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defensive lines

Defensive Lines
by Molly
August 2000

Logan managed to make Rogue angry three days before she saw him again.

She didn't know to be angry, of course; therein lay the problem, anyway, the fact that after being gone for just over a year, after promising to protect her and to come back and to *not* just be a passing acquaintance in her life, it was three days and overhearing whispered gossip from the students about Wolverine having returned that prompted her to knock at the door of the long-empty bedroom.

And part of her wanted silence, wanted to believe that *he* would have come to find *her*. The young girl in her, the one back in Meridian who dreamed of the boy she would someday marry, and the one who hadn't been in college for three months already, and the one for whom the daunting thought of being an adult was so unreal and so far away that she didn't have to think about it like Rogue did nowadays; that girl wanted to hear no answer, maybe open the door to find musty air and dust bunnies, and to go to bed and wonder idly if Logan actually *would* be coming back at all.

But that part was in for disappointment, and when Logan yanked open the door wearing only sweatpants and holding a toothbrush in his mouth, anger welled up in response. Rogue flinched at the sight of him -- at the impatient scowl that took a moment to clear his face upon seeing her, and at the smear of light blue paste in the crease of his lips -- and her back straightened in willful pride, and with a curt nod, she walked away.

And afterwards, Logan didn't do a thing. She saw him once as she walked in the main entrance, as he was about to step into the lift to go the lower levels, and she caught his eye for a moment. Then even though she was the one to turn away first, she knew he'd been about to do the same.

There was just nothing to say, and it was convenient that she wore high-collared shirts, because they hid the tags she kept around her neck and more than anything else, she didn't want to talk about those.

***

When she accepted the Professor's offer to stay on at the mansion, Rogue specifically requested the smallest of the private rooms. With a soft bed, a small armoire instead of a closet, and a tiny but functional desk, the room was just large enough to achieve comfortable without being cramped.

She had a stack of homework on the desk, all of it neatly labeled with due dates and deadlines. College had crept up and she kept herself going by focusing on the dates; time somehow passed more fluidly when measured in irregular chunks and arbitrary importances. Anchorage had been made to wait; "after high school, before college" had been this shapeless mass of months that all boiled down to days, to hours, to minutes and striking moments when she could cause things that still gave her nightmares.

College had to happen, anyway, so better sooner than later, and the thought was okay because she could still stay at the mansion. Sarah Lawrence wasn't so bad, after a month or so, and wasn't so far away, and the Professor had waved away that concern with the provision of a car. And Rogue felt guilty at that; at that and the way that in the back of her mind, she remembered that everything -- *everything* -- came from him.

So she had spent the last year tucked away with plans for essays and scholarship applications and the exercises the Professor asked that she do, the meditation and focusing on her mutation. Like there was maybe some tangibility, something she was supposed to be able to feel, to hunt down and find and control so that she could stop hiding away to keep everyone safe.

She knew there wasn't, but she did it anyway. Because she had to. Because it was the thing to do, and she was trying to remember Marie, who had always done what had to be done, and who went to college in Bronxville.

***

She thought, the first time she saw him, that this was someone she should be afraid of. And yet she wasn't; the man *other* people were clamoring to attack was, perhaps, to be protected.

And his first hard glance at her at the bar confirmed it: this was someone who was used to being on the lookout. It was locked into his cold appraisal, the way she could see him calculating what kind of girl was out in the Alberta boonies, running through a list of all the schemes she could be about.

She found herself understanding a kind of man she'd never met before, understanding how he wasn't his own primary concern because he wanted to be, but because he had to be. And so it felt good to have him care, because she thought maybe everyone wanted to be able to get under somebody else's armor.

***

She spoke to him after two weeks of the sickening avoidance; it left a cold feeling in her to know he was there, at the school, and to not see him. And yet she wasn't exactly glad to see him at breakfast, the early serving that she took with the Professor and Scott and Jean and Ororo, and the students who got up early or the ones who were like Rogue, living at the mansion but going to nearby colleges. It was the first meal he'd shown up to eat in the main dining room, at least at any time when she was there.

Professor Xavier nodded at him with a warm smile. "Good morning, Logan."

Logan nodded back with the softest of grunts, and as he sat down at the far end of the main table, Rogue caught the flick of his eyes that fell in her direction. And she just turned her gaze down, to her omelet, and she was acutely aware that he wasn't joining in any conversation.

A younger student was saying something about not finishing her math homework and how she hated having to tell the professor she'd messed up, and her friend was nodding and doing the understanding thing, and he did it well, and Rogue took a sip of juice amidst it all just as she heard Scott say, clear as a bell and with marked tension, that this cleared up at least the breakfast portion of Logan's absences, as he was definitely not a morning person.

She stayed attentive to her food, to the task of eating, but listened, intent on hearing his voice, and the words twisted absently in her gut when he said, "What is there to wake up to? The scintillating conversation?"

And it was directed at Scott; she *knew* it was directed at him, but she stared down at her plate and wondered when she had been put into some category even farther removed than Scott, because Logan talked to Scott at least some.

So she finished her juice and took her plate and glass back to the kitchens, and when she returned to gather her books and head out to the garage, she had his metal chain and the attached tag tucked into the palm of her hand. And Logan was ignoring her again, but when she stood at his elbow, between he and Ororo, he finally looked up.

She let the chain and its tag fall to the wooden table with a clatter. "I thought I ought to be returnin' these," and she was surprised that her voice didn't waver at all. "To save you the trouble of askin', or anything."

She told herself she hadn't expected a response. And she hadn't, but she had hoped, because more than anything else Logan was reactionary, and sometimes needed to be provoked.

But she supposed it wasn't enough, or maybe she just couldn't stand there long enough to find out. Either way, the seconds she did stand staring at him seemed to stretch out, to become so long, and her so self-aware, that there wouldn't have been much difference had she reached out and touched his face.

His gaze fell away, and it looked so easy for him that she took a step back, and she barely remembered her bag back at her seat as she walked stiffly from the room.

***

She had become acutely aware of her clothing at all times; so used to being fully covered, she would find herself startled occasionally on the days she chose to wear short sleeves. Any unusual gap, any lightness where there would normally be the pressing brush of cloth, and she couldn't drag her mind away from it.

It was the same with the tags. The rustle of flesh-warmed metal under her shirts had become almost a part of her in the past year, and throughout the day she found her hand floating up to her collar, independently curious as to why the customary tickle was gone.

And she would remember as her fingers touched only the lonely skin of her own neck, and she would think about Logan looking away. She used to actually dream about it, before she started figuring that maybe he wouldn't be back at all; she had this one dream where he did come back, and when she gave him back the chain, he reached out and uncurled her fingers exactly as he had curled them in the first place.

Feeling his gentle grasp around her wrist, through the gloves, was enough to make it okay that giving him the chain meant giving him leave to go. To leave her, once and for all.

***

That day was Friday, which meant she drove to school in time for a nine o'clock class and stayed in Bronxville all day until after her three-thirty. And that particular Friday, she was talking to two almost-friends, Cole and Emily, after class, and for once she agreed to stick around campus for the evening.

They went to a diner for dinner, where Rogue was careful not to order any finger food, because she didn't want to deal with any glances. She was holding steady as it was; she knew that Cole and Emily let her clothing go, chalking it up to the weather, descending fast into winter, or to personal comfort or to religion, or something. Whatever their rationalizations, if they were happy making them, and being her friends, she was happy to let them do so. She just had to stay away from fried chicken.

Because sometimes it just felt nice to get away from the cloak of understanding, the stiflingly accepting camaraderie of the mansion and the school. Sometimes Rogue wanted the shared hardships to go away, and to be around people who only knew Marie, the southern day student. Sometimes she wanted to be the girl at the bar, picking her way through life on her own.

And so they talked and they laughed and Rogue said that maybe she would be able to meet Emily in Manhattan on Sunday, and it was after midnight when she slipped quietly back into the mansion and took off her shoes to walk silently to her room.

There was a floorboard that creaked halfway between the stairs and her room, and stepping on it was the only sound she heard besides the background reality of her own soft breathing. And she could have tuned anything else out; this was home where she was safe, and it was after midnight so everyone was long tucked away behind closed doors, but the nerves in her just wouldn't let her walk through shadows without attention.

And still, he noticed her first, because by the time she registered that Logan's door was open, she was hearing the soft rhythm of his feet inside, heading for her. She wanted to walk past, ignore him, make sure he *knew* she was angry, but he was walking towards her and wasn't it walking away that upset her in the first place? So maybe it wasn't even a gesture, but it was something, and maybe it wasn't everything, but it held enough water to force her to stop, two feet past the doorway.

When she looked back, Logan was just standing still, like he hadn't really expected her to stop and hadn't really needed her to, either. He leaned into the doorframe, fully dressed with his arms crossed, and his face was grim but she could somehow tell it had been much grimmer a few minutes before, before she had shown up, safe and well, if not very happy. And as she stood, her body turned away and her face tilted back, the furrows in his brow eased and he nodded the slightest bit, which told her scraps of what she needed to know.

She realized that this was when something needed to happen, if it was going to happen at all, so she turned back to fully face him and screwed up her nerve and said, "Shouldn't you be asleep?"

And he just raised an eyebrow, and she'd always hated when adults did that, when they threw things you said back at you as if you had no right to say anything in the first place. She felt like maybe that was his answer, to everything and to nothing all at once. Blinking back tears that hadn't been there until right that moment, she ducked her head. "Good night, Logan."

"Marie," and his voice was deadly calm against the shadows. He'd been sitting in the dark, in his room, waiting for *her*, and suddenly that hurt even more because it was hard to be caught in between mattering and being just another person. It was a no man's land, where Rogue was more isolated than anywhere.

He took a step forward and took her hand, and the dream hit her from behind. Because these were his fingers, loosing cradling the base of her arm and the back of her hand, replaying themselves from over a year ago and dropping dog tags into her palm. Her fingers closed against their will. "Don't you think I should be the one to decide when I need these back?"

She didn't think so, but she didn't tell him that. She didn't think she could bear admitting through dissent that letting him decide meant letting him walk out on her, when *he* chose. And if she was going to let him have all the power, it was going to be implicitly, only.

She pulled back her newly filled fist. "Good night, Logan," she said again, and she went to bed. She tucked the chain into the box of jewelry she kept around but never wore, and the sound of the lid closing sounded unnatural in the dense peace of the night.

***

She stayed in her room all day on Saturday, because that was the one place she knew she would never accidentally run into Logan; he would either come there or he wouldn't, and whichever it was, she knew what it meant.

And he didn't come, and she felt sleepy and useless all day, but her thoughts were boiling too hard and fast to curl into the comfort of sleep. She remembered a lot of days like that, after David; she would spend most of her time tucked into the corner of her room, and she slept there wrapped in a blanket because she wasn't sure she ever wanted to lie on that bed again.

And finally her father had mentioned a doctor, and she heard her parents arguing at night. Her mother was so scared; she didn't want to have the professional opinion that her baby girl was different, was a mutant. She wanted to ignore it, and let it all go away.

And Rogue had run, but now she thought she understood. Ignoring a thing might not be pleasant, but some things were a lot harder to face head-on.

***

She called Emily on Sunday morning and said she could come to New York City, and Scott drove her to the train station because she knew she wasn't up to driving in Manhattan. They took a zippy little Mustang, even though she'd playfully asked to take the bike since it was back. Scott had laughed and said maybe next time, and Rogue liked how Scott had become a friend, so that there was no doubt there would be a next time.

It was better this way, anyway, because she could look out the window and detach and ask, "Why did Logan come back?"

And Scott said, his voice bordering on disgusted, "I don't know why he does most of what he does," but then she could somehow feel him glancing at her. "I'm sorry. I just really don't know."

"But surely he's said *somethin'*."

"No, actually. He's not talking. I think he's even holding back from the Professor."

"Does anyone even know where he's been?" she pressed, and now she looked at Scott because she wasn't fooling anybody. This was morbid curiosity, and it was more important that she see him.

"I'm sure Professor Xavier has some idea," and then his jaw tightened. "Jean might. She hasn't said. Whatever they know, I think they've decided it's his to tell whenever he's willing."

"You don't think anything happened to him? Somethin'... somethin; bad?"

She didn't need to see Scott's eyes to know there was something wrong there, something he wasn't telling her. It was just there, and she felt sick as she waited for him to carefully choose his words.

"Nothing that he isn't recovered from now, obviously," he finally equivocated.

Rogue narrowed her eyes and leveled an unconvinced stare at Scott's profile. "That doesn't mean much for Logan and we both know it."

"Rogue... okay. We knew he was hurt once, back in June. But it wasn't anything serious enough that we needed to go to him. And as for telling you-- we thought it was best, then, and now... now he should be the one to tell you."

"But he isn't talkin' to me," she said softly. "He didn't even tell me he was *here*."

Scott cursed under his breath, and Rogue knew she hadn't helped his opinion of Logan. "At all?"

"I heard it from some students."

"Dammit," he said, audibly now. "He shouldn't have... son of a bitch."

"Scott."

"I'm sorry."

And Scott was silent for a few minutes as they drove, but when they got into town and hit the traffic of people on their way to church, he sighed. "Not that it does much good living around psychics, but you didn't hear this from me."

"Okay."

"Thanks."

Rogue turned her face out the side window again and watched a mother pull her small son through the front doors of a church. "I wish you'd've told me."

"I know," and Scott sounded mad at himself, or at Logan, or at something entirely beyond everyone's control. "And we would have, if it were something in which we ended up having to intervene. But we didn't want you to worry."

"I always worry," she said, and they didn't say much after that. She was right on time for her train, and Scott told her to just call when she knew what time she would be getting back.

***

She hadn't been on a train since that last time, with Logan next to her, and so it was a relief that the trip passed quietly. And the way the temperatures had dropped over the weekend was also a relief, so she could swath herself in her coat and gloves and a thick scarf she'd made herself, and she actually felt safe with the swiftly moving crowd in the city.

Emily was waiting at the station, just as she said she would be, and Rogue was glad because she hadn't been to New York City in ten years, since she was eight and had stayed with her aunt -- dead now -- during her parents' second honeymoon. Caroline had been so much younger than Rogue's mother, had bustled with energy and shown Rogue all there was to see.

And when she'd gotten sick, and later died, Rogue had listened to her mother cry herself to sleep, and she had wondered what made it hurt so badly to lose someone for whom you cared.

But Emily was there, and she pulled Rogue along to the street, and they spent the day just walking and shopping. Rogue found a knee-length wool skirt that Emily said was perfect, and she bought it along with two pairs of sturdy, heavy tights.

She took a train back in the early evening after calling Scott and telling him what time she'd be in. By the train, Emily had hugged her before she could even think to avoid it, to worry about her exposed face, and nothing happened so she smiled, and Emily just said, "See you in class tomorrow, Marie."

Scott was waiting at the station, and he didn't look happy but he smiled anyway and asked how her day had been. She told him little details, and at the mansion she thanked him and went to her room.

Logan's door was closed, but there was a scrap of paper shoved under hers. It said, 'I eat lunch in the main library at noon'.

***

She tucked the note away and tried not to think about it, because he'd only mentioned lunch and she was busy all week at school until at least early afternoon. That was actually almost a comfort, because it made the thought of seeing Logan and talking to Logan a non- issue. But then on Wednesday her only class, the one at eleven-fifty, was cancelled, and there was no reason not to go home so she found herself walking in at a quarter past noon.

And she only went because the library had a side entrance that was on the way up to her room to put her bag away, and because it was a quarter past and she didn't think Logan was the type to dawdle over a meal, so maybe he wouldn't be there anyway but maybe he would, and the uncertainty felt right because she wasn't all that sure she wanted to see him, after all.

But there he was, sprawled in one of the huge reading chairs, and by then it was too late because she knew him, knew him so well even though he was no longer in her head and hadn't been for a year, and she knew he'd known as soon as she walked in.

So she kept her feet going and there was another chair pulled up close, and it hit her that there weren't usually two chairs back in this particular corner of the library. But now there were, so she sank into the extra one and Logan was looking at her, his eyes a glinting yellow-brown that reminded her of how the honey bear back in Meridian had looked, set against the darkly finished wood paneling behind the kitchen counter.

"My class was cancelled," she said, as if she had to explain. She did, in a way, have to explain that it had been class that kept her away for three days, but also that she was only here now because she had nothing better to do.

And she saw that he understood both sides of the comment, saw it in the way he nodded with a vague and rueful smile. "Already eat?" he asked.

"No," and she hesitated for a moment. "I was just stoppin' in, since it seemed like you invited me and all."

He nodded again, but his gaze was sharp. "Go get some food, huh? I'm not going anywhere."

She shook her head. "I'm not hungry."

"You eating right? You've gotten thinner."

And she knew what he meant, from long and scrutinizing minutes spent looking in the mirror; her face had narrowed and her body had gotten slimmer. "I had a little bit more growin' to do, Logan. I eat fine."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah," she said, and she was suddenly tired of how he treated her. "You know, nobody's forcing you to keep that promise. I don't need you protectin' me anymore."

"Don't you?" he asked, and there was the rough glint in his voice she hadn't heard directed towards her since he'd told her to get out and then done an about-face to let her right back in.

It was a lie, but she said, "No," and looked away, letting her gaze roam over the walls and ceiling.

"Guess not," he muttered, and it hurt because he wasn't supposed to agree. "School okay?"

"It's school," she replied, and he laughed at that, like he understood even though he really probably didn't because god, when had he last been in school, anyway? "It's... it can be fun. I've made some friends."

"Good... good. They know?"

"No." She frowned and forced herself to look back at him, even though she felt like she was fourteen again, when looking right into a boy's eyes seemed awkward. "I don't want to talk about them."

"Okay."

It bothered her that he was acting like everything was easy, and was up to her, when it wasn't and it wasn't and she couldn't really remember why she was there in the first place. She stood up. "I have things to do."

His hand on her arm was gentle, but she felt her glove slip and pulled away, staring at him and swallowing hard. "Wait?" he asked.

And she didn't want to but she sat back down even as she said, "I really should go. I have exercises the Professor wants me to do, and --"

"Exercises?" Logan cut in suspiciously. "What kind of exercises?"

Rogue shrugged. "I dunno. Mental things. He says maybe someday I can get a little bit of control over... over it, maybe so I don't always have to be so afraid of accidents. I don't think he has much hope, though."

"So why do you do it?"

"Maybe I'm the one hoping, Logan," she said quietly, and he looked unsettled.

"You know, I'm sorry."

"Oh," she said, because she couldn't think of anything else. "Okay."

"Nice try," he told her wryly. "You're pissed."

"I'm not," she lied.

"I hope you are, kid. You should be. And you've got Cyclops after my hide, too."

She felt vaguely guilty at that, at understanding why Scott must have looked upset at the train station. "I didn't -- I didn't mean for him to -- We were just talkin' and it came out."

"What came out?"

She closed her eyes because she didn't want to see him; she felt like maybe she didn't want any hint of his reaction. "That I didn't even know you'd come back. What did he say?"

"The usual. Don't sweat it; I'm amazed he lasted that long, anyway."

"Scott's real nice, Logan. You should give him a chance."

He let that one pass and she heard him take a long drink of whatever he had in his glass. "Anyway. Think we can get off on a better foot, here?"

"I doubt it."

"C'mon, Marie, I'm sor --"

"You shouldn't call me Marie," she said, and she stood up again. "You know what I am. Don't call me Marie."

And she left, and she didn't do her meditation that day because if she thought about control she thought about being able to be touched, and for the first time, that was the thing that ended up scaring her.

***

When he walked into dinner that night, everyone stopped talking for a few moments. Even Jean and Professor Xavier paused and seemed surprised, and Rogue was caught between wanting to laugh at how if anyone could surprise *them*, it would naturally be Logan, and wishing she had Kitty's power because the wall right behind her led to the hall right near the stairs.

Logan just ignored it all and sauntered through the room, and because Rogue was sitting at the end of one long side of the table, and there wasn't a chair at the other edge of the corner, he snagged one on his way. And he set it down and sat on it backwards, his arms folded on the back, and stared at Rogue and she stared at him, her eyes wide and her skin flushed.

"You almost done?" he asked quietly, as if she were the only one in the room and there were no need to pay attention to anyone else.

"Logan," she started to plead.

"Let's go," he insisted, a wild but teasing glint in his eyes. "Unless you want me to sit here and watch you eat and tell you all I've been up to in front of everyone. I really don't want to do that, Marie."

"I told you, don't call me --"

"Let's go. I'll buy you dinner in town."

She narrowed her eyes and clenched her jaw and when she stood up, her chair made a loud sound against the floor. Everyone was talking again, by then, either disinterested or giving her some semblance of privacy, and only Professor Xavier watched carefully as she grabbed her plate and hurried out.

She was halfway to her room before she even knew he was following her, and by then he was grabbing her arm and hauling her into his own room. She whirled on him, but the door clicked shut and he leaned against it and she wanted to cry because he looked so damn sorry and his eyes were darting as he tried to figure out what to say. "I need you to listen to me, okay?"

She didn't understand how her anger could fade so fast, but it did and she just stood there with her arms folded and an expression of suspicious curiosity on her face. Because she wanted to know, and she needed to know, and she was suddenly sure that if she didn't listen now he might give up so that it would be another three weeks until they hit critical mass again.

"I'm listenin'," she finally murmured, and her arms dropped.

"Okay," he said, and he nodded. "Okay... I'm a jerk."

"Don't say that," she said automatically.

"I am, and you know it," and now he looked briefly amused. "It had nothing to do with you. I was wrapped up in myself and I didn't *think*, and then you came by and you were mad, and you had a right to be, and I couldn't figure out how to make it right again."

It was too simple, and it didn't explain enough, but somehow it was just right. It was his brand of apology; it was honest and imperfect and had it been any different, she thought she might have gotten even angrier. But now she just granted him a small, friendly smile, and she turned to walk a little deeper into the room. "All right," she said slowly, then abruptly felt very shy. "What was it you were sayin' about a better foot?"

He chuckled behind her and she heard footsteps as he went and slung himself on the end of the bed. "Just like that?"

She shrugged, turning back to him and feeling suddenly flushed at how relaxed he looked, sitting on the bed and watching her intently. "Not just like that," she disagreed. "But somethin' close to it."

And he laughed again, but it was tighter this time. "You got a good head on your shoulders, you know that? Maybe you were right and I don't need to worry about you anymore."

"I never said I didn't want you worryin' about me. I was sayin' that maybe protection isn't what I need."

"Yeah? So what do you need?" he asked, his voice low and gently grating against the air.

Rogue took a minute to answer, carefully sweeping her eyes around the room and cataloguing all the details, and then with slow and deliberate steps, she went and hopped up onto the bed by the headboard, diagonal from Logan. "Where'd you go?"

He nodded slightly and she liked how he seemed to understand her most of the time. "Back to Canada."

"Did you find anything? About-- about your past?"

His eyes darkened and he looked away. "Let's just say I found enough to know I wasn't up to looking much more. Not now, anyway."

"You got hurt."

The look on his face almost scared her as he glanced up at her, but he didn't ask how she knew and so she didn't press and ask how it happened. "Yeah," he muttered. "But I got better."

"You don't want to talk about this," she said softly, and it wasn't so much a question.

"I want to tell you whatever you want to know."

She played with the edge of the bedspread. "Are you stayin' awhile?"

And he finally smiled again. His brow smoothed out and his gaze was soft, affectionate. "Yeah, I think so."

"You better," she warned gently, but she smiled at him and tried not to bite her lip when he moved a little closer. "Otherwise I might have to get really upset."

"The horror," he teased dryly. "So. The geeks convinced you to go to college, huh?"

Rogue giggled before she could stop herself, then felt acutely girlish and choked it off. "Logan!" She paused and narrowed her eyes playfully. "I mean, really, I didn't need convincin'."

He stared at her for a moment and he seemed stunned, but then his jaw dropped open and he just laughed. And he laughed longer and harder and fell onto his back with his head near Rogue's leg, and she realized she'd never, ever actually seen him laugh like this, so she started giggling again and couldn't stop.

And eventually it died down, and Logan took a deep breath and started to sit up again. But his hand came down on Rogue's ankle as he pressed down for leverage, and she didn't move and he didn't sit up, after all. He twisted his head back to look at her, and she was wearing her new skirt with tights that weren't so thick after all, so his hand was hot and strong.

There was no laughing anymore, and she could feel her lips trembling slightly as his hand flexed and his fingers tightened a bit around skin and muscle and bone. "Logan," she breathed, but that was all she could get out, because he rolled over and adjusted some, switching one hand for the other, and now his palm slid up to rest on her shin and there was no pressure, none at all, but it was somehow still firm and heavy against her.

"Tell me about these exercises of Xavier's," he said, staring hard at her.

She shook her head, but wondered if he could tell at all when her whole body was shaking, too. "They-- they're nothin'. I think he just came up with them to make me feel better."

"And do you? Feel better?"

"I feel... Logan, I don't know how I feel." She closed her eyes and there was something there in that darkness, pressing in and wrapping itself around her brain, and it made her skin itch all around where Logan's hand was. So she looked at him again and reached forward and grabbed his hand in her gloved one, wanting, *needing* to make it better, and she pressed it away and scrambled off the bed. "I-- I have some-- there's this paper I have to write," she offered lamely.

He sat up at last, twisting to follow her with his eyes as she hurried for the door. "Hey. Just... I was thinking, you know, if you ever needed to, you know, see if that hocus-pocus was doing anything... I'm probably the safest person to help you check it out."

He was staring at her so hard and she could see that he *meant* it, meant it more than maybe anything he'd ever said in his life, and that scared her like she never would have expected. "You're not safe at all, Logan," she whispered, and opened the door. "And I don't know that I want you back in my head."

***

She could remember him being there before, and it had been both the most comforting and the most devastating thing ever. Because he was there, and it had lasted for weeks, with the very last remnants stretching out for months after he'd gone. Little hints, like the night she been in town with Bobby and Kitty and had caught a whiff of cigar smoke on the street, and the craving hit her so hard and fast she found herself tempted to slip away from her friends and go try to buy one, even without ID.

And she once slammed her thumb in her desk, and the words that came out of her mouth would have shocked her mother into a silent stupor, and Rogue hadn't even known she *knew* those words until they streamed out and Kitty was staring at her just like her mother would have done.

So sometimes it was nice, to know he was lingering, lurking in her head and reminding her that she hadn't imagined how he was, not at all, but it faded, more and more. The healing was gone before even he was; the very morning he woke up she bit her tongue, and it stung for the rest of the day. And once those weeks had passed, as if it all went on the same schedule of her coming to the realization that he had drifted out of her life, she was painfully aware that the shades of his personality were few and far between within her mind.

She felt like she had on the road again-- lonely, and far away from anything familiar and warm.

***

She worked on a paper late into the night, because she needed to do something and trying to sleep would do no good, and the next morning she felt weary and drained as she ate her pancakes with her head bowed, at one of the side tables where nobody else sat because the early breakfast was never even crowded enough to fill the main table.

So she didn't notice anything until there was noise across from her where there had been none, and she looked up and Logan was there, hunched over a plate of scrambled eggs. She watched him for a moment, the way he scowled intently at his food and stabbed into it with a fork as if eating were a chore, and she struggled not to laugh as the chunks of egg crumbled beneath his advances.

"Good morning," she finally murmured, and he flicked his gaze up to her and Scott was right, he wasn't a morning person. But he smiled and said, "I hate scrambled eggs."

"You should have gotten the pancakes. They're always good."

"I like sausage," and he left it at that. 'You got class today?"

"Every day. Today until three."

"Wanna blow this joint and do something later, when you get back?"

She blinked at him, because he looked so hesitant and because she really hadn't expected anything of the sort. "Logan, I-- Tomorrow would be better. Friday, the weekend?"

He seemed to relax a bit, and leaned back in his seat and watched her thoughtfully. "I'm sorry, you know."

"I thought we-- "

"No, for... It's not right that you had to deal with all my stuff in your head. It couldn't have been very pleasant."

"Oh, Logan, you don't understand!" she cried, and she didn't know how to tell him things she'd never wanted to admit to anyone, ever, especially not him. "I didn't mean it like that, what I said. I-- If I let you back in, I have to let you go again." She felt herself turn what had to be a horrible shade of red. "I hated when you faded away and you were really gone."

"Marie-- "

"Why do you keep callin' me that?" she asked, more out of curiosity than anything else.

"Why don't you want me to?"

And she realized she wasn't actually sure; there were borders and differences in her head, different things to be in different places but he got in there and he messed it all up, and nothing was so certain as it was when he wasn't there. "I-- I don't know. Because it's for people who don't know who I am. Before I... and at school, where I'm just a little strange, but not a... Marie just wanted to be normal."

"Nothing so wrong with that," he said gruffly. "I like Marie. It's a nice name."

She sighed heavily, but his words made her happy in a way she wasn't ready to show. "I shouldn't've expected you to do anythin' like anyone else," she muttered in good humor. "Just not around others, okay?"

"Deal," he said, and he grinned at her. "Tomorrow? You promise? You're not gonna ditch me?"

She smiled slightly and stood up. "I promise. But I gotta ditch you now, or I'll be late."

"You're breaking my heart, here."

She tried to ignore that he hadn't said it in a teasing tone, but she took a few minutes to run back up to her room and get the tags from her jewelry box. It felt good to have them around her neck again.

***

She felt restless in her classes during the day, and she wasn't paying a lot of attention as she drove home, but she made it back to the mansion and she was on her way to put her bag away when her eye caught the door of Professor Xavier's office, and she knew he didn't have any classes right then so she took a deep breath and knocked.

And he called her in and pleasantries were exchanged and she liked how she always felt comfortable in this office. It had taken her a long time to stop feeling guilty around him, to stop feeling as though he should blame her for all the trouble of the year before. Eventually his assurances actually sank in and he did so much for her, and it was nothing she'd ever expected to find when she'd left home.

But none of it at all had been expected, and she had learned to live with that, along with so much else.

Now he was smiling at her and waiting patiently, and she didn't know how to ask what she needed to ask, so she asked him into her mind instead. He took his look, peered around and she wondered at how she felt all right with that, with letting him know everything that wanted to bubble its way out but that she kept in because it was all too much to reveal.

And after a few minutes, he sat back, and he said, "I have a great deal of confidence in your ability to make wise decisions, Rogue."

She nodded, though she wasn't sure where he was going. "I'm glad. That you trust me, I mean."

"I do. You're very much like Scott, sometimes; being unable to pass as perfectly typical in the world makes you very aware of your impact, doesn't it?"

And she nodded again, her mouth dry and her eyes wide, serious, and he went on. "I admit, Rogue, that when I asked you to do your meditations, I didn't think there would be much success."

"I didn't think so," she whispered.

"Yes, I wouldn't suppose I had fooled you. But you should know that I do have some hope, have gained more over the past year."

She glanced at him sharply, surprised. "You do? You... have?"

"Indeed I have. And I wonder, as you do, how you'll ever gauge your own success if you don't test yourself."

She wasn't sure that was what she had wanted to hear, but then she supposed that she had come to the Professor in the first place because he wasn't guaranteed to give the desired answer, because he wouldn't do the skilled self-avoidance at which her own mind had gotten so good. "You think I should let Logan-- I should... "

Professor Xavier gave her the warm smile that had somehow come to mean he'd said all he had to say. "I think this is not a decision to be taken lightly, Rogue, and you already know that. I will understand whichever choice you make, and support you in it."

She left as confused as she had been in going, but in different ways, and she skipped both dinner and breakfast because the thought of going made her feel strangely ill.

***

Cole asked her to stay in Bronxville for the evening the next day, and Emily hadn't been in class so she knew it would be just them, and it made her start trembling when she realized he was asking her out, even though she was quiet and dressed funny.

And she wanted to say yes; then she remembered Logan and her promise and she still wanted to say yes, wanted to hide and be Marie to people who didn't know her any other way. But she told him she had obligations, and that she would see him on Monday, and after class got out she sat in the sturdy Accord the professor had given her to use for nearly half an hour before she started the engine and drove home.

She knocked on Logan's door when she got there, but he didn't answer so she went to her room and left the door open, and she sat on the bed with her arms wrapped around her knees to wait.

But he didn't come, so she curled up on her side and she must have fallen asleep, because when she heard her name called, soft and gently coaxing, she mumbled, "Five more minutes," but the answering laugh wasn't her mother's.

And she snapped her eyes open and Logan was watching her, sitting on the edge of the bed, and the door was closed and his hand was resting on her shoulder. She sat up, pulled away, and she wished he didn't have that way of looking like he could maybe dig right into her soul with his eyes. "I-- What time is it?" she stammered.

"After five. I was wondering if you'd changed your mind... You weren't at breakfast."

"I promised, didn't I?"

"That doesn't mean you didn't change your mind."

She didn't think she could stand him sounding like that, stand him giving her an out and saying that she, in the end, had more control than she would let herself believe. She reached for his hand and then closed her eyes briefly, and said, "I didn't change my mind."

"You're not too tired."

"I'm not tired."

"And you have no intention of setting off illegal explosive devices within the town limits?"

She laughed and let him pull her up, off the bed. "How's about we just wait and see on that one?"

"Fair's fair, I guess," he said with a grin.

In the garage, she pulled out her keys. "I'm drivin'."

"I don't know-- "

She gave him a look that said certain volumes about the last time she'd been in a car with him driving, and just said, "And you're wearin' your seatbelt."

***

They went to town and had dinner in a small family restaurant, and afterwards they just walked for awhile and talked about nothing much at all, because truth be told there wasn't much else to do in Salem Center, even on a Friday night.

And it wasn't too late when they got back, but if wasn't early, either, and they were quiet as they walked down the upstairs hallway. They stopped at Logan's door because it was first, and Rogue was feeling calm and happy, so she bit her lower lip for a second and then said, "I decided maybe you were right, if you were still willin' and all."

"I was right about something?"

"Probably about a lot of things," she admitted with a mock glare. "No, I mean, about the checkin' my control. I talked to the Professor and he said... he said somethin' about maybe whatever I decide being the right thing. That's how it sounded to me, at least."

"And... you decided I'm right?" Logan asked slowly.

She nodded slowly and chose her words. "How I told you the other day that maybe I'm the one who needs to be able to hope... I do need that, I don't know why I've been botherin' with these exercises if I don't ever plan on findin' anything out." And she took a deep breath and thought about how well hope stacks against itself. "So I wondered if maybe you were still up for a try."

"What if you wind up with me in your head again?"

She looked up at him and just shrugged. "I'll have to make sure that after it fades, you're not really gone for good."

And that seemed to be good enough for him, because he opened his door and nodded her in, and she felt a little sick to her stomach as she sat cross-legged on the bed. Logan sat right across from her, and he looked a little like she felt, worried and hesitant and not at all sure how this was going to go. And he finally just asked, "So... what do we do?"

She had to smile at his tone. "It's not *really* hocus-pocus, Logan. I-- I'll just close my eyes and concentrate, and when I think I'm ready, I'll-- We'll find out if I'm right or not."

He just nodded, so she peeled off one glove and rested her hands on her knees, and then the only things she knew were the soft whistles of breath and the occasional scrape of gently moving air across the back of her bare hand, and there was the rush of thought that always came at first when she deliberately tried to stop thinking so *much*.

It was almost too quiet, and she thought she could feel Logan's eyes drilling into her, but she ignored it all and this was what she'd been working on for a year; this was something she was good at, and she sank lower and lower into the one thought, the one she was always secretly cherishing way back in her mind. The thought that she wasn't helpless, that she could be like the others and decide *when* to walk through a wall or turn something to ice, or rather when pull to someone in so that they stayed there, inside her.

And that was all there was when she opened her eyes. Logan was staring at her, like she'd known he was, but she didn't let herself feel scared or nervous or anything else as she dropped her eyes to their hands, so close together, and she lifted hers and let it settle carefully on top of his.

She'd never ever dreamed of asking him what it had felt like, the other times she'd touched him. She didn't want to know; she knew too well her own side of the equation, the rush of things so foreign, so very much not a part of her, and because she knew what an electrifying jolt it was to receive it all, how overwhelming it was for *her*, she didn't want to know what it must feel like to have it all sucked out, that fast, to feel yourself being nudged toward death.

And there was the niggling doubt she couldn't rid herself of; there was a tiny fear, lurking, braced against feeling any of it again. Logan was familiar, yes, but she'd gone a year without him and it wouldn't be pleasant getting him back.

So something inside her broke, in slow-motion, in relief, in shock at the absolute still quiet that remained, and she felt her eyes get wider and it was terrifying because *nothing* was happening and she realized, somehow, that she was too surprised and might lose control. Even though her fingers longed for more, ached to explore the ridges of his knuckles and just feel flesh, something akin to itself, for the first time in so long, she started to slowly draw back.

Logan looked as surprised as she felt, and he caught her arm around the wrist, where her sleeve still provided a barrier. "Keep concentrating," he growled. "Just for a minute. Don't let it go."

And she couldn't deny him anything, not after offering her this chance, not after giving himself over to her need for possibility, and so she squeezed her eyes shut and tried to keep everything calm and still in her head.

She felt his breath first, one low puff against her cheek. And then there was the rustle of hair, the bristle it made against the soft, isolated skin of her face. She could feel herself losing it, just from that; she could feel the turmoil start again but it was too late, because he was kissing her, off-center and at the corner of her mouth, and he was breathing against her and then his lips shifted and he was there, pressing the tangibility of her saddest dreams right against her mouth.

And she lost it, really lost it, at the same moment as tears welled up and flooded over. Everything that was Logan started seeping into her in the brief moment that passed before she could rip herself away, and she wanted to scramble up and out entirely but he was still holding her arm, holding her still and close and she could have hated him for it if only she didn't love him so much more.

Her eyes were open again and she was lost in his, they were so close and full and he was still breathing; she wondered how he even remembered because she kept catching herself holding air in, or keeping it out, but he was breathing and it was on her, coating her. His fingers squeezed into her wrist; his face was still so close; his other hand was rubbing with his particular brand of pure intent on her knee; he was breathing, saying, hissing, "You're okay. It's okay. Let yourself know what you just did."

He didn't seem to get that knowing was the very problem; she let out a broken cry and wrenched out of his grasp to hurry out, and she didn't sleep at all that night.

***

She had forgotten what having a hint of him within her was like, had forgotten the taste of a cigar and the allure of a tall, angular woman, and the pleasure of drowning in a glass of the cheapest beer available.

And when she skated her fingers over her own belly, across her skin, she felt too delicate to herself. She ached with the absence of muscle and hair that she'd never really had, and she wanted to scream at being so small. She spent the weekend curled in bed behind her locked door, ignoring the occasional knocks, clutching the dog tags around her neck for their merciful familiarity.

By Sunday evening it was fading, was bearable once again, and she crawled out of bed and took a long, hot shower, and she had forgotten so completely about eating that she didn't realize how hungry she was until her knees buckled as she combed her hair.

Dinner was close to ending when she got to the dining room; there were a dozen students dawdling over their meals, and Ororo was hunched in conversation with Jean, long- empty plates and glasses in front of them both. Rogue made her way carefully into the kitchen and filled a plate with food, and she briefly remembered what her father used to say about her eyes being bigger than her stomach but stacked a little more on her plate, anyway.

She chose a seat off in one corner and ate slowly, but with determination, and she watched the students drift out,, mostly in pairs. Ororo glanced up from her talk with Jean at one point, and she smiled at Rogue, so Rogue smiled back and then dipped her head back to eating.

She didn't look up even as the chair next to hers was pulled out, or as Logan sat down and leaned in so that his upper arm brushed hers. "Hey," he said quietly. "Thought maybe you'd never come out."

"I'm sorry," she whispered, and there was no way she could look at him. "I didn't mean for anything to-- I'm sorry."

"Marie." He nudged her with his shoulder. "You've got me in there again, don't you?"

"Yeah."

"Then I'm the one who needs to be sorry." He coughed slightly. "I still don't think it's right for you to have to deal with the likes of me being in your mind... I shouldn't have let this happen."

Now she did look at him, startled and upset. "Don't say that."

"It's the truth."

"No!" she hissed. "Logan, I-- I'm sorry because I-- I messed it all up. I was so close, and I lost it, and all I could *do* was run away."

"You know, I understand that better than you probably think I do."

"You do?"

"Why do you think I wound up back here in the first place? Marie, you and I've got some dark spaces. It's no surprise that we try to avoid them sometimes."

She searched his eyes for something, anything to give her a hint he was just trying to make her feel better, but it wasn't there. And so she allowed herself to nod, and he winked. "Xavier's pretty amazed, you know."

And she started to gasp, though she didn't know why. The reaction for the day, she supposed; if surprise was what came first, then surprise must be what she felt. "You told Professor Xavi-- "

"He knew, so he asked," and Logan looked briefly puzzled at his own words. "Anyway, we didn't talk about... well. But he's impressed."

"He is?"

"Hell, yeah."

She felt some thrill go through her at that, and she tried to sort it out as Logan snagged a bit of breaded something from her plate and sniffed it. "It's okra," she said absently. "What'd he say? About me?"

"Well, that you're pretty smart and have a strong mind, which I already knew, and then he mentioned that you're kind of a pain but you keep quiet so everyone puts up with you--"

"Logan!" she cried, laughing, and she swung around to face him more and her arm hit his chest. And he caught it before she could pull away and kept her hand in his, so when she tried to focus like she needed to there was still the way her hand felt so engulfed by his, far in the back of her thoughts. "Logan, really. What did he say?"

"He said he was glad it worked, because he thought you'd come to terms with hopelessness a little too well."

She bit her lip and could feel her face getting red, and she let him massage her palm without resisting. "I-- I should feel more guilty than I do," she confessed suddenly.

"Guilty."

"Guilty... I like having you back, now that it's faded some. I like-- yesterday it was so strange, like it was last time, like everything was so different. I didn't know where you stopped and I began, and that's so scary, Logan, not bein' able to find myself." She saw him start to look angry with himself, and she rushed on. "But today it's real nice again, 'cause there's me and then there's you, and I'm sorry for being a little glad that I didn't pull away in time."

He leaned back in his chair, still lightly rubbing her hand, and watched her thoughtfully. "That's... flattering."

She smiled and curled her fingers to squeeze around his, then stood up and gathered her plate and glass. "I should go put these away."

He nodded. "You coming back?"

"I'm comin' back," she agreed. "No more runnin', I promise."

***

Epilogue

Her eyes darted over the opposite wall of her room, catching the spots where light caught the rich, dark varnish. Like the blinding spots on a lake, like grass shining a green she could hardly believe existed beneath summer sun.

They caught her, and her vision clouded, blurred, dropped against the sharp invasion of brilliance. The door provided pressure that wrapped against her back, stable and sure, and she felt the floor holding her as well, but it was Logan, always Logan, that kept her from slipping away. "Careful," she whispered to herself, and her hand paused at the command.

Smooth flesh curved beneath her thumb, vaguely slick with oil; the swelling sensation of hair as it rose into being under her palm made her think of the contour maps on the classroom walls in fourth grade with the changes in texture. And she felt him swallow, felt muscles flex their way back along his jaw, and she scraped her fingers along his ear. "Say somethin' to me."

And his mouth opened and he was talking, talking of things that meant nothing but that filled her ears with reality. She slid her fingers down to rest across his lips; they moved and he wasn't kissing her, but he was, because they moved against her skin and they were slick, and his breath was moist and warm and she couldn't hear the words anymore, and the glints of light on the wall all coalesced into a watery, blurry sheen.

There were too many thoughts, the way there always were; four times now and it seemed there was too much that went along with the feel of his flesh. Even without the connection flooding open, he could slip his way in, and she didn't think he would ever be able to fade out of her again. And thoughts like that filled her mind and took up all the space, and there was no room left for clamping down with control.

"I'm losing it," she finally said, and his hand came up to pull her away, and he laced his fingers with hers as he said softly, "Okay."

And they had a few more seconds until she felt the rush begin, and then he had her glove ready so she could slip her arm in and let her head fall forward. He was pulling her into his arms, his hands easing her face against the protected surface of his chest, and she loved how he had taken to holding her and saying her name, just once, before falling into a silence so she could absorb what she'd taken.

Protecting her, and so his promise was kept.

**end**