Rogue squinted into the sun as she took the last few steps across the stage and accepted her diploma. It was a bright day,perfect and happy, and she suddenly wished, irrationally, that she hadn't become reaccustomed to hearing her given name. Her grandmother had once lectured her on it being the name by which God knew her; she hadn't been all that reluctant to give it up.
There was a smattering of applause -- a spread-out and select few who considered her a friend -- and then there was Scott, with his own firm, distinctive clap and dignified stance, a shadowy silhouette against the blazing glare of day.
She returned to her seat amongst the other graduates and she tried to ignore how around her, people were whispering excitedly and craning their necks to catch a glimpse of their families. Their friends. Their loved ones. She closed her eyes at last and resented the length of the alphabet.
By the time Ray Zowald closed a plump fist around his diploma, she could no longer remember, at all, why she'd decided to sit through this. Or why she'd allowed Scott to insist on coming, or why she'd bothered with college at all.
And them she remembered. Because there had been nothing else to do. And now again, nothing. Nothing new. She didn't toss her cap with everyone else; she clutched it to her stomach and sighed.
She found Scott on the football field, standing stiffly by a table that was stacked high with refreshments; he was staring resolutely ahead and ignoring the whispered comments about his glasses.
"Hey," she greeted quietly. "I... Thanks, you know. For comin' and all."
He smiled at that, and she remembered thinking, back when she'd taken his art history class, that he should smile more often. "This was my pleasure, Rogue," he replied. "Jean is sorry she couldn't make it."
"I know." She squinted again, glancing past the throngs of celebrating families and towards the parking lots. "I have everything ready to go, back at my apartment... Maybe we should just go."
"You're sure? You don't want to stick-- " Scott stopped, and she had the sense that he was remembering certain things. About school, and being different, and about how remembering wasn't always so nice. "Okay, then. You're all set?"
"Just have to turn in my cap and gown."
"Okay." And Scott smiled at her and it seemed a little sad, and she promised quickly to come right back so they could leave.
The property manager was mobbed with students, all anxious to sever their final obligatory tie to the university. It took nearly half an hour to have her items logged back in and her name checked off, and she wondered on the way out when the next time she would hear her full name might be.
Going back to the field, she shoved her hair back and smoothed her slim gray dress, and stared at her feet and the grass as she walked. She didn't notice that Scott wasn't alone until she reached his side and looked up. "Do you want-- Oh."
It was funny how Scott and Logan were both scowling; Scott at Logan and Logan into a cup of lemonade, and Rogue wasn't necessarily glad that Logan's scowl faded once she spoke. But it did, because he looked her up and down quickly and his expression softened, and he said, "Hey."
And she thought that five years had been good to him, or maybe not the years so much as how his ability to heal made them not so much like years at all. She remembered her great-aunt Shirley, who was so withered and stooped and gray when she died that Rogue once thought that she maybe had a wrinkle for every single day of her life.
"Hi," she finally said softly. "Scott, maybe we should get goin'. It's a long drive back to New York."
It almost made her laugh, this time, how their expressions mirrored each other. Scott broke out of the stunned silence first and touched her shoulder.
"Rogue, I'm going to go discuss some matters with the provost that Professor Xavier was concerned about. For future applicants from the school? I'll meet you back here in a few minutes."
"Scott," she started, and she realized that her voice sounded somewhat desperate, which was what stopped the rest of her plea. This was Logan, and she was not a kid. "All right."
And Scott walked away-- stiffly, but away-- and she squinted up at Logan and tried to smile. "So," was all she could think to say.
"So," he echoed. "Congratulations."
"Thank you. How'd you know-- ?"
"Oh." He looked uncomfortable, even more than with Scott, or just in general surrounded by so many smiling, happy people. "I-- Xavier sort of mentioned it, and I thought maybe... so."
"Professor Xavier 'sorta mentioned it'?" She frowned. "Logan, when were you talkin' to the professor?"
And he looked even more uncomfortable, and she suddenly understood. "It's okay," she said, and hated how hurt her voice sounded. "I don't care if you were keepin' in touch with the professor."
"You don't care," he echoed.
"No," and she was lying. "You said you'd be back, Logan. You never said you'd lemme keep tabs on you."
"Yeah, well... I had to talk to him sometimes, about some things, and a few weeks ago he mentioned this was... Thought I'd see how everything has gone for you."
"It's gone just fine." She hated how her voice kept sounding, wounded and upset; she felt like he must be able to see right through her, as if she were only as real as her tone. "I made it this far, right?"
"Guess so," and she didn't understand his own tone, of hope and disappointment all mixed together. "What're you gonna do now?"
Rogue shrugged. "Go back to the school. Teach somethin' or other."
Logan scowled again. "That's it?"
"That's all there is," she said quietly. "Logan, I need to find Scott. It was nice seein' you again."
"Marie, wait," he said, but she was walking quickly away, and didn't turn back.
Scott didn't say much for the rest of the day, and Rogue was happy to let that be. He helped her move her few belongings from her tiny apartment to the truck he'd brought from New York, and after everything was done and she'd left the key with the landlord, they left, and she tried to stop thinking about Logan.
But halfway through the drive, after too much falsely casual and halting conversation and in between receivable radio stations, she relaxed her eyes to float with the passing treeline and asked, "Why d'you think he came?"
Scott's sigh echoed in her mind for several long moments. "You mean now, and not a few years ago?"
"Or at all," she said, and wondered about it all.
"Because he cares about you," Scott said, and his tone seemed begrudging. "That's why at all. Logan doesn't do much of anything unless he cares."
"Then why now and not before?"
"Rogue, did you ever know of Logan being in a rush to fill his life with things he cared about?"
Rogue thought that answer was rather cryptic, but chose to say nothing because Scott probably figured she knew Logan, knew him better than anyone else; he didn't know and nobody knew that it was loneliest of all after Logan faded away, because his memories seemed to have slipped the farthest away.
And she wondered about Logan, and she wondered if maybe Scott thought a lot more than he'd said, or if maybe Logan simply lived his life devoid of much at all. And at thinking that she felt intensely sad, and sympathetic, and she remembered, as though she had ever forgotten, that she was going back to a school she'd left long ago, to teach students she didn't know, to live in a room alone, always alone, and all because it was all she could think to do. She hadn't even asked the professor what he thought of other options.
There were no other options. She didn't say anything else for the rest of the trip.
They got back to the school late in the evening, but Professor Xavier was waiting to greet them, to greet Rogue.
And she hadn't known how she would talk to him, how she would feel, knowing he'd talked to Logan, but when she saw him and he smiled and was full of all his good intentions, she smiled softly back, though she didn't quite feel it, and she took his offered hand.
And even though he didn't mention it, she thanked him for making it possible for Logan to b there, because that was what her mother had told her, that she should thank people when they tried to do nice things, to do what they thought right. And the professor had a strange look on his face as she was talking, but he just smiled and nodded and it all seemed like everything was normal, and then he was rolling away and Scott was saying that she would have a room of her own on the second floor, next to Storm.
She didn't put it together right away, not until she grabbed a quick dinner in the kitchens and went upstairs, and found that someone, probably Scott, had already moved all her boxes in. But when she first walked in, she didn't see the boxes, or anything, and she wasn't even really remembering. She just stood in the doorway and the first thought that came to her was to wonder if anyone-- the professor, Scott, Storm, *anyone*-- had considered, or had even remembered, that she was living in the room in which Logan had stayed.
She didn't sleep that night. She couldn't, and if she looked weary and exhausted at breakfast the next morning, nobody said anything about it.
Summer came with the same slow ease that characterized life around the mansion. There were no classes, except for the occasional tutoring sessions, and all was quiet for the time being with humans.
And so Rogue let the days pass, quietly, slowly, and without much regard. She discovered, as is possible even after living with oneself for over twenty-two years, that she was better with her hands than she'd ever known. She spent long afternoons helping Scott replace paneling in the stables or lay floor tile in the bathrooms, and she learned to understand why he insisted on doing it himself instead of letting Professor Xavier hire a carpenter he could well afford.
Scott took an extraordinary amount of personal stability out of knowing just how much the mansion and the school were home, his home. And Rogue envied him sometimes, how happy he was. How *satisfied*.
Then one day she went down to breakfast and Bobby was there, and she hadn't seen him in over three years, since she'd last spent a school break at the mansion. He looked good; he looked older, and happy, and she enjoyed the three days he spent there. But then he left, and Jean looked vaguely sad when she mused at dinner that it would probably be a long time before they saw him again.
Rogue asked what she meant, and she shrugged. "It's what happens here," she said. "Some of us stay for good, through it all, and other leave. Visiting is... rare."
Rogue realized what Jean was saying, and she wasn't sure she liked it. She'd had enough of her life being all or nothing, enough of everything being about factions and extremes.
She only wished she knew how to make anything different.
But some days she remembered Magneto, and his willingness to spark a war that would last throughout the final years of his life, and she realized, finally, after five years of poring through his lingering feelings, that it had all hinged upon his certainty of victory. The status quo tended to be good enough for those who only stood to lose out with change.
With everything calm, there was an implicit understanding why one question was not being asked. Professor Xavier left her alone, and the school year started and she was a teacher, helping Scott with the basic algebra classes. A teacher, and not an X-Man, and she tried unconsciously to avoid any mention of that side of life.
It was easy enough to do. She almost never had to go to the lower levels, except on occasions like when she cut her hand in the kitchens and needed stitches, and Jean had slipped up and gasped at how much blood there was, and the scar probably would have been less noticeable if Jean hadn't had to be so careful about how she moved so that she wouldn't accidentally touch skin.
But then the prison was attacked, and Xavier told her that Magneto was gone exactly two seconds before he finally asked her to decide if she was going to join the team.
She said she'd have an answer by morning, which seemed good enough, and that night as she pulled her shirt off to get ready for bed, she caught sight of her-- she'd come to think of them as hers-- dog tags in the mirror, gleaming against her chest in sharp silver contrast to her black bra and pale, but toned, skin. She stared at the reflection for a minute, noted that they had become so much a part of her that she hadn't even thought to offer them back at seeing Logan. Then she took them off-- for the first time-- and tucked them in a drawer, and after breakfast the next day she said she was in.
Magneto didn't rouse any immediate trouble, but he didn't make himself easy to find, and his looming threat filled a corner of every day. Storm and Jean started teaching her self-defense, and fighting; Scott tried but just didn't know how to teach her to fight with a woman's body and a woman's balance. She felt slightly bad when he gave up, and asked if she could maybe learn how to fly the jet instead.
Other than that, life was life, and Rogue found all her various routines comforting after awhile, as if a simple thing like going from breakfast to jogging to class, and always having a turkey and cheese sandwich with milk at lunch, were enough to keep everything else at bay. She kept herself hoping that monotony could perpetuate itself, that so long as she didn't break form, nothing could happen.
And it was a nice hope, one that made her feel good, but it was merely hope, and when she walked into Professor Xavier's office one December morning to a flurry of planning, she knew she should have remembered how easily hopes could wisp away and leave only the bitter tinge of regret as a reminder of their existence.
But there was no time to linger on it, because they knew where Magneto was, finally, and they had to go fast. And in the rush to make sure they didn't lose him, she didn't have a chance to wonder what she could actually contribute; she just went, and when it came to fighting there *wasn't* much she could do. Scott was scrabbling with Mystique, and Jean and Storm had their hands full with a pale yellow, towering *thing* of a mutant that kept seeming to be in two places at once, and she was just-- there.
Until she found herself just out of sight behind Scott and Mystique, and she couldn't help but think that they still hadn't located Magneto, and she whispered, "I'm sorry," with no real plan in mind except to peel off one glove and catch Mystique by the shoulder, which she did, and she'd forgotten in five years exactly what that floodgate of personality felt like. Then she was falling as Scott tore Mystique away from her, and her face hit a jagged part of the rock wall of the cave they were in, and she tasted blood on her lips.
Scott left Mystique in an unconscious heap to help Rogue up. "Are you okay?" he was demanding, and she lashed out before she remembered who she really was. He held her at bay and yelled, "Rogue!" and she blinked at him.
"Scott. I'm... I'm sorry."
"What were you thinking, touching her? You didn't have to do-- "
"I know where he is," she broke in. "I need a minute to... to find... lemme think just a minute."
"You know wh-- Shit." And then they could hear Jean shout, and he paled. "Rogue, I have to go help them. Stay here until we've got the other one handled."
She watched him go and she sighed, and both parts of her wanted to find Magneto for different reasons. She stared at the quiet form of Mystique on the ground, and then she looked at her own hand and it was blue, and she smiled.
And it was easy to find Magneto now that she knew the caverns so well, and she brushed blood from her face as she went. He was deep within the mountain and trapped, but he smiled as she came into the chamber. "Ah, Mystique, my darling. I take it we've come through victorious."
She nodded at him; his arms reached out to reward her with a fond embrace and Mystique rushed to the fore, and all she could feel was a desperate longing to be in his favor, always and forever. She stepped forward and let him touch her, and her form fluctuated only moments after his gasp was cut short by the jolt of the opening connection. Mystique screamed to see him hurting; Rogue screamed to have him in her head again.
She finally managed to shove him away and she stumbled as he fell; she could see her own form going from blue flesh to her leather uniform and back again, helplessly, and she sobbed and struggled for control until gentle hands carefully held her still, and Storm's voice was soothing in her ear.
Then she found herself in the medlab, blinking up at Jean as she put careful stitches just under and to the right of Rogue's nose. At a safe point, needle far from her skin, she whispered, "Jean?"
And Jean smiled and began the next stitch. "Feeling yourself again? Ah, just a second... okay. That was the last one."
Rogue nodded slowly and watched Jean strip off her latex gloves. "I think so... um, Jean? Weren't we in some caves? How'd we get here?"
"In the jet. You haven't been aware of much for the last hour or so. You shut down pretty effectively."
"Oh," Rogue murmured. She gently touched her cheek, pressing carefully around the edges of the wound. "I'm gonna have a scar, aren't I?"
Jean winked. "I think I did better this time. And it's just three stitches."
"We dropped he *and* Mystique off at the prison. Rogue-- "
"I didn't mean to," she said suddenly. "To hurt him, to catch him... I wanted him to touch me, to touch her...just to care, a little, just to-- I can't feel them so much. It was stronger last time."
Jean was watching her with a sad protectiveness, and she felt sick. "I did what I could to help you find yourself on the jet," Jean said softly. "I had to, if only to get you to keep your own form and stop sticking to various metal things."
"Oh," she said again. "Jean, am I done? Can I go upstairs now? I just... I think I should go to bed."
"Sure. And Rogue... if you need help with anything-- "
"Thanks, but I'm fine. Been there, done that, you know?" She closed her eyes briefly and then sat up and slid off the table. "G'night, Jean."
Her dreams blurred that night; the oldest ones she remembered, the ones with Magneto and the professor that used to have her slipping up and calling him Charles at times. Now there were new ones, vague and longing ones that had her taking too many forms to make sense of. And when she woke she had a fever and had to throw up, and she curled up on the floor of her bathroom until Jean found her there and took her back to the medlab. She said things about going through too much and succumbing to the flu, and it was over a week later that Rogue paid attention to anything else.
Even then, she didn't pay attention to much.
She took up the quiet motions of her life again, and after another week or so it was time for the Christmas break. The morning that she finished the last class she taught with Scott she walked to lunch with him and stopped short, because Logan was hunched at a table next to Professor Xavier and muttering about something.
And she started to back up; she wanted to just leave and not face him, but Scott touched her shoulder and then Logan looked at her and smiled. He actually smiled. She sighed and murmured, "This isn't a good idea," but went to sit at her usual place anyway, which was three seats down and across from Logan.
He simply got up and moved, and because the seat across from her was taken, he growled at the girl in it until she got up and scurried away.
"You probably just scared five years off that poor kid's life."
"She's young. She won't miss them." He stared at her and frowned. "Xavier told me what happened."
"Oh. Well, that's good, seein' as how I don't want to talk about it."
She didn't know why she was being so rude, anymore than she'd understood it at her graduation. She only knew that Logan was there, in the end, after it all, and that it didn't help much.
"Okay," Logan said, and she looked at him, surprised. "But you're gonna talk to me about something, so get thinking, huh? I'm not going anywhere."
And she stared at him some more, and she wanted to believe him, wanted to believe that he wasn't going anywhere. He smiled again and winked at her. "Believe it, Marie. I'm sticking around for a bit."
She bit her lip and looked down at her plate. "Don't be expectin' to get your old room back, though, okay? It's mine now, and I don't think it's much your style anymore."
"Uh-oh. I liked that room," he teased. "What'd you do to it? Flowers? Dolls?"
She finally smiled at him, amused. "Teddy bears and unicorns. And wallpaper with little pink hearts and rainbows."
"Yeah. You of all people should know, Marie. Rainbows are my favorite."
Her smile faded fast. "Don't say that."
"What? I was only kidding-- "
"No. I don't know you, okay? It's gone, most of it."
Logan hesitated before saying anything. "That's probably better for you."
"It's... it just feels like I lost part of myself. I liked you bein' there with me, and now... you're just gone."
"I told you I'm sticking around, Marie, and I mean it. You've got me here for awhile."
"And after that?"
"Why do we have to think about that now?"
"Because it's important," she said, and suddenly she wasn't hungry anymore. So she said so, and then she went up to her room and fell asleep.
She woke up to knocking and muttered, only half coherent, "Come in."
Logan opened the door and leaned into the frame. "You mean that?"
She took a minute to finish waking up. "Sure," she finally said. "What time is it?"
"Around nine." He held up a paper bag. "Jean tossed some food and stuff in here and I told her I'd bring it up."
"Thanks," and she pulled out a sandwich and picked at the plastic wrap. "Sorry about runnin' off."
"Nah. I sprung in on you and threw a lot right into your face... " He glanced around uncertainly. "Hey, you lied. I was really looking forward to those rainbows."
"Oh, shut up," she said, but laughed. "I really am sorry, though."
"Okay," he accepted, watching her carefully. "Marie, why are you beating yourself up about this? Everything worked out, as I hear it."
She sighed and dropped the sandwich onto the bed. "Do you know the one thing I remember most clearly? How it felt when you stabbed me."
Logan paled, and looked sick, but she kept talking anyway. "A little bit of me had to shift, to make room for your claws, and.... and a rib broke, and I could feel blood going into my lung. And it was weird, to feel *so* much happening in that one spot, but what I remember most is that-- that you said 'no' right before I touched you. But I did it anyway, and I don't know why, but I did it and you could've died."
"You looked scared then, you know," she continued. "But I did it."
Logan sighed. "Aw, hell, Marie. What do I say to that?"
"Nothin'. It's just something I've been thinkin' about." She blinked, as if pulling herself out of a daze, and picked up her sandwich again, finally unwrapping it. "So why'd you come back?"
"Does anyone like bein' lied to?"
"Well, I was thinking about you. I was. But I decided you were better off without me."
"Now you've just gone and confused me."
"Xavier asked me to come," he admitted. "Everyone's worried about you."
For a moment she felt a flash of anger that this made twice she'd only seen Logan because the professor had intervened, but then she just nodded. "I know they are. And.... thanks. For comin'."
"I haven't done such a bang-up job protecting you, Rogue. You're right to be pretty ticked off at me."
"I'm not," she protested. "I was... Can we just start over here?"
"Start over, huh?" And Logan seemed to mull that over, but then he stuck out his hand. "Logan."
She stared at him for a minute, and finally smiled. "Marie," she said, taking his hand.
And he tugged on it, pulling her into his arms and hugging her tightly. "Good to meet you," he murmured into her hair.
She hesitated, but settled into his embrace. "Likewise," she said softly. "Tell me, are you the type of man to help strange girls stuck in the middle of nowhere?"
"Only the ones who creep in when I'm not looking." His chest rumbled with easy laughter against her ear. "Only one so far."
She drew away slightly. "I think one's a perfectly sufficient number, thank you."
Logan shrugged. "Far be it from me to argue with genius."
Christmas passed and it was quiet, and Rogue spent her days playing games with students and evenings talking to Logan, and for once her routine didn't need to be so comforting, but could be comfortable by just being.
And then there was a day in January when a warm wind rolled through, and after lunch she pulled Logan outside and to his bike. He'd never quite explained why he didn't have Scott's anymore. "Let's go," she said.
She shrugged. "Anywhere."
He looked at her like she was crazy, but they went, and they wound up walking the streets of a tiny town halfway to New York City, and it was just far enough for her to breathe free of the mansion and everything else, if only for the afternoon.
They walked, and they were passing a small church when the bells rang the hour. And after the third and final toll echoed through the afternoon air and faded away, Logan looked at her and smiled.
It was a small smile, and he smiled at her all the time so she tried to tell herself it didn't mean anything. But she didn't try hard, because for her each smile meant everything, and she wasn't eager to believe otherwise. She wasn't eager to believe anything, except that this was *this*: it was Logan, and it was her, and it was cold like every day but it wasn't the mansion and she could actually think of herself as living.
And Logan was still smiling, in his own vague way, and she finally raised her eyebrows and demanded, "What?"
He just smiled some more and glanced at the church. "Did you ever go?"
"When I was little," she told him, and almost went into all the details of how the church back home had run out of money and merged with another, and how her mother hadn't much liked that priest so they just stopped going, and how after that she'd wondered if faith was good for anything at all.
She stopped short of telling him all that, though, and just nodded. "Our church didn't have bells," she said. "That's all I really remember about the building."
"That's too bad. The sound is kinda nice." He glanced at her. "Just wondered. You know."
"Yeah. I know." She sighed, feeling abruptly uncertain. "Are you leavin' soon?"
"What?" He looked at her sharply. "No plans to. Why?"
"Just makin' sure."
"'Kay." He hesitated, still looking at her. "Marie... I'd touch you if I could. I wish I could, you know. Really touch you... "
"Hey." She smiled, and she could almost feel it splitting her face and she knew it was the most genuine smile she'd given in months. "You can, you know. You won't, I know that, but you're the only one I ever liked having in my head. And I know why you won't, and that's okay, 'cause that's as sweet as wantin' to in the first place, and.... thank you." She flushed slightly and looked away for a moment. "Besides. You can touch me anytime you want, even if it's not my skin."
His gruffly pleased expression almost made her laugh. "Careful, Marie. I'll take you up on that."
She slipped her hand into his. "I believe you, Logan. I honestly believe you."