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People always think it's the memories that aren't a part of her. None of them really understand, though, that the memories are the easiest part of being Rogue.

Memories are just thoughts attached to images attached to feelings. Marie can absorb those, make them her own. It doesn't matter where they come from—from her own past, from someone else's. Once they're inside her, they're hers.

But doesn't it get confusing? Bobby asked her once, squinting at her as if he'd already decided the answer was yes. She'd searched for words to tell him, tell him no, don't you see? Once they're in there, it's not like havin' someone else in my brain. It's all just me. But she could tell from his expression that the meaning would be lost on him.

Marie also doesn't bother trying to explain to them that it's her skin that's no longer her own. She can handle the strangers in her head; she can handle the powers that shouldn't be hers.

What she can't handle is the stranger that covers every inch of her body, and keeps her at arm's length from herself.

*

Afterwards, after needles and condemnations and dirty looks, it's like meeting an old friend after years of separation. She keeps the gloves for a few months, still scared of what might happen—what she might do—but after a season has turned and she hasn't hurt anyone, she starts to trust.

Maybe she's really at home, again.

She sits in the new summer sun, feeling as shy as an eleven year-old just becoming aware of her femininity. It's an appreciation she didn't have growing up, an acute self-consciousness forced upon her by image after image of pain caused by her touch. The names and faces well up behind the specks in her eyes when she glances up at the noon-day crest of light.

She sighs with the wind on her skin. No needle can grant her asylum from this, from the layers of guilt that are the basis of the power she had.

She's not sure she can excise it, not even one cell at a time.

*

She didn't do it for Bobby, but she's sure as hell ready to kill him when she catches him with Kitty. They don't even have the decency to pretend they're doing something innocent—he just looks down, unable to meet her eyes, and, really, that's all the answer she needs.

She didn't do it for Bobby.

But she'd be lying to herself if she tried to pretend that she hadn't thought—hadn't hoped—

Well. None of that really mattered now, did it?

Marie's used to being on her own.

*

She's ill at ease with the X-Men. They don't quite know what to do with her, anymore, and she doesn't quite know what to do with them. Logan tries to include her, come up with ways that she can be a part of the team even without her powers, but Ororo waits for no woman, and certainly no "misguided young girl who has alienated half of her classmates."

She wants to tell Ororo that being able to wear a tank top and dance until her chest burns at a club doesn't make her any less a member of the team. That losing the last traces of chains around ankles and claws emerging from her knuckles doesn't make her human.

The absence of power isn't what makes her human. It's not in her genes, or in the crest she wears on her uniform, or in the political party she votes for.

She isn't sure yet what will make her human, or if she even wants to be.

*

She gravitates to other mutants, a moth to new flames. There are others who don't compare her to what she was, all the things that they think she could have been: she likes meeting someone and not seeing a hint of disappointment flicker in their eyes when she can shake their hand.

They don't challenge her right to call herself Rogue.

She goes to a support group, meets some others who've been cured. Marie stays quiet, for the most part, but loves to listen, absorb the stories: here, she can do that, and no one has to get hurt.

And it's nice not to feel alone.

*

She meets Carol outside the building on a rainy Wednesday night; between closing her umbrella and juggling her backpack, Marie can hardly see where she's going, and they would have been a fast tangle of limbs on the ground if not for Carol's hand on the small of her back.

I'm so sorry, she says breathlessly, straightening up.

Carol's smile widens the more Marie tries to apologize, and Marie stops when she realizes that the woman's hand hasn't moved although she's completely steady on her feet now.

I'm so sorry about that, she says again, swallowing, her throat dry despite the high humidity in the air.

I'm not, Carol tells her, her fingers smoothing over Marie's waist when she does let go. I'm not sorry in the least.

*

Carol, Marie finds out later, was there for a group of her own.

Joe, she explains over coffee. They told us he died in battle.

It's another six meetings (at which point Marie is thoroughly tired of talking about her feelings) before she has the courage to say yes when Carol suggests a movie.

Dinner takes another three, but by then, it's Marie doing the asking.

*

Carol's strong—stronger than anyone Marie has ever known. She let nothing stand in her way: not her father, not the instructors who told her women weren't meant to be pilots, and certainly not Ms. Marvel. Each obstacle in her life she overcame with a single-minded determination and refusal to acknowledge that anything less than victory was an option.

Marie's glad she'll never have to face Carol on the opposite side of a battlefield.

*

Some nights, she wakes up in a cold sweat. Her dreams are vivid splashes of color—faces she's not supposed to remember, places she's never been. Her skin crawls, goosepimples rising all along her arms, but there's no cool air coming in. She keeps her window closed at night.

She scratches until pale pink turns to red, until she can't feel her heart pound with the knowledge of the last time her skin felt like this, and tosses and turns well into the dawn, swatches of light showing her things she doesn't want to see.

*

Y'all don't think…don't think it was only temporary?

She's braved the beige-and-blue meeting room again, gloves bunched nervously in her hands, knees locked tightly together. It's the question she refused to ask those first few months, sure she already knew the answer.

But a room full of heads shake at her, and Mrs. Hertzfeld tells her it's completely normal to still feel ghost sensations.

Like phantom limbs, she tells Marie, patting her comfortingly on the hand, give them time and they'll go away.

*

I don't know what to tell ya, kid. Logan neatly slices the apple in half, eating one-half of the green fruit with a decisive clench of his jaw. If Hank couldn't find anything, why're ya still worryin'?

Marie shrugs, her chin resting in her palm.

He offers her the other half, and shows no fear when her fingertips brush his knuckles. Then again, he never has.

It's why she likes him, and why she'll never completely trust him.

*

I don't think it's safe, she tells Carol, looking out the window so that she doesn't have to see the effect of her words. She's seen more than her share of disappointment and pain for one lifetime. At least this time it's for the best.

But Carol's strength, the same strength she admired, refuses to hear her. Carol's hands are sure, and they know all the places that Marie—that Rogue—can't say no to, those places that she's still getting re-acquainted with, the ones Carol has helped her make home again.

Carol tells her that Marie doesn't have the right to make this choice for her, and Marie knows she's right.

And she finds she can't say no when her body says yes.

Even now, she's the weaker of the two.

*

She's known all along that Carol has precognition—it's the excuse Carol used to take her on dizzying flights through the city, barely dodging buildings and trees in a mad aerial roller coaster ride.

I sense immediate danger and avoid it, Carol said, with her cocky fighter-pilot's smile. I won't let anything happen to you, love.

And she didn't. Every flight, they landed unscathed.

Marie hadn't seen Carol's pre-cognition as it was happening, but she recognizes it immediately, even before her skin screams out with a thousand pricking needles bursting up from under the surface, even before she collapses against Carol in a helpless throe of joint-wracking pain.

Carol looks at her, takes Marie's face in her hands; her eyes tremble, glaze slightly, and she just has time to whisper this my gift before the world goes white and Marie stops being Marie and Rogue is born into a world of searing agony and power. So much power.

Carol hadn't lied to her: every flight, Marie lands unscathed. But in their last one, skin to skin, it's only Marie who lands, and Carol who keeps flying, aware of the danger, and shooting straight up into the white-hot glare of the sun.

*

Rogue knows hospitals. She knows the sound of heart monitors, the squeak of sneakers on linoleum when the uninjured party standing at the bedside can't stand to look anywhere else.

She went into County General a young girl unready to face the consequences of actions she hadn't made the choice to commit, unwilling to believe that a kiss could really be responsible. She apologized through glass and didn't make it past the door until he'd been discharged.

She enters New York Presbyterian three years older and lifetimes wiser, clothed from head to toe in black. She has made a vow that she will never again set foot outside without this uniform again.

She recites the names to Carol, each and every one: they are a line, not a path, but a living and breathing lineage that her skin remembers.

Carol's brow feels cool even through the material of the gloves; she doesn't stir when Marie's lips press down on the velvet barrier.

She flies, that night, for the first time, crazy with Carol, crazy with grief, but the wind is on her skin, and then she knows, as sure as she knows the hum of power: they're all with her.

There are no strangers in the map of her skin, anymore, no doubts about who she is.

She is Rogue, and is everyone she has ever touched. She isn't alone.

They'll always be with her.