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life less static

Life Less Static
by Molly
September 2000

***
statˇic
Function: adjective
2: of or relating to bodies at rest or forces in equilibrium
3: showing little change
4: characterized by a lack of movement, animation, or progression
***

Had anyone over asked-- and Xavier came close, but didn't, really-- if I was happy with my life, I would have said yes, no hesitations. Still would, even if it did start seeming a little less... satisfying. I had no complaints about roaming around; I like to drive and I'm not much for feeling trapped or attached. Doesn't take a genius to figure out why-- even the little bits of memory I've gotten from bad dreams are enough to clue me in on one hell of a reason to value being able to pick up and split, any time.

And I've never really needed any more psychobabble than that. I didn't *want* Xavier poking around up top and figuring me out; I just wanted to get things taken care of there and get out. As things go, it wasn't that easy, but what the hell. I managed, and life went on. I went back to what I knew, what I was happy with.

Except I did veer up to Lake Alkali. It was a deserted pit of a bump in the road, the kind of place the phrase 'blink and you'll miss it' was coined for. Having the government roll in once upon a time had to be the most excitement that little plot of the world had ever seen, or ever would again. It's like the frigid wasteland version of having fifteen minutes of fame.

So I went, and at the very least I picked up on something new about my past: whatever the hell had happened, my dreams are rotten for a reason. The base hadn't stood up well to so many Canadian winters without maintenance, and I had to paw through a lot rubble and animal shit and packed ice to get a sense of anything.

My sense was, it was just a miserable place. There was a lot of equipment left behind that must've looked shiny and pristine back in the day, all glittery surfaces and promises of a smarter future. Now it just looked like the trashed set of an old science-fiction show. I shouldn't have bothered reminding myself that it wasn't fiction. It was a waste of the few days it took to find the place.

I could have gone back to New York then, back to Xavier and Jean and the righteous fight, whatever it was. Instead I just went back to my kind of fighting. I won enough money within a few weeks to put Scott's bike in storage and buy an old junkheap of a truck, and the months just kept passing. I thought about them, and the school; of course I did, but I didn't feel like going back. So I didn't. Easy, and life did its thing of going on. Even if I did wonder sometimes what was happening back in New York.

***

The thing about fighting is that it's easy, and for someone like me, in a place like northern Canada, it's lucrative. I've made a lot of money fighting big dumb shits--and maybe one in every hundred realizes there's something a little *off* about my recovery time. The audience is the same way--they only see what they want to see. I used to expect them to catch on and start betting against the idiots I fought.

But they never really did, and maybe they just didn't want to. I guess if you're in the mentality of enjoying watching people have the shit kicked out of them, you might also pray for that extra thrill of having the infallible fall and profiting from it.

The money was nice because I did get sick of all sometimes, and I always had enough saved to just let it all go for a month or two. I spent most of March just loafing around out west, around Vancouver. And when I got sick of the city and its people and all their rushing and yelling and whining, I went back east. It's quieter out in the middle of nowhere; you can think what you think and be left alone with it.

***

Then later in the summer I took off again, farther east this time to Ontario. I took Scott's bike; it was warm enough and I decided I should fix it up and figure out how to get it back to him. He was probably about ready to kill me over that, and in no way am I denying that knowledge amused the hell out of me.

That should've tipped me off right there, the suddenly wanting to unload the damn bike. The thinking about Scott, which brought about thinking about Jean and how fun it was to make her look at me like I was beyond hope. Most people make that a bad look. She made it kind of rewarding.

I shrugged it off, though. I wasn't ready to think about the school or anyone living there--or that's what I told myself, anyway. I had a dingy little apartment and found a place to play cards, and that brought some money coming in, and it was a distraction, anyway, which kept my mind off pointless things like wonderings and what-ifs. Sometimes I'd hear stuff about mutants and some new uproar in the States. Nothing ever too serious, though; but then, some things seemed so oddly toned down I had to figure Xavier and them had pulled some strings or snapped their fingers or whatever.

I thought about Rogue a couple of times, just passing thoughts wondering if she was doing okay. I figured she was, since she seemed pretty resilient. First time she popped into my thoughts I was actually surprised-- I was in a diner and glaring at a bunch of stupid, giggle teenagers and just suddenly wished they could all be quiet and show some intelligence like Rogue did. And after that, she was another of those things that came up once in awhile. I'd liked her, for all the time I'd known her, which wasn't much; she hadn't acted like a dumb kid.

I hate kids. Another reason I kept telling myself I shouldn't go back.

***

I did, though. By August I had to get moving. I'd stuck to a small town and it was actually pretty okay, and I wasn't sick of it, really, but finding myself in one place for more than two months made me nervous. Moving on was what I'd always done. Besides, the bike was back in top form, so it was time to get rid of it somehow.

I didn't think too much about deciding to drive it back myself. I could have worked something else out, I'm sure, but there was a decision to be made and I just made it. That's just how I do things.

First thing I remembered after I arrived was how Xavier has this way of seeming like he always expects everything that happens. Having personally witnessed him surprised, that kind of thing still seems out of place to me. I showed up with one foot still in the mindset that I wouldn't be back there for a long time, and he looked like he expected me yesterday. Hell, with his mental deal, he may well have. But just strolling in after being gone the better part of a year, a person expects some reaction. *Something*.

But he just smiled and nodded and said he was rather busy at the moment, but that I should make myself at home in the same room and that dinner was in twenty minutes, if I felt up for it. Which I didn't, really; the drive from northern Ontario was long and I hadn't stopped for much other than meals.

I went anyway. I figured I might as well go ahead and enjoy the look on Scott's face; maybe then I'd have a least a shot at amusing dreams that night.

And the look was priceless, all right, and right there beside him Jean was as warm and pretty and soothing as I remembered. It was kind of nice to know I hadn't blown that up in my mind, because part of Jean's whole deal is how real she seemed, and reality just is what it is, no messing around. She smiled and squeezed my hands, and when she kissed my cheek I couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at Scott. He just glared at me, which I have to admit is a talent with those glasses he wears.

Then he shook my hand, making all the pleasantries. Thing was, he was real, too. I don't actually have much a problem with Scott. I'm not racing to invite him out for a beer, but as far as nerds go, he's okay. He picks his battles carefully and only fights them as long as he's sure he's right-- I have to respect that, and even appreciate that he let his mind be changed about me.

So I was standing around and forcing my way through small talk, which I'm not good at, when everyone started pouring in for dinner. Storm breezed in and I went through the whole shebang again before we could sit down and eat. And that was it; nobody else really knew me and I realized for a second what little impact I'd had around there-- that it was as small as the impact I'd had everywhere else. It didn't say much for my life, but I was hungry and didn't dwell on it.

And I just noted, in the back of my mind, that Rogue wasn't there. I hadn't expected her to be; I knew she'd been in her last year of school when I left, so I figured she'd gone off to college, it being nearly September.

But she came in while I was lamenting the stuff I found on my plate. Xavier and I have a pretty big gap between what we consider food-- he likes things with names I can't pronounce and exotic spices and strange cuts of meat. Me, I like to be able to identify three or fewer spices in my food, and two of them should be salt and pepper. And I'm sure as hell not used to it *looking* pretty. I'm not exactly sure what it was he was calling dinner that night, but it looked more fit for a museum than my stomach.

So I was wondering if I had a shot in hell at finding some bread and sliced ham in the kitchen when Rogue slipped into the dining hall with her head ducked and eased herself into an empty seat at the end of the second table. Xavier came in right behind her and wheeled up to his usual spot, up where I was with Jean and Storm and Scott. And then he was all interested in being polite and friendly, so I gave him my attention, though I kept glancing at the back of Rogue's head.

I felt like I should go tell her I was there, for some reason; she hadn't seen me and I kept wondering what her reaction would be. But I just kept getting distracted and forgot about her for awhile. I gave Xavier and the other three sketchy details of what I'd been up to, and they filled me in on life in the mutant world. It was a pretty boring conversation.

Dinner finally ended and when I saw Rogue get up, I hurried to excuse myself, admitting that I wanted to catch her and say hi before I went to sleep. I caught her on the steps and snagged her sleeve, and when she turned and saw me, it looked like her eyes were going to fall right out. Which was a reaction, that much was for sure. For a minute, after I just sort of shrugged at her and couldn't seem to figure out what to say, I wasn't sure how she felt. Surprised, yeah, but it had been nine months and for all I knew she could have decided to be pissed about having all my rotten memories.

But after a moment she smiled. It was slow, and it curled up her face like she'd made some novel new discovery. Then she looked a little hesitant but finally blew out this small sigh of exasperation and shook her head in a way I figured was at herself, and she stepped down a stair to give me a ginger hug. "Didn't think you'd be back so soon," was the first thing she said after she moved back.

I'll admit, I was pretty much reeling from having been hugged. I don't really do hugs-- people don't want to hug me. They want to fight me, or fuck me, or tame me, but hugging... It was new, and a surprise, and I kind of liked it. My brain finally latched onto her words, and I blinked at her. "This is soon?"

She shrugged and started up the stairs again, pausing long enough for me to get up to her side. "I dunno. I just sorta thought it would be awhile longer." She stopped for a second and glanced at me. "Not that I'm not glad to see you," she put in hastily. "I... I missed you."

I really didn't know what to say to that. It wasn't a thing of not finding the words or being too surprised or anything-- I just really didn't know. I hadn't exactly missed her; I hadn't even thought of her most of the time. And in sixteen years I haven't had anyone I've met up with after an occasional absence say they missed me. So I *was* a little startled, and wordless, and she was veering off the steps and opening the door to one of the residence hallways.

Which finally gave me something to say, because I realized where we were and that she was opening another door, to what I figured was her room. "I thought the students lived upstairs."

"I'm not a student anymore, Logan. I live right here."

"Aren't you going to college?" I was almost growling, I think probably because I get pretty set in what I expect reality to be like, and deviations just piss me off.

And she just shrugged. "Not this year. I'm doin' the team thing for now, takin' some time out from school."

"You're an X-Man." It wasn't a question. I'd understood perfectly what she meant, and I didnšt like it. I had enough misgivings about their entire hero deal ; I didnšt like the thought of her mixed up in it.

"I'm more a junior member type thing," she replied, "but yeah. Scott and Jean and Ororo are teaching me all sorts of things, and I've been working with Professor Xavier on-- What's wrong?"

I must've been scowling at her. "Why aren't you going to school? Is it the money? Because if Xavier won't, I'll find it for--"

It just happens: people (and I'm no exception, Scott's opinion aside) just open their mouths and say stuff sometimes, without realizing it. And this was like that. All I was thinking was how she wasn't a dumb kid and how she didn't take shit for granted, and how if all the other brats around there got to go off and have lives, she should, too. I was *not* thinking about what I wasn't saying, or what it meant.

So it was probably best that she broke in by saying, very softly and calmly, a slight smile on her face, "Logan. What would you do? Go break half the noses in Canada so I could do somethin' I don't really want to do right now?"

I knew I was scowling again. "Well... maybe," I muttered.

She touched my arm with a flash of gray cloth. "That's sweet, you know. But there was no problem with money. Sure, the Professor can't just pay for everyone here to go off to school, much as I know he'd like to. But I applied to schools, and it was do-able. I'm just not goin'. Not this year." Then she took a step back and fiddled with her doorknob. "Hey, I have some stuff to get done, and you look tuckered out. Go get some sleep?"

I nodded slightly. "Right. Sleep."

Then she flashed another big smile and suddenly came back forward to give me another quick hug, and this time I found myself actually returning it, if a little uncertainly. "I'm glad you're back," she said quietly. "Good night."

Only a few minutes later, as I went to bed, I remembered how Jean had said, what seemed like a long time ago, that Rogue had some thing for me. I hadn't really known what to do with that information, and leaving was sort of a blessing. Now I felt vaguely relieved that she seemed to be over it.

It made it easier to look forward to spending time with her.

***

Going to sleep so early forced me up around the crack of dawn, and I went outside to smoke. I wandered off onto the grounds far enough that no random kid who might be up would run across me and my bad example; las thing I needed was for Scott to start blaming me for corrupting the younger generations, or anything like that.

It was also just an excuse to look around on my own. Xavier had shown me all the buildings and such last time I'd been there, but that guy's got a lot of land. I walked about twenty minutes and found a small pond, and five minutes from there was the field where the horses grazed, and that was all only the land to the west of the mansion. I already knew that to the east were the gardens and sports areas.

By the time I went back, breakfast was being served, so I went and filled a plate and snagged a chair across from Jean and Rogue. I had to cough slightly to get them to even look at me, they were yammering on so intently. Jean was explaining something I didn't understand that involved a lot of big words, half of them ending in -ology. But they finally looked over, and both smiled. "Good morning," Jean greeted.

Rogue tipped her head to the side. "Hey," she said, and it was only slightly obvious by her froggy voice and puffy eyes that she both had just gotten up and wasn't exactly a morning person. "Save me? Jean thinks I can actually figure out physiology this early."

I raised an eyebrow. "Jean. Teaching at breakfast? How dedicated."

Jean just rolled her eyes. "Right, right. Logan, did you sleep well?"

"Well enough." I shrugged. "Forgot how damn soft that bed is. Hard to get used to."

"Do you still have that same nightma-- " Rogue had started to ask the question absently, but stopped short and blinked at me. "I'm sorry. That's none of my-- "

"Not very often," I cut in slowly. I'd forgotten that she would know all about it; having her idly wonder if the dream still plagued me was a slight shock. "But sometimes, yeah."

She was staring hard at me, and she said, softly, "I'm sorry," and this time I didn't think she was still apologizing for the question. "Oh, hey. I have this for you."

She poked at the table, and I realized I hadn't even seen my dog tags lying there. I hadn't thought about them in a long time; after I got used to not having them, I just didn't dwell. It pretty much went hand-in-hand with not even thinking about Rogue much.

It was kind of nice to see them again, just in a comforting way because of how things can just move back into your life. I picked them up and felt the almost nonexistent weight in my hand. "Thanks," I told her as I put them on and tucked them under my shirt.

"Thank you," she tossed back, and shrugged. "I should start wheedlin' all sorts of promises out of you. You're pretty good at keepin' 'em."

I couldn't help but grin at her. "Don't let that get around, huh?"

She winked. "Well, naturally. If I let other people find out, you'll never have time to do anythin' for me."

Groaning into my coffee, I glanced at Jean. "She always this much trouble?"

"Every day," Jean agreed, and Rogue smacked her arm lightly and I laughed. It was nice to find myself in a good mood; right then I was having trouble remembering why I'd avoided returning for so long.

After breakfast, Rogue said something about seeing Xavier and hurried off, and I wound up wandering through the halls with Jean, talking about a whole lot of nothing until I suddenly asked, "Why is she still here?"

"Rogue?" Jean looked puzzled. "Because she wants to be. Why?"

I shrugged, and I really didn't know why it was still bugging me. "She should be in school or something. Being a kid. Having fun."

"We're no comedy act, but I don't think it's all that boring around here." Jean glanced over at me and smiled. "Logan, you don't have to worry about her. If this wasn't what she wanted, the Professor and I at the very least would be able to tell, and I can promise you, none of us would let her do what isn't right for her. She's happy right now. Believe that."

"Yeah?"

"Yes. Now listen, I have to get some work done down in the lab. Are you okay on your own?"

Now there was a question. I just grunted at her and waved her off, and went and found a quiet room with a TV. I spent the rest of the morning watching stupid quiz shows and picking up incidental trivia, and thinking about where I'd go when I split. It wasn't a question of it I would or not; it was a matter of when, and where to.

I figured I'd stick around for at least a few days, though, so I did. I ran across this new guy who'd apparently wandered in and signed on a few months before, Gambit. He was a few years older than Rogue, and he was pretty cocky, but I'm no one to fault a guy for that. He seemed okay, even if I did get my guard up the first time I noticed him drooling over Rogue.

I guess it was protective hackles or something. I didn't see much of her, those days, but I thought about her, and finally decided Jean and everyone else were right and that she was okay. Still, I found myself idly concerned-- I remembered my promise to her the year before and figured I should still take it seriously. It's kind of important, to have at least *something* that matters in life.

So Rogue was my own personal project, in a way, and once I reminded myself that I actually sort of liked Gambit, it was damn funny. He was falling all over himself because of her, and she didn't have the slightest clue.

That became a source of daily entertainment for me, watching the drama unfold, and then one day I sat down at lunch and realized I'd been going about life in the mansion for three weeks, and that I wasn't feeling restless yet.

So I went to Xavier and asked if there were any things I could do to earn my keep for awhile. The little smile he got, that damn 'I've been expecting this' smile, came close to pissing me off. As it was, when he set me up fixing some plumbing up in the boys' dorm, I nearly broke the stupid sink more than it already was. I relieved some tension by hitting on Jean and smirking at Scott over dinner, and then I noticed that Rogue and Gambit were sitting awfully close together, and that Rogue looked-- well, she was blushing, and smiling. Other than that, I couldn't really decipher her expression.

I nearly laughed right there at the table, but instead just shook my head and wondered if I should let the poor guy in on that fact that if Rogue wound up hurt, he'd be damn sorry. Eventually I decided it would be better for my ripping his balls off to come as a total surprise.

***

A few days later Rogue came and found me out in the stables, where I was fixing the gate on one of the stalls. "Hey," she said softly, fiddling with a saddle that was slung over a sawhorse for oiling.

"Hey, yourself," I replied, and decided to take a break. I wiped some sweat and dirt from my face with my sleeve and leaned against a post. "What's going on?"

"Nothin'." She glanced around and seemed hesitant. "I just had some free time and thought... Well, you've been here nearly a month and we haven't really talked at all-- If you just want to work, I could go. I don't want to--"

"Stay," I insisted. "You're right. They keep you pretty busy, huh?"

"I guess. I like it, though. And Professor Xavier thinks maybe... Never mind." She sighed. "I thought you might be leaving soon, so I should take advantage of you bein' here while I can."

"What makes you think I'm leaving?"

"I dunno. I just know how long you feel okay with stayin' in one place."

It really had slipped my mind, how much she must know about me, and I told her so. She just shrugged. "It's not really like that. You know, how it works? I don't have your memories, or Magneto's, or anything. It's... it's like this big jumble of emotions and impressions, and then sometimes I just know things, like how fidgety you are about stayin' put for too long." She smiled slightly. "It was hard at first, sortin' it all out. I'd have these urges fillin' my head, and I didn't always know if it was me wantin' things."

I stared at her, intrigued. "Yeah? Like what?"

"Oh, like... Well, some things were easier. Like if you have paintings and keep puttin' one on top of another. Some things'll blend and get fuzzy, but some of the colors'll just look awful together, and you know they're on different paintings." She grinned at me suddenly. "Like how I was pretty sure thinkin' Jean was hot stuff for awhile was your fault."

I had to laugh at that, and she went on. "And it was hard to talk to Professor Xavier for awhile. I felt like I had this old fondness for him, but a lot of bitter anger, too. And sometimes I crave pecan pie, even though I'm allergic, and cold coffee just makes me want to throw things."

"That last one is probably my fault, too," I put in wryly. "But I'm gonna blame the pecans on Magneto."

She nodded. "Professor Xavier says it was always his favorite," and then her face kind of deepened, saddened. "I knew things about when he was a child, horrible things. I knew what your nightmares are like. And I've made myself almost forget a lot of it, but some things come back up."

"Yeah, sometimes they do," I muttered. "You seem like you've handled it okay, though."

She shrugged. "Professor Xavier helped a lot. Once I could look him in the eye, that is." With a slight shake of her head, which sent all her hair flying, she perked up. "Hey. Can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"What do you think of Remy?"

"Who-- Oh, Gambit?" For some reason, I wasn't so amused at the thought of him and his hormones right then. "He's okay," I admitted. "Gets on my nerves sometimes, but hell, everyone does that."

"Present company excluded, of course," she said, pretending to glare.

"Of course." I winked at her. "He's a decent guy. That endorsement enough for you?"

"How'd you know I-- "

"Hey, if you're wondering, who better to ask than the guy who has to look out for you?"

"You don't have to," she said softly. "You've done plenty already."

"I want to," I told her, and it was true. Even with just passing, casual, day-to-day contact, she'd been growing on me more and more. I wasn't quite sure what I thought of that, but it had happened, and all I could really do was go with it. "So yeah, I do have to."

She flushed a little and seemed to be biting back a pleased smile. "Thanks." She tossed me an odd glance. "Thanks," she repeated. "I'll let you get back to... to whatever it is you're doin'."

"Yeah, okay." I watched her walk away for a minute, and then went back to work. But I couldn't really get everything she'd said out of my mind; I had to wonder how she could pretty much know me, inside and out, and still always look happy to see me.

It just wasn't anything I would expect. I started finding it harder and harder to get my thoughts off her, after that.

***

I have to admit to liking the pattern I fell into. There were always little repairs to be done around a joint that size, with so many teenagers running through it, and I liked doing them.

Then one day some punk kid started hammering me with questions while I was working on one of the cars, and he seemed pretty interested so I explained a few things to him. Next time I was out there, he was back with a few friends, and I kind of growled at that but let them stay and watch and learn anyway.

It somehow turned into this unofficial class type thing every few days, for about 15 or so kids. A few girls kept showing up; I practically snarled at Scott when he smirked at that.

And every once in awhile Rogue would track me down, or I would track her down, and we'd just talk for awhile, and I liked that. She was interesting; she was something real and substantial. I was realizing more every day that she was the reason I was able to stay.

Then early in November, after I'd been there over two months, she came stomping into the little lounge where I was watching TV and threw herself down on the couch next to me. Startled, I frowned at her, because it was pretty obvious she was upset about something. "What's wrong?"

She stared at the television. "Nothing," she whispered, and her voice caught. "Everythin's exactly how it's supposed to be."

I may not be into getting emotional and having weepy, long-distance-commercial type conversations, but no way would I just let that pass. Not coming from her. "Marie," I said, and it was the first time I'd ever used the name she confided to me up in Canada. Her head jerked at the sound and she stared at me with huge eyes. "What's wrong?" I repeated.

She stayed silent for a long minute. "Do you trust me?" she finally asked.

"Sure I do."

I guess I was a little too casual, a little too flippant, because her face clouded even more. She wrenched off one glove and held her palm so close to my cheek I could feel the heat radiating from her flesh. "Do you trust me?" she asked again, and there was a glint in her voice that I recognized as far too similar to myself, just before I get really pissed.

"Yes," I told her.

I didn't. I didn't trust her. I didn't have the slightest fucking clue what she was doing, and I wasn't all that sure that she did, either. All I knew was that somebody, most likely Gambit, had probably just driven her close to tears by making the mistake of saying no, and I didn't want to make the same mistake.

So I was both reminding myself that Gambit was due for some genital subtractions and telling myself exactly what kind of bastard I was for lying to her, when her hand fluttered and moved to gently rest on my cheek. Then things just got weird. Weirder than they already were.

It took me a few seconds to catch up and realize that she had touched me, and was still touching me, and that I wasn't in a twitching heap on the floor. I wasn't even feeling a thing, except for the heat of her hand and the way her fingertips were moving, scraping lightly into my sideburns.

And I don't really know why it happened. I looked at her and she was staring hard at her own hand, and now she really was crying, and her brow was crinkled in concentration. And she just looked so damned stunned and pleased, through it all, and I couldn't think of a single time I'd ever made anyone look like that, and I just suddenly twisted my head to the side and caught the heel of her palm with my lips.

She gasped. Her eyes shifted the slight bit necessary to meet mine, and they were wet but astonishingly alive, and I just kept looking into them as I brought my hand up to hold hers to my face and moved my lips again, dragging them firmly across her skin. It tasted salty and sharp, exactly like a hand should taste after escaping the sweaty confines of a glove, and i couldn't get enough.

I wasn't even thinking at all. I didn't realize until later how rough I must have been, shoving at her sleeve and mouthing her wrist, and she just let her eyes slide shut and kept letting out these tiny, hiccuping sighs.

Then she suddenly tensed, and her fingers pressed into my neck. "Logan, stop," she gasped. "Logan, you have to stop, I can't-- " Her eyes flew open and she grimaced, and then yanked her arm away. And it was liking waking up; it was like opening my eyes and finding my claws in her chest all over again. She was staring down at her hand, glistening and wet in her lap, and then she looked up at me and her mouth trembled. "Logan-- "

I've felt like an asshole before, but never such a huge one. I figured so much for actually enjoying being at the school, because this was my one-way ticket out. "I'm sorry," I ground out. "Marie, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have-- That shouldn't have happened."

She went perfectly still, except to whisper, "Shouldn't have..." Her entire face crumbled. "Guess you're right," she mumbled, and she got up and ran.

***

I was damn near tempted to just leave. To pack up and move on, like usual, before Scott got wind of things and killed me, before I found Gambit and made a big, stinking hypocrite of myself by killing *him*.

I almost did. Leave, that is. I went to my room and started throwing stuff into a bag, but then I just got angry and things were getting way too clear to me.

Jean was there when I stormed into Xavier's office; she jumped in surprise, but I ignored her and glared at him. "How long has she been able to touch people?" I demanded.

He just looked at me, calm as ever. "So she decided to try. How wonderful."

"Oh, yeah, just peachy," I growled. "Except I screwed it up!" I slammed my fists down, leaning against his desk. "How long has that been keeping her happy? How long has that been the only hope she's had to go on?"

Xavier's eyes dulled to a glassy sadness. "She's been working towards control for nearly six months now."

"Godammit!" I snarled. "Nobody said a fucking word-- I didn't understand." I straightened up and glanced at Jean, who just looked stunned by everything, and then back at Xavier. "I have to fix this. Can you tell me where she is?"

He paused, then briefly closed his eyes. "She's in the stables. And Logan... this wasn't her *only* hope."

I actually thought about his cryptic bullshit on my way out to the stables, and by the time I found Rogue, I thought I had a decent idea of what he meant. I still didn't like it; she should have been able to have more going for her than the pipe dream of touch and one friend she could count on for anything. And then I just hated myself even more, because I had screwed up her chance to have both at once.

I found her feeding carrots to one of the horses, glove back in place. "Hey," I muttered, coming up behind her. "I'm sorry."

"I heard you the first time."

"No, this is for that first time. You misunderstood me, and I let you, and I'm sorry."

She turned and gave me a hooded look, her eyes swollen. "Huh?"

"I-- Dammit." I kicked at the dirt. "I screwed up what has to be one of the best moments for you in at least the past year. That's what I meant. That's *all* I meant."

"You idiot." I blinked at her, surprised. "What if I thought it was perfect, just how it was, and what if that's what made it one of the best moments of my *life*? You big dumb jerk." She laughed bitterly and shook her head. "It took me a long time to stop dreamin' that maybe, just maybe if you *could*, you'd want to-- And you say you shouldn't have? You think you *ruined* something?"

I felt absolutely lost. I hate that feeling. "Then why'd you only come to me after Gambit said he didn't trust you?"

She sighed, deep and sad. "I never asked him that, Logan. I knew that answer already. He just told me that he didn't think that we'd last, that he'd last, with no touching."

I was definitely going to have to track that rat down, hypocrisy of no. "Hell, Marie, how am I any different?"

She looked at me like I was crazy, and I went right back to being lost. "How have you ever been anything but different? You nearly died for me, Logan, and you never wanted a thing. Tell me how you were anything but."

I wanted to tell her. I wanted to tell her I wanted a lot from her, that I wanted damn near everything from her. There just weren't words to say it, and while I stood there just staring at her, silent, she fed the last carrot to the horse and sighed again. "I'm goin' to dinner. We can talk about this later."

I stood there for a few minutes after she left, wondering what the hell I was supposed to do. This was part of the reason I kept my relationships pared down to random women in random bars. It gets too damn complicated when you care.

Finally, having solved absolutely nothing, I went back in, to dinner. She was sitting in her usual place, up with Xavier and them, but I saw right away that she wasn't saying anything, just poking at her food. I had to wonder if she'd sat there purely to prevent me from bothering her.

I'm not much of one to be deterred. I walked right up behind Gambit, who was next to her. "You," I said, low and right into his ear. "Move now, or I rearrange that face you believe is so pretty."

He stood up and glared at me, but then grabbed his plate and moved, and I sat down. I stared at Rogue, and she stared at the table. "That wasn't nice," she finally mumbled.

Perfectly aware that everyone in the near vicinity was staring at us, I clenched my jaw and spoke quietly. "I'm not nice. Why doesn't that bother you?"

She jerked her head up to look at me. "Because it's not true," she snapped. "Why are you doin' this here?"

"I didn't think you'd let everyone else see you run away." Her eyes narrowed and I nearly grinned at how she looked, full of pride and anger. "Can you do it again?"

"If I wanted to," she mumbled, and I heard that warning in her words, loud and clear. "It's not that hard, now that I know that I was doin' somethin' right. I just have to work on keepin' it up with less concentration. Why?"

"Just wondered." I glanced at the empty place setting in front of me and stood up. "I'm not hungry anymore."

I caught the look Xavier was giving me as I walked out. It wasn't happy. I didn't give a damn.

***

I stayed out of the way after that. I didn't want to know what anyone else thought, especially not Xavier or Scott. I didn't want to run into Gambit and butt heads. And I didn't want to go anywhere near Rogue until she gave me some hint that it was what she wanted. So I kept to myself, in quiet parts of the mansion, and I snuck in meals when the kitchen was quiet and deserted.

I thought about leaving, again. But every time I got right to the point of thinking that maybe I should, I would start thinking about all sorts of things she'd said that made it pretty obvious that the first time around, I'd left her with a lot of shit to figure out and get over on her own. I couldn't bring myself to risk doing that to her again.

So I just hung around and spent a lot of time wondering when I'd become able to be attached with outright panicking.

After four days I was about ready to give up, and starting to think that maybe people just don't get second chances like this, that maybe while I was off hiding, she was off getting over me. Again.

But then while I was watching TV, just like the last time, she came in and flopped right down and didn't say a word. I just looked at her-- her face was tense and serious, and she stared at the television. "Marie," I finally started.

She cut me off by putting her hand on top of mine, where it was resting on my stomach. Her skin was cold, so cold I knew she'd been outside, and then I could smell the stables on her. And her arm was in an awkward position, so I took a chance and shifted, lifting her hand and enclosing it between mine, and when she didn't pull away,or even make the slightest twitch, I started rubbing slow circles into her skin, trying to warm it. "Rogue-- "

"I kinda like Marie, comin' from you," she interrupted, and her eyes closed. "Tell me something about Canada, okay? Somethin' you haven't told me yet."

I had to think about that for a few minutes; I'd told her most of the memorable stuff about my life, already. Finally I told her about the woman I'd rented the apartment in Ontario from. I told her how Mrs. Carron was old and tired and how her weathered face always looked on the verge of tears. I told her how I didn't she liked her daughter very much, despite how much she loved her. I hadn't liked the daughter much, either, the one time I'd run into her when I was leaving the building. All I could think was that she smacked her gum too loudly and wore too much perfume. I told her how when I went down to hand over the rent, Mrs. Carron's apartment smelled of cigarettes and the vague, withered smell of the last dregs of canned beer.

All the while I was still massaging her hand, but when I stopped talking, her fingers curled around mine and held on. "Have you ever been to Alaska?" she asked suddenly.

"Alaska?"

"Yeah. That's where I was going, when we met. I never told you that?"

"No. Why Alaska?"

She shrugged slightly. "I wanted to go. Some people dream of Tahiti, or Rome, or Egypt. I thought Alaska would be amazing." She paused and her eyes squeezed shut a little tighter. "I really wanted to go there, especially after I realized my skin was bad. It was really important that I experience it. But I never made it."

"It gets cold," I told her. "Cold, and dark, and there aren't a whole ton of women around. And yeah. It's cold."

She smiled. "I like the cold. You can feel it, all the way down to your bones... Is it pretty? If you had to call Alaska pretty or ugly, which would it be?"

I didn't feel like telling her that there wasn't much in the world that was all of anything, one way or another. So I equivocated. "It has a lot of pretty places. A lot of open space."

"Yeah," she mumbled. "I hope I get to go someday."

"You will," I told her, and I meant it. "I'll make sure you get there."

Her fingers tightened around mine. "There you go again," she said, and her voice was light and happy, "makin' promises."

"Still our secret?"

She opened her eyes and smiled over at me. "Yeah."

A few minutes later she said her head was hurting and she took her hand away, pulling a glove from her pocket. I could almost see her letting whatever focus it was she had, drop, and she looked at the clock. "It's time for lunch," she announced. "You comin'?"

I shook my head. All I wanted to do was sit there and remember how warm and alive her hand had finally felt. "I'll be at dinner, though. Okay?"

With a slight nod, she got up and left. I spent the rest of the afternoon staring at the television and not seeing much of anything. And I did go to dinner, and I saw that Gambit was pretty far down the table and that the seat next to Rogue was empty. I had to smile at that; it pleased the hell out of me.

***

Things were pretty much like that for awhile. Quiet, and nice, and basically up to Rogue. She took to finding me every morning, whatever I was doing, and what I was doing would determine how it would go. If I was sitting around she would settle in a few feet away and I would just massage her hands while we talked. And if I was working, I'd just keep on working and we'd talk like that, and when she left me alone she would give me a tight hug that always pressed her cheek right up against my neck.

Once I realized that pattern, I started balancing what I did with my mornings. Because much as I loved when she got so close I could feel the heat of her breath on my shoulder, I didn't want to lose the days I got to hold on long enough to almost convince myself I wouldn't have to let go.

And that was it. Carefully innocent touches, and talking. We talked a lot, about everything *except* the touching. I didn't bring it up, and she didn't, either; we just did it. It went like that for a few weeks-- I thought I had her all figured out. I thought I knew exactly what was happening, and that no matter what she had said, she needed to build up her trust for me again. I was okay with that, too. I wasn't about to launch over the boundaries. Not again.

But, in her own typical way, she yanked me right out of what I thought. We were in the garage and I was tinkering with one of the cars,and she was sitting up on one of the work counters, talking about how she wasn't very excited about Christmas. Then after she said something about how it was probably just one of the things too closely associated with home, and when she was normal, she fell silent for a few minutes.

I was about to ask her to hand me a clean ran when she blurted, "I think you should get on with it and kiss me soon, or I'm just gonna explode."

I straightened up so fast, it was a damn good thing I remembered the engine hood, or I'd have knocked myself out. "Say that again?"

"I said," she stared determinedly, but she turned bright red and her knuckles were white where her fists clutched a wrench. "I said... Well, aren't you done feelin' like a jerk yet? I thought, you know, if I could make you *see* why you're important, you'd stop thinkin' I was mad, or upset, or anything... And I just can't do it anymore." She looked up and there was a defiant glint in her eyes. "Don't get me wrong, I like holdin' your hand and all, but that's not all I'm interested in."

I really hate to think of what would have happened if I had laughed right then, which I almost did. Not because she was being funny, or because I was amused; I don't think she'd ever been more serious, and amusement was not high on my list of feelings. But everything she said sank in, and the immediate reaction was to either laugh, or kick myself. Really, really hard, either one.

I didn't do either. I just stared at her, and that probably wasn't helping because she just got redder and redder. "Marie..." I said, and it came out low and rough as I stepped towards her. "I can't."

Her eyes narrowed. "And just why not?"

I felt really helpless all of a sudden. "Because," I growled, and I reached her and hoped she was concentrating. I didn't care how greasy my hands were; I wanted to touch her. I took the wrench away and took her hands and smudged then, and I reminded myself to show her the special soap, because I didn't like the thought of her making her skin raw. "Because we're in the garage, dammit."

She swallowed so hard I could hear it. "So?"

"So you couldn't have gotten pushy on me somewhere that doesn't smell like gas and exhaust?"

She glared at my faint grin. "I'm not pushy."

"No?"

"No." And I'd never even thought she had it in her to get such a devilish look on her face. "Really, I'm not," she said, softer now.

I really hate figuring out I'm in for it a second too late. And I was a goner, here. She twisted one hand from my grasp and caught the front of my shirt, and she started tugging me closer. "See?" she teased. "Not pushing."

"Marie..."

"Still not pushing." She got me so close our noses were nearly touching and then let go of my shirt and let her hand fall back into her lap again. "You gonna do this, or am I?"

So I kissed her. Just a quick movement and there she was, right there, here mouth soft and dry against mine, and her fingers gripped mine tightly. I shifted a little and leaned in, and kissed her again.

And I kept kissing her. She wasn't remarkably different from any other woman I've kissed, but there were little things, so many little things that added up to one big impact. The way all her courage seemed to be used up, so her grip on my hands got tighter and tighter; the way she drew in a sharp breath through her nose when I pulled her lower lip out and sucked gently on it; the way she tasted like hints of medicated lip balm because it was December and she'd told me once how her lips just didn't agree about the cold weather feeling nice.

But the killer was when I untangled one hand to touch her cheek and nudged her teeth apart with my tongue; she started trembling and then that was it, as far as it could go. She pulled back and I nodded and took my hands away, and she smiled sheepishly. "Sorry," she offered, but just sounded dazed.

Then I did have to laugh. Her cheeks were flushed and there was an echo of a greasy handprint on one, and her eyes were blazing and wide. I'd never seen anyone look so innocent and debauched at the same time. And she just watched me with that vague smile, and when I settled and shot her a lazy grin, she nodded in that tiny little way that was *mine*.

And maybe it's a little narcissistic, but I could see how totally intertwined we were, how I'd affected her and how that affected me, and it just made me even crazier for her. When she slipped off the counter and wrapped her arms around me, pressing her face safely against my shirt, I took a long time letting her go.

Then I showed her the soap, and later I laughed at imagining the looks people would have gotten if I'd let her wander around with my hand imprinted on her face. They just wouldn't understand.

***

That's pretty much where we still are with each other, except that there's so much more. She'll look at me sometimes and chew her lip and I won't be able to find any sad hopes in her eyes. And now she's not fooling anyone; now it's not all hinged on longing and dreams. It's real now, and I believe more than ever that reality can actually be pretty damn nice.

The actual touching is what's sort of the same. She got pretty good, pretty fast, at clamping down on whatever it was she identified as causing the whole energy-sucking deal, and soon if I surprised her by turning up somewhere I wasn't supposed to be, she only needed a second or two before I could get my fingers tangled in the hair at her neck and kiss her breathless.

It's taking longer for her to figure out how to keep it all clamped down, though. Like water behind a dam-- everything starts building up in her mind and eventually she breaks, and it takes awhile to be able to block it all off again.

There was a point where I started figuring that maybe there wasn't a problem, that maybe she knew how to do it but needed that excuse to fall back on when I got to be too much for her and things were too fast. And that didn't bother me, thinking that; I've never found myself so willing to accept damn near anything from someone.

But I stopped thinking it, because one day I went to her room right before breakfast and she grinned and pulled me inside, and a few minutes later she was pressed against the wall and I couldn't get enough of her. And I had my hands under her shirt, rubbing rough circles against her back, and I guess it was maybe too much-- I'd never been in her room before, and my hands were on her and her hands were on me and it was just all about being wrapped around each other. And so we were a little too wrapped, because she didn't realize her control was slipping until too late, and she got a third dose of me and my screwed-up head.

She yanked her hands and mouth away as soon as she felt the connection open, but it took me a second longer to extract my hands, and that second was enough. My knees buckled and I had to brace myself against the wall to keep from falling, and when I looked at her, her eyes were wide and full of tears. She started bubbling apologies and the tears spilled over, and I hated myself for ever thinking she would use her affliction as an excuse.

I cut her off by asking if she was okay. She nodded and I nodded back, and I was still pressing her against the wall. She felt flushed even through her clothes; I put my hand back on her, over material, and when she just trembled stiffly I started unbuttoning her shirt.

"Logan," she choked out.

"Hey. Trust me?"

She hesitated and nodded again, and I knew she was lying like I'd lied to her. So I showed her we'd both been wrong and I showed her that the world didn't end with flesh. I pushed her shirt open and thanked God for flimsy underwear, and after I pulled her skirt up and found out that cotton tights have a good amount of give to them, she was still trembling but she wasn't apologizing anymore.

We didn't make it to breakfast that day. She told me a little later, sitting in a slumped heap in my arms right there on the floor, "Me, too, ya know."

I just grunted at her in confusion, and she rubbed my knee. "All that stuff you've got locked up inside, all that stuff you feel and can't tell me 'cause you don't know the words, and don't want to let it out any other way that perfect? Me, too."

I burned with shame and pulled her closer. "I would've told you," I muttered.

"No, not all of it." She twisted her head up to look at me. "But that's okay. There actually aren't words for some things."

"But you get the picture?"

"Yeah," she said softly. "And it looks just perfect."

***

She told me the other day she wants to go to school next year. I think she was worried about saying it, worried about what I'd say. I just told that wherever she chose to go, there had better be a few decent bars around or I'd be pissed. When she understood what I was saying, she blushed and smiled and looked away. "Professor Xavier won't like that."

"Planning on taking him along?"

She laughed. "No."

"Then so?" Then I got serious and made her look at me. "I won't be there all the time, you know."

She sighed. "I know. You're gettin' restless now, too."

"And if I leave?"

"Then I'll miss you," she said simply. "And later you'll come back, and eventually we'll figure somethin' out that works for us both."

So I'm gonna take off soon, for at least a few weeks. But she's right and I'll be back, because I have to be back, and after she gets everything worked out for school, I think I'll take her to Alaska. It'll be summer, but something I've never told her is that Alaska is beautiful all year round.

**end**