perhaps it was last week. They wouldn't let her go in, wouldn't let her close enough for one more touch, just one more relieving touch from someone she knows well enough for it to not be a shock. She watched him from the guard booth, a deity-like fishbowl if ever there were. But that was wrong; she wasn't in the bowl. There sat Magneto, rolling a plastic pawn between table and forefinger, and he looked up and saw her and he smiled.

She stopped smiling at Charles that day. Hasn't since. Because he thinks he knows and he's right, it's true; she's come to hate him. He never says a word. It's just there, in the way his eyes narrow in grief as others would in anger, every time he sees her. She hates that look like she hates him; she stops looking at him when they talk.

Which isn't often, because she doesn't talk much anymore. She's tired of battling the other voices to find her own--she gives up the fight and they come back, and she stops looking at him.

She thinks she has a plan. She thinks God--and where was *he*, anyway--she thinks God, the bag is packed and tomorrow... tomorrow. Logan hates the place and Magneto hates him, and she's little in her own head with a majority that always wins, and so she leaves. She leaves him, and all he stands for.

She can't do it anymore. Innocence just won't give up.

3. "It's not too soon, he said,
It's not too soon at all.
You might as well be dead, he said,
If you're afraid to fall." -- Throwing Muses

She leaves and this time she gets farther than the train station. Seattle, she whispers, silent mantra of far, *far* away hope. Seattle where she's never been, Seattle that's an adventure but that isn't Alaska.

Alaska isn't on the agenda anymore. She doesn't know why.

She expects someone to have beaten her, expects Scott or Ororo to be there, waiting, on the train to the airport. She expects them to take her home and almost wants that, but nobody is there and she leaves.

And Seattle yawns with foreign fright. She spends the first night in the airport, because she looks clean and good and jesus christ *innocent* and they don't kick her out. When she finally leaves it's cold, but there's a taxi and she goes where she's planned to go. To Lindsay's, to the aunt she's never met and to the only history free of attachments she can think of. Lindsay and her mother never got along, and when Rogue tells her the story-- minimal, but still a story-- she lets her in and lets her sleep and still, nobody comes.

After a week she lets herself relax. Lindsay likes to take her picture-- "That darling streak just * screams* to my lens, dear."-- and so she goes about her life with occasional flashes of light as she cooks dinner or reads a book, and she only makes Lindsay promise they never go in an exhibit. Not without her permission.

Lindsay nods and she comes and goes, and she gives Rogue a key to the place. They work well together: no noise, no fuss, no holler. Rogue has a circus in her head and it's good for them all; everyone just shuts up.

She gets a job in an accessory boutique, just the sort of place where gloves and scarves are nothing more than a fashion statement, and then she gets another in a diner because the nights turn out to be too long and silent. She dies a little inside and puts her real name down on the tax forms, and Marie Dutton has a little life in a big city that gets to be almost-- normal. Work then dinner and then work then sleep, and Lindsay says she can stay as long as she wants for minimal rent, because lord, it's been forever since the floor was vacuumed regularly.

***

She meets a man in the street one day, a man with piercing blue eyes that remind her, in a way only she could understand, of herself. He has a face that's younger than he is, and he smiles at her at the bus stop.

She smiles back. Funny, how it doesn't seem so hard these days.

He says he has a daughter, years younger than her ancient twenty, who want to do crazy things to her hair, too. She tells him some things happen by accident, but if it happens, it happens, and she thinks he'd even learn how to like it.

He pays for her bus fare and she goes to work wondering what will happen to a stranger's head of hair. She takes a break at three and goes across the street to buy a cigar. It tastes good; she almost cries.

Lindsay asks her, once and only once, if she ever thinks about calling her parents. No, she says, playing with a refrigerator magnet. She can feel the tiny field around it but can't control it, and she puts it down. She admits that she used to, but says that things change and leaves it at that.

But then she does think about them. Shewon't call; the voices are still too angry and powerful to let her call, but she watches the new about mutant legislation and mutant causes and she wonders, a little, what they think about those stories. If their nerves have calmed and if maybe they feel differently now.

She doubts it. She makes herself doubt it, because she has to.

***

She stops mid-swipe and holds the dishtowel tight in one hand, and the ketchup bottle in her other almost slips and falls. She sets it down carefully and swallows hard.

Three months in Seattle and seven before that: it's been nearly a year since she's seen him and always, always he looks the same. "What do you want?" she asks. She's proud that her voice sounds steady and strong.

"Coffee." He hitches the legs of his jeans and sits on one of the counter stools, and it's deja vu all over again. "You know how I like it."

She gives him a nod, glad the coffee's fresh because that *is* the way he likes it. Setting a cup in front of him, she stares hard. "That's not what I meant."

"It's all I wanted."

"You're full of it. Do they think you'll have a better shot at getting me to come back?"

He raises an eyebrow. "It's been three months, from what they tell me. You still don't believe they willing to leave you alone?"

"No."

"Believe it." He glares at the chipped Formica countertop. "Xavier said to tell you you're always welcome, but that he wishes you happiness here."

"Great," she mutters, and Magneto used to think something about eternal optimists being the most insufferable of all. "How long have you known?"

"A week." He shrugs at her statement. "Car broke down, or I'd have been here sooner."

"They told you and you came straight here?" She doesn't know if she should believe him, except she knows he isn't a liar.

"Pretty much." He nods to his mug and she refills it. "This coffee is crap, by the way."

"Tell the manager. Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why did you come here? He could have told you anything you wanted to know-- He obviously told you exactly where to find me."

He pauses at her bitter tone. "I didn't want to know anything."

"Why, then?" she demands. She's getting angry and that's him, right there, lacking patience for useless answers.

"Why the hell do you think I showed up at that joint in the first place? Why I ever do?"

"I know perfectly well why." Oh, and there's the bitter edge again.

His eyes narrow. "You don't know shit." The look passes and he glances at her nametag. "Back to being Marie, huh?"

She wants to say things to him, so many things, but she can't. Instead, she nods. "It's my name."

He mirrors the gesture. "That's true."

A group of girls comes in and she sighs. "I have to get them. I'll be right back."

The girls take forever ordering and by the time she gives the slip to the cook, Logan's finished his coffee and is glaring at the half-full pot just out of reach on its burner.

"Here," she mutters in good humor. "Tell me you didn't drive 3000 miles without sleeping."

"I didn't." He winks. "Only the last thousand or so."

"Insane," she says under her breath, leaning against the counter and fiddling with her gloves, which are damp from holding wet towels.

He looks at them. "Don't people think it's odd, a waitress wearing gloves?"

"Anybody asks, I say I'm a hypochondriac and terrified of the germs in this place." He laughs a bit and she finally cracks a small smile. "Nobody's ever said anything. I don't think anyone cares."

"Oh."

"I like it like that," she adds, and the cook beats his bell. "Fuck."

Logan shakes his head and stands up. "I'll let you work. How much for the-"

"No," she says. "It's crap, you're right." And she looks at him and he's going to walk out, and she's not too happy about the knot in her stomach but it's there, nonetheless. "I get off in an hour. You could-"

"I'll be here," he promises.

She hopes he will. She can't tell him, but she's glad he's there.

***

He's sitting on the hood of his car-- beaten down old Mustang that makes her wonder if the model T really was the first car-- when she waves to the night staff and steps out into the parking lot. "Hold these," she says, and strips off her dirty work gloves and hands them to him. His eyes follow her bare hands, which disappear into her purse and emerge with a clean set of gloves. She tugs them on and reaches out. "Thanks."

She takes him down the street to where there good coffee, and when he asks if she knows where he can get decent cigars, she pulls one out of her bag. He just raises an eyebrow. "At least you have good taste about it," he finally says.

She asks if he has a place to stay and he says no, so she says he can stay in Lindsay's apartment. Lindsay's in Tasmania, anyway, trying to get good photos of the curlew sandpiper. He hesitates, but eventually gives her a curt nod, and she feels bad that the sofa is about a foot shorter than he is. But he just tells her to go to sleep and he'll deal.

She doesn't sleep a lot that night. He's just too damn close.

***

She used to like the things that come automatically, the things she never has to think about. Hitting the snooze button exactly once, locking the door behind her when she comes home. Reaching for the hot water handle first and looking both ways, even on a one-way street.

And she still likes them, she supposes, but some of the new things that are now second nature make her angry. Like yanking on gloves before she steps out of her room, or steering clear of cops and soldiers alike whenever she happens to see one on the street.

Like staying out of arm's reach of a sleeping Logan as she quietly cleans the living room. He's sprawled on his back with his legs propped on the arm of the sofa, and the blanket she gave him is on the floor in a heap so she can see every detail of his chest and torso whenever she steals a peek.

Which she does often, and they aren't so much peeks. Suddenly he shifts and mumbles, eyes still closed, "Didn't your mother ever tell you it's rude to watch people sleep?"

"I think she forgot that little lesson of etiquette," she tells him dryly. "You get that out of Emily Post?"

"Who the hell is that?" he grumbles. He squints at her; she relents and goes to pull the curtains.

"Nobody you'd know, obviously. You want breakfast? I've got sausage and eggs."

"That your plan? Kill me with kindness?"

She allows a small laugh. "You don't seem to go for the more traditional methods. There's a new toothbrush in the medicine cabinet and the shower takes a minute to heat up, so be patient, okay?" She picks up the blanket to fold. "And don't take forever. I have to go to work in an hour."

"Another job?"

"Food, rent?" She shrugs. "Much as I'd like to have more than the memory of cage fighting, I'd go down in an instant if I tried that as a living."

He groans. "Shit... that's pretty generous, giving yourself an instant."

"Shut up and go shower."

There's an ease to making the same breakfast she always does and knowing he'll like it, and yet she flushes when he comes into the kitchen, hair still wet, and sniffs appreciatively. "You're good."

"Lucky me, I've discovered my talent in life."

He takes the plate she offers and sits down. "I'm buying you dinner tonight."

"I only have an hour between shifts."

"So I'll buy you a fast dinner. You always work back to back?"

"I get weekends off. And the diner is only four hours a night."

He nods. "Good. Don't overdo it, huh?"

"I'm fine, Logan," she says with a sigh. "I'm fine."

***

True to his word, he comes to the boutique at five and hauls her to a small Chinese restaurant, and the waiter doesn't appear to even consider disobeying when he growls that they'd "better be quick about it." She stifles a giggle and he frowns. "What?"

"Nothing. I just wish I could get away with that without being called names." She feels relaxed in the dark corner booth and pulls her thin scarf off, and after a brief hesitation, her gloves, too. "You'll snarl or something if anyone comes near my hands, right?"

He grins. "Sure," and he seems more pleased that the gloves are off than at her light teasing. "Work okay?"

"It was boring, but yeah." She plays with her fork, tries idly, knowing she'll fail, to bend the tines with a thought. "When are you taking off?"

"You want me to split?"

"No! I... no." She blows out a long breath and stares at him. "I was just curious. If you're around this weekend, I could show you some neat things in the city."

He shrugs. "Guess I'll be here at least through the weekend, then. I'll go when you tell me to, Marie."

She feels herself turning red. "Okay."

They eat quietly and as they walk to her diner she can feel him watching her. "What?" she finally asks.

"Why did you come here?"

"Because it's where my aunt lives."

"No. Why did you leave?"

She bites her lip. "I don't want to talk about it." They reach the parking lot and she quickens her step. "I get off at ten, okay? I-Actually, here." She fishes her keys out and tosses them to him. "You can watch TV or something. Detergent's in the cabinet over the washer if you want to do laundry. Good night."

She has a bad night. She's on edge and frustrated, and part of her wishes she could have answered his question. But she couldn't and she didn't and so she just gets angry, and by the time she gets home she has to be glad Logan's fallen asleep in front of the TV because she just doesn't want to talk. She locks the door and goes to bed, and it's been a long time since she last cried herself to sleep.

***

She works the next day and then it's Saturday, and Logan doesn't mention it again as she takes him around to various places she likes. She knows he's not much for tourism, but she can't think of anything else to do and she doesn't want him to leave.

And it's good, because they talk about everything and nothing at all, and Marie comes out almost all the time without interference from memory. They see a movie and argue about it on the way back, and she likes, in a secret way, saying "Let's go home," and having him nod agreement.

She has trouble sleeping again, too caught up in knowing he'll leave soon. He always leaves soon and always stays away; on Sunday she gets up and makes breakfast and doesn't say much to him. He does the dishes and she does laundry and after she stubs her toe on a doorframe and curses loudly, he quietly suggests they go for a walk.

It starts raining while they're out and she curses again, and Logan just looks at her. "Something going on?"

"Bad day," she mutters, and turns to head back.

"Yeah." He's silent then, but in the elevator, he asks, "When are you going to tell me why you left?"

"I wasn't planning on it at all."

"Start planning."

"You said you didn't want to know anything," she accuses darkly.

"Well, now I do." He follows her down the hall and into the apartment. "What the hell are you doing here, Marie?"

She throws her bag down and shoves damp hair out of her eyes. "Why? Why are you asking?"

He looks completely dangerous as he takes a step closer to her. "I'll tell you why. I show up in New York expecting you to be there and you're not. So I come here, because I need to make sure Xavier's not being an idealistic old fool when he says you're all right. And you do seem all right. Sad, but all right. But you work all the time and in four days the only person I've heard you mention is your aunt. You don't go out, you don't have friends here, you don't like your jobs-Why. Are. You. Here?"

She thinks it almost funny how many times she's wished he would just show up and pay attention to her, and now she just wants him to ignore her. Almost funny. "I'm here because it was the only place I could go," she bites out.

"Why did you have to go anywhere?"

"Stop it."

"No. Tell me."

"You're a jerk."

"And you've known it for a long time."

"Damn right I have," she snaps, and laughs bitterly. "You want to know? You respect Scott but have never been able to stand uppity do-gooders. You hate being in rich surroundings and teenagers get on your nerves and Jean won't ever love you and you think Xavier * is* an idealistic old fool. And God, you're so right about that, and Magneto despises idealistic fools, always has. He has this way of being angry that never fades, Logan; he has too much to be angry about.

"So I stayed and I hated them because you both hated them, in your ways, and what the hell was I supposed to do? I couldn't make all three of us be one person there. I couldn't do it, but I can here. I am, here."

She stops and nobody turned the lights on when they got back; it's gloomy and dark and the rain has gotten heavier outside. Logan is staring at her and she thinks there's nothing worse than being unable to decipher the statement of the one person you know best.

He takes another step towards her. "You think because you've settled down-what? Is this what you want?"

It hurts to keep looking at him but she does it anyway. "I want things I can't have, Logan," she whispers. "You know what that's like."

He nods and he's right in from of her, and she can see his eyes, dark and heavy in his face. He runs them over her form, takes her in, and she's surprised when he grips her upper arms and squeezes tightly. "You're standing still," he says, leaning in, "but don't trick yourself into thinking you're not still running."

She welcomes the pain of his grip; she jerks and it tightens wonderfully. "Why not? I learned from the best?"

He growls and it's dangerous, and then her arms are free. She hadn't realized the wall was so close, but she hits it with only a few stumbling steps and christ, but his hands are back, on her back. Her back, her hips, his thumbs pressing bruises that will take a fucking century to heal into her breasts, and she wants to scream at him to just be harder. His face falls into the damp tangle of her hair and the scarf beneath it; her knees give out and they slip, and the floor was never so welcoming as it is now.

"Tell me to leave," he groans.

She wraps a leg around the back of one of his, traps it and arches up. "Don't you fucking dare."

He says things she can't hear, all into her neck, but she doesn't care because he's touching, god, but he's * touching* her. Her shirt if falling open to fumbling fingers, and she has a brief flash of relief that she chose a decent bra that morning. When his lips and teeth latch onto one nipple, she wonders if she'll ever wear it again. Or if she'll ever take it off.

He shifts on top of her, grinds down and pulls her other leg up and she wraps it around his waist, feeling every bit the contortionist. His voice in her head has gotten spectacularly quiet; Magneto is still there, laughing at her with mocking cruelty, but Logan is so blissfully silent. She thinks it puts her back on even ground, only Magneto to fight, and she's grateful all the more to Logan for it.

She gets fingers into his har, clutches his head to her breast. "Harder," she finally lets herself say. It comes out as a gasping plea.

He nips at the satin-covered skin. "I don't want to hurt you."

"Even if I ask you to?"

It was a mistake. His hands go still on her thighs and he lifts to stare at her. "I need to know what that means."

"Nothing." She glares at him. "'Nother little thing I picked up from you, is all. Learning to like the smaller bits of pain?"

She can't read the look that crosses his features, because he's too obscured in shadow and his own damned indecipherable face. But his hands move again, gently rubbing circles that are going farther and farther under the hem of her hitched-up skirt. "I'll ask you one more time," he says, his voice almost too low to hear. "Is this what you want?"

"Is 'this' something I can actually have?"

"Yeah," he tells her, and one of his hands slips between her legs. "Yeah, it is."

She feels her eyes slide shut and she can only nod, and she's never felt the things he's making her feel. He bites her neck through her scarf and when she feels the tugging friction of tearing fabric, she realizes she didn't even hear a claw come out. Her eyes fly open; he moves to stare right at her and she gets her hands between them, tearing at his belt. "If you don't have-- "

"I do." He twists, digging in the back pocket of his loosened jeans to pull out his wallet.

She takes it away and finds a condom tucked inside. "Purple. Cute."

"Shut up," but he's smiling. He has a way, always has, of making her feel like he's never smiled at anyone but her. He snatches the packet and tears it with his teeth while she shoves at his jeans and boxers.

And he's so goddamned careful she wants to kill him, because she doesn't know what she likes but Magneto's not voting and that makes Logan win by always having preferred it rough. She digs gloves fingers into his neck and threatens him and *there*. She lets out a breath she only vaguely knew she was holding and he stops for a second, pressing up onto his forearms and gazing at her. "You're okay?"

She forces a jerky nod. She's not sure she it, but she wasn't lying about the pain and god, but this is the most bittersweet agony she's ever allowed herself to revel in. He holds her eyes and moves, and every now and then he dips down to brush the most grazing of kisses against her mouth.

She thinks she hears herself scream; she thinks she may have died for a few seconds. She can't be sure of anything, only that when she opens her eyes, which somehow wound up closed again, only the ceiling is there and Logan is wrapping her in his blanket from the sofa. He pulls her up, half-carries her to her bed, and she sleeps because she's tired and his arm is around her.

***

She wakes up alone and stumbles into the bathroom, and after she takes care of business she stares at her image in the mirror. Half of her face is checkered with the imprint of the woven blanket, which more or less disappears after she scrubs her skin with hot water. Her eyes look younger than she can remember, and that scares her. She turns away from the sight and starts running the shower.

She notices, while she's toweling her hair dry in the bedroom, that it's dark outside the windows. A glance at the clock tells her it's after midnight; she groans because work is going to be hell if she doesn't get any more sleep. She doesn't think she will.

She finds Logan in the kitchen, sitting in an open windowsill and smoking a cigar. "Be nice and share," she tells him, plucking it from his fingers.

"You snore."

"Liar!"

He smirks at her. "Okay, you wheeze. It's funny."

She returns a mock glare and lets smoke billow out of her mouth. "It's Monday," she says softly.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Weekend's over."

"Unless someone decided to change the calendars."

"Logan," she mutters, tracing the tile patterns on the floor with her eyes.

He crushes his cigar in a coffee mug. "Deal was, at least through the weekend. As I remember it, anyway."

"Right," she says slowly.

"I'm not just going to pick up and leave, Marie. You'll have plenty of warning whenever I plan to go." She forces an acknowledging nod. "Besides, we've got stuff to talk about."

"Stuff," she echoes flatly. She lifts her head to meet his eyes; they're stubborn and dark with absolute intent.

"Yep." He catches her arm and tugs her closer. "Like, how are you doing?"

"I'm okay."

"Just okay?"

"Well..." She suddenly laughs. "I'd be a lot better if you weren't in such need of a shower."

Something rumbles out of his throat; it takes her a second to realize it's an honest to God laugh, like she's never before heard from him. "Okay," he says, letting her go. "I can take a hint."

"If you call that a hint, your observation skills need tweaking."

"Marie-- "

"Shower, then we'll talk."

And so he goes to shower and she puts on a kettle to make tea, and when she sits down at the table she's sore and anxious and caught in the sleepy glow of having just woken up and showered. She stretches, feels her muscles complain, and it hits her very suddenly that they're going to talk about things she doesn't want to hear. About her and her life, about him and his pity, and she'd rather sit quietly in denial forever than have Magneto have been right.

It seems like the kettle whistles within seconds; she shakes herself and pours a cup of water. Logan comes back while she's absently dunking a teabag, and he watches her for a minute. "Heavy thoughts?"

She blinks. "Wha-- Yeah, I guess. I... I feel a little funny."

He frowns, a portrait of instant concern. "Funny how? Did I--"

"Christ, Logan, I told you I'm fine." She sighs. "Things are real quiet right now. I'm not sure I like it."

"Quiet."

"Yeah, quiet. Like, you've shut up and Magneto..." She sees him bristle at the name. "I don't know. He's being weird."

Logan pulls out a chair and sprawls in it, then draws her legs up into his lap and rubs her calves. "How's he being weird?"

She looks away; she doesn't want to talk anymore. "It's nothing."

"Doesn't sound like it. You know, Xavier could probably help you get rid of him-- hell, and me, for that matter."

"I don't-- " She pauses, wonders how to say it all. "Sometimes I wish you'd both just shut up and stop running my life with as much influence as I have. I've always got to run things through for three opinions, you know? Sometimes I just want some control back."

He gazes at her, statementless; his hands are no longer moving on her legs and she can't really see any signs of how focused he is on her, but she can feel it, nonetheless. "That's reasonable. What about the other times?"

She laughs, a little sad and a little bitter and very hopeless. "The other times are all the days I and what I want get drowned out. The days I feel like fighting and being angry and hating... hating a lot of people." She stares at the floor. "I hate telling anyone all this. But-- I should while I can. You and he probably won't let me later."

She pulls her legs away and takes a long sip of tea. It burns going down. "I've never been an angry person. Not until-- most of the times I actually feel like it's *me* controlling my thoughts, I think about you two making me who I am. And I don't always like who that is, but-- it's me now. How can I want to get rid of me?" She frowns. "None of that makes any sense."

"Yes, it does." Logan shifts, stays silent until she glances at him and sees how intently he's watching her. "You know, or you should, that I've got similar problems. I've always got to wonder if I didn't use to be such an asshole before... But I'm an asshole, and I'm pretty attached to myself, the past be damned."

She tries not to smile. "You're not an asshole."

"Sure I am."

"You aren't!"

He groans. "You're shattering my self-image here."

"Try therapy."

"Ouch. I'd cause a shrink to need therapy."

"Okay, I won't argue there." Her tea is getting cooler; she takes a minute to savor the balance of flavor and heat. "I keep wondering if I should just go ahead and do it... tell you to go."

He sits up straight. "Why should you?"

"Because if you stay much longer, I'm not sure I'll be able to handle it when you do go. Even with warning."

He's silent, and she's glad he doesn't try to placate her with empty possibilities of staying. It's probably the first time she's ever been appreciative of his reticence about committing himself. "Logan... part of me needs to thank you, for... for you, for tonight, for a lot of things. But part of me, a lot of me, is angry at you."

"Yeah? Why?" He sounds simply curious, and that helps her meet his eyes steadily.

"Because not a single one of the people in my head has ever liked receiving thing through pity."

The change in him is immediate; his statement hardens and the dangerous look that greets her unwelcome comments is back. "What the hell makes you think any of this has to do with pity?"

"I just know it does."

"You think you know a lot of things and I'd be willing to bet if you stopped wallowing in your *own* self-pity, you'd realize you're pretty turned around." He glares at her. "I'm not the pitying type, Marie, and certainly not for you. I'm worried about you, and yeah, I wish I knew what to do for you, but you're gonna have to be a sight more miserable to warrant my pity."

She steels herself and rips her gaze away again. "Call it something else, then. But I call it pity when you bring yourself to touch me when I'm not the one you want."

She knows she's probably made him angry; he surprises her when he finally speaks, his voice gentle but absolute like it once was on a train. "I would touch you, really touch you, if making you understand my feelings for Jean have changed was worth putting you through my thoughts again." He pauses. "I'm only half-sure it's not."

She sits for a minute, still and silent, letting that soak in. "Why?" she finally asks. She gets up and puts her cup in the sink, and stares, fighting tears, at the photo hanging above it, of a wild pony lying, probably sick, on the beach. Six other horses stood vigil around it; Lindsay said she'd taken it at Assateague, near daybreak, during a camping trip.

Logan answers right away. "Because I can't decide which is worse, you suffering another dose of me or you thinking... whatever the fuck it is you're thinking."

"I knew that. Why have you changed, about Jean?" she asks, not sure she wants to know the answer.

And this one isn't so quick in coming. "I-- I was pretty damn satisfied with my life three years ago, Marie. Then I did you a favor I didn't even want to do, and wound up in some fucked up real life video game where the joystick never seemed to work. And Jean is damned beautiful, no denying that, and it was even better that my attraction pissed Cyke off. But I got over it, and pretty damn fast, after I left."

"Yeah?"

"She's different from me, okay? I don't understand a lot about her and no amount of telepathy will ever help her understand me, even if she wanted to. We're different, and that doesn't much appeal to me."

"We're different," she says softly.

"Yeah, we are. But I can make sense of it, between us."

She turns back to him and then wishes she hadn't. For all his assurances, it's obvious she screwed up. He's angry; she can see it in his posture, in his face, in the way he stares her down and must have been staring at her back. "Oh," is all she can manage in the face of it all.

"Oh," he echoes, and now the anger *is* in his voice. "My turn for questions, Marie. If you think all this was to me was a pity fuck, what the hell was it to you?"

She blinks; she sees immediately that he's asking, directly asking, for everything she's ever wanted to say to him, but she's suddenly at a loss for words. "I-- dammit."

"Take you time," he says coolly. "We're staying right here until I get an answer."

She sinks back into her chair and can feel tears threatening. "It was-- Logan, it was something I thought I'd accepted I could never have, with some*one* I thought I'd accepted I could never have. And I-- it feels like too much, I think, having both." She squeezes her eyes shut and rubs one of her temples with the heel of her hand. "Where the hell have you gone, huh?" she demands. "You're so fucking quiet! Why won't you just tell me what to do like always?"

And tears seep out, even through her closed lids; panic catches in her throat and she struggles to breathe for a second, then nearly heaves. "He's gonna kill me," she whispers. "He'll kill me if you don't... say something, dammit!"

"Marie," Logan starts, and she hears his worry and flinches. "Shut up," she mutters. "Shut up, shut up, I can't hear you if you don't shut up."

Arms wrap around her, holding her still though she hadn't realized until then that she'd been rocking. She struggles for only a moment, then slumps against him and he picks her up, carries her back to her room and lies her down. She curls into him suddenly, insisting silently that he stay, and she rubs her damp face slightly against his chest. "I'm sorry," she mumbles.

"What for?" The anger is gone and she relaxes minutely, loosens her grip on his torso.

"I was so glad at first," she whispers, abruptly sleepy. "I was so glad you were gone, so I could have you to myself, so it was *me* you were with. I was so glad-- I'm sorry. You're not the one I wish would go away more."

He rubs her hair and sighs. "Go to sleep, okay? I'm not going anywhere, and I'm the real one."

***

When she wakes up, the first gray lights of dawn are coming in through cracks in her curtains, and she's not alone. Logan is curled behind her, practically wrapped around her, his face against the back of her neck. She can't tell how precarious the shield of hair between them might be, so she doesn't dare move.

She lifts her hand instead, presses it against his arm where it crosses her stomach. After a light squeeze, he mumbles into her neck and shifts, and she cringes. "I know," he says more clearly. "I'm being careful."

"'Kay." But she can't relax and stares blankly at the opposite wall. "Logan?"

"Mmph."

"I don't know what to do."

The bed creaks as he moves to sit up, and she rolls onto her back to stare up at him. His face is upside down, his eyes sleepy and his hair flattened in various places. "Have any ideas?"

She shrugs as best she can. "Stay here, go crazy?"

"Hm. Possible, but I'm not wild about it. Next."

"Go somewhere else. Go crazy."

"Getting better. Let's work on that last part, though."

She smiles unwillingly for a moment. "He could really help me?"

"I think he could try." Logan scrapes a lock of hair away from her forehead. "Even if he doesn't do a thing, which is better? Facing him and trying to get Magneto under control, or staying here and... going crazy or something?"

"I don't know if I can go back."

"Well, you'll have to decide and live with whatever decision you make. And look... I'll go with you. I'll make damn sure I'm there, at least through the toughest part." He winks at her. "You'll have to stock up on tights, though, or I'll ruin every pair you own."

She tries to hold back laughter and snorts instead, which just sets her off. When she settles, she smiles ruefully. "It was a good trade," she says softly.

"Huh?"

"That's what it was to me. Last night... it was you for you. Fair trade."

He smoothes a hand over the top of her head. "I'll make sure you get your money's worth, then."

"Promise?"

"Count on it."

2. "Hell is truth seen too late." -- Anonymous

She tells herself, loading her two large duffels into Logan's backseat, that she's a fool. Or Magneto tells her, but it all seems the same.

She shakes it off, and goes back up one last time. Lindsay still hasn't come back; she called, from Iceland of all places, and she sounded hopeful even as she expressed regret that Marie was leaving.

And now here she is, turning off all the lights, double-checking the window locks and locking the door behind her. She wants to undo it all; she wants to tell Logan sorry, her mistake, she can't go through with it after all. But she takes the elevator down and he's waiting by the car, and she tries for a weak smile.

He gets the point and nods at her. "Don't panic yet, huh? It's a long drive before you have to worry."

"Yeah." She closes her eyes and steels herself, then climbs into the car. "Long way out of hell, and all that."

"Reading cheerful stuff, I see," he teases, getting in and starting the engine. "Cut that out. Knowledge rots your brain."

"Right. This coming from someone who gets a kick out of Hawthorne."

"Remind me to ask Xavier to help you get rid of my more embarrassing memories, okay?"

"Not a chance," she mutters. "I'm keeping what I can get."

***

Two thousand miles down and she's tired; the passing tree lines blur before her eyes and she blinks unsteadily. "Can we stop for the night?" she asks, barely loud enough to even hear herself.

Logan glances at her. "You could sleep in the back."

"I can't." She digs her fingernails into her palms and stares at her bare knuckles. "Not while we're moving."

"Okay," he says. "There's a decent-sized city in a hundred miles. That good?"

"Yeah." She turns her attention back out the window. "Can I have a cigar?"

"These things are bad for you," but he reaches into his jacket and hands her one.

"It's not fair that you can say things like that without being a hypocrite," she says with a sigh, and lights the cigar.

"Not my fault I'll never wind up with cancer."

"Yeah, well. It's not like if I wind up with it, you wouldn't touch me, whether I wanted you to or not."

"That's not necessarily true. If you told me not to, I might not."

"Might not?" She frowns at the landscape.

"If you had a reason, and I believed you, yeah. I might not."

"Say I woke up tomorrow and were sick, and said I were ready to play by luck."

"I wouldn't believe it."

"Why not?"

"Because tomorrow we'll be back on the road, heading to do something that should help you live *better*."

"What if tomorrow I didn't want to be back on the road? What if I woke up and told you I didn't want to do it anymore?"

"Still wouldn't believe you wanted to stay sick."

"Logan." She looks over at him and feels a brief flash of anger at how comfortable and relaxed he is. It's a rare sight she might usually welcome, but not now. "What if I tell you that right now? That I want to stop?"

He hesitates. "Are you?"

"What if I did?" she presses.

"I'd say... we could stop. I wouldn't think it's a good idea, but we could. I'm not about to make you go, Marie."

"Oh." She breathes deeply, smelling the cigar more than smoking it. "Hundred miles?"

"About ninety, now. Little over an hour."

"Okay."

"Marie--"

"I'll know in the morning," she cuts in. "Do you think he knows I'm-- we're coming?"

"He knows," Logan replies shortly. "Wish he wouldn't just pop into my head like he does, though."

"Tell him to cut it out. It helps if you also tell him you don't respect him or his dreams, and then take off."

She glances up and sees a hint of a smile on his face. "So you're saying I'm too polite?"

"Polite wouldn't be my word of choice for you, but you get the point." She fights sudden panic. "Logan, I really don't know if I can-- How do I face him, after how I treated him, all of them? What do I say?"

"I'd try a hello, maybe a how are you. He likes that pleasantry crap."

"Logan."

"I'm not kidding." He reaches and takes the cigar from her and smokes silently for a minute. "He told me to make damn sure this is your choice. If we get to the front door and you want to leave, you can. He wants to see you, and wants to do whatever he can for you, but... Look, Marie, it's about you, and what's right for you. He doesn't give a damn about whatever happened before you left."

"He should," she mutters, and waves him away when he offers the cigar back. "Keep it. I can't promise it won't happen again."

"Magneto sure knows how to hold a grudge."

"Yeah. But doesn't everyone, if it's important enough to them?" She sighs and rubs her eyes. "I don't want to talk anymore."

***

The motel is the same as cheap motels anywhere; short, squat, the old sign flashing 'Vacancy' to any number of faceless travelers in need of a place to stop, to sleep, to fuck.

Logan gives her the key to the room and says he's going to find dinner. Inside the door, she drops her small bag and immediately gets into the shower, where she stays so long she's only half-dressed when Logan bangs on the door. "Smells good," she tells him, cracking the door to let him in with a pizza. "What's on it?"

"Sausage. Onions. Anchovies." He watches her tug on a pair of leggings. "Shower hot?"

"Not anymore. It should heat up again soon, though." She tears into a slice of pizza and sighs. "Mmm, thank you."

He grunts, mouth full, then chews enough to say, "TV?"

She nods. "Find something decent, okay? Wrestling doesn't qualify."

"Damn," he mutters, but grins. "Hockey?"

"'Kay." She crawls across the bed to rest in the crook of his arm and drags the pizza box with her. "You don't want anymore, right? I can finish it?" she teases.

"Hell if I don't," he growls. He drops the remote and snags another piece. "Don't be a pig."

She elbows him and then settles again. "I like this," she says softly. "Being here, being still... I think I'll be okay tomorrow."

"Just needed a break?"

"Yeah." She finishes eating in silence and then goes to brush her teeth, and while a hockey game plays in the background, falls asleep leaning into Logan's chest.

When she opens her eyes it's still night; the only light in the room is the vulgar red neon of the motel sigh, still flashing vacancy with an irony that makes her stomach knot. Logan is on his back next to her, tangled in the sheets, and she stares at his tinted profile for several long minutes, trying to hear some remnant of his rough voice in her head.

There is none. Vacancy is right; they got it pegged.

She wonders, not about Xavier, but about the others. How they'll look at her, what they'll think. If Jean's soft smile applies to someone who gave up, if Scott can be as warm and stoic for someone who doesn't believe in it all. If Ororo's gentle acceptance is as universal as it always seemed. She wonders, and she worries, and then she rolls into Logan, slides up and over to straddle him and lowers her head to bite one nipple through his thin cotton shirt.

He mumbles in his sleep, lifts one arm to blindly see what's there. His hand finds hip and curving back; he shifts, groans, and brings his other hand up to tangle in her hair. "Marie," he mutters sleepily.

"Shh," she whispers. "Just... shh."

And he shuts up and they ruin another pair of her leggings, and she reminds herself to pick up a sewing kit to make a more permanent pair. And again at dawn, and all the while she wants to cry for seeing the light of day.

***

The mansion looks strangely different; she thinks they're wrong in saying you can always go home again. The fountain looks foreign, the windows menacingly dark behind the reflection of sunlight. She looks at Logan and sighs. "What was it you said about getting to the front door?"

"Say the word," but he keeps heading up the stairs.

She scowls at his back, mutters quietly bitter obscenities. He just smirks slightly after knocking. "I heard that."

"Good."

And the door opens and Jean is standing there, her beauty and poise the same injustice it always before seemed to be. She blinks once and then smiles, looking behind her. "Scott. They're here." She turns back, and after a brief welcoming smile at Logan, turns her attention beyond him. "Rogue... welcome back."

She simply bites her lip and stares at Jean for a moment, then at Scott who appears behind her. "It's Marie," she finally says. "Hey."

Logan elbows her. "Muster up some guts and at least try to be nice, huh? Nobody needs both of us being chronic jerks."

She sneers at him. "It's your turn to be nice, you bully." But she shrugs and raises an eyebrow. "How're you guys doing?"

"We're good," Scott says, and both he and Jean back up to let she and Logan in. "You probably want to clean up after traveling; I'll show you to your rooms and then--"

"Room," Logan breaks in bluntly. "We only need one."

Marie nearly bursts out laughing at the identical statements on their faces; thankfully Jean recovers first. "Scott, I actually think Storm is waiting for you. You're supposed to help her with... Oh, I don't know. Go help Storm with something, okay? I'll take them up."

Scott clenches his jaw and shoots one hell of a glance at Logan, but walks stiffly away. Jean manages a falsely bright smile. "Shall we?"

And Marie finally loses control and starts giggling. Logan just glares at her. "Glad you're amused."

"Hush," she tells him, struggling to breathe. "I don't *need* your thoughts to know you wish you had a picture of his face."

"Well... " He grins and shrugs, glancing at Jean. "Sorry. It's fun driving Scooter crazy."

Jean raises her brows. "Between us... I wish I had a picture, too. Of us both." She starts up the stairs. "Ro-- Marie, Professor Xavier wanted you to have all the time you need to get settled and comfortable. You can either go to his office whenever you're ready, or else dinner is in three hours, if you prefer a lighter atmosphere."

"Thanks," Marie says softly. She looks at Logan. "It's okay, us being in the same-- "

"Don't pay attention to Scott." Jean stops at the second door in the first floor hallway. "Here we are. Marie, I hope to see you at dinner, and Logan, could I speak with you for a minute?"

"Sure." He squeezes Marie's arm. "Be right back."

She drops her bags inside the door and simply flops down on the large bed to stare at the ceiling. When Logan comes back, she quirks a grin at him. "What'd she want?"

"Get it in one try and you'll get a prize."

"What prize?"

"Hell, I don't know. I'll think of something. I'll owe you."

"I'll hold you to that. Let's see... She wanted to know if you're damn sure of what you're 'letting' me get into with you; if you remember that jeez, I'm only twenty and going through a lot and is it really a good idea."

"Wow." He sits on the edge of the bed. "I'll owe you double if you know what I told her."

"Oh, that's easy. You told her, and I'll attempt exact words here, that 'Marie has three different ages in her head and none of them are too young to make her own decisions, dammit. And maybe it's just about the best damn idea I've had in years, so why don't you just go let Scooter chew on that?'" She grins. "How'd I do?"

"Aside from scaring me, great. I'll bust you out of here for a night away anytime you want."

She frowns. "No fair. I'd make you do that anyway."

"Oh, you'd make me?"

"Yeah. You just remember that you owe me, and I'll think of something."

"Whatever." He grabs her ankle and squeezes it. "You seem like you're doing okay."

She shrugs. "We'll see. Now that we're here, Magneto seems to be-- in hiding. I think he sort of wants to see Cha-- Xavier. It's been awhile; he's probably building up some influence to get me to say things when I'm off my guard."

"Huh. But no panicking? No wanting to leave?"

"It ain't a picnic, but I'm fine for now." She shrugs again. "Tired, though. You mind if I take a nap?"

"Not if I get to, too."

***

Xavier is already at his usual place at dinner when she and Logan walk in, and she immediately notices that two seats across from him are marked as reserved, as he generally does when guests are expected. "I'm fine," she whispers, not needing to look to feel Logan's questioning gaze.

She shuffles her way towards the table; she's surprised to feel only a rush of the old fondness that was too soon overwhelmed by her resentment. Magneto is taking his time, she thinks, or else he, too, is just needing a break from himself.

She manages a genuine smile. "Professor," she greets him quietly. "You look... well."

He returns her smile, seeming slightly surprised. "As do you, Rogue. Welcome back."

"It's just Marie now, actually." She glances at Logan as they take their seats. "Things have changed."

"Have they?"

"A few things," she clarifies, and peels off her gloves to eat. It's become natural, almost instinctual, and she blames it, or rather attributes it, to Logan's pleased looks at the sight of her bare fingers. "A few."

"Ah... In any case, it's good to see you. Logan, you as well."

"Yeah, charmed," Logan mutters.

"Hey. What'd you tell me about being nice?" Marie teases.

"Told * you*, didn't I?"

"Logan."

"Fine, fine."

She picks at her food for a few minutes, replying to the awkward questions Xavier asks. Scott and Jean and Ororo come in and she suddenly feels like she's being silently interrogated by a panel of innocuous judges. She stares nervously at her plate, listens to the growing buzz as students wander in and find seats. "Marie," Xavier eventually says, "I'm afraid I have to ask if you would mind putting your gloves back on, with so many people in the room."

She freezes, and notices Logan do the same at her side. "Excuse me?"

"As a standard precaution, you understand. Such as I ask Scott to wear his full visor while around the students."

Her eyes narrow slightly; she can feel anger boiling up and tries desperately to fight it, tries to insist that she knows he's right and she should have though of something like that herself, that she should never have taken them off.

But Magneto wins. She pulls her gloves on with slow, deliberately jerky motion, then drops on hand below the table to squeeze Logan's knee. He glances at her, his eyes a frowning question, but she turns a steely gaze on Xavier. "Always, always looking out for their poor, innocent souls, aren't you?" she asks lowly.

He doesn't answer. He meets her cold look calmly; he looks like he knows something's about to blow. And Marie smiles and shakes her head slowly. "Do you remember Portugal, Charles?" she asks, loosening her grip on Logan's knee and sliding her palm over his thigh. "As I recall, that was... before the accident."

"I remember," he responds. "It was the summer before."

"Yes." She goes completely still for a moment. "When I could still make you * feel*... but I suppose we all find our substitutes."

And she presses her hand against Logan's crotch and squeezes, and he coughs hard. He's on his feet in an instant, but not before she gets to see the nostalgic regret that floods into Xavier's eyes. She wants to let loose apologies, as many as it takes, and she wants to make him hurt even more, all at once. But Logan is grasping her upper arm and nearly yanking her up from her chair as he pulls her out of the room.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he demands, turning on her in the hallway.

"I thought I was making a point," she says lithely.

"Don't ever fucking use me like that, Marie," he growls. "I make * my* points when * I* want to. I'm not your prop."

"Aren't you?" and she hates the mocking laugh she hears coming from her mouth. "What is it you are exactly, then? Because honestly, Logan, the protective savior bit is getting rather worn."

"I've only been out to save you once. Once, you hear me?"

"And doesn't it just kill you to see me, to listen to me, and know you weren't fast enough?" She smiles cruelly. "You can't get over that, can you? You can't stand that I got to her first and made my mark, and now you're trying to... to what, * Wolverine*? Fuck me out of her?"

Logan lets out a low snarl and steps towards her right as Jean comes out of the dining hall. "Marie, Logan," she starts, and then stares hard at them. "Logan," she repeats firmly.

He blinks, still glaring at Marie. "You come find me," he mutters, "whenever you get that son of a bitch under control."

She stares at him as he walks away, then turns a blank look on Jean. "Go away," she says dully. Jean just looks startled and wary and so Marie edges past her and trudges down the hall, away from Logan and everyone, everything else.

***

She finds her way to the attic, to the only part of the mansion that isn't pristinely clean. Boxes clutter every corner and she sees immediately that this, at last, must be where Xavier tucks his personal life away. It's all cardboard and labels and dust, and she edges through it all and stares out a tiny dormer window. Twilight is settling as it does in spring, creeping in with a hazy stillness that can't be missed for all its stealth.

After two long hours of sitting among the packed-up remains of Xavier's life, a life traded for something else, she slips back downstairs and into her room, where Logan is pacing. "Hi," she murmers.

He stops and fixes alert eyes on her. "Marie?"

"Yeah." She wearily strips off her gloves and scarf and curls up on the bed. "Logan, I think maybe you should go," she says, her voice muffled in the blanket.

"What?"

"I said you should leave." She lifts her head to see him and her eyes hurt from trying too hard, too long, not to cry. "For a few weeks or so."

"Okay... why do you think this?"

"I don't think I can do this with you here." She swallows hard, captivated by a twitching muscle in his neck. "I can pretend, but only until the next little thin sets me--sets him off. And I'll use you to be okay, and he'll use you to mess it all up, and... I think if I don't do this alone, I won't do it at all."

"Are you sure?"

"Sure enough to have said anything at all." She sighs and closes her eyes. "You're not just angry at him. It's me, too."

She feels the bed sink as he sits on the edge. "How the hell am I supposed to separate you when you do--I look at you and I see * you*, Marie, and most of the time I know you're in control. But what happened at dinner... Fuck. I don't know."

"See? This is gonna get ugly, I can feel it. And I don't want you to ever start seeing him when you look at me."

Logan is silent for a long time. "I'll go, then. I'll give it a month." And she feels his hand settle in the small of her back and rub gently. "A short month. A February month."

She stifles a laugh. "Leap year?"

"Hell, no." He lies back behind her and breathes against her neck. "You're stronger than he is, got that? You can get yourself back to being that presumptuous kid that crawled into my truck."

"You didn't like her."

"Well, I'm an idiot. But I learn fast, don't I?"

She thinks about three long years and about how maybe there never was anything to learn. Only to understand, and to wait through. "I guess you do." She sits up and crawls under the blanket so he can get his arm safely around her. "I still have your tags."

"I figured."

"You never asked for them."

"I never planned on staying away. Didn't need 'em."

"Oh... You know, I could never wear them. I wanted to, a lot, but the metal--I couldn't stand it." She sighs sleepily. "I'm gonna get them out and I want you to take them with you."

"You do."

"Yeah," she says. "You'll come back, I know it. I don't need them."

***

The sun isn't yet up when they creep down to his car. "You gonna go fight?" she asks, playing with the zipper on his jacket.

"Probably," he admits. "Why? You don't want me to?"

"Nah. Just wish I could see it."

Laughing, he kisses the top of her head. "I bet you do. You'll talk to Xavier today?"

"I'll try." She hugs him quickly and steps back. "Okay. You should get goin'."

"Yeah... Look, if anything happens, if I need to come back--"

"I'll tell Xavier. But I'll be okay." She smiles wanly. "Eventually."

He just nods and that's it; he leaves. And she goes inside and tries to get back to sleep, but all she can do in the dark emptiness of the room is worry.

She forces herself up for breakfast. Slipping into the crowded room, she takes a seat in a corner and can feel four sets of eyes watching her, waiting. But she simply eats and then leaves, and she's waiting in Xavier's office when he rolls in. "Are you busy?" she asks nervously.

He watches her carefully. "No, not for an hour or so. Is Logan still sleeping?"

"He left."

"Did he?"

"I asked him to," she adds. She bites her lip for a moment. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have let--I'm sorry."

Xavier just sighs. "I feel quite the same way, Marie. For rather a few reasons."

"Yeah?"

"Yes. Perhaps Magneto won't allow you to understand it, but I am able to admit by failings. And I failed you, to be sure, and I have never sufficiently apologized."

She nods slightly, then suddenly says, "I'm tired, Professor. I'm tired of it all."

"I'm sure you are. Erik's passion and zeal can take a good deal of energy."

"Yeah... I never know when he'll pop back up. I don't even know why I--why * I'm* the one talking to you right now."

"Ah," and Xavier smiles slightly. "He's quite good at lying low when he feels it necessary."

"Can you help me?" she whispers.

"I hope so. The easiest option would be for me to isolate and suppress what there is of him in your mind--"

"Stay out of my head, Charles," she snaps abruptly. "Haven't you learned your lesson about meddling with me?"

"Marie," Xavier says, calm and deliberate. "He isn't there. What he is, who he is, is all in your mind, but * you* are the only one truly there. You have to control him."

"You'd like to think it's that easy, wouldn't you?" She stands up and wanders around the office, slides her fingers over leather-bound books. "Perhaps she doesn't want control, Charles. Perhaps there's a reason I've been able to stay with her for three years now... Perhaps she knows I'm right, and just can't admit it."

"No. You're using her, the same as you used her before, the same as you once tried to use me."

"Don't fool yourself, Charles. People only let themselves be used if it benefits them in some way. It's true for her, as it was always true for you." She goes to the door and opens it. "Careful, old friend. You're losing your touch."

***

She keeps to herself for nearly a week. At night, she lies awake and wishes Logan hadn't left, and during the days she wanders the halls and avoids speaking to anyone. Jean smiles at her as usual, and Scott gives her friendly nods whenever she passes, but nobody pushes her.

After six days she shows up in Xavier's office again, and asks him to get her into the prison to talk to Magneto. He watches her silently for several minutes, then nods slightly and says he'll arrange it.

And two days later she's standing in front of a guard, who examines all her clothing for any metal, and then walking down the plastic hallway that reminds her of a toy that she once had as a child, a snaky tube that served no purpose other than to crawl through, and reach the other end.

Magneto looks older, older than she could ever have imagined. He's pale and thin, and the chess set is gone, replaced by books and playing cards. He smiles at her when she comes in. "Rogue. How lovely to see you."

She stands nervously near one plastic wall, and doesn't correct the name. "Did they tell you I was coming?"

"They did. It's been quite a bit of time since I had a visitor."

"What about the Professor?"

"He hasn't come in months. I do believe he's given up on me." He laughs softly. "A shame, really. I could surprise him, yet."

She frowns. "You could?"

"Old dogs can learn new tricks, my dear." He looks sad and gazes around his transparent confinement. "It's quiet here, you've noticed?"

"Yes. I envy it. Do you know why I came?"

"I don't. You were here before; I remember wishing they would let you come down."

"It was different, then." She ventures closer and sits gingerly on the second chair. "You're killing me."

He frowns, surprised. "How so? You can see I'm quite helpless, here."

"You're in my head and won't get out. You won't leave me alone."

"Ahh... how dreadful for you. I'm sorry, I can be tenacious." And he laughs again. "I don't suppose it's a comfort that you weren't meant to live long enough to experience the after effects of my touch."

She smiles despite herself. "Not exactly a comfort, no."

"So why have you come here?"

"I think I was hoping it would-- settle something. That you could help me get rid of you."

"Oh, to be so unwanted," he says, but looks amused.

"Yeah," she mumbles, embarrassed. "What did you mean about learning new tricks?"

"Merely that old men are still capable of change. Don't worry yourself about it. It's between Charles and I."

"You hate him."

"I once believed I did. But hate is such a strong word, Rogue. It can overcome you."

"Then you don't."

"There is a certain amount of resentment, still. But I loved him too much to truly hate him. I'm sure you understand."

She frowns. "I left for awhile. I couldn't be near him."

"Did you?" Magneto sighs. "A shame, again. Tell me-- how is it I have such influence over you? You strike me as rather strong-willed."

"I don't know. You seem to think it's my decision, that I want you to stick around for some reason."

"Perhaps you do. Has Charles tried to help you, in his own special way?"

"You won't let him."

"*You* won't let him, child. Keep in mind that I'm in prison. You're free to fight me." He sighs again as the tunnel extends with a whirring sound and a guard enters. "They seem so determined to keep me alone."

"Would you do it all again, if you could?" Marie asks suddenly.

"I don't know, Rogue," he replies quietly. "Let him help you, all right? Let something good come of his lofty intentions."

She nods slightly and gets up. "Good-bye, Erik."

"Farewell, my dear. And good luck with the world."

***

She takes a day before seeing Xavier again. She goes back up to the attic, skims her fingers through dust so she can read the box labels. She finds one labeled 'New York, 1975' and she smiles, knowing what kinds of photos, mementos, must be inside.

She tries hard to absorb everything Magneto said. It's hard; it's all a blur of things she didn't expect. For him to have changed; for her to have to realize she might be the one not letting go. That's the thing that scares her, because when she thinks back she knows Logan only settled when she got an idea she didn't need a substitute for the real thing anymore.

And she wonders what she could need Magneto for. She can't begin to imagine.

She makes sure she's calm when she goes to Xavier. She has to wait in the hall until his calculus class gets out, and then sits quietly in front of him until he smiles cautiously and asks, "How did your visit go?"

"It was fine," she replies. She fiddles with the edge or her skirt and darts nervous eyes around the room. "You don't go see him anymore."

"I don't, that's true. I last saw Erik the week after you left."

"Why?"

"I believed I saw signs of change in him, and feared that my presence was igniting old anger. And I-- I was angry about you, Marie, to be perfectly honest. Despite what I told you, it's not easy even for me to distinguish between the real Erik and what has evolved within your mind."

"I don't understand."

Xavier smiles gently. "Three years ago, you survived what he attempted. And yet, when you left, I felt he'd finally destroyed you, and I couldn't continue facing him. We all pin our blame somewhere, Marie. It simply took me quite a bit of time to be able to blame him, whether I was right or wrong. That's always been my problem with Erik."

"Oh." She finally brings her gaze to his eyes. "Maybe you should go see him. It's strange, Professor... he's not the person I know, and I can't pinpoint how he's different. I think-- I think he was trying to tell me he's lonely."

"I will consider it. However, perhaps we should concentrate on you right now."

She shakes her head. "But I think maybe that has to do with me."

"I'm afraid I don't follow."

With a frustrated sigh, she searches for words. "He seemed to think what I said was true, or could be, that I'm keeping him around for some reason."

"Do you believe it?"

"I think... I think it's something I don't want to believe, but maybe I should. If I-- if I'm honest about Logan and how I lost him, *when* I lost him, I have to admit I was probably clinging to that for as long as I though I needed it."

Xavier frowns. "And what might you need from Magneto?"

And she squeezes her eyes closed because things are becoming all too clear and the sight of his gentle face is bruising to her mind. "He never really wanted me to leave here," she whispers. "Logan did... I did."

"You did."

She feels something snap within her; she suspects if she hadn't been distracted she would have felt the same thing when Logan fell silent. "Oh, god, I did. And it's so stupid, so childish-- "

"I don't think anything you've gone through is childish, Marie."

She shakes her head violently. "I didn't want to hate you. I didn't want to hate anyone... I let him do it for me."

Xavier takes a minute to find his question. "What is it you want to tell me?"

She opens her eyes and blinks at him. "I don't think it matters anymore. It's... it's that blame thing, Professor. It's old bitterness, and it's all mine. Because you didn't see that he was after *me*, and I almost died and Logan, too, and I forget that he hurt you, too, through it all." With a sigh, she stands up. "I'm sorry, I need to-- to go think through this. I'm sorry."

***

It's Scott who makes the move she's been waiting for, twelve days now. Difference is, now she can appreciate it, resentment free, and when he finds her in the garden after breakfast the next day, she smiles at him.

"Hey."

"Hi," he replies, matching her statement as he watches her run her fingers over the newly budding leaves on stalks. "I hear you made a breakthrough of sorts."

Her smile fades fast and she stares at the mulch, moves her foot against where some of it has spilled over into the path. "Some breakthrough. I get rid of Magneto just to figure out *I* was the really screwed up one all along."

Scott grabs her arm, gently. "There's nothing screwed up about how you feel, Marie. None of us think that."

"I do." She sighs and feels a light breeze, holding chilly remnants of winter, catch her hair. "My mother told me once that if you can't forgive someone even if you wind up okay in the end, then you're probably not admitting what's really making you mad."

"Sounds feasible."

"I'm still angry, Scott. Only difference is, I know it's me and not him."

"What do you think it could be over?"

She wrinkles her brow. "I don't know. But I don't think it's just over the... Magneto stuff."

"No, me neither." He sits beside her in silence for a minute. "You did know the professor built my visor, right? He figured out how to let me see again?"

"I think I heard that, yeah," she answers, waiting to see where he goes with that thought.

"I was pretty grateful," Scott adds. "I was-- amazed. I'd hit this point of just accepting it. Okay, that's it, no more opening my eyes. Then the professor came along."

"He has a way of doing that, doesn't he?"

Scott grins momentarily. "He does, actually. Anyway... you know what one of the first things I noticed was, when I could see with this thing?"

"No."

"The looks people gave me," he says softly. "The people who understood what I must be to have it be necessary. I used to really wish he would have warned me about that."

She remembers those looks. She remembers petty sneers on her classmates' faces, mingled with fear; she remembers bruised (literally) pride and words that can still make her blood run cold and her legs itch to run. "I know what you are."

She remembers envying Logan's control right then, the fierce nonchalance and low- toned threat that he'd almost carried through. She looks up at Scott and bites her lip nervously. "What are you getting at?"

"I don't know. I just keep thinking... that first night at dinner, you took off your gloves to eat as if it were the most natural thing ever. You never once did that, before."

She swallows hard suddenly. The glint of sun off Scott's visor hurts her eyes, but she can't look away. "I-- I stopped being so goddamned *careful* around Logan, you know?" she whispers. "It just felt so normal... "

"And maybe it should. But still," he says, getting up, "it's hard having to figure it out all on your own, isn't it?"

***

She goes to lunch that day. Willingly, anxiously, and she slides into the seat next to Xavier breathless, glad it's empty. "Hi," she says nervously. "You told me you felt guilty over it all."

"Indeed."

"Then how about... how about you let go of that, and I let go of old anger, and we try to start this whole deal over without interference from Magneto this time?"

The smile that spreads across Xavier's face is warm and fond, and she feels herself automatically return it. "I'd like that, Marie. Very much, in fact."

She picks up a fork and plays with it, shaking her head in amusement when the tines don't bend to her will. "Could you tell me one thing, as a favor?"

"What do you want to know?"

"About New York, in '75. Was it-- Do you remember it as perfect, like Erik does?"

"Ahh... " Xavier leans back in his chair, his eyes clouding in peaceful nostalgia. "That was, yes, probably the best of the years we ever spent as friends. No arguments, no bitterness. Just us, and New York, and long talks about the world."

She nods gratefully. "Thanks. I just-- I needed to know, for some reason."

"Anytime you want to ask something, feel free. I can't promise to answer, but... at times it can be rather nice to have someone else understand what things were like for us."

And Marie shrugs and thinks absently of starting to wear jewelry again. "I think that can be nice for anyone. Being understood, you know?"

1. "We cut a nice figure of a family." Throwing Muses

The dreams start the same night that Jean suggests she join in the defense training classes. She thinks of five days of absolute peace and of how it's still eleven days before Logan will come back, and she tries to think of what she wants to do after that but can't even fathom.

It's the white room she thought she left behind in Mississippi. The white room with white tile floors in Jackson, where she could see every bit of dust and hair and anything that fell on the floor. They only came to vacuum every other day, and when they'd finished all their tests-- when the insurance had run out, she knew-- they sent her home and she went with trepidation to her little room in Meridian. Her little room, which was carpeted, where she started vacuuming twice a day because she knew then what kinds of things could creep in and settle when she just wasn't looking.

It's the white room only her mother ever saw. The white room she stayed in for two and a half weeks, and she wakes up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep for all the thoughts of home. She remembers Lindsay asking, just the once, if she wanted to call home; a not that wasn't entirely true; a curious longing that comes back hard and leaves her feeling sick.

Xavier watches her at breakfast and she can hear the slight fear in his voice when he speaks quietly to her. "Is everything all right, Marie?"

She shrugs. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine," she murmurs.

***

"It's a long drive," Scott says. "You're sure you don't want to wait for Logan?"

"I'll be back before he is." She closes the trunk of the small Saturn Xavier agreed to let her take. "One week."

"Okay. But don't drive too much each day, and stay in decent places, and-- "

"And always keep the phone charged and turned on," she finishes, grinning. "Scott... thanks."

He nods slightly. "You've got to do this, don't you?"

"Yes." She sighs and reaches up to lightly tap his visor. "You know, my father was the first one I noticed. Giving me one of those looks?"

Scott smiles sadly and hugs her. "Don't speed, all right?"

With a wink, she opens the driver's door. "I'll keep it to 90, I promise."

***

It's a Comfort Inn in Virginia and she doesn't even know the name of the city. The manager is a woman with deep-set eyes that strangely match her cap of silvery-blue hair, the shad that she's never seen on a woman under 60. She tells Marie not to use the vending machine in her wing, because it only steals money.

Marie doesn't want anything, anyway. She falls into bed with the TV on-- hockey-- and wonders why she thought she could drive so far on her own. It's still at least a full day to Mississippi; she thinks she sees black asphalt and white strips flashing in her skull when she closes her eyes.

She wakes up early to children screaming in the halls. McDonald's, they insist. McDonald's McDonald's McDonald's, and she closes her eyes again and rolls into the cool emptiness on the other side of the bed.

That wakes her up. A fast shower and she leaves, gets pancakes for breakfast.

She cuts through Tennessee and across a corner of Georgia, and it's dark when she stops at the Mississippi/Alabama border. She showers again and falls asleep wrapped in her towel.

Noon, and the house looks just as she remembers. White and cheerful, lawn carefully mowed because her father always said appearances are everything, and she leans against the car for awhile, just staring and smoking a cigar. There's a For Sale sign in the neighbor's yard; she wonders where the Dewitts moved. And she can see the small area of chipped paint on one of the porch pillars, where she once caught the pedal of her bike as she lugged it up the stairs. Nobody ever got around to repainting it.

The house seems quiet and still as she approaches and knocks on the door. It feels strange; she's never had to knock before. It takes over a minute for her mother to pull it open, and when she does, she just stares at Marie, her lips slightly parted in shock. "Marie," she whispers, and reaches for her.

She steps back. "Don't. I mean, you can't... nothing's changed, Mom. No touching."

Her mother's eyes fill with tears. "Oh, my God, Marie, I'm so sorry. I thought maybe-- "

"It's okay," and she wonders why she's left feeling vaguely guilty. "It's okay... It's not so hard to live with anymore."

"Not so-- Here, come inside." Her mother rubs tears away. "Come inside; your father isn't home."

***

Her mug of tea is almost too hot to hold, but she grips it awkwardly and stares around the living room. At the piano, at the faint black soot stains on the stone mantel. At the photos just above, and she realizes with a start that there aren't any of her, anymore.

Mrs. Dutton follows her gaze. "Your father," she says in weak explanation. "I have them upstairs, in your old room... He never goes in there, so... "

Marie watches her carefully. "I should leave before he gets home, shouldn't I?"

"That-- It would be best. You have to understand, Marie, he-- "

"I understand," she breaks in. "Same old. I'd ask if he threw a party when I left, but then he'd have to explain why, right? Let everyone know my dirty little secret."

"Marie-- "

"Mom. I'm sorry." She sighs and rubs her eyes with one free hand. "I know how he feels. I never was quite sure about you... I just came to finally let you know everything's okay. I'm okay."

"I'm so glad." Mrs. Dutton is slumped in an armchair, looking frailer and less confident than Marie remembers. She tugs a lock of hair that has many more streaks of gray than in the past. "I hated not knowing. You could have been dead, and I wouldn't have... " She trails off and stares at the carpet, seeming lost in four years of speculation.

"I almost was," Marie tells her frankly. Her head snaps up. "A lot happened right away, Mom. I couldn't even begin to explain what it's all about. But I *am* okay now."

"Why did you really come here? You could have written, or called-- "

Marie shrugs. "I'm trying to get myself together, trying to get past everything about the past four years. I had to see you to do that."

"Me?"

"Yeah. I had to... I don't know. See if you were still here, if you were... still here with him."

And her mother gets a sad, vacant look in her eyes. "I shouldn't be. I-- I like to think we would have left, Marie, if you hadn't... I like to think that, but I guess you were just strong enough to do it on your own."

"There was no strong about it. I had to." She sets her tea down and coughs slightly. "It's good that I did. Things would have been much worse if I hadn't."

"Where have you been?" her mother asks suddenly. "Did you-- did you find good people to be with?"

"I did," Marie says. "I didn't realize it until recently, but yeah, I did, Mom. They got me out of a lot of trouble, more than once."

"Trouble?"

"It's... complicated. There's a lot of stuff happening out there, over mutation. What I do is dangerous... it's valuable to some people. I-- I don't want to go into everything, but I wasn't very happy for a long time, but I'm getting there now." She hesitates. "I think I just needed you to know that."

"Thank you," her mother whispers. "You have a good home?"

"For as long as I need one, yeah. There's a place up north, for people like-- for mutants. This guy helps us out, helps us live... I think you'd like him."

A faint smile touches the older woman's weary face. "You've been there the whole time?"

"More or less. There were about five weeks on the road, and-- I was with Lindsay for awhile, just recently. Until last month."

"Lindsay?"

"Yeah. She thought I should call... You should give it another chance, Mom. She's your family."

"Yes, she is. But then, so are you, and I couldn't make that work."

"Mom! There was nothing to make work, okay?" Marie closes her eyes in frustration. "Blame it on Dad if you have to, but you-- It was hard, okay? And I was angry at you both for a long time. But you *tried*, which is more than he did. Hell, more than I did."

"I don't-- " Her mother stops short and gets up, turns to the piano and taps a high note nervously. "Your father will be home soon."

Marie coughs again and stands. "Okay. I should get back to New York, anyway. Someone's expecting me."

Her mother follows her to the door. "Marie... I'm sorry. I am."

"I know," she replies quietly. "Tell him I was here, okay? In case some part of him does want to know."

"I will."

"Thanks." She reaches out and rests her gloved hand gently against her mother's cheek, then pauses. "Listen, let me give you the number of this place. In case you ever need to... " She reaches into her bag and then scrawls the school's number on a scrap of paper. "Here."

"Thank you... Bye, baby."

"Bye," she whispers, and turns down the walk. When she starts the car and drives away, her mother is still in the door, gripping the crumpled paper in one fist.

***

She goes far out of her way, to a beach in South Carolina. The wind rolling in off the ocean is warm and salty; she remembers a vacation on the Gulf that was too crowded and blisteringly hot to really enjoy. The heat of approaching summer is easier here and the Spanish moss whips around the trees and it's quiet.

She stays two days in a small hotel, a splurge but one she pays for with her own saved money, rather than the credit card Xavier provided. When she leaves after one fianl trip to a clouded-over beach, she drives straight through the day and night to reach Westchester.

When she arrives it's 3 am but all she wants is her bed, in her room, and isn't it just too strange that she can think of hers and of the mansion all at once. She leaves the car at a slight distance in the driveway and kills the motor and she must have learned things from Logan about stealth because she doesn't make a sound creeping in and up.

She hasn't even brought in her things. She slips into her room and toes off her shoes on the way to bed; she's asleep within seconds.

And when she opens her eyes to bright, late-morning sunshine, she rolls, reaching for the extra pillow, but her arm hits solid warmth. "Hey," Logan says softly, wide-awake.

She blinks and sits up, staring at him. Him, rumpled and wrinkled from sleeping; him, right where she's been wanting him for the better part of a month. She opens her mouth but words won't form, and instead she manages a slow but sincere smile. "Hey," she finally gets out. "How long've you been here?"

"Three days." He's not smiling, but he does reach and rub her knee. "How was home?"

"I wouldn't know." She lets a hand creep to his bare chest, lets her gloved fingers slide gingerly across. "I don't seem to have one."

Logan's eyes cloud. "What happened?" he demands.

"Nothing. I saw my mom and I left. Everything's the same, and here I am yet again." She shrugs, runs her hand more confidently over muscle and bone. "Three days, huh?"

"Yeah," he mutters. "I keep showing up here expecting to find you, and you keep taking off ahead of me."

"I'm sorry," she whispers. "I had to get it done. I thought I'd be back first."

"Well," he softens. "I guess I sort of forgot how many days February has."

"You 'sort of forgot'?"

"Fine, no. I sort of said to hell with the damn calendar, it felt like a fucking month." He raises an eyebrow as she laughs. "Marie, you act like you've never seen my chest before."

"I never get you like this. You always keep a shirt on."

"Safer like that."

"I know." She rubs her into his navel. "Tickle?"

"Good tickle," but he catches her gloved wrist. "You're different."

With a flush, she pulls slowly away. "How do you mean?"

"I don't know. Different." He grabs her again and pulls her down to carefully hold. "Xavier filled me in on the Magneto shit."

"Oh... Is it a bad kind of different?"

"No."

"Oh," she says again, and starts to relax as relief floods her body. "Okay."

"You got things sorted out, then?"

"Mmm, yeah, I think so," and she feels her lips curl. "It feels a little different, being with you. With everything so quiet, you know?"

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. I don't have to share anymore."

"Isn't a little supposed to go a long way?"

"Sure. But sometimes you have a lot and it seems to just disappear."

Logan runs his hand over her back and breathes against her hair. "Sorry things didn't go so well with your parents."

She shrugs a bit, shifting to ease one leg over him and lean down, breathe against his cheek. "It went okay. I think I got things over with. My father is how he is, which doesn't go well with how I am, and my mother... I feel bad for her."

"Why?"

"Because she wants to be strong enough to get out, but she isn't. That's her life, like this seems to be mine." She grins wryly. "Some life, huh?"

"It's a kicker, yeah." He winks. "Not too bad from this view, though."

She just chuckles. "Pretty good seats, I think."

"Just pretty good?"

"Best in the house," she amends. "Now put a shirt on and let's ruin some more of my clothes."

***

They make it, just barely on time, to lunch. Xavier is deep in conversation with Jean, but he looks up at Marie with a smile. "Marie," he says warmly. "I'm glad you made it back well. How did everything go?"

"It went," she tells him simply. "How are you guys?"

"We're quite fine. I trust you found the beach pleasant?"

She blushes, smiling sheepishly. "You checked on me?"

"Just to assure myself you were safe."

"Oh... It was good, yeah. Relaxing."

"You went to the beach?" Logan mutters under his breath, sitting down. "Without me?"

"Hush. You hate the beach."

"Okay, but still." He elbows her lightly. "I'm suffering here alone, and you're sunbathing or something."

"It rained," she lies, laughing at him.

"Marie," Jean suddenly says, glancing at Xavier. "Have you any ideas yet as to what you want to do next?"

"I-- " She glances at Logan, who is eating calmly. "No, not really. Why?"

"We have three old students returning in August, for the next year," Xavier tells her. "A few years older than you; they've recently finished college and have expressed interest in joining us here. I've arranged courses in defense, fighting, and so on. I wanted to make it available to you, should you with to participate."

She stares at him. "I don't-- Why?"

Xavier smiles knowingly. "Marie, I fully realize that now is not a time at which you are interested in joining us, should you ever be. In the simplest terms, I believe that, given you past experiences and the lack of guaranteed future safety regarding your gift, the training would be of value to you. Just in case."

"Of value," she echoes, and looks at Logan again. "You knew about this?" He nods, chewing a piece of chicken. "What do you think?"

With a swallow, he shrugs. "I think it doesn't matter what I think."

"I think it does." She flushes, feeling trapped under the pressure of this kind of answer.

"Well, you're wrong. Are you interested or not?"

"I don't know!" she snaps. She turns back to Xavier. "Can I think about this?"

"Of course. I do, however, need to know soon, so I can arrange for an additional trainer."

"Okay." She bites her lip and stares at her food. "I'll let you know."

***

"You let them spring that on me," she accuses, out on the garden path.

"Nobody sprung anything," Logan says calmly. "They asked you a question."

"And big help you were."

"Look, Marie, it's not up to me. It's your life."

"Which is all tangled up with you!" She frowns. "I'm not gonna do it. I won't stay here without you. I can't."

"Wait." He stops and frowns right back at her. "Who said I wouldn't be here?"

Hesitating, she stares at him. "Would you be?"

"I better, since I told Xavier I'd help if you said yes." He laughs at her statement. "Quit jumping to conclusions, would ya?"

"But-- You're not a trainer. You don't teach."

"I know a lot of dirty tricks that a lot of dirty people could try against any of us. I think I could survive the ordeal of sharing the knowledge."

"You jerk." She smacks his arm. "Why didn't you tell me any of this?"

"You're cute when you worry." He grins and winks. "Because it really shouldn't have to do with me. If it's right for you, do it. If not, don't."

"Great," she mutters. "The hothead goes and gets reasonable one me."

"Shut up."

"Make me," she leers. "I'll think about it, okay?"

"Good," and he gives her cheek a glancing brush of his thumb. "Good."

Epilogue - Ground Zero

"Following the sun we left the old world."
-- inscription on one of Columbus' carevels.

She gazes out the window and sighs slightly, feeling restless, jumpy. "It's so different," she breathes.

"I'm no nature whiz," Logan says dryly, "but I'd guess it being summer this time has something to do with that."

"Don't be a smartass. In a few months, I'll be able to take you down."

He laughs loudly. "Somehow I doubt that. They're not going to teach you to be the Terminator or anything."

"I'm resourceful," she says with a smirk. "You'll see. I'll figure something out." She glances out the window again. "Where are we? Anywhere near Loftlin City?"

"Past it. We're sticking closer to the border until Vancouver. We can stop there a few days, then head up the coast. You went further north with your truckers."

"Yeah, thankfully." She grins. "What's it like?"

"What's what like?"

"Alaska."

"I've only been to Anchorage, Marie, for two days last year. It's a huge fucking state."

"Fine, fine."

"If you don't know what it's like, why the hell did you try to cross most of the continent to get there?"

She shrugs and settles back into her seat. "I saw a picture once."

"A picture. A picture? What kind of picture can be that fascinating?" He hands her a cigar. "Light that, huh? And don't forget to share."

She reaches out gratefully. "Kinai Peninsula. The water is so clear when it's not frozen, you can see a perfect reflection of the sky. I wanted to see that." She closes her eyes and see the picture she memorized years ago. "Can you even imagine anything so perfect and untainted?"

Logan brushes her hand as he takes the lit cigar. "I think so," he says quietly. "Guess we'll see."

**end**