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Jus Ad Bellum

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"For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."
—Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:12


"That'll be thirty-one fifty-two," the cashier said, shifting away from me when I started hunting through my jeans pockets for the money. He tended to try and mask his unease in a thousand little ways—finding a stray penny beside the register, fixing the rows of cigarettes behind him, choosing that moment to restock the candy jar on the far side of the worn yellow counter from me. Straightening his white button-up shirt, he gave me a quick glare before turning to the register in unconcealed impatience.

Convenience stores in Salem sucked, and if it hadn't been an emergency, I would have damned well waited until Jubilee got home and let her go out for this stuff. She didn't give a good damn how people acted around her; me, I got sensitive about crap like the cashier was pulling. He might as well have blazed a sign screaming 'Mutants Not Welcome Here; GO AWAY'.

Great guy. I idly wondered how far I could drop kick him.

In general, the cashiers in Salem were uncomfortable around mutants. You'd think by now they'd be used to us, but no dice. We needed tampons and applesauce and clean underwear just like any normal human, and we didn't wander around trying to kill or mutilate the local human population for sport—but they just didn't get it. The connection between the fact that the school was located here and that Salem had the lowest crime rate in the country was never quite made by the residents.

Idiots.

Not everyone in Salem was like that, I was sure of it. Just all the ones I'd met, one of the many reasons I hated shopping alone. The sideways looks of dislike and fear, the way people jerked out of my way as if I carried the latest and greatest version of the plague—none of these things a good shopping experience made. Jubilee could take that sort of thing and brush it off—I simply couldn't.

Shifting on the stained concrete floor, I tried to check my back pocket. No money there either, and my nylon gloves didn't make it any easier to feel if it was there.

"It's gotta be here," I muttered to myself, and the cashier's mouth twisted in contempt. He didn't even try to hide it. I ignored him—after all, this was normal. Here, money, money, money; where's the money. Took it from 'Ro, grabbed my keys off my desk—I could swear I put it in my front jeans pocket. A sigh came from his general direction and I gritted my teeth. "Just a sec."

The gloves made him nervous—he knew what I was, after all, even if he didn't know my particular situation. Gloves in eighty-degree summer heat were something that had to get some notice. And since mutants reacted to me in similar ways (though granted, they tended to hide it better), I certainly wasn't gonna say that he was outta line or anything—especially since Carol. Just—annoying. Like I'm suddenly really hot to play the part of a schizophrenic and spend some quality time in that little isolation chamber downstairs at the Mansion for a few weeks. Oh yeah, my idea of a good time was definitely to have no control over my body and have a thousand foreign thoughts drowning out my voice. Always fun. Great. Grrrr.

—Cool it, darlin'.—

Practice ten days ago, and an accidental touch. Refreshed my inner Logan. Oh goodie.

—Shut up, Logan.—

The snickering in my head faded slowly, and I bit my lip, before my fingers brushed the paper trapped deep in my pocket. Hooking a finger on the bills, I fished them up and out, dropping them neatly on the counter (I knew better than to try to hand them over personally). The cashier—with the oh-so-original-name of Joe—slowly picked them up, and I gave into temptation and cracked my gum. He jumped. Love it. I'm such a bitch. Should be in my resume—you know, along with Energy Absorber and Ass-Kicker Extraordinaire, Carrier of the Personality Formerly Known As Carol Danvers and Part of the Personality Currently Known as Logan.

Of course, I sort of liked the name Rogue. Shorter.

"Here you go." I was understanding when he carefully laid the change on the counter and stepped back again as I reached out a gloved hand to take it. Three Washingtons, one Lincoln—I could stop by McDonalds on the way home and miss Shepherd's Pie for lunch. Thank God for small miracles. Folding them into my hand, I wiped a palm over my forehead, wishing, not for the first time, that Logan's senses hadn't been recharged in me from that latest encounter. The scent of fear and tobacco was not particularly conductive to calmness—made me itch for a cigarette, in fact. I didn't smoke—Logan did. Damn.

Grabbing the bag, I did one last spot check on purchases—tampons for me, applesauce for Jubes, some firecrackers for Johnny—we're good to go. I smiled brightly at Joe. No 'thanks for shopping here' from him, though I wondered if he was aware that mutant purchasers made up three quarters of his clients and probably most of his profits. He'd go out of business if not for us.

"Thanks." Smile, Rogue. Look cute and harmless, as if flies are in no danger when you are near. He didn't seem reassured. Sorry, babe, I got a monthly emergency here, no time to babysit your xenophobia.

"Mutie," he mumbled as I got to the door. He probably thought I was out of range of hearing—or did he? Hot color splashed up my face as I shifted the bag to my other arm and used my free hand to push open the door, making the tiny bell ring merrily.

It was sudden, unexpected, and pretty much the definition of shock—there was no door, because someone else pulled it open, and my hand had nothing but air to grab on to.

Picture it, if you will—one Rogue, one bag, one handful of change, with no support. This wasn't going to be pretty. Falling forward, I instinctively avoided grabbing for anything—I'd gotten into messes doing that—and wished I'd practiced hovering more so I could catch myself mid-air. Damn, damn, damn. Another thing Logan was gonna smirk about, reminding me that those hours I spend training with him aren't just so I have great legs and good toning.

That's when my chin hit the concrete sidewalk and I bit my tongue—hard—instantly alighting my head with all sorts of new and uninteresting varieties of pain. And wouldn't you know, invulnerability didn't cover that. Go figure. Instantly, a hand was under my arm and the stars in front of my eyes left me completely vulnerable to whatever the poor unsuspecting person was planning on doing.

Dear God, why hadn't I worn long sleeves?

"I'm sorry." The voice sounded frantic, dangerously close to my ear. "I'm so sorry, ma'am. I—I—let me help you with this." Carefully, I was deposited on the sidewalk with a sort of weird combination of concern and out-and-out fear—I could even smell it, and shit, did I seriously need heightened senses on top of everything else? Vaguely, through the pounding of my head, I could hear whoever it was—and the voice was male, so I was going out on a limb and saying man—begin to gather up my dropped items and deposit them in back in the bag. Rubbing my forehead, I didn't even try to do it myself—I felt like my brain was trying to squeeze its way out my ears. Ouch. Shit and ouch.

In Salem, I could honestly have said that they could watch me being murdered in the street and probably not give a damn. Apparently, I was wrong.

Before I could quite bring myself to say anything, the money was thrust into my free hand and my fingers closed over it reflexively.

"Here. I found all of it—I didn't take any. I can—if some's missing, I can look for it for you. Okay?"

I rubbed my head and tentatively opened my eyes to see if they worked. Yep. All in good working order. Yeah for me. Invulnerability DID do something. With a quick glance down at my hand to see that a five and three ones were present, along with sundry coins, I looked up at the man who was hovering over me with desperate concern.

My attempt at a smile faded instantly

He was soaked with fear, and I'd never run into that before. He was crouched beside me on the hot concrete, so I couldn't quite judge his height, though he was tall. Faded jeans that had obviously seen better days, a long-sleeved blue shirt that needed an iron like no one's business, cross-trainers that should have been honorably retired to a landfill somewhere. Geez, I thought I was the only masochist who wandered around in hot weather wearing heavy clothing. Dark hair and bright blue eyes. Oh God, a hottie if there ever was one. Yummy.

And scared. So scared and I had no idea why.

"Umm—yeah, that's it," I said, trying to look alluring, but the inner pounding of my head didn't help. He leaned over me with disturbing levels of consideration. "Thanks, Mr.—"

"Andrews. John—John Andrews." He paused, blinking rapidly—the fear was so strong I was getting nauseated and Logan's dormant fight-or-flight was beginning to kick into sluggish gear. Great. Just great. Wonderful time for an unheralded flashback of powers. Aching head, skinned knee and chin, and I needed to seriously go feral on someone who was already so afraid I was getting the distinct impression he might wet his pants if he wasn't careful. Joy. "I'm so sorry—I didn't see you at the door. I—I—"

"I'm Marie," I said, wisely choosing not to extend a hand—his fear was so hot that I was pretty sure he might pass out if I moved too quickly. Slowly, I stood up—instantly, his hand was under my elbow, supporting me as I found my footing. "Nice to meet you, though the circumstances suck, huh?" I grinned up at him, a little surprised he'd touched me—mutants, as stated above, just aren't welcome around Salem. And wow, I'd so underestimated the good citizens of the town—this guy was seriously nice.

"Do you—can I carry these for you? To your car? I'm so sorry—I didn't, I swear I didn't see you." He was already reaching for my bag—and were his hands shaking? Quickly, I intercepted him, closing my fingers over the brown paper.

"No, it's okay."

He froze. Okay, moving from strange quickly into weird. Big blue eyes looked up into mine, reminding me yet again, damn, he was hot. Hot and helpful. That's a combo you don't see every day. I crouched to pick up the bag—the aching was cooling down, why thank you , invulnerability, you're so kind to FINALLY notice I'm damaged.

"Um—do you need me to do anything? I—I can—" He swallowed as my body lifted in an abbreviated hover—shit, now I decide to scare the boy even further? I concentrated and replanted my feet on the ground, wondering what on earth could have inspired me to try and screw myself over this way. Focusing on John—half expecting him to make a run for it—I noted his eyes were widening and the fear scent was increasing exponentially. Dear God, kid, just stop already, what on earth have you heard about me? I'd never run into this level of terror before—even the most idiotic of the FoH never gave off anything close to this. His eyes weren't on me though—suddenly, they were fixed over my shoulder and I turned to see a man in uniform approach.

I didn't recognize the uniform—vaguely paramilitary, and inner-Logan was growling softly. Had to hope I wasn't doing it out loud or I'd be in for trouble. Instantly, I took a step backward, trying to think of what to do. Running, while attractive, just didn't seem like the wisest option, all things considered. I hovered. In public. Oh, the stupidity. Oh the stupidity, the foolishness of doing that and if I was so suicidal as to hover in full view of the public, couldn't I have done it earlier so I wouldn't have a tres aching knee and a serious headache?

And he asked me—

"Is anything wrong, ma'am?"

I gaped a little—no words were emerging at first. The frown deepened and his gaze went to John. I looked quickly—and the man did such an impersonation of a statue as to make anyone proud. Or scared. Really, incredibly scared, and the ache behind my eyes was getting worse, working its way to the twitch of my fingers and the adrenaline trying to kick-start me into action.

It was as if he thought this guy could do something to him....

"Umm—no." Clutching my bag to my chest, I started to edge away—uniformed people did nothing for me except Bad Things. "Everything's fine, sir."

"Is he bothering you?"

Blinking, I turned my gaze on John, who was—dear God, he was shaking. He extended a hand, and I saw something flash at his wrist, something in dark blue that kicked over a memory for me. I tried to nudge it out, but it wouldn't come, so I turned my full attention back outwards. The uniformed man was still frowning, vaguely threatening, and every hair on my body went on alert. Oh, this wasn't good. This was surreal and Not Good all at the same time.

"No—he just helped me out, that's all." The man's gaze didn't leave John—and the fear smell was beyond belief. No, not fear—this was terror, pure and simple, and I'd been to horror movies where the entire audience didn't generate anything at this level. "I'm fine, thanks. I—uh—I gotta go." Weird. Too weird, even for me. Quickly, I groped for my keys in my pocket, fumbling them out and nearly dropping them in my haste.

"You know you're not allowed on this side of town, boy. Maybe you should get going back."

Huh?

"Y-yes, sir. Sorry, sir. I—I'm going." His gaze went to me. "Sorry, ma'am. I'm—I'm glad you're okay. Thanks." He turned and quickly began to scurry down the parking lot. His gaze flickered over his shoulder and I got the distinct impression that once he was out of sight, he would be going straight into a flat out run.

What the....

"Sorry about that, ma'am." The man's voice was suddenly gentle. "You're from the School, right?"

"Yes." Umm, yeah. Yes, I am. And you care why...?

"I'm sorry about that—they just pull crap like that." He shook his head with what appeared to be—exasperation? Disgust, definitely, and that was new. Did John have a reputation of some kind in town? "I'll make sure he doesn't bother you again." With something resembling a salute, he turned and walked away, and I followed his progress for a few minutes, before making a break for my car.

My car, my nice six year old Eclipse...

Which was NOT in the parking lot. In point of fact, there were no cars in the parking lot. And for sure, when I walked in, there'd been twenty.

In every direction around me, the empty parking lot stretched without mercy to the high wooden fences that separated this lot from the two adjoining. Grey, sleek, just as I remembered, sans it's intended users; to wit, vehicles.

—Marie, darlin', you sure you're okay?—

—Well, I don't know, sugar. How hard did I hit my head?— In point of fact, I hit my chin, not my head, I didn't really black out, and what the hell was going on?

Standing in the middle of the lot, I stared around me, trying to get a grip on the situation, which was spiraling toward Freaky real damn fast. Slowly, I put down my bag and realized I still had my change clutched in my hand.

One five, three ones, some metal, enough to get a cab. I took the coins to stuff in my jeans pocket and began to fold the bills when I froze, staring in shock at them in my hand.

I mean, how often, really, do we take a good look at our money?

It looked as if ole George Washington had taken a hiatus. The face that looked back at me had starred in my worst nightmares often enough, however, that I recognized it immediately.

Senator Robert Kelley was sure moving up in the world for a dead man.

Slowly, I sank down into the hot asphalt of the lot and tried to think, ignoring the soft pounding in my knee and the sharper pounding of my head. Obviously, someone with a sick sense of humor made this. Funny money, how cute. How very fucking cute. Though—though it smelled real. I lifted it to my nose, taking a breath. It smelled VERY real. Like...like money, like sweat and musty-detergent from my jeans, slightly metallic from the register or the coins it had been pressed against in my hand. Frantically, I flipped up the next two—Robert Kelley smiled back at me with disturbing amounts of good humor. The five was fine—there we go, back in the real world, Lincoln old buddy, we're good.

I had to be hallucinating.

But no—spreading out the three dollars and the five with trembling fingers, I looked between them. No difference. There was Lincoln, and there was Kelley, and they both smiled back at me as if totally unaware that they were doing their damndest to give me a heart attack. Bastards.

Breathe, Rogue. You're stronger than this. Obviously, this is some sort of weird, super-elaborate practical joke. Obviously. Obviously, that nice boy and the cashier and someone else has set you up, even got a man to dress up for you too. This little stunt has Bobby and Jubes written all over it. Oh yes, my dearest friends, this was their idea of a good joke.

And then they took my car. Took my car so I couldn't get home and then set this up, told that guy—John? John Andrews?—to trip me up, and then that guy with the gun. All of it. And I—and I should march right back in that store and demand that I get real money back. Or—or find that cute guy who obviously was trying to distract me with his fear scent, all kinds of odd there. I was going to choke Jubes with her own tongue. This wasn't funny. By no stretch of the imagination could this be considered funny. It was sick and twisted, and my car was gone—

—and there wasn't even a little puddle of oil where it had been, and my car always leaked oil. It leaked at stop signs, for goodness sake. Logan and I had been planning to get that fixed finally this weekend. But here, now, there was no oil, as if my car hadn't even been in this space. Crawling the four inches that separated me from the lines of paint that made up the edging, I stared at the asphalt for an endless moment, trying to register the fact that this parking lot was not only devoid of my oil stains, but it was clean. The lines were freshly drawn snowy-white, there was—I stopped, sitting back on my heels to think.

If thinking could be applied to the nasty hamsteresque circles my mind was running.

Scrambling in a circle (maybe I parked over there), I looked at all the empty spaces. Oil cleaned up, yeah—but there wasn't even a stain. There was nothing. My car, the car I drove and that leaked a merry trail of oil, had never touched its year-old Michelin wheels in this lot. It was that simple.

Calm, Rogue. There's an explanation for all of this.

"Ma'am?"

Black boots, grey pants, weaponry, deep voice. My eyes traveled upward in the vain hope that I'd just imagined that voice.

Paramilitary guy was back, looking worried. Paramilitary guy was wearing an M-16 and there was Glock at his hip. I blinked—I knew my weaponry; I could identify on sight any weapon made in any country from the year 1900 on, and a shitload of stuff before that. A few other things were attached to the wide utility belt that I didn't recognize, but those two certainly had my full and undivided attention.

And while an M-16 wouldn't necessarily hurt me much, it could slow me down.

"My—My car is gone." My mouth was dry, and were my hands shaking? Clasping them behind me, I looked up at him, hoping to God my face wasn't betraying me as much as my body was. He wasn't a joke—you don't get stuff like that gun for a practical joke.

"Your car?" He scowled, wide jaw tightening, and I forced myself not to wince. "Little norm bastard." He extended a gloved hand to me. "Ma'am—"

Norm bastard?

"Marie." The ma'am's were scaring me. Seriously scaring me.

"Lieutenant Bartlesby, ma'am." The hand was still out and I slowly tucked my money in my pocket, tentatively taking the hand and letting the thick fingers close over mine. "Do you need a ride back to the School?"

I froze for a second. The Professor would know what was going on. He'd understand. He'd kick Bobby's and Jubilee's asses for doing this. Oh yes—I'd sic Logan on them too. I had a headache and a serious case of the willies, and I sure as fuck didn't need this sort of crap on top of it.

"Yes, please." Without ceremony, Bartlesby bent to pick up my bag and turned toward the road—and how odd, there were no cars. This was Saturday morning; there were always cars out. Always. Packed. In jams, even. But not one to be seen and the hairs on my body seemed to lift even further. Dear God, what the hell was going on? "Thank you, sir."

—Did you just agree to let a government military officer take you home?—

—Shut up, Logan. Give me a better idea here.—

He—Bartelsby—smiled a little.

"No problem, ma'am. I'm sorry this happened—we haven't had an incident like this in a long time. I'm sure we'll find your car soon."

In my experience, a stolen car was as good as vanished—probably on its way to Mexico for a new paint job, but why on earth would anyone want it? It wasn't that great, though it ran well, and that oil leak—surreptitiously, I glanced around the parking lot toward the exit. No line of oil. Damn. What sort of car thief fixed your oil before they stole your car?

"I can—can give you a description." Eclipse, dark green. All mine. I loved it. I wanted it back. Kill Jubes and Bobby for this. You ever met them, sir? Even if you do carry guns? Very big guns?

"I'm sure it's on file already, ma'am. We won't have any trouble getting it back."

I—what?

"You—you do?"

He nodded, still smiling—that smile was beginning to grate too. It had things in it—knowledge I didn't have and I hated to be left out. Especially out of this joke—and it had to be a joke.

"Of course. We have all of the School's vehicles registered." He paused for a moment as we came to the sidewalk lining the street, and I took the opportunity to look around. Nothing weird, nothing at all. Fewer cars. Granted. Perhaps we could say even no cars. Everything nice—pretty June day, blue sky, bright sun, not a cloud to be seen. Hallmark day, right outta a television special. This was...some mistake. Weird, weird mistake.

Weird mistake on Salem's biggest shopping day that the entirety of the town was disturbingly silent. No cars, no—people. Nothing. In the distance, there was a vague grey blob, tall and oddly familiar, though—and I blinked, trying to clear my gaze to see. Without thinking, I let my lessons take over and lifted off the ground—oh SHIT. Bad idea. Exercising mutant powers in public—not bright. Not bright at all.

The man paused and I alighted quickly, flushing.

"Sorry," I said quickly. What the hell was wrong with me? "I didn't—"

"Ma'am?" His gaze was blank. Maybe he hadn't been paying attention. Though he didn't look like the sort that missed much.

"For—doing that," I clarified. Still blank. "Flying."

"Why should you—" he stopped, frowning a little, but his hands never left my bag and looked entirely uninterested in going for the weaponry. "I'm happy to be of service, ma'am."

What the FUCK was that?

"Huh?"

He stopped, turning to face me.

"You wanted a ride back to the school—I'm glad to be of service."

It was obvious—I'd hit my head and I was currently hallucinating this entire thing. Setting my feet in pause mode, I drew in a breath.

"Sir, I—"

—Stop.—

Logan was completely awake in my head. I froze in place—it'd been a long time since I'd felt him like that. The pounding in my head increased suddenly and I stumbled, blinking through the sudden intensity of having so much of his personality pressing inside my skull, reawakening the fading headache.

—Logan—

—Don't do anything. Don't say anything else. Agree with whatever he says. That's military, darlin'. You don't wanna give him any ammo against you. Stop, listen, nod. That's it.—

"...just a lieutenant, ma'am." I'd missed something. Logan in my head stretched idly and made himself comfortable for the show—how long ago was the most recent touch again?

"All right." I nodded carefully, and his blank expression cleared. Looking at him, really looking at him now, he was young. Very young. Maybe twenty-four or five, barely older than I was. Handsome, in a vaguely standard-military-issue sort of way, dark hair cropped close. Scared me to death, because there was no good reason for him to be nice to me. None at all.

"If you'll come this way, ma'am." What the hell was with those ma'am's? I nodded, feeling for my keys in my pockets, wondering where we were going. Okay, so no car, weird change, weird guy, this is a pattern, chica. Just sit back and think about it. Sit back and follow the nice man on this turn—

To the left of the wooden fence that separated the lot of the store from the next lot, we made a left onto a sidewalk I didn't remember being there. I looked down, studying it; it didn't look particularly new. There were water stains and ingrained dirt from what could have been years of use, but this was supposed to be a weedy lot; I was sure of it. I'd seen the for-sale sign when I drove up. Following to the edges of the sidewalk, I noted the thick dark green turf, well tended, neatly mowed—then what looked like....

My eyes slowly traveled up in utter disbelief.

—What the fuck is that?—

I came stock still and it took several seconds for Paramili—I mean, Bartlesby—to catch on to the fact I was no longer following. I half-wished he'd just walked on and the rest of me didn't care whether he stopped or went.

—I'm not seeing that, Logan.—

No answer. Inner Logan got a glance and was pretty much the definition of speechless.

Chain link, many feet tall, outer fence. A glimpse of barbed wire within. I slowly followed it's height upward until I could see the top, and the shininess that tangled over it. Shiny, fine something that glinted in the sunlight. I recognized it, flashing into a memory that wasn't mine.

—Razor wire.— Logan's voice was grim. —That's razor wire. Eighteen feet chain-link, two feet razorwire. Check the length.—

I was just beyond the post that made up one corner of the fence—turning slightly, I watched it stretch into the distance to my right so I couldn't even get an estimate—to my left, same thing, ending in another vague greyish shape that my memory was trying to retrieve for study. Some bored person had erected an endless chain-link fence in the middle of downtown Salem while I was shopping, which rated among the weirdest things I'd run across yet. The competition was blown away.

That hadn't been there when I'd gone into that store. No question.

"Ma'am?"

Mr. Paramilitary/Bartlesby guy was beside me, hand on my elbow.

—Logan, is that was it.... But it can't be.—

Erik's memories were faded, distant with time, but they blended now into the images Logan gave me. Abruptly, I was standing in the middle of a burned-out field in Germany, the smells of unwashed bodies and death as thick as the humidity that surrounded me, a rush of sick horror and utter despair, a rush that left me breathless. Double vision, from Erik, who stood behind them as a child—and from Logan, who stood before them as a soldier.

I recognized this.

—Dear God.—

"Are you all right?"

—Don't tell him anything. Take it, baby. Just take it and walk and watch.— Logan was deadly serious, more serious than I'd ever heard him before. Realizing I wasn't moving—I wasn't sure I'd be able to move, truth be told—he pushed forward and took over, moving my feet along.

"Fine," I heard myself whisper and ripped back control, stumbling a little from the inner shift. Automatically, my hand went out to catch myself on the fence and just as automatically, Bartlesby somehow got on my other side, between me and the fence, catching my covered wrist in a firm grip.

"Ma'am!" His hand was over mine, gently leading it away from the fence, supporting me until I got my balance back. "You don't want to do that—" he paused. "It's powered with electrical current. I don't know if you—are you okay with that?"

Am I okay with a chain link fence in the middle of Salem that's powered with electricity? Sure I am.

"It's—it's okay," I said slowly. I raised a hand to my head. This couldn't be real. "Headache."

He nodded as if he understood and shifted his grip to my covered elbow, leading me down the narrow corridor made up by the old wooden store fence and the—THE fence. "Just a little further, ma'am. I need to get my truck and speak to my superiors."

Superiors. There were more of them. More men in uniform, more M-16s, more of this terribly strange politeness that seemed to translate to a cross between respect and fear.

—Go with it. Nod and do whatever he says. Just go with it until you know more.—

—Logan, this isn't Salem. This was not here when I walked in. You know what that means?—

—Um...—

—I'm in a coma somewhere because I really did hit my head harder than I thought. This is all a remarkable hallucination.— Leaving off the fact I didn't remember hitting my head.

Logan was quiet for a moment.

—Marie, it isn't a hallucination. I'd know.—

—You're just one of my personalities. How the fuck would you know?—

—I know when you're dreaming, don't I?—

I almost froze at that, but inner-Logan was stronger than he'd ever been and got my feet to keep going. He'd woken me from my nightmares and protected me in my dreams. Yes, he'd know.

—Is Carol still in there?—

A low growl was my answer. Okay. Logan didn't care much for Carol Danvers. In life, he'd had no issues with her, but in death, there'd been a merry hell of fighting for control of my body. I'd won, but Logan had never forgotten and this attitude showed in how he hung out in my mind. Inside, he and Carol were not quite equal powers—she had the most of herself in there, but Logan was fresher. It was weird and gave me headaches if I thought about it too much.

Of course, I already had a headache.

—Get out there and watch, darlin'. See what the hell is going on.—

I re-emerged into the real world and blinked, glancing at Bartlesby to see if he'd noticed my inattention. He'd come to an abrupt stop beside me, his hand on my arm bringing me up short as well, and I hovered slightly before catching my balance. Frowning, I gave the area a once over, wondering why he'd paused—and my curious visual search stopped cold as it met the reality of the strange grey blob I'd seen from a distance.

Silvery-metal, shining in the sunlight, as if a thousand hands had wandered over it with polish to bring that glowing perfection. Instantly, I was in Germany and staring up at an abandoned tower, the smells of ash and burning assaulting every sense. Squinting high above, I looked at the soldiers stationed at the top, weapons out, ready for anything.

—Logan, I'm going to start screaming.—

—Thirty feet high. Fuck.— I grasped for control, somehow finding my balance, schooling myself into normality. Don't give anything away. Logan's paranoia turned out to be useful for once.

—Sixteen individual scents—hold it, sugar.—I sniffed as a light breeze carried different scents toward me —They aren't all human.—

Logan couldn't smell mutations per se—but some things came across in scent that related to mutation. Sabretooth, for one, had a strong feline presence in his scent, marking him as mutant. Magneto had the faintest bite of metal. There were at least three people whose mutations were of the animal variety in this area.

A green-skinned young woman came forward, frowning, and I didn't need scent to identify her. Slightly iridescent scales marched across her throat in even rows, and I could see what could be something vaguely gill-like just behind her ears before short black hair swung forward to cut across her cheeks in a razor-fine line. Never had I ever seen a physically mutated person wander around in public. Never. Not unless they could hide it or they had a death wish.

Her uniform was similar to Bartlesby's—plain military grey, utterly forgettable except for all that serious weaponry that a domestic arena should never need, and a set of metal pendants or rank insignia on her collar. I squinted to see if I could identify her rank and military branch—this was most definitely not American army.

"Lieutenant?" Her voice was sharp, reptilian yellowish eyes roaming over me, trying to decide what I was. I tried not to gape—after all, I'd seen more unusual, didn't I live with Hank McCoy? Bartelsby snapped into full salute mode and my inner Logan groaned.

—What?—

—He's doing it all wrong.—

And this is something Logan would worry about. Go figure.

"...and I offered to take her back to the School."

The woman turned on me—apparently, I'd missed most of that conversation. I couldn't let that continue to happen; I was missing too much already. I forced my attention onto her as her thin lips parted, revealing a slightly pointed tongue in vague shades of seaweed.

"Name?"

"Marie Danvers," I heard my voice say, and my inner Logan growled again. Oh hell, hello Carol. Been awhile.

—Shut up, Logan. She needs help.—Carol's voice was faint, testy, and my headache, which had been fading, returned in all its former glory as she pressed inside my mind, taking up a comfortable residence to watch the show.

"Classification?"

It took a moment for the sense to penetrate on the question. I hadn't thought of myself like that before, though God knew, I'd seen my own files often enough.

"Alpha class."

Ah, that was interesting—the woman straightened. Respect. Awe, even.

"You're new here?"

Oh yeah, you'd better believe it, chickadee.

"Just arrived. I was on my way to the School and—my car was stolen." Silently, I hoped John Andrews ran long and far. This wasn't looking good for him. Not at all. Car stealing. These people were seriously freaking me out.

"Mr. Lensherr will want to see you, then." She smiled with such open friendliness I felt another rise of panic and had to force it down. "Welcome to the Salem Complex. I'm Captain Reherr." Dismissing Bartlesby with a nod, she took the bag from him and motioned for me to follow her. "You haven't been here before?" I blinked and slowly followed her to the tower, shaking my head mutely. I didn't think I could speak. "You'll need to pick up some ID while you're here—I can do that now for you. Is there anything else you need?"

"All my—my stuff was in my car." First things first. Marie Danvers didn't have brown hair with a white streak. That was Rogue.

—Nice of you to remember that, honey.—

—Where's Logan?— I didn't like her in my head. It felt wrong.

—Here. He's letting me handle it. Be a good girl and follow the nice woman. Then choose someone you can absorb.—

Whoa doggies. I almost stopped still

—I sure as hell am not!—

Inner Carol and Inner Logan suddenly banged together in my head and the headache slammed through me with a suddenness that was startling.

—Kid, this isn't your Salem. You realize that, right?—

—No shit, Sherlock.—

I figured out that part. Wherever the hell I was, this wasn't home.

—So, you wanna get up to date on where the hell you actually are before you meet up with Erik Lensherr? Or did you miss that part of the conversation?—

No, I hadn't. I hadn't missed that at all. I was blocking it, and doing a pretty kick-ass job at that, too.

The woman had paused to look at me curiously. Ah, missed speaking. Get back in the real world, Rogue. Get up to date. Don't freak out. Remain calm.

"Sorry." I rubbed my head. "Headache."

Her expression cleared and she nodded gently before gesturing me to follow her again. I took in her weaponry in a quick, sideways glance. M-16, Glock, standard issue apparently, as she opened the door to the watchtower with a quick swipe of a card she pulled from her pocket. As my eyes adjusted to the dimmer interior of the building, I realized I was surrounded by uber-respectful people in uniform who saluted en masse. Several were mutants. Wait...

—My God. They're all mutants, aren't they?— Inner Logan did an internal nod in agreement with my assessment. Most were visible mutations—two were scent-confirmation on feral tendencies. As Reherr closed the door behind me, I turned in a slow circle to take in the new location.

The base of the tower was a single room in slate-grey metal, dull enough that the overhead yellow halogens didn't glare off of it uncomfortably, and smelling uncomfortably of metal. Computer stations lined the farthest wall, where more uniformed mutants were obviously working. Farther to the left was a metal staircase, obviously leading to the upper levels. Checking the height of the ceiling, I tried to estimate how many floors this had.

"Dear God." I bit my lip, but luckily, I'd spoken low enough that no one seemed to hear me. Reherr stopped at a computer terminal and the officer at it turned quickly, rising to salute. There was the slightest sheen of metal to his skin and the grey eyes owed more to metal than the actual color. I blinked a little—it wasn't unusual for me to see mutants. It was just damned unusual to see them like this, and openly at that.

"I need an ID for the young woman." The Captain waited as he nodded quickly at me and turned back to his computer, quickly beginning. "Send a message to Mr. Lensherr and Logan for the passcodes."

Logan.

—Darlin', be careful.—

Logan. I could go to Logan, get some answers. Obviously, he'd figure out what was—

—Rogue, has it penetrated yet this isn't your world?—

I froze, stock-still at Carol's acerbic tone of voice.

—What?—

—This isn't your world. Therefore, the man who is currently in your head probably doesn't bear much resemblance to the man they just referred to as Logan. Walk carefully.—

—You know this is impossible, right?—

Carol's voice was wry, and somewhere distant, Logan snorted, but not in protest.

—Honey, when I was your age, I'd already seen a lot of things that were 'impossible'. Grow up and open your mind here. Assume that no one is going to be who you think they are and act accordingly.—

I took a breath, letting it out slowly.

—That's why you didn't let me give my name?—

—You got it, honey. Let's just hope I'm not anywhere close by. Or you, for that matter.—

The weirdness was receding, ironically—I could honestly say it was probably Logan and Carol between them keeping back the panic that seriously wanted to do a number on me at that moment. They were the reason I leaned casually into the wall, acting—er, casual. Like this was normal.

—Logan'll know my scent.—

—Then don't get close enough for him to pick it up.—That was Logan. —Range is fifteen feet or so on scent, depending on if the air is clear. Don't touch anything so you don't leave a trace.—

I jerked up from the wall and got several sets of curious eyes for my trouble.

—Sorta late now, darlin'.—

Fuck you, Logan. The eyes still studied me, obviously wondering why on earth I was jumpy, and I shrugged it off, relaxing my body muscle by muscle.

"This gonna take long?"

The officer at the computer shrugged.

"About an hour to clear you for entrance to the School."

A quick glance around, then I gave them my best smile. I had an idea.

"Looks like I need to go shopping. Can someone show me where to go? And—Ah, where would I look someone up? Someone I, uh, wanted to find. I, um, lost track of her in the camps."

—Looking for yourself now?—

—I don't wanna be unprepared here. If this is—well, anyway. Never hurts to see who I am.—

"You lost someone in the camps?" Reherr asked sympathetically, the yellow eyes softening as I looked away. My stomach turned over and refused to right itself as I took in what that meant.

Camps.

"You can use the computer over there." She pointed and I crossed obediently to the station she indicated, to the far left of where she and the other officer were working. Hmmm. Normal enough. Good to go. I sat down and found a working database after familiarizing myself with the operating system. Not so strange.

Rogue. Born—ah, here we—

I blanked out as the information scrolling impersonally across the flat screen—though I suppose I should have expected it on some level, if for no other reason than that this day was already weird and it didn't seem to want to be looking up by much. Staring serenely back at me was my own face and a painfully short bio. Because nothing much was known about Rogue's life. I never had the chance here, apparently.

But Rogue's death at the top of the Statue of Liberty was documented in excruciating detail, detail gleaned from the memories of those who had watched her die. For her martyrdom to mutantkind, seven years before, when she willingly gave her life to change the world and the catalyst for the human/mutant war that led to—to this.

—Please tell me I'm hallucinating this.—

I studied my own serene face as if it was a stranger's, the full lips and soft face of the child I hadn't been in so long I'd almost forgotten her.

Rogue, Magneto's dream, this reality.

It was an act of God that I didn't throw up.

My first view of the school was disturbingly familiar—so disturbingly familiar, in fact, that I began to smile as I watched some of the younger kids play soccer outside to the left of the bulk of the Mansion proper and the clean lines of a well-kept front lawn. The driveway was scrubbed as clean as it was every week (my back remembered that chore), and I noted the statuary were neatly positioned in the exact right spots around the entrance. On benches outside I watched a few students linger, either alone with a good book or chatting in the late afternoon sun. Birds seemed to be singing on-key and the laughter and shouting of the students lifted toward me over the hum of the engine. All we needed to complete this mutant Hallmark card were frolicking deer.

I actually caught myself checking out the wooded slopes to the east and only wondered that Bambi hadn't made a personal appearance.

Three blinks didn't change what I saw. It was home. Reflexively, I squeezed the handle of my new bag, stuffed with the clothes I'd bought—and luckily, the guy assigned to pick me up and deliver my ID hadn't seen me before, so didn't comment on the short blonde hair that skimmed my chin. Nor did he pay particular attention to my gloves, which was disconcerting in its own way. I was used to people noticing.

—Very chic, honey.—

—Yeah, yeah, yeah. I remember what you looked like. Let's both be really hopeful you stay away, 'kay?—

—Maybe I'm dead here too.—

I shivered at the reminder, thinking of the little I'd gotten off the computer before Reherr had offered to take me somewhere to get more clothes. War. The war Magneto had predicted with Cassandra-esque regularity, that he had told us so many times would come to pass.

It was the strangest thing in the world, to look out on the grounds of the school and realize that this place had somehow survived the human/mutant war—a war that had never been more than vague theory to me before that screen had given, in clipped, bare lines, the history of a different world.

Salem Complex—internment camp for humans who had participated against mutantkind during the war. Simple, black-and-white, clean explanation that just didn't seem to relate to the reality of metal towers and long, twisting fences, the faces I'd seen from a distance as Reherr led me to a car. What scared me most of all—Salem Complex had a number.

It wasn't the first or only, even in New York.

I pulled my bag closer, wrapping my fingers into the strap again and almost forgetting that I could pull the bag apart without even noticing with my strength. To distract myself, I gave a glance to the young man beside me. A little tense for someone driving an automatic car, as if he was sure something was going to go very wrong if he took his attention off the road even for an instant. As he came to a stop in the wide mansion driveway, I tightened my grip on the bag and drew in a deep breath.

I could do this.

"Here's the school, ma'am."

Nodding shortly, I reached for the handle of the door, and the man with me nearly blanched. I jerked my hand back, wondering what I'd done. What on earth...

"Just a moment, ma'am." He flipped the car into park and turned off the ignition, and I hesitated, wondering what he was planning to do. What he did do was weird enough—scurrying around the front of the car as if he was trying for a medal in speed dodging, he pulled open my door, motioning respectfully for me to emerge now. For the first time, I noted he didn't carry weaponry or decoration, though the uniform was identical to that of the officers—and I saw the edge of blue/black again below the wide cuff as he shut the door behind me, a blur on his wrist.

Before I could think better of it, I caught his arm and turned his palm toward me, pushing the sleeve back.

"You're human," I whispered, but I supposed I should have guessed that immediately. What I didn't expect was the blue tattoo across his inner wrist. Twelve numbers over a thin white scar, and my fingertips, even through the leather gloves, could catch the change in texture beneath the skin. Implant—maybe a chip.

I supposed, through the haze of shock, that Magneto had a certain sense of poetic justice.

"Y-y-y-yes, ma'am." Poor kid, no idea what to do, how to do it. I wanted to shake him and then touch his shoulder and tell him something comforting. Though what I would say—fuck if I knew. This was human-hell, sort of.

"Okay." And I freed his arm, feeling his fear at my touch, my interest. "Umm...are you taking me to Magneto?"

His eyes widened, and I suspected it was because of the name I used. Erik Lensherr. Use Erik Lensherr.

"Mr. Lensherr is waiting. Yes, I'm—I'm supposed to take you." Taking my abandoned bag from the ground, he motioned me to precede him—which logically, since I had no idea where to go, I could not do. For a second, there was a stalemate and our eyes met before he pushed his gaze downward to focus on my shoes, an act of blatant submission.

It made me sick.

"I'll follow you," I told him, watching his face. He still looked uncertain, but either my rank or simple common sense took over, and, with half a wary eye on me, he began to walk toward the Mansion. Distantly, I saw people emerge from the garage, but it took a moment to register the identity of the one laughing—the ash-blonde hair was longer and the once-bulky body had been sheared down to pure muscle barely covering heavy bones. Older too, in a way that had nothing to do with chronology but seemed to settle in the scar over his eye.

It was Bobby and my entire world stopped revolving. Just—boom. All stop.

Blue eyes, a mess of dirty-blonde hair, with a smear of grease arrowing across his forehead and into his hairline—I'd know him anywhere, anytime. Distantly, I heard the boy say something to me, but my focus was on my former lover and friend, whose eyes had met mine over the few feet of driveway that separated us.

—Uh-uh. Cool it, honey. That's not your Bobby. You aren't Rogue. You're new mutant Marie Danvers.—

Before I could recover from the shock, Bobby was approaching me with a quickened step—his gaze swept right over the boy with me, instead coming to rest on my face. A faint shadow crossed the clear blue eyes and I stiffened.

—He recognizes me!—

—He'll put it down to deja vu. Just don't break. Don't, Rogue. We don't have any idea about these people. You saw the fences, you know the reps, you shopped with people that stank of fear. Don't break.—

Shit, I didn't want to think of the mall again—the abandoned stores and the utter echoing silence of the hub of Salem's teenage social life, the surreptitious, frightened gazes on me as I stumbled into the first store I could find, my purchases made on the credit card Captain Reherr gave me before she left me there to sink or swim at my leisure. The clerk had rang my purchases up so quickly I'd wondered if there was a time limit I didn't know about, and a boy had been on-hand to carry the two bags outside for me before I'd finished scrawling my name across the credit card slip.

"Hi," he said slowly, and Bobby was never stupid. Never. A golden-tanned hand extended and I placed my gloved hand in his, feeling that spark of heat again—remembering long nights on the porch swing where we'd talked about everything and nothing at all. "You're new?"

"Yeah. Marie Danvers." I shook his hand firmly and the long fingers clung to mine. Yet his memories of me would have ended with that classroom, with that night when he hovered outside Logan's room and I almost committed my first kill by sheer accident. I had to remember that. Had to. Slowly, I withdrew. "And you are...?"

"Oh, sorry." His smile lit up his whole face and my breath caught again. "Bobby Drake. Nice to meet you." He gave the boy with me a dismissive nod. "I'll take her to Mr. Lensherr." With another smile at me, he freed my hand, taking the bag the boy mutely extended and turning his back as if he didn't exist. "Is he expecting you?"

"Yeah. They called in from Salem C-omplex." Not Center. Complex. With chain link fences and razor wire and people who wore guns and uniforms. Complex. Come to think of it, not hard to remember at all.

Bobby nodded in agreement.

"Bobby!"

I knew that voice. Long days outside playing basketball, from the time that he showed me how to assemble bombs in the lab or the many times he'd sat with me after my personality episodes. He'd sent Logan after me when I ran away.

St. John Allerdyce, slim and quick and far, far too observant. He came to a dead stop in front of me, almost skidding on the pavement, when his eyes rested on my face.

—Uh-oh.—

I didn't like it when Carol said uh-oh.

—Something you're not telling me, sugar?—

—Not exactly—

"...Marie Danvers," Bobby was saying. "Marie, this is St. John Allerdyce, our resident pyrokinetic. Say hi, John." A careless grin thrown at me, his usual expression when dealing with Johnny. "Usually, he's much nicer."

"Hey, Marie." A pause. "Scott wants you in the garage, Bobby. You left the engine without some seriously key components."

"Shit." A quick, worried glance at me, then he turned the full power of those liquid eyes on Johnny—and just as in my world, Johnny almost melted. Sort of fun to watch. "Can you take her to Lensherr? He's expecting her."

Slowly, the clear eyes turned on me. Looking me up and down, narrowing slightly on the chain around my neck, the ID I'd almost forgotten I was wearing.

—Carol, I don't like this. What the hell is—oh FUCK you were with him before he came to the school, weren't you?— Shit, I'd forgotten all about that. St. John had never brought it up, though I'd known he had a past with her. I'd never pushed about it, though. Never. Mutant trauma was too common, and it was an unspoken rule that we left whatever skeletons lingered in the mental closets happily concealed.

—Yeah, honey, chill. You're Marie Danvers, not Carol. You could be my sister.—

—You don't have a sister.—

—And how would they know? Honey, this is postwar. Computer files were destroyed, mutants were scattered—they're still piecing together the files from the death camps. For all anyone knows, you are exactly who you say you are.—

"...that's okay, Marie?"

In my world, I'd never told Bobby my name, even when I'd moaned in bed with him. How—wrong it seemed, to hear it now.

"Sure," I said, smiling brightly.

—It's not the Danvers part—he's got that look that Bobby had. He feels something is off.—

—Just be cool, honey. Play it very, very cool. Seriously—these people think you're dead. They aren't going to suspect anything unless you start freaking out.—

I swallowed in a dry throat and Johnny's hand hesitated over my wrists.

"Gloves?"

"Yes," I answered briefly, forestalling the questions in his eyes. "St—John, right?"

"St. John Allerdyce, at your service." A slightly self-mocking half-bow, before he straightened. There was a wariness in him—but he was so much the same. Edges of cynicism in his voice, the slow grace of his movements, the vicious control he placed over himself. I knew it all, knew him so well—and yet, I didn't know him at all. Here, anyway. "Danvers?"

"Yes." Keep close to the truth. Close, close, close. "My—my sister died in the camps."

"Carol." His mouth tightened, spitting out the name like a bad piece of meat.

—What the fuck did you do to him?—

—I was very young, Rogue. Go sort the memories if you wanna find out.—

I'd better—this wasn't looking too good. I'd never felt Carol defensive before.

"Yeah." I shifted a little, trying to think of something to say. "Nice place you have here."

—Lame, darlin'.—

—Carol in a huff?—

Logan's inner smirk made me grin.

"I like it." He nodded toward a group of students watching us from a distance. "I knew your sister." He was still edged, voice tight, and I flicked him a glance from the corner of my eyes to check his expression.

—Shit, Carol, what the fuck did you do to him?—

No answer. Damn her.

"Really?" I tried to keep my voice from betraying me and jumping into canine highness. "She left home when I was very young. I—I found her in the camps, but—"

—You don't know anything about the camps. You gotta find someone to absorb and fast, darlin'—

And how many ways did I not want to do that. Let me count them.

"I'm sorry." He didn't sound too sorry. The flat satisfaction in his voice startled me. Carol too, apparently.

—I never did anything to merit that.—

—Really?—

—I took care of him.—A pause. Then she was gone and Johnny was watching me—no, St. John was watching me. Different boy, different life. When he walked, there was the lightest trace of a limp, something I probably wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't been trying so hard to avoid his eyes.

"I didn't know her very well." I struggled, trying to think of something to say. "You live here?"

—Stupid question.—

—Help me out then.—

"Yeah, for most of my life." He pushed the front door open, gesturing for me to precede him. My back itched when he was behind me and I paused and turned as he shut the door. "I'll show you to Mr. Lensherr's office."

Magneto's office. As we walked toward the stairs, I tried to keep calm, though my skin was crawling. This felt—so normal. Like home. Except Magneto was in Xavier's office and ran the school, if the direction was right. Which was all kinds of wrong, on every level. What the hell had happened to Xavier? Where was he?

There was an obvious answer, of course. One I was avoiding thinking about, because it hurt.

"Here we are." St. John tapped on the door—metal door—and it slid open, revealing an office very much like Xavier's. In fact—

—in point of fact it was almost exactly as I had seen it before I left the Mansion that morning. Exactly. The dark wood of the desk was polished to a muted gloss, the green lamp on the corner that precise one inch from the edge. Neat stacks of files on the other corner, and a black pen seated by blank pad just in reach of the antique leather chair. With a breath, though, everything shifted again—Xavier's scent was warm and inviting, wrapped in cinnamon and cloves and the cigars he'd sometimes enjoyed with Logan, the red wine he shared with Jean.

This room was as sterile as polished metal, and I breathed out abruptly before I choked on the feel of it in my lungs.

"God," I whispered, and St. John jerked, turning to look at me with a thoughtful frown. The chair was empty, but I could see a shape beside the window, and a flicker of a hand brought the lamp alight.

Erik Lensherr looked back at me with a slight smile that seemed to strip straight through my body and look into my head. The last time I'd seen him, his hands were closing around my face as he told me he was sorry.

He'd lied, of course. When his mind raped mine, I'd seen that he wasn't sorry at all. Thinner, the lines of old scars bisecting the left side of his face from temple to jaw. Shorter hair and a strange fluidity of movement that seemed too carefully cultivated to be natural. With perfect ease, he extended a hand for mine, shaking it lightly, and it took everything in me not to jerk away.

"Hello, Ms Danvers," he said in his low, cultured voice, the edges sharper than a native speaker of English, but softened since the last time I'd heard his voice. "Welcome to Xavier's School for Gifted Children."

I never knew how I got through that interview.

He didn't comment on my gloves, motioning me to sit in the overstuffed armchair that I could remember sitting in hundreds of times before in Xavier's office. He asked me questions, and Carol reemerged to help me answer, though the hostility level in her was still pretty high. My family, my life before, the camps. He took my reticence as normal trauma from my experiences and smiled when he touched my shoulder and gave me a key to my room. Then he touched the intercom, speaking to someone outside, and in a few minutes, a young girl appeared.

The fear scent was familiar now, almost normal, and for some reason, that made me as sick as the trail of numbers on her inner arm. Numbly, I followed her down the hall to the bedroom—ironically, my former room—and realized she had my bag when she placed it on the bed.

"What's your name?" I asked. The girl jumped a little, turning to face me, and for the first time I got a good look at her. Dark hair...delicate chin...blue-black bruising around dark green eyes.

I winced and she stood so still—how the hell could anyone be so motionless? But the answer occurred to me with sickening ease—don't draw attention to yourself. Be still, and maybe they won't notice. Maybe they won't—

—God, what did they do to her here?

"Sarah." Barely a whisper.

I nodded encouragingly.

"Thank you, Sarah." She bobbed her head and quickly turned to leave. The door opened as she reached for it, and she drew back with a start as St. John walked in.

"Get out." The slightest jerk of his head, and the girl retreated quickly, sidling by him as if he were poison to touch. Shit. Slowly, I sat down on the edge of the bed and began to open my bag, wondering who my roommate was. Casually, St. John leaned against the doorway.

"Kitty, you roommate, is on assignment, so Lensherr assigned me to be your guide." His eyes swept over me, freezing on my face again. And Johnny wasn't Bobby Drake, handsome and careless and absentminded and open as all hell for anyone to read. Behind those blue eyes was a sharp mind and observational skills that were a byword at the school.

"Great." I absently raised a hand to run through my hair, remembering at the last second to be careful not to dislodge the wig. This wouldn't last. I'd need to cut and dye my hair. If I was here that long.

And God, I didn't want to be. Oh, I so didn't want to be here any longer than absolutely necessary.

"You remind me of someone." He waited for a moment as I assimilated what he said.

—Careful.—Carol was lurking behind my eyes, watching this bizarre interview with a strange intensity. I shivered at the emotion I got off her—anger, dislike, frustration, but also—affection, maybe. —Johnny has a good memory and excellent deductive skills. Be very careful.—

—You said it yourself, I'm dead here.— The reminder gave me the serious willies too, and I shoved the thought clear of my head, letting it nestle somewhere that it couldn't bother me.

—He spent time with me, honey. Nothing about that boy is stupid.—

I regarded St. John carefully. Cropped blonde hair, no scars, no real differences I could see between the St. John of my world and the man in front of me. Always staying out of the limelight, letting the rest of us take a turn on the stage as Center of Attention. He never wanted to be the least bit out of control.

"Really?" I paused, frowning as if in thought. "I look like my sister, I guess."

No response. Then he nodded, almost as if he'd made a decision, but I didn't think he believed that it was resemblance to Carol. It was all over his face—he'd be thinking about this, thinking, thinking, thinking. Shit.

"Come with me and I'll show you around." A slight smile. "You probably want to see her monument, right?"

Now why did that make me think he wasn't talking about Carol?

"Who?"

A slight frown pulled his eyebrows sharply together, and his eyes turned to the window briefly, before darting back to me.

"Her monument—the one for Rogue."

It was God-given luck that St. John was called away right before we got to the cemetery, because otherwise, everything would have been given up right then and there. I walked in alone.

The cemetery itself was a new addition, at least to me—though I remembered Xavier once mentioning that his will stated he was to be buried on the grounds, and I could vaguely recall Scott and Jean looking over the layout of the school with grim expressions. Our line of business, after all, did not cater to a long life. Scott, of all the things he was and wasn't, was a Boy Scout through and through—always be prepared. To the far left of the soccer field—that was right, that's what Scott had chosen, surrounded by lush forest and the slight elevation made it a perfect place for a good view of the grounds. As I slowly passed the wrought-iron gate and onto the freshly manicured grass, I braced myself for what I'd see.

There were a number of graves scattered hither and yon, beautifully well-tended on finely manicured grass, surrounded by expensive shrubbery neatly trimmed, but one held my absolute attention from the first. I came to a slow stop before the hideously overdone tomb, staring in blank, unbelieving shock at the statue that had my face. My face.

Okay, so I was dead. Abstract, had seen it on a computer, had seen the people who lived here that had never know Rogue. Got that. Saw Erik in Xavier's office. Saw—things. Saw razor wire and heard rumors. Yeah.

—Darlin'? You okay?—

None of it had prepared me to see this.

—Marie?—

I couldn't even answer. Slowly, I reached out to touch the girl that I hadn't been in seven years. No, cut that. The girl I had never been at all. She'd died, I hadn't. She'd received a monument—a fucking monument—and there seemed to be an inscription that I was damn sure I shouldn't read.

—Marie, walk away.—

My feet wouldn't move. I felt Logan strengthen in my mind and—how odd—Carol was helping.

—Marie, move. Get away from that.—

They buried me here. There was a statue. And things. Flowers. Cut flowers were rotting all around my feet, the smell sickly sweet, more fresh flowers piled up everywhere. People came here to leave flowers.

—Marie—

—Are you seeing this?—

A pause.

—It's not you.—

—Sure as fuck looks like me.— Long hair carved back from my face, and I looked serene. Is this what they thought I'd looked like up there? I remembered screaming and crying and praying and wishing and screaming again when I'd felt as if my organs were being sucked out through my skin—but I didn't remember being serene.

—Darlin', get away. Come on.—

—No, I wanna see this. This is how you build a mystery, sugar. How you build a cult. How you build a lie. See it? See? Read that inscription. Look at it.—

My knees hit the dirt and I braced both hands over the little marble slab at the base of the statue, staring at it.

"Rogue. Savior of mutantkind." I felt my throat close over. "It's easy—all you have to do is die before you can tell your side. Look at what they did."

—I see it, darlin'.— His voice was gentle.

"Look what they did!" I punched down at the unyielding marble, but my aim was off and I sank wrist deep through healthy green grass into dry dirt. Panic bubbled up under my skin like boils, ready to break at the slightest touch—and Logan and Carol couldn't help me now. Bracing a gloved hand on the marble, I leaned back to pull my hand free, trying to catch my breath. They took away my death. Not only was I dead, they made it into this.

Dear God. This was wrong.

—It's not you, darlin'.—

—Check out the statue, sugar. It's so me. Even got my lips right. I never looked that good in real life.— I never looked that calm in real life, either, that was for certain. Never looked so peaceful. Never looked—

—Come on, Marie. Let's go. There's no reason for you to see this.—

Really? I snorted softly, unable to draw my eyes away from the face looking down at me.

—Savior of mutantkind. Did you read that? Did you READ that piece of crap? I wasn't asked to die for anything up there—I was strapped into that machine. My mind was raped. I don't remember being willing—I just remember being scared. And not wanting to die. I was a thousand feet alone above the earth with an egomaniac who wanted to change the world and wanted me to die for something I could never believe in. I didn't want to die, Logan. I didn't.—

—Marie, baby, this isn't you. We don't know what happened here.—

What was worse—that I'd died here and they'd lied, or that I'd died here and this was the truth? What kind of person had I been? My breath was coming too fast, my eyesight tunneling close and black—nothing but statue's face visible, nothing but that chilly serenity of the martyrdom I'd never wanted. I gasped, trying to get a clean breath.

—You're hyperventilating.— Sharp, in my head. —SIT UP MARIE.—

Two people in my life were allowed to use that tone with me, Scott and Logan. And only one of them could get instant obedience. I automatically snapped straight, hands resting on my thighs, seven years of conditioning asserting itself in that moment. He'd trained me well.

—Close your eyes.—

I stared into my eyelids as Logan pushed his way fully into my consciousness, ripping away my control. For a second, I fought him—then Carol's presence was supporting him, and there was something vaguely startling about these two inner personalities working together. As if from a distance, I heard my breathing begin to even out, and Logan eased me back into my body, cushioning the shift. Gently, so gently, he withdrew back in and I opened my eyes, once again in control.

I wasn't in front of the monument anymore, but facing the school, just visible through the iron gate. Wow. I hadn't even known they could do that.

—Logan?—

—You don't go back there. You don't need to see that.—Adamant, but something else beneath too. A trace of—pain? Oh God—yes, I understood. He'd just seen his own failure: what could have happened that long ago night. Instantly, the images rushed through my mind—a view of me on the Statue of Liberty, slumped against the metal posts, and the flash of his claws cutting me free, cradling me and praying for my skin to work.

All fear and anger and a terrible sinking helplessness that was worse than anything else.

—I won't. I-I'm sorry, sugar.—

—No reason to be.— Crisp, business-like. —Okay, find someone who won't be missed and get it done. Find someone, touch them. We can't afford to wait.—

Logan—pragmatic as all hell. I paused as I emerged from the cemetery, looking at the milling students in the distance, pushing back everything else into a corner of my mind. Hank could tell me that I needed to deal with my emotions—screw that. I had to be repression-girl.

—Logan, I can't just grab one of them. Someone'll notice. Shit, they'll notice.—

Inside me, Carol and Logan both paused, thinking.

—Kid, you're not here. They probably don't have any energy absorbers anymore. Find someone, knock 'em out, take what you need. They wake up thinkin' they hit their head. Easy as pie.—

Ooh—I hadn't thought of that.

—So I find anyone...—

—No.—Carol now, voice sharp. —Not anyone. Someone who was in the war, in the camps, and is here. It'll have to be a mutant.—

—Johnny.—

Carol paused inside me and I felt a strange mishmash of conflict, her memories abruptly flooding my mind, and through it all, thirteen year old Johnny Allerdyce looked back at me from shadowed blue eyes. I drew in a breath and snapped my discipline into place, stemming the flow. I needed to explore her memories soon.

—Don't hurt him.—

—I won't.—

"Hey. Johnny said you'd be here" It was Bobby—showered and looking pretty damn good. And despite everything else, I was a woman and that was definitely a man. He paused as I came out of the cemetery gate, eyes alighting me, concern wiping away his welcoming smile. "You okay?"

I blinked a little, readjusting to outer-world convos.

"Yeah. Just—just tired." I tried to smile, lips twitching. He shook his head, reaching for my arm, too close to my skin. Instantly, I jerked away and the blue eyes widened.

—Oh fuck.—

"Sorry," I said softly. I needed an explanation. Think, think... "I don't like to be touched." I tried to think of a reason, but the blue eyes instantly turned sympathetic and I blinked.

—Don't say anything else. Camps, Rogue. What happened during the war to mutants in those camps.—

Oh, I could guess. I could guess big time. Pushing away another spurt of nausea, I drew in a deep breath. Before humans were locked up, mutants had been. I didn't need to know more than that to guess.

"I'm sorry." So kind, so like the Bobby I knew. "Norm bastards."

I froze, but Bobby was already looking back at the school, eyes narrowing in thought.

—He said...he said...—

—Yes, he did, honey. Calm down. You have your excuse for the gloves and not wanting to be touched. Don't elaborate, don't talk about it. They don't expect you to, they think they already know. Keep it simple.—

"...and dinner's being served in the dining room, if you're up for it." The warm blue eyes met mine, a smile lighting his face. Bobby had always been one to go for the girls with broken wings—some sort of weird seventh sense that drew him like a moth to a flame. I'd always known that.

Dining room. A chill ran down my spine even as I smiled.

—Dining room? Help me out here.—

—Go. Do it. Just keep away from Logan.— Carol's voice was sharp.

—What are the chances he'd recognize my scent after seven years? I mean, like you said, I'm...dead.— Ouchies. I'd need to do something about that.

—Darlin', I never forget a scent. Ever. I'd know you anywhere, anytime.—

—You. Not him.—

—Why the hell do you want to test that theory?—

Ooh. Good point. I nodded slowly and Bobby's smile widened, falling neatly in step beside me.

"I'll introduce you around—maybe Kitty's back, your roommate. Did Johnny finish up the tour?"

"He was called away," I answered absently as we began to walk back toward the Mansion. "It's—a nice place you have here." Nice. Everything was nice, apparently. I had to upgrade my vocabulary soon.

"Yeah." Bobby looked around fondly. "This isn't the original house, but Scott built it from the original plans."

Whoa doggies. It's not the original? I looked up, as if the house would suddenly manifest startling differences for me to identify the changes with, but there was nothing different that I could see. Even the ivy was covering the correct parts of the wall.

"What happened to it?" Oh, obvious, dimwit. It got blown up during the war. Bobby's face darkened a little in memory and I averted my eyes, fixing them on the carpet-smooth grass in front of my feet.

"It was the first casualty—the opening salvo of the war." No, I hadn't known, and that was interesting.

—Better keep my Canadian citizenship.—

—You have citizenship?—

Logan's voice was amused.

—Yeah, baby. Several, actually.—

—Several Canadian citizenships? Why would...—

—Several different citizenships, Marie, not necessarily Canadian. Just—in case I need to disappear.—

Oh. Okay. Logical.

"Were you—were you—" I took a breath. This would be a good time to start finding out information. But my voice choked a little—did mutants talk about it amongst themselves? Was this a taboo topic? Luckily, Bobby was Bobby, open and honest as hell.

"Yeah. I—was turned in early on." He paused, eyes going down, and I made a sympathetic noise of some sort. Bobby. My Bobby in that thing. "My own fault."

"None of it was your fault."

The smile returned—a little sad, a little amused.

"Yeah, maybe." He shrugged. "Anyway, when the war was over, Scott rebuilt the school using the original plans. The Professor would have wanted it that way. Everything's the same, inside. We wanted—wanted to make sure we remembered."

They sure as hell had succeeded. Big time. I fixed my gaze on the Mansion, searching for a clue like I was picking at a scab. Did it look a little closer to those trees? Was the porch longer? I stared at it, trying to get a feel for the differences, so that I totally missed St. John's advent, almost directly in front of me.

"Oh!" I skidded to a stop, and St. John tilted his head to study me. "S-s-sorry there, su-orry." Did I almost say sugar? Did I? DID I?

—Has anyone told you that you're paranoid recently?—

—Shut up, Carol.—

"S'okay." The sharp eyes followed my movements before they resettled on Bobby, warming instantly. "You ready to eat?"

"Sure." Bobby gave me a fond look. "Marie's gonna join us. Right?"

"Uh-huh." I gave Johnny a weak smile. "It's—gonna be interesting."

Interesting wouldn't begin to describe it.

"Can you pass the mashed potatoes?"

I was pretty sure that was a repeated request, since the girl's voice had taken on that griping tone, and I struggled to grab them, passing them down to Johnny, who handed them off in between bites of steak, as I tried to tear my attention from the head table.

Head table.

Big Visible Change here—at Xavier's school, I didn't remember there being a head table. There was, granted, a teacher's table. Sort of off to the side, where the X-Men and teachers would eat together. Sort of. On formal occasions, they wouldn't be in the dining hall at all, but in Xavier's private dining room, and that was only used for those kinds of occasions. Xavier had encouraged family, familiarity, friendship, equality between the mutants and occasional human student.

You can't put fifteen people on a dais and say there's equality there, even if the slightly ornate chairs that had once graced only the dining room hadn't surrounded the formal table. Well, more than fifteen—Bobby and Johnny usually sat up there, apparently, but chose to sit with me today. Uh-huh. Fifteen people and I recognized only a few—Jean, Scott, Warren, Lensherr, Ororo—Remy? I blinked. Remy. Okay. Kitty on the end, apparently back from her mission, talking quietly to Scott. Trying not to look too obvious, I twisted a little, trying to get a better view of the changes an alternate timeline brings. Scott's hair was slightly longer, the rich brown sunstreaked—not such a huge jump. My angle made it impossible to catch Ororo's or Jean's faces, and I resigned myself to stalking them later to get a view. Remy was Remy—charming, careless, and if he seemed a little faster, a little more jerky in his movements, that could mean anything.

There were a few others I vaguely knew from school, and a frighteningly sharp-eyed Asian woman who moved far too smoothly and whose eyes constantly scanned the crowd. I knew her—new arrival, only a few weeks before at home. Betsy. Telepath. Not exactly Miss Ethics, though I supposed she was nice enough as telepaths went.

Her eyes met mine and I jerked my gaze down, fixing them on my mashed potatoes. The power behind those dark eyes shook me—I'd never seen a telepath before that flaunted her skill so openly.

—Marie. Watch it.—

The warning hit the second I felt the touch. I didn't move, didn't breathe for a few long seconds and then—there it was, a slim, cool tendril of probing thought, reaching deep into my mind. Looking casually through, and finding nada. Because she wasn't aware of what being an energy absorber was, of course—Jean had learned how to break that particular characteristic somewhat and find me inside my own head and also taught me to build shields to defend myself against other telepaths, a slow, step-by-step process that had often left me mentally exhausted and hating her.

I loved her now. Passionately and utterly, and did I owe her. Oh God, did I owe her. I felt a trace of shock as Betsy tried to sort through the confusion and slammed my shields down into place, feeling her withdraw hastily. Then I took a bite of green beans and chewed with gusto, feeling her eyes rest on me briefly before turning away. I didn't dare look up to see her reaction, though I felt, just surrounding me, a startled suspicion that lingered like a bad odor.

—You know, if you wanted to say, stay the hell outta my head, you could have been a lot less obvious about it and just yelled it in the middle of the dining hall. Every telepath in this room probably felt you do that.—

The cross between anger and amusement in Logan's voice startled me.

—Ethical telepaths don't wander around in other people's minds without permission or cause.—

—And yet, you persist in thinking' that ethics are a big thing here, huh? Shit, Marie, get with the program. This is NOT Xavier's school and these people developed a shitload differently than we did. Maybe you'd better find out how the hell they are different before you screw around too much.—

I nodded to myself, finding my knife with one trembling hand and cutting into my steak. Bobby was talking across the table to Johnny. They'd never been particularly sensitive to psi-use.

—I wonder...—I promptly forgot what I was wondering when the far door open and Logan walked through.

Things that stayed the same—still jeans and flannel, still tall and brooding and looking like he wanted to fight someone just for kicks. Nicely familiar scowl, standard expression, no problems there. The brown hair was cropped shorter than I could ever remember him wearing it, though—vaguely military, stirring traces of Inner Logan's memories from the far recesses of my mind. For some reason, the sharp cut made the scowl look even more menacing, especially with the sideburns trimmed down to bare dark shadows—shit, Jubilee and Kits would be going into fits of laughter to see this at home.

The reactions to him, however, were totally off the scale—the students nearest him grew quiet and I smelled it again—the trace of fear streaming through the room. Logan scared students, granted. He always had. But it wasn't out and out fear, not since the beginning. They knew him, knew that Logan would die before he hurt any of them. They were his students, some were his friends, and he'd drunk with them and talked to them and played basketball with them and fixed cars with them.

The trail of fear, of awe, of—of things I couldn't even identify. And Logan, at the school, usually played down that part of himself. The part that wasn't the X-Man and teacher—the part that was pure predator. He wasn't even trying here—he was a living, breathing weapon who didn't give a shit.

I stared in fascination as he crossed the room, stopping to speak to Jean before taking the empty chair on her other side beside Kitty. Scott was leaning over, making a comment, and Logan grinned, before attacking the plate that was almost instantly placed before him.

"Told ya, Drake."

"Huh?" The amusement in Johnny's voice was bitter, and I turned my gaze to see Bobby was frowning slightly.

"Shut up, Pyro."

It was so characteristic I sighed, and both looked at me as if they'd forgotten I was there, which wouldn't have been that unusual at home; Bobby and St. John had often seemed to inhabit a snarky little universe all of their own.

"Umm—guys?" I tapped my fork on my plate for emphasis. "Anything I need to know?"

"Oh, nothing." St. John reached for a piece of bread, spreading it with butter from the dish at his elbow. He was still grinning at Bobby. "Just normal reaction to Logan." His gaze stabbed mine. "Don't drool so openly. He can smell that out."

Oh yes, the smell thing. Shit. I tried to measure the distance between the main table and me, but my math wasn't coming anywhere near my functional head.

—Relax. In this mess, he'd never notice.— Logan's voice was oddly quiet. —You should be okay here. He'd have to be specifically searching for you to track you in here. And that's unlikely.—

I tried to remember if I'd touched anything nearby but the table.

—You sure?—

—All kinds of sure, baby. Relax. Eat. And see what you can fish outta the boys there. Drake's droolin' over you. Never understand what you saw in him.—

—He's hot.—

—He let you walk all over him like a used carpet.— Logan snorted. —You have lousy taste in men, Marie.—

Yeah, well, my first choice hadn't been too interested, either, so screw you, Logan. I buried the thought—Inner Logan was just a little too strong and we'd had this argument early on, anyway. I wasn't particularly interested in re-examining it. The brussels sprouts on my plate took my attention, but looking down, I could only see the image of Logan, eating up on the dais.

He thought I was dead. Ooh, don't think about that. No reason to give myself even more complexes than I was enjoying already.

"I'd avoid him."

I jerked my gaze to Bobby, whose blue eyes were fixed on me with a familiarity that was oddly comforting—Bobby had never been a big fan of Logan, but the reason for that could be spelled with five letters. R-O-G-U-E. He knew before I did that I wasn't moving on with him, just marking time.

"Huh?"

Bobby shrugged.

"Not a good idea, Marie. He's not—a nice guy."

I frowned a little and St. John leaned across the table. His expression was deadly serious.

"That's not fair, Drake." Pushing his plate aside, St. John rested both arms on the table and gave us both a steady glare. "He saved your life—hell, it was him and Hank who got us out of that hellhole in Chicago."

Bobby flushed dark.

"I'm not saying—"

"You are saying." This seemed to be an old argument and I tried to sink a little into my chair. They were telling me things, important things I needed to know. And those things were about Logan. "Look, get over it, okay? He's paid his dues and more than either of us did. So feel oh-so-free to keep your mouth shut." With that, St. John got to his feet, grabbing his plate, and stormed from the table.

And a lot of eyes were fixed on us. Shit. Shit, shit, shit—attention drawn. Oh goodie.

—Damn.—

—Yeah, Logan, I'm not so pleased either. They're looking at me.—

I forced my gaze back to the vegetables, perfectly aware that I wouldn't be able to choke down another bite. Beside me, Bobby hadn't moved, hadn't even breathed.

"Sorry, Marie."

I gave him a quick, sidelong look.

"It's okay, s—Bobby." DAMN. Gotta avoid sugar. Gotta avoid sugar. Gotta avoid....

"You hungry?"

Bobby's plate was empty—mine was still half full, but I pushed my chair back in relief, feeling the curious gazes again. I had to get out of here before those at the big table took any more interest in me than they already had.

"No." I paused, seeing the curious eyes. I was new—that alone would bring some interest. People would want to meet me. And—things would happen. I knew I'd slip, somehow, give something away. And Logan and Carol in my head were absolutely convinced that nothing good could come of anyone finding out my actual identity, even if they believed me.

I had to agree. Every instinct in my body was saying the same thing.

Luckily, Bobby acted true to form—rising, he stepped back, allowing me to precede him toward the door. Once outside and in the hall, his smile was kind.

"Overwhelming?"

I nodded mutely. That worked for an interpretation.

"I—I'm not used to it, you know." I paused, twisting my hands together a little and Bobby brushed my covered shoulder. I didn't need to fake the stiffening of my body.

"Yeah." He glanced around, then seemed to come to a decision. Thank God—I sure as hell couldn't think. "Hey, how about we take a walk in the gardens? There's no one out there now. And Dr. Grey will be able to find us when she's ready."

"Ready for what?"

Bobby shrugged a little and began the trek to the wide French doors that led to the garden.

"You know—identification, classification, medical exam, the whole works."

Medical exam.

—Logan, I won't make it through that.—

—No, I don't think it's a good idea, either.—

How brilliant he could be.

—If she runs a genetic test, she's gonna be awfully surprised, you know. If they have their old files, they still have my original from when I entered the school.—

—If it wasn't destroyed.—

I paused at that.

—She's a doctor and a researcher and twice as smart as me and you put together. Even if she doesn't know why, she gets the DNA, she'll recognize it from somewhere. And one touch will be enough to convince her that I'm not what I say.—

—Okay. We'll think of somethin'—

"Marie?"

I jerked back into the present and realized we were outside. Shit, I had to learn to get the weirdness under control, and damned soon. These inner convos were screwing with the real world too much.

"Sorry."

He smiled sympathetically and gestured for me to precede him off the stone-paved patio and into the garden proper.

"Ororo created these." He looked around fondly as he led me toward a secluded bench. Oh yes, subtlety there. "They're almost exactly the same as they were before the war." I nodded—he was right. Except—except the pansies hadn't been on the east side. There had been three benches, not four. That willow was younger than the one that had been in the garden. And—and—I frowned, trying to work it out.

It was the same, with those tiny differences. Without even meaning to, I reached out to the roses beside the bench, the special hybrid that the Professor's family had bred over generations, and ran a light finger over the velvet-smooth petals.

I could remember trimming this bush in my world.

It was like a constant state of deja vu. Not as much fun as it sounded.

"They're beautiful," I answered honestly, wrapping my arms around my chest—June evenings in Westchester had always been cool, rich with the scent of flowers and the evergreens that grew only a few hundred feet away. Bobby was a cool, solid presence beside me, and he left me my space for a few minutes while I started assimilating what I'd learned.

"Tell me about Rogue."

—WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?—

I winced, grabbing at my head carefully—so Logan wasn't on board with this plan. Keeping my gaze on the flowers, I watched for Bobby's reaction from the corner of my eye.

For an entire ten seconds, there was nothing. Blank shock—what, did they not talk about her openly? They built a nice, gaudy memorial for her and people took flowers there, but—

"I didn't know her very well."

Memory descended; I was in the classroom and he was giving me an ice-rose. I was walking with him to my room. I was on my first date with him and he kissed my cheek through my scarf. I was shopping with Jean for a bodysuit and she was prescribing me birth control, just in case. We were fighting in the rec room downstairs, and he was walking out on me without a backwards glance—telling me to get my ass outta my fantasy life because no one could be expected to compete with the fairy-tales I created in my head. And he'd be damned if he'd try anymore.

Bobby was my first lover and I was his. I shut my eyes tightly. But he didn't know me.

"You saw the memorial, right?"

I sucked in a breath, nodding, not trusting myself to speak.

"She—Mr. Lensherr needed her, for his machine. She...she was only sixteen, you know? But she went up on the Statue because she knew—she knew it was the only way." Bobby's voice was soft. "She was brave, Marie. No one knew if it would work, but she was willing, you know, to try?"

My throat began to close.

—He believes what he's saying.—

—We don't know what happened here, Rogue.—

My eyes burned. I couldn't imagine any version of myself climbing into that hellish thing willingly.

—How could he not know the truth? I mean—if it is the truth.— I could accept some things, but the idea of being willing wasn't one of them. I couldn't have been. I'd never been that suicidal, even during my darkest moments, and of all the ways I could choose to die, that one wouldn't have rated among the top fifty in any universe.

—Here's a better question—how could he? Who, specifically, would know about what happened that night on the Statue of Liberty?—

I breathed out, hearing Bobby still talking—about her, with that wistful voice that was always associated with lost potential. Here, I'd never been his friend or lover. I'd just been a possibility.

—Magneto. Mystique. Sabretooth. Toad. The Professor. Scott. Jean. Ororo.— I paused, feeling a growl rise in the back of my throat. —Most of all, Logan. He would know.—

The sudden urge to jump to my feet and track down Logan was overwhelming—Carol froze me in place.

—You know, you and Logan are making me fucking nervous taking over like that.—

—Trust me, if I could take over for good, at this point, I would. You're making a mess of this. Stick to your priorities—getting us out of here.—

—Yes, Carol. Of course, I'm just fucking around. Gimme a second, I'll run up to Magneto and ask for one of those nice interdimensional gates he keeps in his back pocket, okay?—

—Cute.—

"...and Polaris agreed."

And this is why I needed to remember not to fight with those inner personalities, because shit, I had no idea what he was talking about. But his face was strangely lit up, blue eyes clear as a summer day. Breathtaking. I had loved him, I had to have. It hadn't been just a simple crush, he hadn't been my placebo for unrequited love, no matter what everyone had said. No matter what he had said on the day he'd left me.

"She did?" Repeat, sugar. Repeat it for me. Please.

"Yeah." Was that—there was a shadow on his face now. All the tiny muscles in his jaw had tightened and the blue eyes wouldn't quite meet mine. "We—Lensherr thinks this'll break the last of the human resistance. And he's right; it's gotta be done now. Just—" he sighed. "She was honored, you know."

—What the fuck did I miss?—

"Yeah. Honored," I echoed. Polaris. Cool name. Polaris. "She's—" Would I know her power in this world? Polaris indicated something magnetic. What the hell was he talking about?

"Mr. Lensherr has been working with her every day, trying to bring her up to full power. She was really untrained when he found her." I caught Bobby's fond smile. "Almost wiped the computers by accident when she lost concentration last week. And bent all the spoons in the kitchen."

Magnetic. Okies. We're good there. I should have been listening closer. Polaris was honored to what?

"We're just hoping it'll work this time, even if we don't have—you know, Rogue."

It took a moment to process. Work. Magnetic power, connect to Rogue, honored because....

"Lensherr's running the machine again."

"Logan and Lensherr tracked down the leaders—as soon as they finish running the tests, Polaris will get in, and we'll have the last of the human leaders on our side. Hopefully—Well, we can't afford another war. We can't. We're still uncovering some of the anti-mutant weaponry and biological weapons." Bobby shivered. "If they got their hands on those..."

I nodded, knowing my voice wasn't going to hold out and not even caring. Bobby patted my shoulder.

"We—When he first brought it up, we couldn't imagine letting someone else go through what Rogue did, you know? But...but after the crap we found in the military bases, everything changed. And Polaris, she wants this. Lensherr's running her through meditation exercises—the test run a couple of days ago wiped her out." Bobby's mouth twitched slightly. "Speaking of that—I need to go check on her. Do you want—"

"You mind if I stay here?" I asked slowly, measuring out each word. Calm, Marie. Calm, calm, calm.

"Feel free." He smiled. "If you need help finding your room—"

"I'll be fine, Bobby. Thanks."

He nodded, brushing his fingertips across my shoulder before rising, and all the skin on my shoulder broke into cold goosebumps. Something resembling a smile stretched my lips automatically, and I hoped to God that it didn't look too fake, that I looked normal, and apparently, I pulled it off, because Bobby walked back inside. As soon as he was gone, I slumped into the bench.

—I can't start screaming right here, can I?—

—Maybe you should go somewhere else to do that.— Logan's voice was amused. —Marie, just bring that to a stop. You can have a nervous breakdown later. You cannot—cannot—do it now.—

I nodded, not quite able to articulate words, and dragged my legs up under me, crossing them and placing my hands on my thighs.

—Good girl.—

Clear my mind, clear my body, they-are-putting-someone-else-in-that-machine, clear my mind, clear my body, Bobby-thinks-I-went-in-that-thing-willingly, clear my mind, clear my body—what-if-I-did-go-into-it-willingly, clear—breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Slowly, so slowly, seven years of discipline did assert itself. I was Rogue, an X-Man, a student, a teacher. I was not an hysterical little girl and I was not going to worry about crap I couldn't change.

When my heartbeat had returned to normal, I opened my eyes and took in the garden again. It seemed the least of the uncomfortable thoughts swirling in my head.

—It's weird—they really did try to get it exactly like before.—

I meant, the house, the grounds, the Professor's office, my room, even the halls—it was vaguely startling because I could feel the slight differences, just lurking in the edges of my mind. Strange, but not alien. Still home.

"I don't believe we've been introduced."

I looked up, a little startled, to watch Jean's approach.

From the edge of the dining room, I hadn't been able to get a good look at her; up close and personal, I was utterly floored. She carried herself like a weapon, like a banner, and it was suddenly easy, too easy, to recognize that this wasn't my Jean, not anything close to her. Beautiful still, hair cut shorter than I remembered, in the tailored suits of her profession, a smile turning up her lips in welcome. The dark eyes, however, didn't reflect the easy warmth I remembered, and she thrummed with a power I could sense at only a few feet away.

My Jean had never had that level of power inside her—or if she did, she'd never discovered it.

—Whoa.—

—Stop drooling, Logan.—

"Hi." I shifted rapidly to my feet, and what was it about Jean always made me feel small and clumsy and dirty? No idea—I almost sighed and quickly controlled it. "I—I'm Marie Danvers, Dr. Grey."

Her smile was dazzling and she extended a hand—hadn't she noted the fact I hadn't extended mine?

—It's easier to read someone you're touching. Very easy. Almost inevitable.—

I shivered and slowly let my hand lift, her long fingers closing over it—and my mind slammed down every shield I knew instantly, everything Jean had taught me and drilled in me, everything Xavier had shown me. No way was she going in my head. At least, not without a fight.

There was no perceivable reaction from the dark eyes when I felt her quick, casual dart fail, but—God, it was strong. Too strong for my memories of Jean Grey. As I stepped back, shaken, Jean nodded.

"Welcome to Xavier's school. Please, sit down. I don't want you to be uncomfortable."

—She's kidding. She's doing her damndest to make me uncomfortable.—

—She wants you off-balance.—Logan's inner voice still had traces of startlement running through it and I almost sighed. I did not need to get through a round of erotic-Jean-dreams while I was here, thank-you-very-much. —She wants you to break your concentration.—

Slowly, I took my seat and she lowered herself down beside me with exquisite grace, leaning her chin on her hands.

"Erik told me you'd arrived." A pause, while I took in the jarring intimacy of Jean using Magneto's personal name. "Are you settling in well?"

"Yes, thank you." I paused, trying to think of what else she wanted to hear. "Bobby's been great. So's Johnny."

"Johnny?" Her brows knit delicately. "St. John?" A slight smile turned up her lips, soft and slightly alluring. Wasted on me. Apparently not wasted on inner Logan though, and I resigned myself to a night of weird dream sex. "I've never heard him called that before."

Another dart of her mind and I felt my shields shudder—I hadn't been ready for that.

"They were—great. I'm glad to be here."

Jean nodded, eyes searching my face.

"When you have time, please come down to the lab and we can start your work-up. I'd like to get you classified and examined as soon as possible. How does tomorrow afternoon sound, around four?"

"Uh—fine. That'd be fine." Another, sharper poke and I was getting a little dizzy trying to balance the outside world and my concentration—shit, she was strong. Somewhere distant, I could hear Logan trying to say something, but it was too hard to keep track of outer conversation and the inner assault. I wasn't prepared for a Jean this strong—I hadn't been training with a Jean this strong. There was the softest shudder of my inner shields and I hoped to God she didn't feel it.

—Why is she doing this?— I didn't like what it said about Jean Grey or this particular world, for that matter. Betsy I could understand—but Jean was one of the strictest practitioners of ethics I'd ever met.

"Excellent." Jean rose, smiling down at me, and I blinked as the pressure eased. "I hope you'll enjoy your stay with us. Have a nice evening, Marie. I'll see you tomorrow." Another smile, utterly brilliant, but inner Logan didn't react. Oh, how strange. Relieving, but—

—If I could take over RIGHT NOW I would.— Carol's voice was furious and I grabbed for my head as soon as Jean was out of sight.

—Huh?—

—MEDICAL EXAM. Fuck, Rogue, are you actually wanting to have this happen? Are you that hot to get caught? YOU AGREED!—

Startled, I turned my head from watching Jean go inside. Forgot that quick—but it worried me far more to note that my mental shields were exhausted and I'd be broadcasting if I wasn't careful. Shutting my eyes, I pulled my legs up under me and began to try to regain the ground I'd lost.

{It was so high—the air felt thinner and the cuffs were biting into my wrists—struggling so far hadn't done a damn bit of good. Sinking down, I tried to push my thumb farther into my palm, trying to make my hand smaller, get out of the cuffs. I wanted out. Out, out, out.—}

{"Don't do this," I begged, and maybe there was compassion in his eyes when they met mine. But not enough—compassion was not enough, would never be enough. Not for me. Bastard.}

{"I'm sorry, child." Liar, liar, liar, he wasn't sorry, he couldn't be sorry. If he was sorry, he'd let me go now, let me down off here, his hands wouldn't be—wouldn't be touching my face, cold up here so high, God, I don't want to die, I haven't even lived yet...}

"ACK!"

I sat straight up and watched Kitty collapse beside the bed, one hand outstretched. Rushing through my dream-confused mind was thousands of images I couldn't begin to process. I grabbed for my head, groaning at her horror and shock and—

—...Rogue...?—

Oh God, no, she knew who I was, they'd know, and my feet wanted to move, my mind wanted to scream for Jean, because Kitty knew something wasn't right and she was so strong in my mind, I could feel her in every pore of my skin.

—Calm down, Rogue.— Carol's voice was acid, burning through the layers of confusion and panic, and I breathed out abruptly. —Just a—there we go.— Slowly, the images faded. —You know how to sort your mind. Start fixing it. Good girl, bring it under control.—

My training with the Professor snapped into place. I wrapped my arms around my knees, shutting my eyes, and began to sort through the personality that Carol and Logan were damming for me. It wasn't an easy process, and I knew I couldn't finish it now, no chance of it. I had an unconscious Kitty to do something about.

—Carol, if you say kill her...—

—I wasn't. You're strange about that sort of thing. No. We're going to set up an accident and she fell when she was waking you up. Short term memory is usually shorted out anyway during trauma—she touched you and then stumbled, hit the back of her head on something.—

I pondered this briefly—inner Kitty was utterly aghast past the hysteria.

—Notice the lack of, say, a bump?—

Carol sighed.

—You're strong enough. Lift up her head, hit it against the floor.—

I crawled down to the rug-covered hardwood. I'd trained enough with my strength to know how much force to use—a nice bruise, a headache, a little concussion maybe—please God, no, but it could happen. Straddling her body, I lifted her head and looked into her face.

"Kitty, I owe you." Then, with infinite care, I hit her head into the floor. Waited a moment, then grabbed my blanket and wrapped it around my shoulders, flicking a look in the mirror to see my hair, adjusting the wig—this damn thing had to go soon. With that in mind, I looped the blanket over my head, locking my fingers on it below my throat.

Open door, get into hall, now be hysterical. Convincingly. Not hard.

"Help! Help!" I screamed, and doors began to open. Scott and Jean both emerged from their door, eyes finding me instantly. In a few minutes, my room was flooded with worried and curious people and I retreated to my bed, drawing my bare legs up beneath the covers. Jean glanced around to take in the scene and sat down on the floor, gently cradling Kitty's head, eyes dark with worry.

"Just a bruise—maybe a concussion. Scott, could you carry her down to the infirmary?" Her voice was firm as Scott gently picked Kitty up, injured head cradled on his shoulder. "Are you okay, Marie?"

And double strange, to hear her call me Marie. Freaky, even. I clutched my blanket closer.

"Everyone out," Scott said, and I got glimpses of suspicious looks and the faintest frowns as they retreated in Scott's wake. With a flicker of her fingers, Jean shut the door, locking out the other presences and tilting her head to give me an unreadable look.

"My fault," I said softly. She slowly seated herself on the bed and I hoped my hands were hidden well enough that she didn't see I was wearing gloves. "I—I had a bad dream and she—she woke me up. She—startled me."

All true. Jean hesitated, then slowly nodded.

"That happens, Marie. She'll be fine—I'll just keep her in observation for the night, but I didn't see anything serious." A pause. "Do you want to talk about it? Your dream?"

{Hands grabbing me, holding me down, I could hear the machinery in the distance. I wanted to scream, but they'd gagged my mouth and I saw—oh God, more needles, more tests, a scalpel, and the collar was so tight, God, how could they do this and believe this was good, that this was human, nothing more than animals...}

"God," I whispered, my body beginning to shake. Jean's arm touched my shoulder and I jerked involuntarily. Instantly, she dropped her hand, and real warmth, compassion—all Jean Grey—flowed from her, wrapping me up in empathic warmth and caring.

She wasn't my Jean Grey, but God, she was close.

"I'm sorry, Marie." Slowly, she stood up, letting her hand linger on my shoulder despite the stiffness. "Do you want someone with you tonight?"

I shook my head sharply.

"I don't think I'll be sleeping." Truth. I wouldn't be, even if I didn't have to assimilate all of Kitty's memories. Jean nodded quickly and turned toward the door, hesitating with her hand on the doorknob.

"If you need anything, just call." A pause. "Anything, Marie. That's what we're here for."

Swallowing past the lump in my throat, I nodded. Not so different. My Jean.

"Thanks, Dr. Grey."

"Jean," she said with a small smile. "Good night, Marie."

With the door closed behind her, I pushed the blanket off, crossing my legs and shutting my eyes, beginning the breathing exercises Logan had taught me, the discipline that Jean and Xavier had trained into me, and delved deep into the feel of Kitty's mind.

Never had so much changed so fast.