Chapter 1: Lex
I never thought I'd fall in love with a woman I couldn't touch.
I mean, here I am, Lex Luthor, only surviving son of Lionel Luthor, one of the wealthiest men in the world. I'm also completely bald, but for the enterprising young gold-digger, that's hardly an obstacle. The fact is, I could have just about any woman I ever met, do whatever I wanted to her, and never even have to think twice as long as I lavished her with expensive gifts.
Except for Marie.
Some would say that's the attraction, that she's inaccessible. To them, of course the one woman in the world I would want is the one I can never have.
I'll admit, that might be part of it. Trust me, even a man at his sexual peak gets tired of an endless parade of expensive would-be whores with diamonds in their eyes. But if I was just looking for a woman who would love me for myself and not for the nine zeroes behind my last name, I'm sure I could find one. I'm not that jaded. And if I were just looking for a woman to turn me down, a "challenge," I could find plenty of those too.
If that were all I wanted, I can assure you I wouldn't have chosen a woman whose skin is poison to the touch. If all I wanted to do was win the race, I'd pick a prize that wouldn't kill me.
I love her. I really love her. And that scares the hell out of me.
Not because I'm afraid of her--if I had to die, I couldn't imagine a way I'd rather go than to become part of her, mind and soul--but because I know her first love, a man who can heal in a heartbeat and could cut my heart out with one flick of a hand, is still out there. And as long as he is, I'll never know if she's really mine.
I'm not afraid of Marie. Only of losing her.
Let me back up a bit. Before I wax poetic, I probably ought to tell you how I met this deadly damsel of mine.
One thing I've learned since my father first banished me to Smallville is that if you want to have a field day with the unusual and bizarre--without attracting the attention of the world at large--this small town in the middle of nowhere, Kansas, is the perfect place to do it. In Smallville, things like a pyrokinetic football coach, a girl with a seriously twisted hero fixation and the ability to change her appearance at will, and a kid with Mothman ambitions never quite make it from the Ledger to the Daily Planet. Outside of Smallville, in the real world, things like that inspired a group called MutantWatch.
So I guess if you lived in Smallville and you had a friend from the outside world who was a mutant, it's only natural that they would want to drop in for a visit. And stay for a while.
That's how Marie came into my life.
Chloe Sullivan has always had a certain...fascination with the extraordinary, not unlike myself. She's something of a junior Agent Scully. Or junior Agent Reyes, I suppose, since I can't really picture her playing the skeptic. So it's only natural that when she left Smallville for six months, she picked up some extraordinary friends, even if this particular one was two years her senior.
I wouldn't know just how extraordinary the girl calling herself "Rogue" was for a while. But I recognized the slender brunette with the white forelock as a kindred spirit the moment I saw her. And I remember I wasn't the only one.
They were sitting in the Talon, chatting over coffee, when I came in. Chloe had remained stubbornly loyal to the Beanery for several months out of sheer unconscious spite towards Lana Lang, but the sudden change in her relationship with Clark had eased that tension. Enough so that she had roped Lana into girl talk at their table until customers began to complain about her distraction.
I'd been watching with some amusement: Chloe was good for Clark, her spunk and inquisitiveness a balance to his quiet reticence and vice versa. But it wasn't until my co-proprietor returned to her duties that I noticed Chloe's other companion.
I've seen a lot of beautiful women in my day, but none of them have ever compared to that first glance of Marie.
It was the white streak I noticed first. It gleamed against the dark brown of her hair like a meteor or a white-hot comet, a wanderer of the universe. Then her smile--she was laughing over something Chloe had just said, and the way it transformed her face is still etched into my memory. Then she sensed my gaze on her and turned, and I felt for the first time a taste of what it would be like to burn forever in the sweet, dark heat of her eyes.
I don't believe in love at first sight. I do believe she took my breath away.
But a Luthor never lets his guard down on one glance. We didn't get to where we are by loving with our eyes closed. I sometimes doubt that my father ever loved at all.
So, instead, I just lifted my glass to her in a cool, implacable salute. Aloof. Untouchable.
It amazes me sometimes that I really believed those words applied to me.
I remember I saw her lean towards Chloe and nod in my direction, no doubt asking who I was. Chloe glanced over, then turned back and said something that made both girls giggle. Masking my curiosity, I picked up my drink and made my way to their table.
"Really, Miss Sullivan, don't you know that it's impolite to talk about someone behind their back?" I drawled, giving her a patently false smile of patient amusement.
"Funny, it didn't look to me like your back was turned," she shot back. I smiled a little more, resisting the temptation to laugh and ruin my image. If there's one thing you can always depend on from Chloe Sullivan, it's a witty comeback.
But now for the real reason I'd come over here. Interesting--despite the fact that summer was in full swing, she wore full-length opera gloves and a scarf draped loosely around her neck. But the attractively plunging neckline of her tight black top quickly dispelled any illusions that the accessories were for warmth.
I held out a hand to the mysterious beauty across the table. "Lex Luthor."
She accepted it with a knowing smile. "Rogue."
It took me years to master the art of looking only mildly interested when I was really dying to know. But I can safely say I did master it. I tilted my head a little to the side, schooling my expression into the slightest change that could even be called a change.
"I'm an interestin' girl," she flirted back, revealing a thick, Mississippi drawl that was sexy as hell.
I smiled again. "I can see that."
"Rogue's a friend of mine from New York," Chloe interjected and I tried not to let on that I'd been caught letting the world disappear. Damn--tell me this one wasn't in high school.
"From school?" Good for me: there wasn't even a note of panic in my voice.
Rogue nodded. "I just graduated. Decided to do a little travelin' before I settle on what to do with the rest of my life."
"I've always believed it was a good idea to see the world at least once in a lifetime," I agreed.
"Good if you're a multi-billionaire," Chloe muttered under her breath with a little smile.
"I dunno, I kinda like the idea," the brunette smiled slyly at me and out of the corner of my eye I saw our mutual acquaintance roll her eyes. Why did I get the feeling I was missing a joke in there somewhere? "Where d'you suggest I head next?"
"I'd say Metropolis is nice this time of year, but I'd be lying," I found myself surreptitiously looking for a chair to pull up to their table. When I located one, I straddled it and set down my drink. "Where do you want to go?"
"I used to talk about hitch-hikin' to Alaska after high school," she admitted, her lips pursing in a sad little smile.
"From the sound of it, I take it that's no longer on the agenda?"
Rogue shrugged. "Been there, done that. I guess you could say I was somethin' of a dropout for a little while. Ran away from home when I was sixteen."
Much to my surprise, I was almost jealous: I'd tried to run away a time or two when I was a teenager, but being the prematurely-bald only son of one of the most influential men in the country made it pretty hard to disappear. "What made you decide to go back?"
"I got tired of runnin'."
"Look, Lex," Chloe interrupted suddenly, and I realized I'd again forgotten she was even there. "Is there a point to this conversation, or are you just trying to chat up my friend?"
Said friend fought a smile, eyes twinkling with some secret that I was becoming more and more determined to ferret out.
"Do you have a problem with me being friendly?" I asked, amused.
Clark's girlfriend grinned impishly. "This was supposed to be girls' night out. Sorry, but you don't qualify."
That made me chuckle internally. A hint I could probably ignore, but that little blonde spitfire never was much for beating around the bush. "My mistake. If you'll excuse me, ladies..." I stood, nodding politely to each of them. "When you decide where you're heading from here, Miss 'Rogue,' let me know. I can probably recommend a tour guide."
That tour guide being me, of course. Thinking back on it, I imagine even then I probably would've dropped everything to run to her side.
She grinned. "If I need one, I'll yell."
Chapter 2: Marie
Chapter by JJ (Azar)
I knew the minute I saw him watching me that he was dangerous. A girl can tell these things. But I guess I've always been attracted to dangerous men--why else would I have chosen Logan to be my salvation that long ago night in a trashy Canadian bar?
Well, aside from the fact that it was pretty damn obvious that Logan was a mutant, like me.
Alex isn't, and that's something I'm constantly aware of. I can't slip with him--he doesn't have any special accelerated healing abilities that'll sort of protect him from my touch. And as hard as it is to admit sometimes, even to myself, it'd kill me if I killed him.
Sometimes it's surprising how much he and I have in common. Both of us denied the one thing most people take for granted--simple human contact--just because of who we are. Me because I suck the life and memories out of everyone I touch. Him because his father was more concerned with grooming an heir than raising a son.
Then of course there's the hair thing too. Both of us marked forever by a brush with death that changed our lives.
Dr. Grey has speculated before--although not in my presence--that my "thing" for dangerous men is a power trip. That I'm drawn to them because I know they can't hurt me. No matter how powerful they are, all I have to do is slip off one glove and they're at my mercy.
But she doesn't understand what it's like. That just because no one can hurt me physically with impunity doesn't mean no one can hurt me. She doesn't realize that it doesn't matter if I can stop a man intent on raping me, because the image of what he wanted to do will still imprint itself on my memory just as vividly as if he'd done it. Those thoughts and memories become part of me, a part that I can never completely shake, no matter how awful they are or how badly I want to. And I hate it with everything I am, because it makes me feel dirty. Dirty in a way I can never get clean cause I can't exactly take a scrub brush to the inside of my head.
So trust me, I wasn't drawn to Alexander Joseph Luthor, better known as Lex, cause I figured I could take him if he got fresh.
He understands me. He's probably the only non-mutant I've ever met who does. And sometimes I think he understands me even better than they do. Even better than Logan.
Alex knows what it's like to have the power to destroy everything you touch.
Course I didn't know that when I first met him. All I knew was what Chloe told me, that he was Lex Luthor, wealthy bad boy who'd been banished to the family crap factory by a disappointed, demanding father. I wouldn't even learn til later that he turned said crap factory around and made it turn a profit for the first time in years.
All I knew was I wanted to see him again.
If I'd known him then as well as I do now, I would've known he'd be the one to find a way. This time in the form of the First Annual LuthorCorp Company Picnic, held on the grounds of the castle.
Naturally, despite the short notice, Chloe's father didn't really think he could afford to decline. Even Clark managed to obtain his parents' reluctant consent to attend, after pointing out that his girlfriend had to go, and might need him there for moral support. And where the Sullivans went, I went--being a guest, they certainly weren't going to leave me behind.
At the time, I was clueless enough to believe the timing was just a lucky coincidence. That he couldn't possibly have orchestrated all that just for me.
Chloe knew better.
"Barbecue," she groaned as the smell of the catering line drifted over to us. "Ribs and chicken, probably. That sneak."
When Clark and I both just stared at her, she pointed at my hands. "You won't be able to eat without ruining your gloves. I bet Lex wanted to see if you'd show up without them, or if you'd take them off to eat."
Her boyfriend looked confused. "Lex knows Rogue?"
"He interrupted our girls' night out at the Talon the other night just so he could get to know her," Chloe confirmed with a little half-smirk.
That seemed to explain everything to everyone but me. "You're suggestin' the menu was just for my benefit?"
"I'm suggesting this entire shindig was just for your benefit," she smirked. "When Lex Luthor sees something he wants, he goes for it. Boy, is he in for a shock."
He wanted me--the thought sent a thrill of both pleasure and regret through me. Sometimes I really hate what I am--of all the mutations possible in the human genome, why did I have to be damned with one that meant lifelong isolation?
But even if I could never act on this apparently mutual attraction between us...he wanted me. Nobody'd wanted me in a very long time--the boys at school all stopped trying to impress me after the incident with Logan, even though they all remained friendly, especially Bobby. And Logan...he cared about me, he took care of me...he was even willing to give his own life to save mine, but he never wanted me. Not like that. Not like he wanted Jean. I know--I still have him in my head.
Lex wanted me. Enough to arrange a huge company picnic at the last minute just as an excuse to see me.
"I guess I'll just have to have a word with the man in charge about that then, won't I?"
The last time I looked back at her as I walked away, Chloe's mouth was still hanging open in shock.
I used to be a lot shyer around the opposite sex, especially since I knew I could never act on a crush, but after Logan touched me for the second time to save my life, I turned into a flirt. Some of that self-confident bravado of his rubbed off on me and never quite went away--probably because I liked how it felt to be that way. But regardless of why, I had it and I had every intention of putting it to good use.
I found the Lord and Master--or at least his son, which is who I was really looking for--standing on the steps of the castle looking out over the festivities like a distant but benevolent god surveying his creation. Not an entirely accurate analogy, but it fit the detachment he had from the whole thing.
What do you know--I wasn't the only one who avoided human contact.
I'm sure he saw me approach out of the corner of his eye, but he didn't move or look in my direction. He'd made the first move at the Talon--now it was my turn.
"I understand I have you to thank for this little quandary I'm in."
I was beginning to understand that Lex Luthor never made a move that wasn't carefully planned long in advance, even if it was something as small as turning to face someone who'd spoken to him. "And what quandary might that be?"
"Starve or get barbecue sauce all over my nice new outfit." The smile I gave him was probably about as innocent as Mystique on a bad day, but he managed to appear unfazed.
He smiled in return. "You could join me at my table--I promise not to be horrified if you don't eat with your fingers."
I couldn't help but laugh. "So you're eatin' with us then? Watchin' you over here, I kinda got the impression you were staying above the huddled masses."
He hesitated, and I realized without even meaning to I'd said something that made his control falter for a moment. "I hadn't decided yet," he admitted quietly. "I may just have a plate sent inside."
I felt a pang of sympathy. Now that the mask had slipped a little, I sensed that he really wanted to be a part of the festivities but wasn't sure he was welcome. And I remembered how long it had taken me to try to reach out to the other kids at school after the night they found out just what my mutation was.
"Can I say somethin'? Speakin' from experience?"
Something like curiosity creeping into his eyes, he nodded.
"People who don't like you because you have somethin' they don't are just jealous, and don't deserve the satisfaction of not havin' to deal with you."
He laughed out loud then. "I think I like the way you think."
After a second more's hesitation, he nodded. "I suppose it won't hurt me to stand in line like a mere mortal for once." There was a genuine twinkle in his eye when he said it, and as much as I'd enjoyed his casual charm, the glimpse of the man behind the image was even more attractive.
He extended his arm to me, and I took it carefully, making sure that the gap between the end of my sleeves and the top of my gloves didn't brush his skin where the short sleeves of his own shirt ended. Together we crossed the perfectly manicured lawn to where Chloe and Clark were trying to juggle six plates without dropping any of them face down on grass.
"So do you have a name other than Rogue?" he asked about halfway there, still smiling. "I've been trying to wrap my mind around it, but can't fathom why any parents in their right mind would name a beautiful daughter Rogue."
I felt a slight twinge at the mention of my parents, but forced it out of my mind and grinned at him. "Look who's talkin', Lex."
He chuckled. "My full name is Alexander."
"So why 'Lex.' Why not 'Alex'?"
He shrugged. "My father has a certain fondness for Ls, I suppose. Or no one ever thought I looked like an Alex."
"I dunno, I kinda think you look like an Alex," I speculated. I did, too. I could see how Lex fit the image he portrayed to the world, but I was betting there was an Alex in there too.
He smiled. "You still haven't answered my question."
I weighed my options for a moment, then decided to risk it. "Marie. My name's Marie."
"Marie," he repeated softly. "It's beautiful. And it suits you."
"Hey, Lex," Clark greeted my escort when we reached them a moment later. "You joining us?"
He smiled, glancing over at me with a look that sent a tingle through my whole body. "I've been persuaded."
"Great, extra hands," Chloe pronounced, shoving a plateful of cheesecake and cookies at me.
"You couldn't make two trips?" I laughed.
"Not without resorting to desperate and quite possibly dangerous measures," she quipped, skirting the edge of the forbidden subject of her own mutation. I had a hunch that Clark knew, but Lex didn't and, fortunately for Chloe, didn't take the comment seriously. Instead, he chuckled.
He glanced over at the taller of the two teenagers, who had yet to attempt to relieve himself of any of his own burden. "Suddenly I'm beginning to understand the demise of the seven course meal."
Between the four of us, somehow we managed to get Clark and Chloe safely to their table. When we got there, Lex shook his head in mild amazement, casting a dubious look back in the direction of the food. "Maybe I ought to just have someone bring a couple of plates over for us--"
"Oh no you don't," I admonished. "You told me you were gonna 'stand in line like a mere mortal,' and I'm holdin' you to that."
Our two table companions stifled smirks. Lex's expression was a little rueful in spite of himself. "Never let it be said Lex Luthor broke a promise to a lady," he acquiesced with a weak but genuine smile.
Chapter 3: Lex
If not for the company, I think I would've found waiting in line to be the most boring experience of my life. It came as something of a surprise to me--there was a time not too long ago when I had myself convinced I hated my life and everything that came with it. Standing there actually having to wait for a turn to eat, it hit me that there were a number of perks of being a Luthor that I'd blithely taken for granted. Like something as simple as instant access to the front of the line, or having someone else do my waiting for me. No wonder my grousing struck some people as hypocritical.
Standing there with Marie, though, made it all worth it. Even when we weren't talking, I was able to keep myself occupied just watching her, trying to puzzle out this mystery who called herself "Rogue."
It also gave me an excuse to ignore the worried glances some of my employees were throwing my way. Apparently none of them could figure out why I would lower myself to associating with them. Heaven forbid anyone should act outside their expectations.
"If I didn't know the great Lex Luthor was above such things, I'd swear you were fidgetin'," Marie teased me at one point.
I glared at her. "I think I liked it better when you called me Alex."
She grinned. "Now who's avoidin' the subject?"
"I'm good at that," I shot back. "Ask me sometime what I think of my father: I think you'd find the answer remarkably uninformative."
Something about her brought out the rebel in me: usually I kept my thoughts about my father to myself, or within the circle of the few people I could call friends. I certainly wouldn't take the risk of nearly announcing that he was a bastard in front of my entire workforce. My father is very fond of spies, and I had no doubt there was at least one at this little gathering. Lucky me--no one else was paying enough attention to our conversation to even stare at me in shock.
Marie, however, was staring at me with something quite different from shock in her eyes. Something that terrified and excited me at the same time: it was almost as if she'd just discovered the key to my innermost soul and was deciding whether or not to lay it open for everyone to see, or wait until we were alone.
I knew which one I was rooting for.
Even though I knew it was foolish to feel this way so soon, I didn't mind the idea of her peeling back all the layers and exposing the man no one saw. But that didn't mean I wanted to share that man with anyone else here.
Not even Clark, who was the closest thing I'd had to a real friend in years.
God, how had she gotten under my skin so fast?
"You're awfully quiet all of a sudden," I forced myself to break the silence.
A sad little smile touched the corner of her lips. "I was just thinkin'..."
"That maybe you 'n I are even more alike than I thought."
I felt it too, but I was damned if I had any idea why. "Obviously you know something I don't. Unless, of course, the similarity you're referring to is that you're even more of an enigma than I am."
Marie hesitated, a faint smile on her face but uncertainty in her eyes. "We both...isolate ourselves from people around us." The confession, when it came, was almost too quiet to hear. "I'm guessin' we can both number the people we trust on one hand, and without usin' all the fingers."
To say I was taken aback would be an understatement. At first it didn't seem to fit with the vivacious, flirtatious girl who seemed determined to pull me out of my shell by the nape of my neck. But when I really thought about it, I realized it had always been there, that maybe that was what I'd recognized in her as kindred the moment I saw her: a loneliness I knew all too well.
There wasn't much I could say to that, except, "You'd probably be guessing right."
The line moved then, like the slow, inexorable pull of some destiny I couldn't even begin to comprehend yet. Drawing me forward and drawing her with me, leaving us both with the understanding that something significant had happened here, even if we didn't yet know what.
By silent consent, we shifted the conversation to topics less profound, so that by the time we neared the front of the line we were both laughing again. Still, the slow progress was weighing on my patience. God, how much longer was this going to take?
Of course it didn't help my mood any that I could see the food ahead of us gradually dwindling. I could only hope the caterers had brought plenty of restock--if not, I'd have to seriously consider seeing to it that they never worked in this town again.
"So much for the potato salad," I muttered under my breath to the woman standing beside me as a man two people ahead of us started for it with the provided spoon.
Much to my embarrassment--and her amusement--the poor fellow froze, spoon hovering over the dish and a sudden look of terror on his face. With all the caution of a man who'd been told to put down his gun by someone holding a weapon on his wife, he slowly lowered the utensil back into the bowl and backed quickly away.
As soon as he was gone, Rogue began to laugh uncontrollably under her breath and I felt my entire head start to warm with a mild blush, starting at the ears.
"Then again, there can perks to havin' everyone around you live in fear of you," she snickered.
The rest of the picnic remains something of a blur in my mind. I remember Marie spilling the entire "potato salad incident" to Clark and Chloe, despite my protests and to their great amusement. I remember her coaxing me to participate in the games my well-paid entertainment director had devised to keep everyone amused. I remember that one of them had me running pell-mell across the grounds with Marie perched on my shoulders like a parrot and holding both my hands, both of us laughing more genuinely than we probably had in a very long time. I remember stumbling and tumbling to the ground just short of the finish line, the two of us landing in a tangle of arms and legs and way too many clothes for this time of year in Kansas.
Needless to say, we didn't win the race. That honor went to Clark and Chloe, who probably set a world's record for the event, if there is one.
I remember looking at her, lying on the grass with her hair fanned out around her like a windstorm, and wanting to kiss her. And I remember the look of terror that came into her eyes when she saw what was in mine, a fear so pure I had to let her go, no matter how strong my desire.
I think that's when I began to put the pieces together of why she called herself "Rogue." Why she was almost as much of a lone wolf as me, if not more so. Of course, I didn't come close to the truth in one respect, but in another I wasn't far off the mark.
Clothes that hid her body--although with Rogue they concealed and revealed at the same time. A fear of physical contact, which would also help to explain the gloves. A tendency to isolate herself emotionally from those around her as well. All classic signs of rape trauma, I'd been told in college.
It was an easy conclusion to reach, and it filled me with a fury darker than anything I'd ever felt before. I'd never killed a man in my life, but if I'd had whoever did this to her in front of me, I wouldn't have hesitated.
I still wouldn't, which is probably why she's never told me his name.
I suppose part of me knew I should've backed off that day. Let her into my life as a friend, but set her up there on the "untouchable" shelf where Lana Lang used to sit before Clark decided to get over her and discover the best friend he'd been oblivious to for years. But I couldn't just set my growing feelings for Marie aside. Much to my own surprise, I wanted to do something about her disillusionment with the world and the people in it, even though I couldn't even shake my own.
Maybe I wanted to save her from my fate.
Whatever the reason and however pure or impure my motives, we stopped looking for excuses to spend time together after that day. Gabe and Chloe started to get used to seeing me on their doorstep first thing in the morning, looking to disappear for the day with their guest. I didn't show up every day--just because I was becoming obsessed didn't mean I had to be rude about it--but I told myself that Chloe would probably appreciate the chance to spend some time alone with Clark, or with her father, without feeling the need to entertain company.
Some days I'd whisk her off to Metropolis or St. Louis. Some I'd fuel up the family jet and make the short hop up to Chicago or down to Atlanta. Once or twice we even touched down in Biloxi, and she took me out for "real" Cajun cooking. I'll never forget her reaction to my first taste of Gumbo.
But some days we'd just spend time at the castle, reading to each other or playing chess or just talking. Her enthusiasm for the history and architectural beauty of the drafty old place helped me see it through new eyes. For the first time, it really started to feel like a home instead of just another family holding.
She helped me to see a lot of things with new eyes.
She'd told me that day at the picnic that she thought I could be an Alex, not just an all-powerful, inaccessible Lex. And with her, I was. So much so that she took to calling me Alex when we were alone together. Just like I called her Marie instead of Rogue. Because we could be real with each other in a way we couldn't be with anyone else.
And I was sinking deeper and deeper under her spell.
We were at the castle when the truth came out. I was recovering from yet another bitter war of words with my father, and was on a rant. And she just listened quietly and let me fume...until I got to the part where I declared that I would never be able to trust my father, because our relationship had always been built on secrets and lies.
To say I was stunned would be an understatement. "What?"
"The problem with your father is that he doesn't respect you. And the lies too. But not the secrets."
Her voice was quiet, the interruption about as unobtrusive as possible, but the words made me angry. "What makes you such an expert on my father?" I snapped.
"Nothin'. But I do know a thing or two about secrets." Her eyes met mine defiantly, refusing to bend.
"And what's that?"
"That sooner or later, everybody has them." When I opened my mouth to object, she cut me off again. "Oh come on, Alex. Can you honestly tell me you've told me everythin' about you?"
My stomach twisted in dismay--she was right: I hadn't. But then neither had she told me everything about her...and maybe that's exactly what she was talking about.
Her eyes dropped then to stare miserably at her gloved hands. "I think people who promise each other they'll never have secrets between them only set themselves up for disappointment. Not to mention put an unnecessary strain on their relationship. 'Cause like I said, sooner or later one of them will keep a secret. And if they hadn't made that promise it wouldn't hurt things a bit, but because they did, everythin' falls apart."
I was still silently absorbing the truth of that when she lifted her head. "Promise me it'll always be okay, between us, not to tell each other everythin'? That it's okay for us to keep a few secrets from each other, especially the ones that aren't ours to tell?"
At first I didn't know what to say, so I nodded. The funny thing was, as soon as I did, I felt free. Suddenly I understood. Suddenly I wanted to tell her things about me that I don't know if I ever would have shared if I'd felt obligated to.
It was a freedom I'd never had before. A freedom that I myself had denied to the few real friendships I had, even as I kept things from the very people I was expecting to be completely forthright with me. All because I had always associated secrets with my father.
"I understand," I finally told her quietly, a little awed. "Thank you."
Marie just smiled, reminding me all over again how easy it would be to get lost in that smile and never surface.
"But there is something I want to tell you..."
I poured it all out then. The story I'd once told a man I only shared with people I trust. About a frightened nine-year-old boy and the shockwave of a meteor strike that robbed him forever of his hair but gave him perfect health in exchange. About a reckless young man who'd driven himself off a bridge, only to have a local farm boy pull him out and give him yet another second chance. And looking in her eyes as I told it, I knew it was the right thing to do.
The mistake was what I did next.
"Most of us are lucky if we get one extra chance, let alone two," she agreed with a sad smile after I'd finished my story.
I nodded, and without thinking reached one hand up towards the white blaze in her hair. "What about you?"
She jerked away from my hand so fast she almost stumbled. Before I could apologize, she was on her feet and out of the room, running down the corridor that led to the outside door.
Oh God, what had I done?
I went after her. I had to. If I let her go now, I might never see her again and that thought was too frightening to even contemplate.
She stopped with a trembling hand on the door, balanced on the balls of her feet like a terrified rabbit.
"Marie, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked." Damn it. I'd just promised her I would let her have her secrets, and already I'd broken that promise.
She didn't run, but she didn't turn back either. Once again, that cold, black anger rose up in me. I wanted to find the bastard who'd left her like this. Find him and wrap my hands around his throat until he slowly stopped breathing. Or maybe find some way even more painful to punish him for what he'd done to her.
My voice was tight with fury when I spoke again. "Who hurt you?"
Finally she turned back to me. Even in the low light, I could see the reflection of the beginning of tears in her eyes. And her voice was tired and broken when she answered me.
"Every man who ever touched me, except one."
Oh God. I wanted to grab her then. I wanted to take her face in my hands and kiss her in a way that she'd know she was everything to me...because in that moment I realized she was. But I couldn't. Even if I still didn't know the whole reason why, I knew with perfect clarity then that I couldn't.
So instead I reached out to her with my words, the most sincere words I'd probably ever spoken in my life. "I would never do anything to hurt you."
For a long stretch of seconds, she was silent, her eyes drifting down to the floor. Then she lifted her head again and even though she was smiling, it was a bittersweet smile and the tears were still hovering in her eyes. "It's not me I'm afraid for."
Chapter 4: Marie
I stopped running when I got back to Westchester that last time. After what Logan and Dr. Grey and Mr. Summers and Ms. Munro did for me...I knew I was safe there. That I was accepted. But I still had to be alone. Only Logan could touch me and expect to survive, but he was gone almost as soon as we got back. So I kept everyone at a distance, and I was okay. And on the rare occasion that I did trust someone enough to call them a friend instead of an acquaintance--like with Bobby or Chloe--they still knew the one iron-clad rule of being part of my life: don't ever touch me.
They always knew that I was different.
I always knew that I was different.
With Alex, I let myself forget. I got so caught up in what he and I have in common, that I lost sight of what we don't. So intoxicated by the fact that he was attracted to me like a normal girl that I let myself ignore the fact that I was anything but.
Until he tried to touch me.
I flinched when he reached for me because I was afraid for him. I ran because I was terrified by just how much the thought of hurting him frightened me.
Somehow, I'd let him get closer to me than anyone else since the day this horrible "gift" of mine was awakened. Except maybe Logan. And I ran because I knew I'd never have another chance--that if I didn't get away now, I never would. And I'd destroy both of us.
But his voice stopped me at the door, and his words made it clear that no matter what I might've said only minutes ago about secrets, if I didn't tell him this one, I was being unfair to both of us. Unfair to him by not giving him the chance to understand what he was getting into while he could still get out. And unfair to me by letting me continue to live this illusion that was doomed to shatter.
"I don't understand."
Fighting not to cry, I held up my hands. "You've never asked me why I wear these."
"I guess...I thought you'd tell me when you were ready." His own hands unfolded helplessly, pleadingly.
I would never be ready. I knew that. But he had to know. "I'm not human. Least, not human like you." Oh, God...this was so hard. "I'm a mutant."
I didn't look at him--I couldn't--just pushed ahead blindly. "When people touch my skin...it acts sorta like a magnet or somethin'. I literally just suck the life outta them. And I have no control over it--that's why I call myself 'Rogue.' That's why I ran away when I was sixteen--because my parents...my own parents were afraid of me."
I had never hated what I am more than at that moment, listening to the ominous silence that was his only answer. I didn't blame him. Men hate a tease, and there's no worse tease than letting a guy fall for you and then telling him, "Oh, by the way, did I mention my skin is a deadly weapon?"
Much to my surprise, he found his voice long enough to protest softly, "I'm not afraid of you."
Oh God--don't do this to me, I begged him silently. "But you should be." He didn't see that it didn't matter what he wanted, what I wanted...what anyone wanted. Nothing would ever make this safe, and I should've acted on that a long time ago. Before I started to feel this way.
I'll never forget the numb expression on his face when I told him this wouldn't work. The silent, almost mechanical nod. I remember praying he wouldn't come after me as I closed the castle door behind me and ran again, and I remember crying when he didn't.
By the time I found my way back to the Sullivan house that night, I knew Chloe would be worried. But at times like these, other people were a constant reminder of what I could never have, so much so that for a little while I had just needed to be alone. Somewhere that I could strip off all the protective layers--both physical and emotional--and just be human without having to worry about being Rogue.
If it weren't for my friendship with Chloe, I probably would've stayed there until someone came looking for me. But I couldn't frighten her like that, so instead I forced myself to start walking back as the clear, starry, innocent Kansas night fell around me.
I arrived back at the house just in time to see her slam the phone down on the cradle. "Yeah, well Mr. Luthor's going to be a lot more indisposed by the time I get done with him," she fumed at the silent receiver. One hand snatched her purse off the counter and she started towards the door, stopping when she saw me in the doorway.
"Rogue. Omigod, I was just going out to look for you! Are you okay? Where's Lex? Oh, God--you're crying. What did he do to you? I'm gonna kill that billionaire bastard if he hurt my friend--"
"I told him. About me."
Her dire threats against Lex's life and limb died on her lips, which puckered into a silent 'o' of surprise. There isn't much that would silence Chloe once she really got going. The most effective method is to just kiss her, or so Clark tells me, but since that wouldn't be an option for me even if I did swing that way, I went for second best--shock her.
Her eyes darkened in dismay on my behalf, the entire tone of her bearing shifting from worry and anger to sympathy. "How'd he take it?"
I couldn't answer. My larynx closed up as if someone had wrapped their hand around it and squeezed. I felt the tears swelling up again and quickly ducked my head to hide them.
"That well, huh?" I could hear the grimace in her voice. "That would explain why he wouldn't take my calls."
I felt an arm slip carefully around my shoulders and looked up to see Chloe smiling ruefully at me. "Come on. This sounds like the perfect excuse for a pint of rocky road and a sappy chick flick marathon."
The ironic thing is, I'd been planning to change my ticket back to New York. I'd just intended to push it back, to give myself more time to spend with Alex. Instead, a couple hours after Mr. Sullivan finally came down and chased us to bed halfway through "Ever After," I called and moved it up. Chloe offered to drive me to the airport, with a brief stop at Erin Davies' house first so I could say goodbye.
I left that house bundled from head to toe, even more than usual. Like I had been when I met Logan in that bar, or like when he and I first came to the school. People must've thought I was headed to Antarctica, with every inch of skin covered and that big green wool coat with its enormous hood dwarfing me like a child in her mama's clothes. Needless to say, in the middle of the summer in the middle of Kansas, I was suffocating.
I only wished it were just the heat.
It took about ten or fifteen minutes to get to Erin's house from Chloe's, with the air conditioning cranked up all the way so I wouldn't collapse from heat stroke and end up killing whatever emergency personnel were called in to revive me.
I almost asked if we could skip the stop and head straight to the airport, but that wouldn't be fair. It wasn't Erin's fault what kind of mutant I turned out to be any more than it was Chloe's or Alex's. And it turned out that my fears about how she'd react were unfounded. Instead of scolding or lecturing me for revealing my secret to Alex when we arrived on her doorstep, she just pulled me into a careful hug.
"Tell me what happened."
I surprised myself by how quickly the story came pouring out of me once Chloe and I had settled into the couch in her living room. The conversation about secrets. The promise. Alex's hand reaching for me and the surge of panic I'd felt. The confrontation at the door and the horrifying realization that I had no choice left but to tell him the truth.
"How did he react?" Erin asked me quietly.
I looked away from both of them, blinking away the tears that were stinging my eyes. Damned tears. Why couldn't I suck the life out of them so they'd leave me alone? "He said he wasn't afraid of me. That's why I ran."
The light pressure of her hand on my shoulder was a gentle command to look at her again. I obeyed nervously.
"From what Chloe's told me, young Mr. Luthor sounds like a good man. And what he said to you seems to reinforce that. But it's your decision, Rogue--you're an adult and don't need to be told what choices to make. If you need some time to clear your head, take it. And if you decide to come back...well, if Lex doesn't welcome you with open arms he's much more foolish than either of you have painted him to me."
Her words followed me all the way to Metropolis, into the airport, past the security checkpoint where Chloe and I hugged goodbye and I prayed none of the guards would get the bright idea to try to strip search me, down the long corridor of the terminal, through the gate and onto the plane. They haunted me, even though I knew I would never turn back, because she'd said Alex would be a fool not to welcome me back with open arms. Me, whose open arms were the human equivalent of a dirty bomb. How could denying that welcome be foolish?
I shifted in my seat, glad the seats on either side of me were empty. Only a few more minutes and it wouldn't matter. I'd be back in Westchester, back to the only life I could ever really have.
Sooner or later I'd put Lex behind me, just like Logan. And maybe eventually I'd take the hint that I was destined to be alone.
I started to get nervous when twenty minutes passed and the plane didn't move. No more people were boarding--I'd intentionally waited until the last minute to arrive so I wouldn't jeopardize any of the other passengers by accidentally bumping my cheek into a bare elbow or something--but there we sat.
I shivered. Travel delays are not something I take to kindly--I don't suppose anybody would if they'd been the reason a passenger train was not only stopped prematurely but also ripped open like a box of Cracker Jacks. Last I heard, Magneto was still in his special prison, but I knew from the eavesdropping on the teachers once in a while that some of his henchmen had apparently escaped. Including Mystique, the shape-shifter who'd taken Bobby's form and tricked me into running away right into their open arms.
Of course the captain's voice an instant later did nothing to soothe my growing panic.
"Ladies and Gentlemen--" Especially since he sounded about as surprised as the rest of us. "--as you can probably tell, we've encountered an unexpected delay..."
I don't think I heard a word more than that. Delay. What could possibly be delaying the flight?
"Poor planning," the angry voice of an old woman a couple of rows up carried back to me. "Probably got too many planes trying to leave at once. Happened to me once, flying out of Dallas. Sat at the gate for three damn hours while they waited for all the planes already lined up on the runway to get in the air..."
God, I hoped that was all.
Minutes ticked by with the speed of cold molasses, and I got more and more restless. Periodically the captain would get on the speakers again to thank us for our infinite patience and spread out a few more platitudes in hopes that they'd soothe the impatient crowd. I heard grumbling from several sides about connecting flights that were going to be missed.
Then suddenly I heard the door of the plane open, and voices raised in argument. One of them was the pilot. The other...oh my God.
"We're running almost an hour late already--"
"I realize that, and I assure you I will personally see that all your passengers are compensated for their patience. But you are not leaving the ground until I say so. Is that clear?"
Sure enough, half a heartbeat later Alex came striding down the aisle of the plane, with the confident swagger of a man who's on top of the world and can't be knocked off. Until he saw me.
I could hear the murmur of the other passengers' voices rise in amazement as his steps slowed. Everyone recognized him, of course. He was Lex Luthor, probably the only prematurely-bald twenty-something heir apparent to a mega fortune in the country. And I wasn't the only one sitting here who knew he was the reason our departure had been "unexpectedly delayed."
He'd grounded an entire airplane full of people for me.
That realization made me want to cry, hug him, and slap him all at the same time.
He stood there in the aisle, two feet away from me, a hesitant look on his face that I'd never seen before. "Marie..."
"Alex, what are you doing here? You can't just ground a plane and expect over a hundred people to put their lives on hold on a whim like this--"
"You say that like I had a choice." His voice was soft, but firm.
"There's always a choice."
He shook his head, closing the already minute distance between us and crouching down beside my seat. The plane held its collective breath.
"Once I finally got my head on straight, I showed up this morning at Gabe Sullivan's door, only to find that you'd left. It took a little fancy footwork, but I convinced him to give me your flight number. But if you think letting you go like this was an option..." He smiled sadly. "...it wasn't for me."
He shushed me softly, one hand coming to rest on top of mine, and I noticed absently that he had neglected to remove the leather driving gloves he always wore on the road.
"There was a man who came to Smallville a while back," Alex told me. "He was living on borrowed time, wasn't supposed to be living at all. Because of that...anything living he touched turned to dust in his hands."
My breath caught in my throat as my head spun: I'd never dreamed there might be someone else out there who shared my curse.
"You have no idea how often I've thought of that man and found myself feeling just like him. Like everything I touch turns to ash, no matter how good my intentions." He reached for my face again and I didn't know whether to laugh or cry as I realized why he had left the driving gloves on. "I never thought I'd meet someone who could understand that. But now that I have, I know I'd be an idiot to let her slip away from me."
I was almost crying, but he still didn't understand. "That doesn't change anythin'. I still can't...we can't..."
He nodded, his mouth drawn tight and his eyes hard with determination. "We'll find a way. If I have to use every resource at my disposal, I swear I'll find a way."
For a moment he was quiet, letting that sink in, before he spoke again. "Please come back with me."
"Say 'Yes'!" someone shouted.
"Kiss her!" came from a few rows back.
I looked at Alex and when our eyes met, we both burst into giggles. But the laughter faded into a sad smile on his face. "I wish I could kiss you," he whispered.
I knew then that I didn't have a choice either. Or if I ever did, I'd already made it. I smiled, reaching one hand up to trace the smooth shape of his jaw. "Like you said...we'll find a way."