"Now, Ah get why you're here," griped Rogue. She tucked her hair behind her ear reflexively, before her arms returned to their earlier position—irritably crossed over the chest of her training uniform. "Why am Ah here, that's the question."
Scott (although he too was fully geared up, she always felt weird calling him Cyclops out of battle—or even in battle) just flashed her that familiar 'oh gee willikers' smile to which she had become all too accustomed over the years. "Because you owe me huge."
"Explain to me how." The arms crossed a little tighter, the muscles bunched under the sleek lines of her uniform, tense with barely-repressed irritation.
Scott remained smiling. "Because last week, when you snuck in late, after being out with Risty when you were supposed to have a Danger Room session, so you were technically breaking two rules, I covered for you with the Professor."
Rogue shifted her weight, unable to come up with a proper retort. He was unfortunately right. "Okay, fine. But why this?"
To her surprise, and mild annoyance, Scott's grin just grew wider. "Because," he said simply, "the kids are only afraid of you. Well, and Logan," he amended.
Rogue's lower lip dropped to form an 'o' of disbelief. "Y'all are kiddin', right?" He said nothing to dissuade this. "Great. Now Ah'm an object of fear."
"C'mon, Rogue, it's not like that. It has nothing to do with your power. The kids just think you're gonna cast a spell on them or something." Scott seemed to find this terribly amusing, and although Rogue was offended by the perceptions the students seemed to have, her reaction was curbed somewhat by Scott's mirth.
He had that unfortunate effect on her. She put up a remarkable facade of being untouchable, regardless of whether or not she actually was. But Scott had, since the moment they'd met for real, the innate ability to buff away at Rogue's armor. He was the only one that saw through it, and by doing so, slowly enabled others to, as well.
Rogue huffed, but it wasn't as forceful as it usually was, and she knew that Scott tasted his victory. "Just as well that they're afraid of me, Ah don't like 'em much, either," she said sourly.
"You don't have to like them, Rogue. Just teach them."
"Fine," was all she could think to say. Fine, she'd come running every time Scott asked, because not doing so was unfathomable.
Scott's mouth set in a grim line of approval. Rogue questioned inwardly as to where the winning smile had vanished, but before she had even finished wondering, she figured out the answer. The stiff tilt of Scott's head meant he wasn't looking at her; rather, his visor was pointed at something just beyond her shoulder. Rogue didn't have to look to know that the 'new' mutants had arrived.
The new class wasn't technically new anymore, but Kitty had jokingly dubbed the nine of them, now down to eight, as such when they'd arrived, and for lack of anything better, the term had stayed. They were much more uniform than the current crop of X-Men, as though Xavier had run out of ideas for individuality in the training gear, and just outfitted them all the same. Rogue had never been particularly fond of her forest green bust, but when presented with the bland alternative, she was glad of the mark.
"All right, punks," she announced loudly, turning on her heel, "we're gonna train you hard today." When she caught sight of Scott in the corner of her eye, she saw the marks around his mouth that indicated he was struggling to hold in his laughter. It aggravated her, and was the primary provocation for her declaring vehemently, "Boys against girls!"
On cue, Iceman and Cannonball exchanged a vibrant high five, while Jubilee released an audible sigh. "Since we're unevenly matched, the teams will be Jubilee, Wolfsbane, Magma, and Multiple against Iceman, Cannonball, Sunspot, and Berserker."
Jamie Madrox's voice could be heard pitching over the laughter of his friends. "Aw, man! C'mon, Miss Rogue, that isn't fair!"
Rogue bit her tongue, not wanting to launch into a tirade about just how unfair life could be, and lose her credibility with the kids. "We'll see," was all she said.
"You got a plan in mind?" Scott said into her ear. Rogue ignored the tremble that coursed down her neck at his proximity and the heat of his breath.
"Let 'em beat the crap outta each other," she said.
To her surprise, Scott barked out a laugh. Judging from the way his hand flew to cover his mouth and disguise the sound as a cough, he was surprised by the reaction, as well. Rogue graced him with a rare smile. "Scott, that's not very leaderly of you."
He hefted a shoulder in shrug, laughter clearly on his face. "That's why you're in charge."
Speaking of being in charge, the students were still standing, waiting for instructions to be imparted. They'd shifted slightly to form their teams, but had made no other movement. "What are ya waitin' for?" Rogue demanded.
"Instructions?" said Berserker.
"Fine. At the end of the half hour, whichever team has the most people, they win."
"Um," said Iceman.
"Use each other t'stay alive," said Rogue. "Ah don't know how much clearer Ah can make it. Go." They remained standing, clearly perplexed into paralysis. "Go!" she repeated, and they scattered, taking opposite sides of the Danger Room.
"Should we get up to the console?" suggested Scott.
"Might be a good idea," said Rogue. They retreated to the observation booth, and Rogue, hit with a burst of inspiration, called up a jungle setting on the console. Imaginary trees sprouted to life around the students, and a thick lush carpet of foliage spread beneath them. Whatever genius had designed this particular setting, Rogue suspected Beast, had also programmed jungle life. Thick, brightly-colored snakes wove through the territory, one coming dangerously close to Multiple, who jumped with a horrified yelp, and created four multiples when he landed. All five of him were so busy scrambling away from the approaching snake that they didn't notice Berserker sneaking up behind.
"I don't think so, pal!" Jubilee announced, coming out from behind a thick cluster of leaves, and showering Berserker with sparks. He reeled, blinking furiously, and Jubilee took the opportunity to snatch the real Multiple away, ducking back into the safety of the trees. Rogue and Scott exchanged a look.
"Ya wanna grab a sandwich or somethin'?" said Rogue with a teasing smirk. "Leave them t'destroy each other?"
Scott laughed again. "Somehow, I think that defeats the purpose of our being here."
"One of the ten of us is going to learn responsibility," he said. He tapped his gloved finger against her nose. "Guess which one."
Rogue groaned. "This is the stupidest punishment ever," she said. She wasn't entirely displeased, however, considering she was receiving extra attention from Scott.
"It's not punishment, it's payback."
Down below, Wolfsbane had managed to draw Iceman out in the open, and was now lunging for him with intent to disable. He shot out a jet of ice, encasing her and turning her into a disturbing statue with teeth bared. Scott nudged Rogue's shoulder with his own. "Boys are winning."
Rogue only gave him a smile she hoped was enigmatic. It wasn't intended to be a competition—at least, not one between herself and Scott. Rogue trailed her gaze across the Danger Room, landing on Sunspot, on the run. Jubilee was chasing him, shooting out her trademark sparks. Sunspot, rather than diving into the shadows and safety, instead entered an open space, lifting his face and arms skyward. Rogue smiled. She had programmed the jungle setting specifically so that Roberto wouldn't be left out.
Sunspot, now in full solarized form, charged at Jubilee. At the very last second, she leapt into the air, put her hands on his shoulders, and vaulted over him.
Rogue cast a sideways glance at Scott to gauge his reaction, but he seemed to be looking elsewhere. Rogue found Cannonball moving full-throttle for Magma, who was in the process of using one of her fiery blasts to free Wolfsbane. If Rogue had been in the field, she would have tried to call out a warning, but she was supposed to be an impartial observer. Instead, she could only watch as the two collided. Cannonball knocked Magma to the ground, but seconds too late, and oblivious to the fact that Wolfsbane was now free. Free, and going for Cannonball.
The teams were now down to Iceman, Sunspot, and Berserker, versus Wolfsbane and Multiple. Rogue checked her watch; ten minutes left. "Wanna make this interesting?" said Scott.
She lifted an eyebrow at him. "Ah thought ya said this was about teachin' responsibility?" Scott just stared at her. Rogue got to see Scott's 'fun' side as much as any of the others; that was to say, never. She wasn't about to let this slide without participating. "All right. What did ya have in mind?"
"Loser buys winner dinner."
"An' what qualifies winning?"
Scott cocked his head to the side, considering. "We each pick who of the remaining five we think will survive."
In the back of her mind, she wondered if Logan and Ororo had ever stood up in the observation booth and taken bets on the outcome of one of the X-Men's training sessions. The thought unnerved her a little, but at the same time, she couldn't help but be intrigued by Scott's proposal. And as a bonus, she'd get to have dinner with him, win or lose.
"Ah'm game," she said.
He grinned at her, further incentive. "My money's on the Iceman."
Scott raised an eyebrow. "Jamie?"
"Why not?" she challenged. "Maybe Ah like an underdog. Not everyone cheers for the favorite, Scott."
"Point taken," he said. "All right, you're on. Iceman versus Multiple."
In the Danger Room, Wolfsbane and Multiple had lured Sunspot into an area with a thick ceiling of leaves. Rogue couldn't see inside, the brush was so dense, but she could guess what had happened within, because only Wolfsbane and Multiple had returned.
However, when they emerged, they found themselves in their own trap, faced by Iceman and Berserker. Rogue chewed her lip as she watched the new mutants face off. Berserker started to hit Wolfsbane with electrical discharge, hoping to eliminate her quickly, but the dancing light show obscured from him the fact that Wolfsbane was turning human again. She ducked low and aimed at Berserker, tackling him to the ground and effectively ending the attack. They now resorted to a semblance of a bar fight, rolling around on the bed of leaves, punching and striking whatever they could find.
Multiple, on the other hand, was making so many copies of himself that Rogue had long since lost track of which was the original. Clearly, Iceman suffered the same problem, and resolved it by shooting jets of ice at each Jamie he saw. The clones froze in place, then shattered into nonexistence, only to be replaced by another three Jamies. They were all advancing, effectively backing Iceman into a corner. Just as the lead Jamie was pulling back his fist, the alarm in the observation booth beeped. Rogue spoke into the microphone, the message translating over the Danger Room's loudspeaker: "Session over."
Scott pushed the button, ending the simulation. Rahne and Ray had tired each other out and lay panting; Jubilee was limping to join her teammates; Amara and Sam leaned on each other for support; and Roberto was just now coming into consciousness. The numerous Jamies retreated back into the original, the Jamie whose fist was inches from Bobby's face.
Rogue looked at Scott with a triumphant smirk in place. Scott raised his hands in a 'don't shoot' gesture. "I give," he said. He leaned across her to use the microphone, and Rogue sucked in breath at the way his shoulder bumped her stomach. She could see each and every hair at the nape of his neck from here. "The winner is Multiple," Scott announced, conceding his defeat. Jamie pumped his fist in the air in triumph. "Good job today, guys. You're free to go."
Scott pulled away and straightened, and Rogue swallowed, embarrassed that he still unnerved her so. She tried to pretend that her heart wasn't racing from the few seconds of contact, but she could feel the heat still lingering on her cheeks. If Scott noticed her reaction, he said nothing. "So, where do you want to go for dinner?" he asked.
Rogue pretended to think it over. "Ah don't know. Which is the most expensive restaurant in Bayville, again?"
"Oh, don't be like that," said Scott. But Rogue only laughed, and went off to change out of her unused uniform. A few minutes alone in the locker room would have done her good, but instead, she had to share it with Jubilee, Amara, and Rahne, all talking at top volume. One well-placed glare on Rogue's part, and the girls kept to the other side of the room, leaving Rogue with her thoughts.
Scott was waiting in the hallway when she emerged. "Ready to go?"
Rogue glanced down at her usual outfit of black and green, and wondered if it was nice enough to wear out. But as she lifted her eyes, she saw something that drove the worry out of her mind. "Jamie," she called. "Can Ah talk to ya?"
Jamie was, for once, in the middle of the circle of boys, rather than lagging a few steps behind. As soon as Rogue had singled him out, though, Bobby clapped him on the back, and the led the boys away. "Yeah?" Jamie said.
Rogue didn't think she had ever smiled this much in any given day, but she was filled with an unexpected fondness when she looked at the boy. "Scott and Ah were just about to head out for burgers," she said. "Y'wanna come? Consider it a victory dinner."
Jamie looked thrilled at the prospect of hanging out with official X-Men. "Yeah!" he said.
Scott grinned. "Lead the way," he said, stepping aside so that Jamie could jog ahead. Scott fell in place beside Rogue. "What, afraid to be seen alone with me?" he teased her.
"Only some a' the time," she said. "Ah figure this'll do him some good."
"I thought you didn't like them?" he said.
She hated that knowing tone of his. "Ah can change mah mind," she said. "But don't think you're gettin' off light, Summers, just 'cause the burgers are on me. Ya still owe me dinner after tonight."
"Oh, do I?"
"Yeah," she said, poking him squarely in the chest. "You're gonna cook for me later."
Scott spluttered, part mirth and part disbelief. "Are you sure about that?"
She drank in his reaction with considerable amusement. "More sure than ever."
Rogue and Scott had somehow come to a standstill in the middle of the hallway, grinning at each other stupidly. Rogue was not the sort of girl who grinned stupidly ever, or joked, or laughed, or hung out with little kids like Jamie, or went out for burgers with boys, or was social in any capacity. The girl in the changing room the others wouldn't talk to, that was who Rogue was.
Stupid Scott, however, made her feel like a different person occasionally. She could talk to him. She could tease him. He made her feel important. Being around him made her feel normal, something she hadn't thought possible, and feeling normal made her feel happy.
"You know I can't cook," he defended himself.
"Don't try to back outta this," she said. "You're the one that made the rules."
"Yeah, but what I meant was—"
"Guys!" Jamie called from the end of the hallway. "Are you coming?"
Even with his glasses on, obscuring his eyes, Rogue still felt the full weight of Scott's stare. "Fine," he shrugged. "I'll cook for you. But it's your funeral."
Rogue thought to herself that there were worse ways to die.