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Into Trembling Air

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He woke before he opened his eyes and he wished that he had stayed unconscious. There were multiple stones digging painfully into his back and the back of his throat was caked in thick, cloying dust. His head felt like someone had reached inside and turned his brain to paste, before whacking him with a brick just to make sure they’d done the job properly. But even as he thought that, the pain started to fade. 

He opened his eyes and stared blankly at the blue-gray canvas spread before him, the gray a procession of swirling clouds of dust. He could hear the murmur of voices nearby, a half-understood hum of words, as his brain attempted to make sense of what everything meant. There was a set of running footsteps coming closer, the beginning of a slow trudge further away, and then a pained moan from the female of the two voices. He did not recognise any of them.

He did not know who he was.

He sat up slowly, a scene of destruction spreading itself out before him, parts of buildings still collapsing and sending more great whorls of dust up into the dense air. The rustle of a chain and a faint tug along the back of his neck drew his attention to the dog tags around his neck. ‘Logan’ it said on one side, and ‘Wolverine’ on the other. He wondered what that meant. His name, perhaps. A codename, maybe. Certainly not anything like dog tags he’d owned before.

Had he owned things like this before? It felt natural to think so, but he couldn’t remember actually owning them. He didn’t - well, he couldn’t really remember anything.

The owner of the running footsteps rounded one of the piles of rubble. “The kids are safe,” the stranger told him, then stopped short. “Damn,” he muttered, staring at his forehead.

He pulled himself to standing, facing the stranger on a more equal footing. On some level he knew that he could trust this stranger - that he wasn’t actually a stranger - but he didn’t know where that feeling was coming from.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“What do you mean, ‘who am I’? I’m the guy that brought you here. Now we’ve got to go.” The stranger took a couple of steps towards him, still glancing at his forehead occasionally.

He shuddered as some dangerous thing shook through him. There was fear and confusion and anger. Without realising he was doing it, he grabbed the other man by the lapels of his coat, shaking him a little.

“Where the hell am I?” he growled.

Understanding flickered through the man’s eyes, and he raised his hands in a universal sign of peace. “Listen, man, I’m your friend. Your friend.”

“What’s my name?” he muttered, the fear clawing up his throat and attempting to strangle him. “What’s my name?!” he repeated, yelling this time.

“Your name is Logan,” he said, repeating the label on one of the dog tags. His name then. But no surname. No first name? “You need to trust me, we have to go,” the man continued.

Logan released him slowly, trying to calm the wild, scared thing inside himself that was insisting that he run as far and fast as he could. There was no way to fight the blank space in his head where his life used to be, so he wanted to run, and keep running.

There was a scuffle of noise, and he tensed, fists clenching automatically and a dark prickle of something danced across his knuckles.

“Logan?” a voice called breathlessly, a pained whimper following it.

He did not stop to consider this could be a trap, running around the corner to where a young woman leant heavily against a slab of fallen concrete. There was blood all down one side of her top, and her fingers were clamped down over what Logan assumed was the wound itself.

Her eyes lit up with some unnameable emotion that made Logan want to smile and swing her up into his arms and kiss her. But his eyes returned to her side, and the fear he had felt for himself was pushed aside in fear for her, whoever she was.

“It’s ok,” she told him, smiling weakly and staggering a bit as she pulled herself up straighter.

Logan was at her side in moments, looping an arm under hers and taking her weight. “That’s not ‘ok’,” he remarked, eying the hole in her top worriedly.

“Not yet,” she replied, an odd amusement in her tone that he couldn’t understand.

“Who’s she?” the other man asked.

Logan hesitated, glancing between the two of them. He knew her, he was sure of it. He might not remember who he was anymore, but he knew enough to know that he would not feel as overwhelmingly worried as he was over her for a stranger.

“I don’t know,” he murmured, wincing as she stiffened at his words. “I don’t-” he stopped and swallowed, looking out across the strange place he’d found himself and wondered if he was the one who had caused the ruin.

“Stryker had a gun,” the woman in his arms said. “I heard two shots before he came over to me, and he was not hurt.”

“Is that what happened?” Logan asked, gesturing to her side.

She shot him another look, this one part fond, part exasperated. “No. I stopped him. You always did worry more about hurting others than yourself.”

The man let out an amused snort, nodding in agreement. “We need to go,” he reminded them. “I’ve got a plane that’ll get us out of here.”

There was the sound of sirens in the distance, that stopped any protestations they might have had. Logan hesitated only a moment before scooping the woman up into his arms, the arm that had been across his shoulders already tightening briefly before she relaxed. Inexplicably, her movement seemed to have become easier, rather than stiffer as her wound lingered untreated.

“I’m Gambit,” the man introduced himself as they ran toward his aircraft, eyes glancing at the woman in Logan’s arms, although he suspected it was more for his sake than hers.

“Kayla,” she replied. “The people who were held captive here-”

“Are fine,” Gambit interrupted. “I don’t know where they’re headed, but it seems we weren’t the only ones with eyes on this place.”

“Good,” Kayla replied, wincing as Logan set her down in the plane and they clambered on. “So long as it’s not another Government operative.”

“It wasn’t,” Gambit replied, firing up the engine and running rapid pre-flight checks. “They’re safe. I’m sure we could track them down later when we’re safe, if you need to.”

Kayla nodded, and stared out the window as they took off. “One of them is my sister,” she said, almost too quietly to be heard over the rush of air. She’d curled in on herself as she said it, heedless of her injury. The hand that had been lying unmoving under Logan’s, turned and grasped his tightly, entwining their fingers.

“None of them were left behind,” Gambit reassured. “Trust me, your sister is fine.”

Another nod, and Kayla turned to Logan, burrowing herself against his side. Once her face was buried in his shoulder, his arm tight around her, she started shaking quietly. It took Logan a moment of panic to realise that she was sobbing rather than having a seizure of some sort. He froze, uncertain how to react with a strange woman crying into his chest, before he just tightened his arms around her and pressed a kiss to the crown of her head.

Gambit kept sneaking glances at them, practically stinking of curiosity. He held his tongue, however, and Logan was glad for whatever small favour he could get. It was clear that, in whatever arrangement they had that had led to Gambit bringing Logan to The Island, Kayla had not been mentioned. She had known his name, and his heart was still speeding in fear of the injury in her side, but more than that, she fit against his side like a lover who had long since worked out how best to fit them together so there was as little space dividing them as possible. Logan refused to believe that she was his enemy.

The flight was not a particularly long one, but it seemed to take forever. Kayla had finished her emotional breakdown faster than Logan had thought she would, and had rubbed the tear tracks away from her face before they landed. Without his entire attention focussed on her, and doing his best not to think about the blank he kept drawing while trying to remember, Logan had plenty of time to rediscover his fear of flying. He was certain that his grip on Kayla was going to leave bruises, but she wasn’t complaining - was even holding him just as tightly - so he didn’t ease up.

Gambit led them, from what was less a landing strip and more an empty field, to the only building in sight. In spite of its solitude, the house seemed well cared for, and the lights were on inside.

“Where are we?” Logan asked, holding Kayla upright again as they followed Gambit towards the house.

“Outside Baltimore. I didn’t think your girlfriend was up to a five hour trip back to New Orleans,” he replied, with a nod to Kayla, who smiled a little weakly.

“I’d have been fine, but I do appreciate being able to stop for rest now,” she said.

Logan glanced between Kayla, Gambit, and the house. “You do know these people, right? You haven’t just landed outside a random person’s house?” he asked dubiously.

Gambit snorted another almost-laugh and shook his head. “They’re friends. Stay here while I talk to them.” He didn’t offer any more explanation than that, just strode up to the door and knocking briskly. Logan stayed several feet away, still propping Kayla up.

“Are you sure you’re ok?” he asked her quiet as the door opened and Gambit had a hushed conversation with the old lady who answered.

She didn’t say anything, just tugged her top up to reveal her side. Where Logan expected a bullet hole or deep stab wound there was a wound maybe a little bit larger than a needle mark. The skin around it was shiny and stretched taught, but even before his eyes it seemed to dull and become more like normal skin, and the hole got smaller. Kayla dropped her shirt back down again and leant forward to stroke his chin, gently persuading his jaw shut.

“You’re healing yourself really quickly,” he remarked blankly, searching her eyes for an answer.

“You do it a lot faster,” she told him. “I … have another mutation, too. So do you.”

Instinctively, Logan stretched away from them with one hand and encouraged the dark prickling across his knuckles. With one smooth movement three blades shot out with the vaguely sickening sound of cutting flesh. Pain flashed across his hand where they appeared, but faded almost instantly. Against him, Kayla shook suddenly.

“They used to be bone,” she explained, reaching out and tracing the blunt side of one of the blades with her finger. “I am so sorry,” she apologised, blinking back tears again.

Logan retracted the blades and turned his attention to her. “Why?” he asked, wondering if he wanted to know the answer. With his memory gone, perhaps it would be better to start over entirely, to begin again without whatever mistakes had been made in the past. That thought was rapidly dismissed. The blank spaces were like an itch that he could not resist. He had to know.

Before Kayla could answer, Gambit called for them, and their attention was diverted. The old lady he’d been talking to had disappeared into the house and didn’t seem to be about to reappear anytime soon, if the fact that he locked the front door behind them was any indication.

“Plausible deniability,” Gambit explained at the curious looks he received. “Destiny is happy to help out anyone, so long as if they get caught doing something illegal she doesn’t get implicated.”

Logan raised his eyebrows. “The place we just left got totally wrecked, you really think this old lady stands a snowflake’s chance in hell against whoever it is we’re fighting here?”

Gambit’s returning grin was cheeky and daring. “First, you haven’t met this old lady. And second, it was you who levelled that place, not Stryker or Creed. So unless you feel like destroying this place too…?” he trailed off suggestively.

The only answered he received was a vaguely negative sounding grunt. “Do you think you can manage the stairs, or do you want me to carry you?” Logan asked Kayla. She shot him a sideways look, question clear. Her side was almost completely healed; whilst she was still exhausted, tiredness did not make someone incapable of climbing stairs. He shot her lopsided grin at her and she giggled a bit at him.

Behind them, Gambit chuckled. “So you’ll only be needing the one room,” he said wryly, laughing again when Kayla flushed and Logan’s ears turned red.

Turning back to Kayla, Logan tipped his head in question and she nodded in reply. “We’ve been sleeping together for four years. So long as you’re fine with it, sharing a bed with you is much more comfortable for me than sleeping alone.”

“I love you,” he blurted, without thinking. “I mean. I don’t know you, I don’t remember you, but I know I love you.”

Kayla’s arms were around his neck, her lips on his, before he could speak another world. “Logan,” she breathed against his mouth. “God, Logan, I love you so much, and I am so sorry.” She kissed him again, and it was salty this time. She was crying, he realised.

“You keep saying that,” he said. “And I don’t know why.” He spared a glance for Gambit, who was clearly listening intently, but had had the decency, at least, to pretend to be very interested in the curtains. “I’m scared,” Logan whispered. “I’m fucking terrified. I don’t know what I’ve done or what I wanted to do. I don’t know who I am.”

She kissed him again, hands cupping his face and running through his hair. “I know, baby. And I promise, I will help you through this. You told me a lot about your past, and I’ll tell you all that I know.” Another kiss, this one heavy with a promise made. “I love you,” she said again. “Just don’t forget that.”

-xXx-

Logan didn’t sleep much, in the house belonging to Gambit’s strange old lady friend. It wasn’t that he wasn’t tired, just that whenever he closed his eyes there were strange impressions and half-dreams waiting for him. There were strangers who he ought to know the names of around every corner, a promise and a betrayal like lead in his stomach, though he did not know what either was. And everywhere there was blood and destruction  and the moon watching over it all, seeing it all and doing nothing.

“You’re the trickster.”

He woke with tears in the corners of his eyes and not knowing why they were there. Kayla was curled against his side, soft and vulnerable in sleep, and he wanted nothing more than to protect and save her. He could not remember what it was he was trying to save her from.

With gentle fingers he probed against her side that had been injured the night before, glad to feel that the marks seemed to have disappeared entirely now. Her bloodstained clothes still laid crumpled in one corner, the stink of them making his nose twitch in distaste, and he longed to burn them and forget that she’d ever been hurt at all. He didn’t move, knowing that if he did she would wake up. Whether it was some subconscious part of him that knew she was a light sleeper, or it was common sense telling him that anyone would be jittery after whatever had happened the day before, he couldn’t tell.

“I know you’re awake,” she muttered into his shoulder, making him jump a bit. He hadn’t realised that she was awake. She stretched languidly before cuddling more comfortably against him again. “Are you alright?” she asked.

Logan thought about this for a moment, but the only answer he could provide was, “I still can’t remember anything.”

She sighed softly and kissed the closest part of him she could reach. “I was hoping you’d remember, but I suppose that was silly of me, considering your healing ability.”

He didn’t reply to that, only tightened the arm around her. “Are you going to tell me who I am today, or leave me guessing?”

“I’ll tell you. It would probably be better if you were left to try and sort it out in your own time, but I don’t think we have time for that luxury.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, more sharply than he’d meant to.

Kayla bit her lip, considering. “I think that explaining that might work better if it was part of the whole story. Just telling you bits and pieces and making you try and sort through it will probably only make matters worse.”

He laughed darkly. “Worse? I don’t think it gets much worse.”

In one swift movement, Kayla had rolled on top of him and was sat astride his hips. “Worse?” she repeated the question back to him, mockingly. “You want worse? Stryker could have won. You could be dead, with your head on a pike somewhere and the kids that were saved - including my sister - still locked in cages and being experimented on. Maybe Stryker and Creed are still alive, but you are too! Do you know what it would have done to me if you were killed?”

She was slouched over him, her hands loose fists resting on his chest. Logan reached up and gently pulled her to lie down again, running soothing hands up and down her back. He didn’t say anything, because there was nothing he could say. He was alive in the most technical sense of the word, but he was a brand new person, with only the oldest and deepest scars on his psyche still echoing up through the memory loss. He didn’t even know if he could be the same man she had loved ever again.

A soft knock on the door broke their reverie, and Kayla called for whoever it was to come in. Gambit stuck his head around the door, raising his eyebrows and clearly fighting the innuendos that rose to the forefront of his mind seeing them still in bed together.

“You need to get up. We need to sort out what we’re doing from here, and I promised we’d be out by midday,” Gambit told them, starting to close the door before hesitating. “Do you want me to see if Destiny has any spare clothes you could use?” he asked Kayla, eying the pile of bloodied fabric that she’d worn the day before. Logan had leant her his shirt to sleep in.

“If it’s not too much hassle,” she replied.

“No hassle,” he reassured with a lecherous grin, closing the door and disappearing with a laugh before the pillow Logan chucked at him hit him.

Kayla hid her face in Logan’s chest and laughed lightly. “Seems like just the kind of guy you’d make friends with,” she remarked.

“Horny?” Logan asked rhetorically, a tinge of jealousy still coating his words.

“A rebel and a rogue, but a good man at heart,” she replied honestly.

Logan only shrugged in reply and rolled out of bed to start the day. He could feel Kayla’s eyes follow him as moved about his morning ablutions, but her gaze did not unnerve him. It was domestic in a way that he wouldn’t have thought he’d be comfortable with.

Gambit returned shortly with a summer dress for Kayla and before long the three of them were gathered in the kitchen, each cradling a cup of coffee.

“You were born in Canada in 1837 to John and Elizabeth Howlett,” Kayla began, but was almost immediately interrupted.

“1837?” Gambit asked, spluttering. “Mon dieu, you’re ancient!”

“Gee, thanks bub,” Logan grumbled, waving a hand at Kayla to continue.

She told both of them the shortest version of his life story that she could, considering it spanned well over a century. It was only when she got to her involvement that she stuttered.

“Stryker knew my father - not very well, just in the way that all men with a lot of power or money seem to know each other - and when he discovered that both Emma and I had developed mutant abilities, that familiarity made it ridiculously easy for him to kidnap us. Emma is telepathic and can turn into living diamond, so her skills were useful. Mine were - not so useful. My healing factor is nothing compared to yours or Victor’s, both of which he had, and my mental persuasion works only if I’m touching someone.”

“Wait,” Logan cut in this time. “What do you mean ‘mental persuasion’?”

Kayla turned a penetrating gaze to him, not looking away and doing her utmost to convince him of her total honesty. “When I touch someone I can influence their thoughts. It doesn’t work on you or Victor, nor on anyone with proficient mental protection. But Stryker didn’t know it didn’t work on you, and he wanted someone to keep an eye on you.”

Logan felt icy fear come crashing down on him and tried to concentrate on what she’d said before - she loved him.

“He kept my sister locked up, used her as blackmail, and directed me to get as close to you as I could,” she continued, grasping for Logan’s hands and squeezing them tightly. “I fell in love with you, Logan, I swear, it’s as real to me as it was to you.”

“Did you tell me?” he asked lowly, his voice coming out as barely more coherent than a growl.

Kayla bowed her head, hiding her face from his searching eyes. “No,” she whispered, gasping when he pulled his hands free from hers. “He had my baby sister, Logan, and he had eyes on my parents and my brother. One word from me and they would have all died. He left us alone for four years, I thought that maybe he’d give up on us, that he’d let her go and we could stay together and you wouldn’t have to ever find out.”

She looked utterly dejected and lonely as she continued the story, with help from Gambit, up to the current moment. She sat on one of the hard backed kitchen chairs, hugging her knees to her chest and searching Logan’s face desperately for some kind of sign that she was forgiven - or would be - again.

But Logan was too overwhelmed by the story of his life to pay too much attention to what she needed. He didn’t know the exact date, but if Gambit’s comment had been any indication, he was a lot older than he looked - a lot older than he felt - which meant that the loss of his memories was an even deeper blow than he’d thought. So much time and life and stories lost, just like that. Kayla knew bits and pieces, but from the way she talked it was clear that he’d spared her the worst of his past.

He clung silently to the kitchen counter that he was propped up against like it was a lifeline, trying to come to terms with it all.

“Our home,” he said after a long silence. “Is it still there?”

Kayla nodded. “So far as I know. Unless you went back and tore it down after finding my, um. My body.”

Logan shuddered again. Fuck. What a mess. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, holding it in with a thousand swirling thoughts and ideas, before letting it out slowly and struggling to chose the right options. He opened his eyes to see Kayla watching him fearfully. Wordlessly, he opened his arms to her in a silent gesture for an embrace.

She had betrayed him, but it had not been her choice. A rich girl from a privileged background, kidnapped and blackmailed, and falling in love with a stranger who was more entangled in the centre of it all than she was. It was a wonder that she hadn’t just given up entirely. Instead, here she was, trying to be strong for his sake, apologising for mistakes that had probably seemed like her only option at the time. There would, no doubt, be times when they struggled with this element of their past, but in the here and now he could not begrudge her the choices she had made.

Kayla jumped up into his arms, clinging to him and fighting sobs again.

Gambit watched them with dark eyes. “You have a messed up relationship,” he told them sombrely when Kayla had settled down again.

Logan growled in warning, but the Cajun continued regardless. “I can’t talk. I was engaged to my childhood friend against both our wills and ended up killing her brother in self-defence when he kept attacking me. Stupid bastard didn’t realise I didn’t want to marry her, but she loved him and now he’s dead and I get kicked out of New Orleans only to get imprisoned by a mad scientist. His guards are crap at poker, though, and Bella Donna had talked down both our families by the time I got back. Then there’s Ororo-”

“How old are you?” Kayla asked incredulously, cutting him off.

“Um, twenty? Twenty-five?” Gambit asked more than answered, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “I’m not entirely sure.”

“How can you not know how old you are?” Logan asked, then shrugged when they both stared at him accusingly. “I have an excuse,” he replied.

“I don’t know what year I was born,” Gambit said with a one shouldered shrug. “I was abandoned and kidnapped so my birth certificate was never completed. Then I spent several years in exile and in Stryker’s prison. I’m sure my father could tell me if I asked, but they’re not exactly fond of me at the moment, what with the whole-” he flapped a hand vaguely “-thing,” he finished.

Kayla shook her head disbelievingly. “And you call us messed up?”

“Let’s be messed up together!” Gambit cried cheerfully, before growing serious once. “Although, I think we’ve probably done pretty well, in the grand scheme of things. Sure, there’s been blackmail and memory loss, but, well, there are some very ugly things going on.”

Logan narrowed his eyes at the other man. “Stryker has another base?”

“At least one,” Gambit agreed. “But it’s not just him. There were rumors about a guy called Shaw a few years back, and word on the street is rife with something called the ‘Brotherhood’, not to mention the countless smaller-time crooks who are forcing people into prostitution or drug dealing. I guess it’s nothing humans haven’t done to each other before, but with mutant powers behind it, the whole thing’s about ten times uglier.”

“And I’m guessing Victor still wants you dead,” Kayla added, watching Logan with concern.

He grunted to show that he’d heard all they’d said, and continued staring into the dregs of his coffee. “I want to go back to our house,” he said. “See if it jogs my memory. Gives us an opportunity to pack some of our stuff, sell the things we don’t need.”

“Then what?” Kayla asked, a slightly hysterical note entering her voice.

Logan looked at her calmly and said, “Then we track down your sister. Check that her and the other kids actually are alright. After that - it’s up to you. With Creed on my tail I won’t be able to settle, but I have a feeling I’m pretty good at surviving on the road, if what you told me about my past is true.”

“And me?”

“You have your sister and your parents,” Logan told Kayla softly. “I can’t ask you to come with me.”

“But if I wanted to?” she prompted.

He paused, letting the sound of their breathing fill the air. “I don’t remember, but I’m pretty sure I’ve always had a hard time saying ‘no’ to you.”

It was not the ringing approval she might have hoped for, but it was the best that Logan was able to give - with or without his memories. With Creed out there somewhere, and Stryker still alive and probably very pissed off too, they would have to stay on the road. Logan had resigned himself to a life on the move, but there was no way that he would tie someone else to it too. If they voluntarily tied themselves to him, however, he was not going to say no.

“What about you?” he asked Gambit.

The younger man shrugged casually, an easy smile on his lips. “I go back to New Orleans, mes amis. I have my family and my cards, and that is all a man like me can ask for. It has certainly been an … interesting experience, meeting you.”

“Likewise, I’m sure,” Logan said dryly.

The three of them left the house, Gambit lingering behind to have a few more quiet words with their hostess.

“I’d offer to take you where you need to be, but my baby barely has enough fuel to get me home,” Gambit apologised, slapping the nose of the airplane. “If you ever find yourself in need of a friend, I am at your service,” he added, with a sweeping bow and a crooked grin.

“At a price, I’m sure,” Logan grumbled, before giving Gambit an awkward slap-on-the-back hug.

Kayla stepped forward after him and kissed Gambit on the cheek, accepting the note he passed her with grace.

“A cell number,” he explained. “If you need to contact me in a hurry. Although if you’re in New Orleans, just drop the name ‘LeBeau’ and that will get to me faster than a phone call.”

“Stop hitting on my girl,” Logan warned, wrapping an arm around Kayla’s waist and pulling her to his side. “We’ll see you around, kid.”

Gambit nodded, climbing into the plane as they walked to a safe distance. He waved as he began take off, and before they knew it he’d vanished from sight.

“So,” Kayla said, glancing around at their surroundings. There was the field and the house they’d stayed in the night before, and that was it. “How are we going to get to the Rockies from here?”

Logan smiled wolfishly at her. “I’m pretty certain I know how to hotwire a motorcycle?” he suggested.

-xXx-

It took them a little under a week to reach the cabin Kayla and Logan had owned and lived in together, and the journey had been awkward, the conversation a little stilted and the transport itself always somewhat dubiously obtained. Once the first blush of knowing that the other was still alive and still in love had faded they realised that unless Logan’s memory miraculously returned over night, they had to start from the beginning again as strangers.

They both knew that, one day, they would be good again. They knew it, because they had to believe it. They’d done it before and now, more than ever, they needed another human being who knew them entirely to cling to. Admittedly, Logan only knew of Kayla what she’d told him, but he had an unwavering faith in her that she would have not found anywhere else except, perhaps, her sister.

She confronted him about it somewhere between Chicago and Minneapolis. “Why do you trust me?” Kayla asked.

“Because you don’t smell like you’re lying,” Logan replied simply, shooting a smile at her. “That’s probably why you managed to get so close to me for so long without me realising you worked for Stryker. You were on ‘my side’, even if the bastard was blackmailing you to be on his.”

“How do you know I’m not influencing you to think that?”

Logan sighed, concentrating on the road and decidedly not looking at her. “I have no memory. I can’t trust anything that I think I remember in case it’s only a dream. If I can’t trust in my senses, at least, I might as well give up now.” There was a painful moment drawn out a beat too long before he looked at her again and smiled crookedly. “Besides, you touch me a lot, darlin’, but you don’t touch me all the time,” he added teasingly, breaking the tension.

Which had, indirectly, led to another issue that neither of them had the first idea how to approach. The casual touches between the two of them were just as frequent as they had ever been; a brush of fingers here, a hug there, a brief flicker of hands in hair. But it was never anything more than that. They both knew that they’d been together for years, but Logan’s memory loss was a wall between them that they weren’t sure how to tackle.

It was worse for Kayla, and not just because she remember their relationship. Logan had never been particularly tactile anywhere that might have even the slightest chance of being considered public, and getting a kiss out of him around others was always a bit hit and miss. So now that he had lost his memories, it was like they were back to the very beginning again; where the only kisses would be chaste and private, few and far between. Kayla knew that it was Logan’s way of being respectful, but that did not stop it from being frustrating.

Similarly for Logan, his body remembered the patterns of affection that they’d woven into their daily routine, but his mind had forgotten. So he would find himself leaning in for a kiss without thinking, then pulling back as he realized what he was doing. If Kayla caught the action, pain would flash briefly in her eyes, followed sharply by stinging guilt.

Neither of them knew where the boundaries were, and it was something they’d only be able to figure out through trial and error. There were moments when the new distance between them was agonizing, and it was impossible to look at one another, but those moments were becoming fewer, just as the moments of closeness increased.

When they got to their house, it had been trashed, but the claw marks in the walls were in sets of five, rather than three. Most of their larger appliances and pieces of furniture had been ruined, but a lot of their clothes could be saved, as well as a few keepsakes that Kayla took care to stash in her bag as they hurriedly packed.

“This is us,” Logan remarked, stating the obvious whilst pointing at a picture of the two of them out by the lake. It had been taken in the early summer of the previous year by one of their mutual friends who lived in the valley. Behind them stretched the lake, the mountains and the sky, decorated in the rich color of the evergreens, but the thing that had really caught his attention was the sheer happiness of the people in the photo. They were both beaming at the camera, their arms wrapped around each other and looking as though their life couldn’t get better than this.

Kayla peered over his arm to glance at the photo, a tremulous smile on her lips. “I hadn’t heard anything from Stryker in over a year, when that photo was taken. I was starting to think that I had my life back. A life and future where my biggest worry was what I should cook us for dinner.”

“I want that back,” he told her simply. “I want us to be happy and in love again.”

“And instead we’re on the run from your crazy psychopath of a brother and our house has been destroyed,” Kayla replied somewhat bitterly.

Logan did not flinch, but the flash of darkness in his eyes was as good as. He would never apologize for the actions of his half-brother, and it was something they both felt he shouldn’t have to apologize for. It didn’t stop the hurt that flared when Logan was reminded that his only flesh-and-blood relative was such a terrible person.

He flipped his wallet open and tucked the photo neatly inside. “Something to aim for,” he explained somewhat ruefully under Kayla’s questioning gaze.

Slowly, more uncertainly than she would have before, she leant forward and kissed Logan tenderly. “I love you,” Kayla told him simply when she leaned away again. It was the first time since he’d lost his memory that the words were not spoken as a reminder, or a promise, or a plea. Instead, they were an utterance of a fact, laying bare an essential part of her character for him to look at and judge however he wished.

Logan did not echo the words back to her, but caught her cheek in one callused palm and returned her chaste kiss. He bowed their foreheads together for a long moment, watching her, and hoping the flicker of memories of pale dresses and whispered fairytales were true. Then he dropped his hand from her face and they both moved on, gathering the things they wished to take in silence.

They left the ruin of their house behind, and as soon as they had travelled far enough so as not to be recognised, emptied their bank accounts into a joint account under the fake names of Mr and Mrs Vadas. They then promptly drained most of that money on buying a motor home that was large enough for both of them to live in. Without knowledge of what had become of Stryker and Victor, it was a unanimous decision to keep moving from place to place, picking up jobs where they could but keeping moving.

All told, neither of them particularly minded it. The forced closeness was awkward at first, but after the days spent kipping on the back seats of stolen cars, the slightly larger space of the tiny caravan was a blessing. The assumed titles of husband and wife were also strange to hold for the first couple of months, no matter how much more convenient they made various transactions with locals in whichever town they passed through. But it was too easy for them to fall into a routine of efficiency and affection, to the point where they had returned to some semblance of the relationship they had had before.

It was not seamless; it was too easy for Kayla to forget that Logan no longer possessed all his memories, or for one or both of them to get tired of the confines of the caravan and the frugal life they now led. The second year, especially, had been the worst. The first year had been too tentative, too uncertain of each other and themselves for the blind rage of the following year. Once they’d regained a little certainty, and the excitement of living on the road had dulled to irritation at not being able to build a home, they had taken out their insecurities on each other.

It had been almost an entire twelve months of blazing rows and icy silences, of sullen apologies and unspoken resentment. It was in late August, after another furious row, that things finally came to a head. Kayla had approached him some hours after she had stormed out, everything about her portraying an infinity of sadness when she had said in a clear, trembling voice, “Perhaps I should leave.”

Logan had not expected the blow of the words to be as much of a physical strike as they were. They left him gasping for breath and eyes stinging.

“My father would, no doubt, welcome me back with open arms, and I know Emma is longing to actually see me again. I love you, Logan, but I think that might not be enough. I don’t think it’s been enough for a while now. All we do is fight, and I hate the people we’re becoming because of it-”

He cut her off with a kiss, touch at least no longer a problem at this point. But she pulled away.

“You can’t just kiss me and hope that it’ll all go away,” she told him gently.

Logan nodded. “I know. I don’t want you to go.”

“I know, baby,” she replied. Then she had turned away from him, shoved some clothes in a bag, and left.

“I’ll stay here for a month,” he’d promised her. “Just in case you change your mind.”

He ended up getting a job at a shop, fixing up motorbikes. The workshop was a tip and badly run, so the motorcycles brought there tended to be end of the line models, some barely an inch from falling apart, but it was hard work that kept his mind from going back to Kayla. There was an ancient, block-like mobile phone in the caravan that he would end up spending most of his evenings staring at, hoping it would ring, and the only thing that kept him sane were the cage fights at one of the local bars where he could burn off the excess energy and earn himself a dollar or two.

Precisely thirty days after Kayla had walked out, a sharp knock on the door of the caravan woke Logan up. Still lethargic from sleep, and having long since convinced himself that Kayla wasn’t coming back, he had only the presence of mind to gape at her where she stood, smiling somewhat sheepishly up at him.

“Hi,” she said, adjusting the strap of her bag.

Logan grunted and opened the door wider, a signal for her to enter, before disappearing towards the coffee machine. She followed him slowly, lowering her bag carefully and shutting the door behind her, leaning against it for a moment, flickering her eyes shut briefly in what Logan knew to be a way she tried to gather her nerves. She shouldn’t ever have to do that around him.

Kayla took the mug of coffee he offered her without words, humming appreciatively as she sipped it. It was the cheap stuff and tasted nowhere near as good as the ridiculously expensive beans her father kept his kitchen stocked with, but only Logan knew how to make it exactly as she liked it. Just one of the thousands of things she’d missed.

“I thought you’d left,” Logan muttered into his mug. “Permanently,” he added.

She shook her head, though he wasn’t looking at her. “No. I-” she stuttered a little, taking a deep breath before soldiering on. “I needed a break from us, from this. I thought we both did. All we ever did was fight, and only ever over really stupid stuff. I can’t remember what most of our fights were about now and - well. I went to see my family. It was great for the first week, you know? We were all just happy to see each other. But. Jesus, I hate them. I forgot how controlling my father is, how much of a bitch my step-mother can be, and I don’t even recognise Christian anymore. I knew he was having some difficulty with drugs, but I never thought-” she cut herself off, and stared resolutely at her trembling hands, wishing they’d stop.

“I only stayed for Emma. It was brilliant seeing her again. We haven’t talked properly in years, not since before Stryker. I told her everything, about us, and do you know what she said?” Kayla stopped and looked up to see Logan staring at her intensely, cup of coffee in his hands entirely forgotten. “She told me I felt too much, and that I was an idiot.” Kayla laughed; a broken, weary thing with a hint of hope hidden there. “She told me to get my ass back here pronto, and to order you to take me back.”

Logan tilted his head a bit as she finished that, cataloguing everything he could about her, just in case this was a dream and he would wake up properly in any minute. There was a hint of expensive perfume clinging to Kayla now, where there had been only cheap soap before, and the clothing she was wearing was different, newer. The bag she’d left by the door was a different one than the one she’d taken. It was larger and better constructed, though just as pragmatic.

But in spite of the better clothing and the fact that the way she held herself was looser - her body relaxed from big comfy beds rather than the cramped cot they had here - he could still smell the truth in her words.

“I love you,” he told her, as matter of fact as she had told him years before. Then he drained his mug and put it in the sink, moving around her easily as he continued his morning routine.

She exhaled long and slow, eyes watching him fondly and the shaking of her hands gradually stilling.

At the end of the day, when Logan returned from work with his final paycheque, and Kayla’s clothing had been unpacked and her bag stowed away again, they rolled out of the town without a backwards glance. In the months that followed they would have to work through their issues, Logan comforting Kayla as she whispered the truth about her families problems, and Kayla carefully easing her way back through Logan’s barriers until their relationship was better than it had ever been.

They still fought, of course, and it was ridiculous to assume that they never would, but the fights were fewer and less vitriolic. The stony silences, where neither refused to budge an inch, rarely ever made a reappearance. The dance that they had been acting out before, a certain level of wariness that had been maintained, disappeared entirely, until it was just the two of them, and the happiness of the photo still tucked carefully in Logan’s wallet stopped being a dream and became an everyday reality.

Which was how, five years after Logan lost his memories, and neither of them having heard hide nor hair of Creed, it was a different proposition on Kayla’s lips when they rolled into the same town where she had left him and come back to him, three years before.

“Why don’t we settle down?” Kayla asked, catching him by surprise as Logan pulled out coats for both of them before they braved the cold outside. They still gained most of their money from the cage fights that Logan partook of more frequently than Kayla would like.

She could not pretend that she didn’t like watching him beat the crap out of some random hillbilly cranked up on steroids. It was amusing to watch the faces of the audience fall when they realised they’d placed their money on the wrong contestant, and it was arousing when Logan ‘accidentally’ lost his shirt and she could watch his gleaming muscles knowing that in a few short hours she’d see all of him, touch all of him, own all of him. And he liked watching her watch him. But Kayla didn’t like how frequently he had to resort to fighting to earn the money they needed to keep gas in the tank and food in the fridge.

“We haven’t even heard of Creed or Stryker since The Island, and-”

“It’d be nice to find somewhere we can call home?” Logan finished for her, helping her on with her jacket. “Alright,” he agreed after barely a moment’s consideration.

“Really?” she questioned, trying to hide the spark of excitement that was already starting to grow.

Logan held the door open for her, locking it behind them once they’d both stepped out. “Sure,” he agreed. “So long as there’s plenty of area to run in.”

Kayla stopped walking and turned to face, stretching up to kiss him slowly, a promise for more to come later. “This is Canada, baby, where isn’t there room to run?” she asked teasingly, giggling and leaning into him as he smacked her lightly on the ass, and they continued towards the bar.

Chapter Text

Anna Marie turned her music up another notch. She didn’t know who her parents thought they were kidding, as if sending her to her room made the slightest bit of difference as to whether she heard them or not. ‘Parents’. Yeah, right. She’d been with them for almost as long as she could remember, but they’d always made her aware that she wasn’t actually their daughter. They hadn’t even properly adopted her. Fifteen years and she was still just the poor little foster kid they’d saved from the streets. 

“She isn’t even our fucking daughter!” her darling father bellowed, as if only to reinforce her thoughts.

Her mother would reply with something along the lines of how Anna Marie wasn’t not their daughter, then he’d get a vaguely confused expression on his face for a moment before…

“I don’t know why I agreed to your stupid wish in the first place!”

Anna Marie knew exactly why he’d caved. Her mother - and she did try hard to be a mother - had always wanted children. Not just one, oh no. As many as biology would allow before her body got too tired or their bank account too small. Instead, she had married what, for all appearances, seemed to be the only man in their entire neighbourhood incapable of siring any children at all. And, in spite of all their fighting, her parents did love one another. Or, rather, she supposed they did.

She wasn’t sure if it counted as love if it was used as blackmail to get what you wanted out of the other person. “If you love me you’ll take out the trash.” “If you love me, you’ll take the overtime.” “If you love me you’ll let me adopt some poor baby from the orphanage.”

It was always a vague sort of surprise when she got home from school and they weren’t sat at the table with a social worker, preparing to tell her that it had been a lovely experience, it really had, but it had been a bit of a failed experiment, all in all, and would she be so kind as to leave them alone now? Anna Marie did not know what they’d been expecting in a child, but she did know that she had never made the mark.

She had relatively good grades, her teachers always thought highly of her, she had a small group of respectable friends and a sweet boyfriend who, whilst a little handsy, was very considerate. She did everything to try and make her parents approve of her. Even her room was decorated to their tastes - pale pink walls, cream carpet, and goddamned lace everywhere.

The whole thing was, frankly, disgusting. From the empty conversation with people who thought loving someone of the same sex was on the same level of sinning as killing someone, to having to stop her boyfriend from anything more than a chaste peck of a kiss. Anna Marie wanted real drama and scandal. She wanted to wear skin tight shirts and short skirts, to flunk a test and make out with her boyfriend in public. She wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle.

The yelling continued downstairs, but she didn’t focus on the words anymore, letting them blur into the background as white noise, drifting into one of her favourite daydreams. She had several, where she was a pop star or a model, where her real parents tracked her down and loved her unconditionally. But the best, the most realistic, was the one she was hoping to actually carry out.

As soon as she finished High School she was going to leave. She’d stay in contact, of course, but she couldn’t live under her foster-parents’ roof any longer. She’d travel up across the states, visiting city after tourist attraction after city, winding her way to the college she’d have applied to and been accepted into that was as close to Canada as you could get without being in Canada. Hell, maybe she’d cross that border too. Anywhere that had telephone access, to call her parents, but was far enough away that they’d never even think of visiting.

She was cut out of her fantasy by a tentative knock at the door. Anna Marie turned down her music and called to her mother to enter.

“Darling,” she said, wringing her wrists anxiously. “I hope you didn’t hear too much of that.”

“No, Mom, I couldn’t hear much anyway, and I turned up my music a bit so I wouldn’t hear the rest,” Anna Marie lied through her teeth.

“Oh good,” her mother replied. “That’s good. We - you know I love you, don’t you?”

Anna Marie looked her straight in the eye and nodded. “Yes Mom. I know you love me.”

Her mother glanced behind her and sighed. She obviously wanted to tell her that her father loved her too, but was incapable of telling such a bare faced lie. “I’m sorry, darling, you know how things can be.”

She agreed again, a little monotonously, then smiled humourlessly. “I’m sure it was all just a misunderstanding,” Anna Marie told her. Her mother might prefer not to lie, but she was perfectly happy to do so.

“Yes. A - ah - a misunderstanding.” Her mother’s smile was brittle and tired.

She turned to leave, but Anna Marie stopped her. “Hey, Mom, would it be ok if David come over for dinner?”

“David? Mrs. Geoffrey’s son? I suppose so. Does he like chicken?”

“Everyone likes chicken,” Anna Marie replied dryly, holding in the temptation to roll her eyes. “And, yeah, David Geoffrey. We’re, um, dating now.” They had been for several months, actually, and everyone knew it. Except, apparently her parents. Funny how if Sandra, two doors down, had kissed a new boy they’d know about it before the day was up and would be speculating on the likelihood of her ending up as a prostitute, but if their own daughter had a steady boyfriend they remained clueless.

Her mother hesitated by her door a little longer, looking at Anna Marie, but giving the distinct impression that she wasn’t really seeing. “He’s a nice boy,” she said, somewhat distractedly, and left.

Anna Marie sighed and wondered how bad the ‘talking to’ would be when her father found out. Reaching for her phone she called David to invite him over before the permission was retracted. As awkward as dinner with him and her parents would be, it beat having to sit at a table with just her parents after the row they’d just had.

-xXx-

When dinner was over it was, frankly, a relief. Anna Marie’s mother had fluttered her hands over everything, hesitated and worried, and said little more than offering people second helpings. Her father had been worse; a solid bulk of silence at the head of the table, glowering at them all, especially Anna Marie and David, and had said nothing at all. Anna Marie had tried to help the conversation, but wasn’t helped by David’s petrified silence.

Eventually, they’d all finished eating and her mother had cleared away the dishes. Anna Marie escaped up to her room with David hot on her heels. Once in her room, the door shut quietly behind them, she burst into quiet, hysterical laughter.

“I don’t think that could have gone worse if we’d tried!” she exclaimed softly, collapsing on to her bed.

David grinned a bit nervously still. “They seem like nice people,” he attempted to placate.

“They’re awful,” Anna Marie corrected, patting the bed beside her to encourage him to sit down. “You don’t have to lie about it. My mother tries, but I’ll always be the poor foster kid they took in, not their daughter.”

David reached out and tucked a loose strand of Anna Marie’s hair behind her ear. “Could be worse.”

“Yeah,” she agreed, leaning into the touch and smiling. He cupped her cheek briefly, before ducking his head away.

He coughed a little awkwardly, glancing up at the pin board above her bed for something to look at, but intrigued by it nonetheless. “What is all this?” he asked.

“Plans,” she replied. “For college. Places up north, far away from here. I - they’re still my parents, but sometimes it’s just too much, you know?”

David nodded in an understanding way, but she knew he didn’t get it. That was ok. He was the second child of five, all of them cherished by their parents. He, in turn, adored his parents and his brothers and sisters. “Have you already made a decision?” he asked.

“No. A few ideas, but nothing firm. I have to get the grades first,” Anna Marie replied.

“You will,” he said, leaning towards her again and kissing her cheek. One of his arms slipped around her, his warm weight settling across her waist. A thrum of nervous excitement spun through Anna Marie.

“David,” she whispered, leaning against him.

He didn’t say anything, just turned curious eyes to her, his arm lifting a bit, as though for a moment he thought he was about to be scolded for touching her so much. It was too little. Anna Marie wanted - she didn’t know, exactly, what she wanted. She knew the mechanics of sex, how it was supposed to work, what you were supposed to do. What it meant on your undying soul if it occurred before marriage.

She wasn’t sure she wanted to have sex. The idea of such a private part of him being in such a private part of her was - well, sort of disgusting. But she knew that when David touched her it felt good, hot tingles and an unnamed excitement that she didn’t really understand. Maybe they could just - touch, a bit?

Uncertain how to phrase what she wanted, Anna Marie moved her hand to his shoulder, slipping her thumb under his collar a little and leaning close. “The door’s shut. They’ll stay downstairs for a while now.” Sure enough, as she said that, the stolid tinkle of a well-practiced, but ill-performed piece of piano music started. She smiled a little ruefully.

“What do you want?” David asked, brushing their noses together, breathing the words across her lips but not kissing her properly. It made her want to lick her lips, thrilled when his eyes followed her tongue’s movement.

“I don’t know,” she confessed. “Just, touch me?”

“I don’t really know either,” he warned her, although Anna Marie wasn’t sure whether she believed that. Oh, she believed that David didn’t have any personal experience, but she knew full well what kind of magazines teen boys read - what they used the internet for when there was no chance of their parents walking in.

They stared at each other for a long moment, each as nervous as the other, a swift tide of excitement growing between them. Then he leant forward and kissed her. The arm he had around her waist tightened and he knelt up on the bed, tugging her up with him so they were pressed together from knees to chest.

Anna Marie’s eyes grew wide as she realised what the hardness pressed against her stomach was. David didn’t see the reaction, eyes shut as he kissed her again, longer and deeper this time, his teeth clicking against hers a little painfully. His hands were on her hips, fingers running along the seam of her pants and her top, tugging her t-shirt up a bit, and placing warm hands flat across her bare skin.

She found it secretly obscene, in a wonderful way, the things they were doing, with her parents just downstairs. Her mother was at the piano, winding out the same old tunes with the same old, tired, run down patience. Her father would be in the living room, feet up on the coffee table and the TV showing some sports channel or another. Just metres away, their nightly routine, and not a clue what Anna Marie was doing. It made her smile and push back more against David.

She found his top button and took longer than normal opening it, shaking fingers making the simple task difficult. She moved down to the next button and closed her eyes too, kissing back eagerly now that she had decided totally this was what she wanted to do. Just by feel, Anna Marie worked her way down his shirt, one button at a time until it was hanging loosely from his shoulders.

Then, she leant away from the kiss to look at him. There wasn’t much to see, he was all pale skin and teenage lankiness of a boy who had not quite grown into his height yet. She ran a finger across his chest, alarmed then amused by the gasp she got when she touched his nipples.

“Marie,” he groaned quietly, ducking his head to her shoulder and hips jerking forward, apparently of their own accord. “Can - can I?” were the only words he could get out, eyes blown wide and his hand trembling as much as hers as he tugged anxiously at the hem of her top. Anna Marie nodded, a little fast to be entirely certain, but he didn’t stop to double check.

After a moment, she wriggled back from him, away from hands that were still tugging a bit uselessly at her clothing, so she could pull her t-shirt off herself. Once she’d thrown it clear of the bed, and pushed his shirt entirely off his shoulders too, for good measure, Anna Marie hesitated a moment, watching David for any signs that he might not want to do this. He was staring, a little slack jawed, at her breasts.

Crushed briefly by a wave of self-consciousness, Anna Marie pulled one hand up to her throat, effectively half-covering her chest.

“No,” David said, taking the hand that had moved in one of his and pulling it away again. “You’re beautiful,” he told her earnestly, looking briefly into her eyes, before back at breasts.  It made her wonder how he’d react if she was wearing one of her fancy bras, or no bra at all. The thought caused a ridiculous giggle to crawl up her throat.

She was too scared by the potential of everything happening to manage to squeak out any more than a vague agreement, so Anna Marie just leaned in for another kiss. Her heart was in her throat as his hands came up to cup her breasts, pulling the material away a little so that his fingers slipped down and twirled around one of her nipples.

But then he went still. Very still. His fingers - his whole body - went cold and stiff and he wasn’t kissing any more either. David gasped and collapsed back on to the bed, his veins sticking out prominently through skin that had gone deadly pale. Anna Marie didn’t even think to pull on her top before she opened her mouth and started screaming.

Her foster father was the first to crash into the room, but his movements faltered when he saw their state of undress. He started moving again when he caught sight of how David was collapsed on the bed, calling out for someone to phone an ambulance.

Anna Marie’s mother was in her room moments later, startled by seeing Anna Marie half-dressed too, but already moving to comfort her.

“Don’t touch me,” Anna Marie pleaded with her.

“Forget the slut, phone an ambulance,” her father hissed furiously, hands groping for a pulse at David’s wrist.

Uncertain, her mother hesitated a moment longer, before she reaching a hand towards Anna Marie to lead her from the room.

“Don’t touch me!” Anna Marie screamed, collapsing back into a corner, pulling her knees tight to her chest and trying to hide all the bared skin she could.

The next few hours were a confused chaos that Anna Marie didn’t even begin to attempt to keep track of. There was her foster mother, spinning around trying to be useful, and really just getting in everyone’s way. There were the ambulance crew, rushing in and out of the house and totally confused by David’s condition. Then there was her foster father, an ever-present shadow burning her with accusing eyes.

Anna Marie had pulled her top back on at some point, returning to the far corner of her room that was out of everyone’s way and where no one could accidentally touch her. Her skin was on fire, and everywhere that she had been touching David when he’d collapsed tingled like it was being gently pricked by pins. And he was in her mind, in her body, trying to make her run home to his parents and his siblings. He was scared and aroused and God he wanted Anna Marie so bad. But she was Anna Marie and she didn’t want herself. Except she did, and she still didn’t know what that meant. Except she did.

Confused images, mixed memories, of clips of pornos, and dirty pictures, hidden under the bed, internet history deleted, and slipping a hand in his pants to tug on - but she wasn’t him. She had his thoughts in her head and it didn’t make any sense. None of it did, and she curled up tighter in her corner, with David in her head and her foster father’s burning eyes boring into her back.

Hours later, and David’d faded from her head. He was still there, and something told Anna Marie that she’d always have an imprint of David in her head. His knowledge wasn’t hers, but there were edges of thoughts that had been at the forefront of his mind when he’d collapsed that were now hers, too.

“Back with us?” someone growled threateningly when Anna Marie stopped shivering and looked up.

“Don’t touch me,” Anna Marie said, repeating her words from early.

Her foster father grunted. “Oh, I’m not touching filth like you. Get your slut ass down to the lounge, your mother wants an explanation before we throw you out. And mark my words, you will be gone before this time tomorrow.”

Anna Marie nodded mutely, tugging on her sleeves so they covered most of her hands, and following him sullenly from what was no longer her bedroom, down to the living room.

The room looked a little trampled, and there were five empty coffee mugs scattered around the room, as well as a plate which had a pile of crumbs and a sole remaining biscuit. The paramedics had, apparently, stayed longer than just carting David off to the hospital. That made Anna Marie wonder at what it was that had persuaded them to stay longer. They would have taken David straight to the hospital, there was no doubt about that, but there was also no doubt that her foster parents had hosted someone for long enough for them to drink tea or coffee, nibble a few cookies and leave.

Her mother was looking drawn out and pale, now. She sat on the very edge of the sofa, curled half around the arm and her hands clutching her knees. She looked up when Anna Marie walked in, and her eyes were glazed and a bit panicked. Maybe she’d been given pain killers, although what for, Anna Marie couldn’t imagine.

“Are you hurt?” her mother asked eventually, when it was clear no one was going to move or speak.

“No,” Anna Marie replied honestly. There was nothing wrong with her physically. The pins-and-needles feeling of touching someone, sucking in part of their soul, had faded to almost non-existence. But, like David’s presence in the back of her mind, it lingered. She wondered if either would ever fade totally.

Her mother hesitated for another long, painful moment. “The doctors said - well, suggested - that David had maybe been trying… trying to force himself on you. Is - is that true?” she asked haltingly.

Anna Marie would pride herself, later, in not hesitating in answering that question. If she’d just said ‘yes’ she might have been able to stay with her parents, wouldn’t face the uncertainty of the foster system again. But her staying was still only a ‘might’, and saying David had been forcing himself on her would ruin his life, too. He had loving parents, a loving family, a bright future. No one would condemn a teenage boy for taking what was freely offered to him and, Anna Marie knew, she had freely offered herself.

“No,” she said again. “It was my idea.”

A shudder ran through her mother, a muted whimper escaping her lips.

“A whore. The fucking system sent us a whore,” Anna Marie’s foster father grumbled from behind her, shoving roughly past her to collapse on the sofa.

“And - and David? What happened to him?” her mother asked, clearly not really wanting to know the answer.

Anna Marie looked away, staring resolutely out the window into the warm darkness of the late summer evening. “I don’t know. I just - I can feel him in my head.” She looked at her mother, searching desperately for any kind of softness there. “I’m scared,” she admitted on a whisper.

“He’s in your head?” her foster mother repeated disbelievingly.

“Bits of memories, like I read his mind and now it won’t go away,” Anna Marie confessed.

Her mother gaped, fresh tears flowing. “You stole his soul?” she asked, then as though the words broke the spell she’d been under, she gave a great wail of despair and ran from the room. Moments later, Anna Marie heard thundering footsteps up the stairs behind her and knew that, not only could her mother no longer look at her, she couldn’t stand to be anywhere near her, either. She’d run through the kitchen and round to the hall, rather than just brushing past her foster daughter.

“A freak and a whore,” Anna Marie’s foster father hissed. “You’re a witch, is what you and all of your kind are. If I were a better man I’d kill you, put you out of your misery. But I can’t harm no living thing, even a Satan follower like you. I’m phoning the foster system first thing in the morning. I hope you’ll be gone by then and save me the hassle.”

Then he, too, stood up and left the room. Unlike her mother, he had no problem walking past her, although she suspected he did so only so that he could barge into her and send her crashing back against the wall. Anna Marie stayed were she’d fallen until the sounds of her foster parents moving around in their bedroom stilled.

Then she pulled herself slowly, stiffly, on to the closest armchair. Raising a hand to her cheeks she realised they were wet with tears she didn’t remember shedding. Funny how she had all these memories that weren’t hers, but she couldn’t remember something that had happened to her. Anna Marie looked at her shaking hands, turning them over so her palms were up. They looked just like they always had - just like anyone else’s hands. There was nothing on them to indicate that she had been touching someone inappropriately. There was nothing on them to indicate that she could steal your soul with just one touch.

Anna Marie shuddered again, hunching her shoulders and burying her face in her palms. She breathed deeply, the scent of her foster mother’s ridiculously overpriced hand soap, the smell of detergent, the smell of home, and the faint whiff of David’s deodorant. Steady breaths in and out, cataloguing the smells and what they meant to her. What they used to mean to her. No longer. Her parents were her foster parents no longer. She had no mother, no father, no family. It was just her and the world.

Reaching a decision, Anna Marie straightened her back and squared her shoulders, hands falling to her knees. If it was just her and the world, she was going to do this properly. She couldn’t afford to wimp out now. Yes, her whole life had turned on its head, but she was alive. Never able to touch anyone ever again, very probably, and alone, but alive. She would not give up and she would not return to the foster system.

Suddenly, the fear she felt earlier when David had been touching her was nothing. This, what she was feeling now, was ten times worse. But behind it, she was fuelled by grim determination. She would find her way. Somehow, she would. She had a little bit of money saved up, and she had a plan how to get as far from this town as she could, so she’d follow through with that. A few years earlier and with no clear destination in mind, but it would have to do.

As she trod quietly upstairs and around her room, gathering only the things she needed, Anna Marie’s skin started to tingle all over, an all encompassing burn that had followed (or preceded?) her accidental attack on David. She knew that if anyone touched her like this, she would hurt them too. And the way she was feeling right now? She didn’t care, she hoped if anyone touched her they hurt. David had been one good thing, one bright spot in a dull, mediocre life.

Clothing - long sleeves and pants only, no shorts or skirts or strappy tops for her anymore - filled most of the bag. She grabbed a towel, a bar of soap and some shampoo too. There was little else that she could take with her that she wanted or needed. As an after thought, Anna Marie grabbed her phone as well as her purse. It was a vague, brittle hope, but if she kept it switched off, maybe the battery would last long enough for her to work out whether David lived or not.

Once she had everything, she spent a moment looking at the room that had been hers, the room that she’d hated. Once she got a chance, made her own way and able to afford it, she’d design a room for herself the way she wanted it to look. Dark, earthy colours and not a spot of lace to be seen. Unless they looked in her underwear drawer, she thought to herself with a self-indulgent smile. The reaction on David’s face had been wonderful and, well, even if she never could have sex now, it didn’t hurt to look pretty.

Knowing that if she didn’t leave as quickly as she could, that she might well end up staying until the people from the foster system came, Anna Marie snuck down the stairs and unlocked the front door. Locking it behind her, she contemplated taking the house key with her, but reasoned that her foster parents would just change the locks anyway, so she posted it back through the letter box.

By the time she’d bought her first coach ticket and settled into her seat for the long ride, the sun was already rising on the horizon.

-xXx-

It took Anna Marie a little over a week to reach the Canadian border, and a lot less money than she’d feared. There seemed to always be someone willing to give a friendly-looking girl like her a lift for a couple of miles or more and the coach journeys she did take were always long enough for her to catch a few hours sleep. By the time she reached Lotham city, however, she was exhausted and longing for a proper bed. The town itself was not exactly encouraging.

She’d chosen it as her final destination because it was the closest city to the end of her pre-planned route. Her reasoning had been that it would no doubt be easier for her to find work and a cheap place to rent in a big city with lots of opportunities, rather than a smaller town. It also made it more likely to limit the gossip. What was one more strange face in a city?

But when she asked the lorry driver that had given her the last lift into the city, he had reassured her that the sprawling mess of warehouses and a couple of bars was Lotham city. Anna Marie couldn’t believe her poor luck. Not only was the universe screwing her over by giving her a useless, ridiculous talent that had left her dreaming memories that weren’t her own for over a week, kicked out of her house and a comatose ex-boyfriend, now it was going to refuse her a chance to try and rebuild her life?

She shook her head. No point thinking like that, it wouldn’t get her anywhere. The inside of her left elbow was rubbed raw from the number of times she’d had to pinch herself to keep from breaking down over the past week. But she hadn’t yet, so she had resolved not to give in.

The one advantage to the week’s worth of travel was that it had given her more than enough time to think, and to reconsider her life and where it was leading. Finishing school was, obviously, out of the question. There was no way that she could afford to rent somewhere to live, and pay her bills whilst also attending high school. That was alright, though. She’d never been the cleverest of people. And while she had been smart enough to get relatively decent grades, school was never something that she’d taken much interest in.

It was also clear that if she didn’t want the foster system attempting to track her down she would have to lie about her name and her age. Technically she was old enough to live on her own, but there was no way that her school wouldn’t notice she was missing and try and get to the bottom of it. Luckily, it was still relatively early in the summer vacation, so she had about a month left before anyone would notice her absence from class. She wondered what her parents would say about why she was no longer living with them.

Not that they were her parents anymore anyway. They’d taken her in when she was five. Old enough to remember the abuse she’d received at the hands of previous foster parents, but young enough to accept them as parents of her heart, if only they had tried. But there had constantly been that warning, that she mustn’t step a toe out of line because she wasn’t really theirs, and they’d quite happily send her back into the system.

She couldn’t settle on a name, not a real one anyway. She was Anna Marie, or just Marie to her friends. It was the name she’d always had, and she’d pinned a tendril of belief to it that her real parents had been the ones to name her such. The lack of a surname suggested not, but it was a hope that she’d had for as long as she remembered, and she was not willing - not able, at this point in time - to give that up. But she knew she needed a new name.

The one thing that had stuck with her was the second person who’d stopped and let her hitchhike along with him. He’d been another truck driver, he looked about eighty and his dashboard was covered in photos of his wife, kids and grandkids. “You’re a little rogue then,” he’d said teasingly, when she’d explained that she’d run away from home. It wasn’t the truth, but he was looking for an explanation, and it was the closest she was willing to tell.

But the name ‘Rogue’ had stuck in her head and would not be shaken loose. It felt a little silly to introduce herself as that, but comfortable too. It was a name that she’d chosen for herself, a name that couldn’t be linked to little Anna Marie, and she liked its connotations. She didn’t like to consider herself a dishonest person, but she had to lie about being a mutant to get by, and she was solitary and dangerous to get too close to.

Looking again at Lotham city, maybe it would be alright. It was clear that it was a trucker town; built as a half way point between suppliers and consumers, a few people living and working there, but most just passing through. If she could get a job at one of the bars, maybe everything would work out alright. Like when she’d been hitchhiking across the country - people talked a lot, shared a lot of stories, but they weren’t really interested in you personally, just in the tales you could spin, be they true or fantasy.

The truck driver took pity on her, pointing her towards one of the busier bars. “Mack runs it. Not technically a motel, but there are rooms round back for the drunkards not fit for driving. He’ll put you up for a night.”

“Thanks,” she replied with a smile that was as close to genuine as she could persuade it to be. Then she said goodbye to the driver and walked over to the bar he’d indicated. There was no clear signage as to what the place was called, but the flashing signs in the windows advertised cheap beer and local ale, as well as something called ‘cage fights’ that Rogue decided she could probably live without knowing the details of.

Walking in, she was surprised to find it thronging with people. The room she’d walked into had a long open space, with a relatively low ceiling and lots of wooden columns propping it up. There was a bar along one side that looked well stocked, although not very well manned if the way the single bartender was rushing from one order to the next was any indication. Behind him the TV flashed a hockey game rerun mutely, no one paying it the least bit of attention.

She hesitated in the doorway for a long moment, posture lopsided from the weight of the bag she was carrying and trying to squash the inner voice of her former foster mother telling her not to slouch. After several long minutes the bartender spotted her and waved her in.

“Don’t stand there letting the wind in. Shut the door,” he ordered and momentarily ignored all of the rest of his customers in favour of turning his attention entirely on her. “What can I do you for?” he asked briskly in a no nonsense manner that indicated he was willing to serve, but not to waste time on idle chitchat.

“Are you Mack?” Rogue asked, hoping that knowing the name of the manager might be in her favour.

“I am,” the bartender confirmed. He had a well-weathered face lined with deep wrinkles, that gave away nothing. In spite of his age he still stood with a straight back and looked well enough built to take on most of the men crowded into his bar. There was also an air of authority to him, though whether that was just because he controlled the flow of liquor or not, Rogue didn’t know.

“I heard that you have rooms in the back, that I might be able to rent one for a night?” she said.

Mack looked her up and down assessing and inclined his head. “Alright,” he agreed readily enough. “I let enough of the damn fools around here borrow my floor often enough.”

He started to turn away and back to the rest of his customers but she stopped him short before he could.

“I was also hoping-” she cut herself off at the stern raised eyebrow he shot her, that made her stumble over her words. “Maybe you need a new employee?” she questioned tentatively. “Doesn’t have to be permanent, or anything, just for as long as you might need help.”

Mack took a lot longer this time to look Rogue up and down, and she straightened under his gaze. No need for reminders from mothers when you have a prospective employer trying to judge your worth. “How old are you?” he asked.

Rogue debated with herself as to how to answer this question. The automatic response of ‘eighteen’ dying before it reached her lips. Eighteen was a pretty safe bet. Only two years more than her actual age, and old enough for most people to take you seriously. However, this was a bar. If she wanted to work here, she had to be of legal drinking age to sell the alcohol. And the problem was that she had no idea what the legalities were for this area. For most of the US it was 21, but she was pretty certain that she’d crossed the border into Canada, although she wasn’t entirely sure what province she was in.

“How old do I need to be to legally drink here?” she settled on asking.

Another sharp eyed look, although perhaps there was a measure of respect there that hadn’t been before. Then again, maybe it was a trick of the light. “Nineteen,” Mack informed her.

“Then I’m nineteen,” Rogue replied, glad that she had waited to find out. Unless he asked for proof of her age, and - in a town like this - that was unlikely, no one ever had to know any better. It was clear from his face that Mack didn’t believe a word of it, but so long as he didn’t push for an honest answer, and she didn’t tell him the truth herself, they could both ignore it.

“Your name?” he prompted.

“Rogue - just, Rogue.”

Mack snorted a disbelieving sound and shook his head. “Of course it is,” he muttered, mostly to himself. “I don’t have time to teach you the system around here right now, and you look like you’re about to drop dead from exhaustion any a minute anyway. You head round to the back and I’ll be through shortly to point you to a bed,” he told her, gesturing to a door on the far side of the room that she wouldn’t have noticed at all, had it not been pointed out to her.

Before Rogue could express her gratitude, Mack had returned to his work and was moving quickly and efficiently to fill the orders that had piled up in the few short minutes of their conversation. She was surprised, actually, how easy that had been. There was no doubt in her mind that if she did not do the job well enough, Mack would turn her out on her ass faster than her foster parents had, but there still remained the fact that he had given her a chance.

He had not questioned the long sleeves in the middle of summer, nor the conclusion he’d drawn that she was younger than she’d said. He hadn’t even questioned the ridiculous name she’d picked out for herself - which sounded even more stupid now that she’d actually introduced herself as that. But as Rogue picked her way across the bar, past the strangers who all looked perfectly at home here, she started to think that maybe Mack didn’t want to question.

There were all sorts hanging around. From fat to thin, muscled to muscle-less, men and women; all of them with something that made them different from everyone else in the crowd, and all of them fitting in perfectly. It took a moment for Rogue to realise that the reason for that was not the way they dressed, or spoke, but because they all looked as thought they knew they had the right to be there. It was something completely intangible that she recognised she would have to try and emulate if she wanted to fit in.

She slouched again a bit, as she walked across the crowded room, settling into a casual walk that she tried to keep loose and relaxed. She kept her breathing steady, not too fast, nor too slow; either suggesting an unease at the surroundings. And Rogue very carefully kept her eyes up. It would be her natural inclination to keep her head down and shuffle through the crowd, but she knew almost instinctively that, in a crowd like this, such an action would garner more attention.

As it was, no one looked twice at her. There were a few lingering eyes, some merely curious, some appraising, but all turning away before long when it became clear that she didn’t care about them at all. Rogue did care, of course, any attention from anyone was uncomfortable at the moment for her. As though their eyes might be followed by hands, and she might end up hurting some one else. That someone might find out her secret and she’d have to work out where to go, again, but this time with significantly less money.

But Rogue kept her head up and her eyes from lingering anywhere for too long. She opened the door with a purpose, and tried to step through it as though she deserved to be there. She closed it as quickly as she could behind her without causing it to slam, then dropped her bag and leant against the wood, breathing in deeply. She’d never been afraid of crowds before, but now… that had been the most terrifying experience of her life, with the exception of the evening of David’s… accident.

So many people pressing in around, so much revealed skin. It would have been so easy for someone to accidentally touch her, and then - then nothing, she supposed. More travelling, maybe. She’d travelled the length of the country, perhaps now she should try the breadth of it, too. Rogue propped her hands on her knees and let her head hang loose for a moment, breathing deeply to control the irrational fear she now, apparently, had of crowds.

Perhaps barkeeping was going to be a bad idea, if something as simple as crossing a room had freaked her out so much. Not that she had much of a choice, though. Best just to bite the bullet, Rogue supposed, breathe through the fear and keep going. After all, the hitchhiking and Mack’s allowing her to stay and work were probably the only kindnesses a stranger would offer her.

Rogue moved away from the door just before Mack opened it, striding through with all the confidence she had only pretended to have.

“This way,” he grunted, leading the way down the thin corridor, not stopping to see if she’d follow. “First stock room, cleaning closet, second stock room, bathroom,” he began listing as they walked passed the doors. “Three bedrooms. You’ll have the one on the end, since the smaller the distance we have to haul some idiot’s ass, the better,” he remarked, with a wave at the door at the end. “If you’re awake, I’ll be having breakfast at eight,” he added, with a brief explanation on how to get to his house. (East alley entrance, down to the road, second left, three houses down on the right).

“Thanks,” Rogue said.

Mack didn’t say anything, just grunted wordlessly in reply, and moved past her and back down the corridor. Rogue watched him leave for a moment, hoping that this would turn out alright. It was pretty miraculous that, the first place she tried, she got a job. She knew that full well how unlikely that was from previous attempts at trying to get weekend work, so it seemed almost too good to be true. Especially considering she might be able to rent the room on a more permanent basis.

Rogue bit her cheek. Best not to get ahead of herself. She might hate it here. Mack might turn out to be a pervert, or the crowd might be just that little bit too unfriendly. She couldn’t afford to be picky, but she knew herself well enough to know that if she felt at risk - proper risk, not the baseless fear of crowds she had developed - she would not stick around. Rogue would not risk her health for the desire not to travel again.

She opened the door to what was to be her room for the night, at least. It was simple, but she didn’t need much. Anything beat sleeping in a truck cabin or on a coach. There was a wardrobe against one wall, and rather saggy looking bed pressed against another. There was nothing else in the way of furniture, and a bare light bulb was hanging from the ceiling. If she ended up staying for any length of time she might have to upgrade the bed, but it would do.

Not that it mattered, in the coming weeks, what her bed was like. It turned out, in the end, that breakfast with Mack wasn’t really an option. When she hadn’t turned up the first morning, he’d shoved some toast in her direction when he’d opened up the bar and told her that she better damn well be there the following morning. For a while Rogue suspected that there might be an element of misplaced protectiveness involved, but it soon became clear that it had a lot more to do with not wanting her to faint from low blood sugar levels.

Rogue was not used to any sort of manual labour. Sure, she’d done her fair share of chores around the house, but that wasn’t much to mention. A bit of cleaning, taking out the trash - it was nothing compared to the havoc that was cleaning and running the bar. Which wasn’t to mention the added work load of the cage fight nights. The first month or so were incredibly hard on Rogue, and it was only for lack of any time to do so that she didn’t break her promise to herself to break down and cry.

She went from bed to work, and straight back to bed again. The only pit stops in the routine were half an hour for lunch and dinner, and the near leisurely hour for breakfast. Mornings were spent cleaning away the mess left over from the night before, afternoons were a quieter crowd, so she often spent the time repairing or redecorating parts of the bar. Then from about 5 o’clock onwards, she was almost permanently behind the bar as the crowd went from small to huge within an hour or two.

By two, when the last people left, Rogue was exhausted and had about enough energy to mutter a goodbye to Mack before collapsing into bed to grab a precious six hour’s sleep before the whole thing started all over again. When, after two months of working for him, Rogue still hadn’t collapsed from exhaustion and was actually starting to flourish under the constant pressure, Mack admitted that he’d been pushing her harder than he ought in a half-hearted attempt to scare her off.

“I can’t have no layabouts wasting my time and money. Needed to know you weren’t going to run off again at the first sight of hard work.”

“It wasn’t hard work that made me run away from home,” she’d replied as tonelessly as she could, to keep the anger from rising. Eighteen hour days, seven days a week for nine weeks. All to check that she wouldn’t wimp out. Wonderful. It was only later, when she was collapsed on her bumpy little bed several hours earlier than she normally got there that she realised what it meant, that she now got Mondays and several afternoons a week off. It wasn’t a temporary thing anymore.

She’d got the job. It seemed ridiculous, but all that hard work had been Mack’s version of a job interview that he’d never given her. He didn’t care about her name or her age so long as she got the job done. And she had. Not just the first day, but continuously for two months. With barely a single complaint (because, no, she wasn’t a saint, and she’d grumbled more than once about how exhausting it was). The job was hers, now. She could have it for as long as she wanted. And damn, if that didn’t feel good to know.

Rogue stared up at the ceiling and laughed slightly hysterically at herself. She was an orphan, lost in the world, and with a mutation that would probably stop her from ever touching skin-to-skin with anyone ever again. But in just that moment, in a poorly lit, grungy little room, she felt good.

Chapter Text

The day that her life changed again, only this time for the better, was a Thursday. Her shift at the bar started at midday, and in the wake of a snowstorm it was already busier than usual. Mack sent her immediately to clear out the cage area. 

“I know we normally stick to weekends, but Ted’s free and we might as well take advantage of the extra custom the weather’s bringing in,” he said, almost apologetically. He wasn’t the type to ever actually apologise about anything, especially to someone who he’d given a more than fair deal to, but he knew how much she hated cleaning the cage. Rogue was a pretty girl, the majority of their customers weren’t exactly the politest of fellows, and being put in the centre of attention like cleaning that area would be just made them ten times worse.

Rogue just nodded her assent and went to fetch the broom, mop and bucket. She wasn’t a huge fan of the cage fights, but they were the main source of entertainment in the shit hole that was Lotham City, and they brought in a lot of money. Besides which, she’d got very good at determining who was most likely to win in a fight, and staff bets were allowed, so long as 10% of any winnings went into the tip jar.

Before she’d even got half way done clearing out the cage there were two men heckling her from the audience seats. When Rogue’d first started working for Mack it had unnerved her, all of the lewd male attention she received. Now, almost a year and a half later, it was par for the course. It helped her peace of mind, of course, that no one could touch her without passing out. And the fact that Ted gave her boxing lessons on the nights she wasn’t working and he wasn’t announcing the cage fights.

She was confident enough to ignore the catcalls and bite back sarcastic responses now, anyway. A lot of the men who passed through thought she was full of herself, and could do with pulling off her high horse, but the majority of the patrons knew better. The majority of the patrons knew that she’d been working here for 18 months and still didn’t look like she was legal, and what did that say about her home life? How no one had figured out that she was a mutant by now was something Rogue hadn’t been able to work out, but it was something she was grateful for.

Mack owned the bar, and held equal partnership with Ted for the attached warehouse that housed the cage for the fights, and both of them were good men. They were also, just as everyone seemed to be, mutant haters. Rogue didn’t think for one minute that if they found out her secret they wouldn’t kick her to the curb like they had so many potential customers before. So she kept her secrets, and made sure she always wore gloves and long sleeves.

By the time she was done cleaning out the cage and reorganising the seating for the audience, she’d burnt a good couple of hours and the number of people watching her had increased.

“Ass like that needs a good fucking, wanna take me for a ride?” one of her hecklers called as she gathered the cleaning equipment and headed back to the bar.

“If your dick is as good as your pick up lines, it won’t be any ride at all,” she called out over her shoulder, smiling a little grimly at the round of cheers and whistles that followed her out.

Mack watched her with amused eyes as she emptied out the bucket and stashed it away, retying her hair that had come loose as she cleaned. “If someone had said something like that to you this time last year, you’d have scurried away like a mouse and hidden in the ladies’ room for half an hour.”

“Much good it did me too,” Rogue agreed. “The women are worse than the men.”

He snorted his agreement and went to serve a customer. Davey, one of the guys who helped work the cage, got it the worst. He was a big guy, stronger than most of the people who tried out in the cage fights, and he had a pretty face. Wasn’t exactly one for words, and a bit shy, but a real favourite with the women. Rogue found it guiltily funny whenever he had to try and pry a particularly insistent young woman off his arm. He was (mostly) happily married with a two year old and another baby on the way, but the drunker they got, the less the women seemed to care.

At least if Rogue got a persistent admirer all she had to do was smile sweetly at Mack for a bit. He’d pick up the hint, call her his daughter, and whoever it was would back pedal so fast they normally ended up at the opposite end of the room pretending they didn‘t exist. Which both Rogue and Mack found hilarious. Very occasionally there was someone who wouldn’t back down, but the majority of people were pretty friendly, if horny.

She was lucky, that evening, in the respect that she did not have to deal with any admirers, but unlucky in other ways.

It was still pretty early when the couple who would change Rogue’s life walked into the bar. The man was shorter than average with a feral grin and frankly ridiculous hair. He was muscular, but in the way that suggested a healthy work out regime rather than steroids. He was relatively slim and held himself with the confidence of a man that could quite happily beat the stuffing out of you. The woman was about the same height as him, and had an earthy beauty to her. She had a curvy figure and an easy smile, slender limbs and a strange elegance that suggested that she was used to much finer establishments than this, but still looked right at home.

They were going to be trouble. Rogue could tell that much from the start.

She filled their orders whilst saying as little as possible, and kept half an eye on them as they wandered through the crowd. The man eyed the cage almost hungrily, muscles flexing subconsciously in preparation. He kept one arm around his girlfriend, and listened closely when she leant in and murmured things in his ear, although he didn’t say much in return. The woman looked as though she was assessing the crowd for weaknesses, and if she was trying to guess who was likely to take part in the cage fights, she was doing a pretty good job of it.

Eventually, the man did indeed step forward to fight in the cage, and the woman sent him on his way with a kiss to the cheek and a smile, before she weaved her way back over to the bar and took one of the stools near Rogue.

“If you want to watch your man fight, there’re plenty of seats with a better view than that,” Rogue told her when she came over to take the stranger’s order.

The woman smiled. “I know. I sort of prefer just catching glimpses.” She’d taken her man’s jacket and t-shirt before he entered the ring, and Rogue offered to keep them behind the bar for them.

“That’s alright, honey, I don’t mind keeping hold of them,” she reassured Rogue. “Another whisky, if you don’t mind. Same as before.”

Rogue quickly filled the order, handed the glass over and went back to serving the other customers, keeping an eye on ‘Wolverine’, and catching snatches of conversation with the woman who was watching him.

“I’m Kayla, by the way,” she finally introduced herself, several hours after settling herself onto the barstool. The cage fights were starting to wind down now, Wolverine still the king of the cage. “That’s Logan, when he’s not fighting people.”

“Rogue,” she replied, taking advantage of a lull in orders to watch Logan beat the crap out of yet another local. “Does he fight a lot?”

“More than I’d like,” Kayla confirmed, with a brief dip of her chin. “We’re thinking of settling down properly soon. We’ve been on the road a while.”

“Won’t you miss it?” Rogue asked. “The travelling. The freedom,” she clarified at Kayla’s hesitation in answering.

“Maybe,” the older woman replied. “But the travelling just seems like we’ve put our real lives on hold for a bit. I keep expecting to wake up in our old house to roll out of bed and go to work.”

“What happened?” Rogue prompted. She’d heard a million different tragedies as a barmaid, some of them true, some of them not. But she knew her part well enough; play the listening ear, the understanding stranger. This time was different, she was genuinely intrigued by the couple and interested in their story.

“Our house was destroyed,” Kayla replied, a little wistfully, eyes still trained on Logan. “We didn’t want to have to start from scratch again so soon so we’ve been … wandering.” She turned her gaze to Rogue. “What about you? I’d have said you were the daughter of the owner, or one of the locals, but your accent isn’t from around here. No one moves to these parts voluntarily, which says you have a story of your own to tell.”

Rogue bit her tongue, and looked away. As simple as she felt her story was, it was something she didn’t often share. Most of Mack’s employees knew it by now, but that was about it.

“I was an orphan, and got fostered for most of my life. They were good people, mostly, but I couldn’t live up to their expectations. So, one day, it was too much. They told me the social worker was coming in the morning, so I packed my things and left during the night. I’ve heard the horror stories. I figured it’d be best sticking it out on my own, than going back.”

There was a moment, when Rogue braved meeting Kayla’s gaze head on, where everything else was paused and she was just waiting for a reaction, before Kayla looked away again.

“You can’t keep your eyes off him, can you?” Rogue teased, the conversation turning back to lighter topics.

“I walked out, a couple of years ago, for a month. It was probably the hardest month of my life, just the not knowing where he was or how he was doing,” Kayla explained. “Couldn’t keep my hands off him for ages afterwards. I don’t think I’ll ever learn how to not watch for him all the time.”

“Must be nice,” Rogue said with a smile.

Kayla shrugged. “Yeah. Most of the time. It can get to be a bit much sometimes, but I imagine that’s the same with any relationship.” She shot Rogue a questioning sideways look.

“There was a boy at school I liked. We dated a bit, but then the thing with my foster-parents happened, so…” Rogue trailed off with a shrug. She’d never have a proper relationship now, so she found it was best not to dwell too much.

“No one since?” Kayla asked, and Rogue fought off the paranoia that was telling her the older woman was trying to work out what her age was.

“Most of the guys here are assholes. And if they’re not, they’re married.” Rogue said with a grin. “You and Logan married?”

Oddly, this was the first question that Kayla seemed to actually struggle to answer. Which was especially strange since the only answer she gave was “Yes.”

It wasn’t long after that when Wolverine was declared the winner of the cage fights that evening, and Sheryl and Ted started going through all the bets to work out who was owed what.

Logan made his way over to Kayla, ignoring the offer of his tops back to kiss her thoroughly. He pulled back after a minute or two, just breathing against her face, and smiling a little foolishly.

“Go on, you monster,” Kayla finally said, pushing his shirt and jacket into his chest, and pushing him away a bit too.

Logan’s grin was the same feral one he’d been wearing when he entered the bar, once he’d tugged his shirt and jacket back on. “Promise me it won’t be long before you’re taking this off again for me,” he asked her.

Kayla slapped him lightly in the chest, and pushed him onto the barstool next to hers, her own lips curling into a grin in response to his. “Not long. Now shush, me and the lady were having a chat.”

“A lady? In this place?” Logan asked incredulously, before eying Rogue up and down in a way that was considering, but not at all sexual, which made for a welcome relief. “I suppose she’s the closest they’ve got after you,” he told Kayla, leaning in for another kiss and ordering a drink for himself.

“You know,” he told Rogue thoughtfully as she handed over his order, “you look awfully young to be minding a bar.”

Rogue bit the inside of her cheek to keep from shifting her weight nervously from foot to foot - something Logan would definitely pick up on. “You look awfully old to be fighting in a cage,” she shot back. He didn’t look that old, but it was the best comeback she could think of.

He narrowed his eyes at her, clearly not distracted by her insult. He picked up his glass with one hand and rested the other arm casually over Kayla’s shoulders.

“Please ignore my man’s rudeness,” Kayla apologised, then continued with a wicked glint in her eye, “Anyway, as I was saying, sex is generally fantastic, but after he’s been fighting for several hours, his stamina falls to almost nothing.”

The sip of beer Logan had just taken got promptly spat back out again. He spluttered for a moment, before catching the matching mischievous smirks on Rogue’s and Kayla’s faces. “Asking her age wasn’t worth a trick like that,” he muttered into his glass.

Kayla leant over and kissed his cheek. “You can make me pay for it later,” she whispered in his ear, making Rogue wonder whether, earlier when she had seen Kayla whispering in Logan’s ear, it hadn’t been about tactics and possible opponents at all, but rather promises of sexual favours if he fought well.

Rogue moved away from the couple to clear away some of the other glasses and to give them a bit of space. She was well aware how much the cage fight turned on some people, although with Kayla and Logan the fighting seemed incidental. Still, it was probably best to leave them alone for a moment or two.

When she turned back Stu, one of the regulars both of the bar and of the cage fights, and one of many men Logan had pulverised earlier that evening, was talking lowly to Logan and Kayla, everything in his body language angry and threatening. Kayla moved away from Logan a bit, giving the two men more room, but Logan didn’t appear interested in what Stu had to say. He turned his back on him and Rogue knew immediately that everything was going to explode in their faces.

Sure enough, Stu pulled a knife out of his pocket and advanced towards Logan with murderous intent on his face. Rogue raced towards them, pulling one of her gloves off and screeching at Logan to look out. Before she could reach them, Logan had turned and two knives had shot out from his knuckles, pinning Stu to one of the columns by the neck, a third knife appearing slowly and surely, heading straight towards the centre of the bared neck.

Rogue changed direction immediately, heading towards Mack now, who had already started towards where he kept a shotgun hidden under the bar. He raised it towards Logan, but before he could breathe a word, Rogue had brushed her fingers along his wrist, knocking him out.

“Sorry Mack,” she apologised softly. “He’s not dead,” she informed the onlookers in general. “But he’ll be out cold for an hour or two.” She turned sharp eyes on Kayla and Logan, both of whom were now watching her closely. “You should leave,” she told them, pulling her glove back on and heading for the backrooms.

“What about you?” Kayla called after her.

“What about me?” Rogue snarled back, suddenly vastly angry. She’d just saved Logan’s life at the cost of what would probably be her own. Just her luck, to lose her job and her room right in the middle of the heaviest winter for five years. She stormed out of the bar, moving rapidly towards her room to gather her things, knowing it wouldn’t be long before Ted or one of the others came to make sure she was gone.

-xXx-

Rogue didn’t have many things, only the stuff she’d thought to grab on her way out of her foster parents’ house. Over a year had passed since then, but the majority of the money she’d earned went toward paying for the room she rented from Mack and the food she ate off his table. There were a few items that she’d saved up to buy. There were two new pairs of gloves; one pair for every day use, like her old ones, and another pair that had been sheer indulgence. They were made of real leather and fit her hands perfectly, with a small, decorative detail of embroidery curling from around her wrists up to her elbow. She’d never worn them for anything longer than a few minutes of admiration, so she tucked them now safe in the fold of a pair of jeans and stuffed them deep into her bag.

Other than that, there was a set of pencils and three sketchbooks now, two of them filled with more than a year’s worth of scribbling. She wasn’t particularly skilled, but it was something to do to fill the empty hours, and it was cheaper than many other hobbies. A couple of long sleeved tops that were thicker to deal with the colder weather, but nothing more that was personal.

It took scant minutes to pack her life into a bag and head out of the door. She walked back through the bar and winced only very briefly at the hard silence that greeted her. The few customers who had still lingered had been shooed out, and only the staff remained, hovering around the edges of the room and not daring to move nearer to her.

Ted was knelt by Mack’s side with his back to her, but at the sounds of her footsteps and everyone else’s sudden, brittle silence, he stiffened and turned to greet her, his hand moving to hesitate in the air above the shotgun.

“You won’t need that,” she told him quietly. “I’m leaving.” She pulled out the key chain from around her neck. By barely three months working and living with them, Rogue had earned their trust for not only her room key, but also the key to the bar’s main entrance. Over time she earned the rest of the keys, too. There was the various supply rooms - for cheap booze, average stuff, and the very expensive - the loading bay doors, the cage key, the main entrance and more. Each key she’d earned had been something to be proud of, something she’d made a bright spot so that she could have something to look back on with a smile. But already those memories were turning bitter with the knowledge that one brief moment could wipe all that trust away.

She threw the keys to Ted now, breathing out with the action and blinking back the stinging tears that were waiting in the corners of her eyes. “Thanks,” she told him, then moved past all of them. There was nothing else she could say. Rogue was glad they’d taken her on when she needed it, but she’d earned her keep and been more than just an average employee. Now they were kicking her out for a coincidence of birth. It was becoming a pretty regular song and dance, this. Maybe Kayla and Logan had the right idea; travelling and never staying in one place too long.

The tears that she hadn’t shed quickly vanished, a trembling anger fighting to the forefront again. She’d been happy here, dammit! She had a handle on things, was able to keep things under control. Rogue had even been saving what little she could so that, one day, she could move away from these people who were friendly but mutant phobic and actually build a proper, happy life for herself. But what little she had would no doubt vanish before she got very far. And it was Logan’s fault.

He’d beaten Stu perfectly well in the ring, without powers! Why did he have to - Rogue took a deep breath again, pausing this side of the door to look around at the faces all watching her. None of them were friendly, though a few did look guilty. They all knew how she’d come to be here, and they knew they were doing the same thing again. She didn’t offer them a goodbye, and only barely refrained from spitting in all of their general directions.

Stepping into the dark cold outside was both a relief and a worry. She slammed the door shut behind her, leaning against it and soaking up the relief that the cool air could offer after the heated, thick atmosphere inside. She would panic later.

When Rogue opened her eyes again, she was surprised to find Kayla standing nearby, watching her anxiously. Further away, several of the customers who’d been kicked out of the bar stood, waiting around. Rogue wondered what spectacle they expected, or if they were going to attempt to take the ‘mutant problem’ into their own hands. Logan was skulking around nearby, however, and keeping them at a distance.

“Are you alright?” Kayla asked, her soft voice made softer by her concern. Her eyes rapidly took in what of Rogue she could make out, obviously looking for bruises that would not have formed yet.

“Peachy,” Rogue bit out, anger clawing up her throat and tightening the muscles in it. She pushed herself away from the door, stomping away from the bar, from Kayla, from the locals Logan was keeping at bay.

“They didn’t hurt you?” Kayla asked insistently, following a few steps behind, eyes flickering anxiously between Rogue and Logan.

Rogue stopped suddenly and swirled around, “They’re mutant-hating assholes, but they were my friends!” Only the audience behind Kayla kept her from yelling outright. “I’ve done this before, so leave me the fuck alone to try and start my life over - again!”

“Come with us,” Kayla offered, a hand half-reaching for Rogue, but hesitating in the air between them. Rogue couldn’t tell if the hesitation was fear of what she might be able to do, or uncertainty at being allowed to reach for her. “I’ve seen people do terrible things to mutants, I would hate for anything to happen to you.”

Rogue glared at her, glancing briefly to where Logan waited in the background, then back again. “You?” she asked. “What about him?” As much as she wanted to reject the offer out of hand, she wasn’t stupid. If this strange couple who’d got her into this mess could offer her some respite before she had to dig her own way out of it, she’d take them up on it. But not if one of them might murder her in her sleep.

Unexpectedly, Kayla’s mouth curled up into an indulgent smile. “He’s coming around to it,” she promised. “Please, stay. Even if it’s just for a night. I’d hate for you to end up out here on your own.”

Rogue bowed her head and shook it briefly. It was not a refusal of their offer, more a movement to clear her mind. “I’m already out here on my own,” she whispered, knowing that Kayla heard the words, when her hand, still waiting in the air between them, clenched before opening again. She looked up again and nodded once, firmly, eyes sliding over to Logan and back again. “One night,” she agreed. She’d stay with them until daybreak, then make her own way from there.

It seemed that Kayla was determined to keep surprising Rogue, as she took a step forward and took one of Rogue’s gloved hands in her own, squeezing it briefly, then pulling her over to Logan.

No words were said as they walked to where Kayla and Logan’s trailer was parked, though the couple exchanged a kiss that seemed to say more than words might have done. Logan’s arm went back around Kayla’s waist, an action that was as instinctual to him as it was protective. He watched Rogue closely, carefully, but there was no hostility that Rogue could sense from him. Kayla did not let go of Rogue’s hand until they reached the motor home.

Rogue watched from by the door as the couple moved around each other in long-practiced synchronisation, to pack away the small table and fold the chairs open into a small bed. She found it as fascinating to watch them interact now as she had in the bar. The casual affection they shared was even more prolific in private than it had been at the bar. In public, the touches had been to check where the other person was, to lay a claim over them in front of others. In private it was just - affection. They touched for the sake of touching, and it was something that Rogue couldn’t quite comprehend.

It didn’t take long for the sleeping arrangements to sort themselves out, and Kayla retired to the tiny bathroom first, leaving Rogue to sit on the bed that was to be hers fiddling anxiously with her fingers under Logan’s penetrating gaze. He remained cautious of her, still assessing whether she’d be a danger to them. Rogue did her best to stay still and quiet.

“What you did before,” he told her, “it wasn’t necessary, but thank you.”

Rogue snorted. “Wasn’t necessary to save your life, right,” she replied sarcastically, pulling her feet onto the bed and hugging her knees to her when he scowled.

Logan pointed his fist into the space between them, and the knives from his knuckles shot out once more. The flash of metal made Rogue flinch, even though she’d been half expecting it.

“They used to be bone,” he told her. “I don’t remember, now. A human, with a big head and bigger ambitions, he used me and experimented on me. He framed my entire skeleton in metal, and played me off against my own brother. Then, when I became too much of a liability, he shot me in the head, twice. And I stood up and carried on living, although my memory was mostly gone.” His eyes darted to the bathroom door briefly. Clearly Kayla had some part in it, though he wasn’t saying what now. “A knife to the gut would have healed in seconds. A shotgun blast to the chest a few more. What you did,” he repeated. “Wasn’t necessary.”

A dark shot of something harder than the anger she’d felt before shuddered through her, as Rogue realised she had lost everything for literally nothing. She clenched her jaw tightly, knowing that if she were to lash out now, all she’d do would be to lose a place to stay for the night.

“But you didn’t know that,” Logan said. “So maybe I owe you my life even if it was never truly at risk.”

Then, as if he’d timed it specifically for the purpose for the distraction, Kayla emerged from the bathroom and he moved to take her place, dropping a kiss, easy as rain, on her lips as they passed each other.

Kayla smiled at Rogue, but her lips dipped back down again when she saw the defensive position Rogue had curled herself into. “You don’t need to be scared. He’s a bit gruff, but he wouldn’t hurt you.”

Rogue didn’t say anything, but looked away from Kayla and staring intensely out of the small window.

“Oh, honey,” Kayla breathed, moving to sit next to Rogue and a hand moving to rub her shoulder. “What did he say to you?”

Rogue moved silently away from the touch, biting back an irrational anger that rose at that kind of affection directed at her. Touch like that got people hurt. Touch like that would get people killed. “He told me he couldn’t die, and what I did was pointless.”

Kayla had placed her hands back in her lap without complained, although she still looked as though she wanted to try and sooth Rogue with touches as well as words. “It wasn’t pointless,” Kayla reassured her, “And I’m pretty sure he didn’t say it was. Maybe he made it sound as though that’s what he meant but, well, my Wolverine’s not the best with words.”

Said like that, the name ‘Wolverine’ sounded like a sweet endearment rather than the fierce warning it had been in the cage fights earlier. Kayla’s voice caressed the word as though it was as dear to her as the man she’d described with it. There were layers of memory around the name, some good and some bitter-sweet.

“No attempt to save any life is pointless,” Kayla continued. “Whether the attempt fails, or the life wasn’t at risk. It especially isn’t pointless is something else is put on the line.”

Rogue withheld the bitter comments that jumped to her tongue, and just nodded silently. Kayla sighed and didn’t look one bit like she believed Rogue had accepted her words, but stood up and moved to hers and Logan’s cot, letting the matter go.

“I hope you don’t leave tomorrow,” Kayla said softly, with her back turned, and left Rogue to her thoughts while she waited for the bathroom to be free.

-xXx-

Rogue dreamt of things that had happened to someone else that night. She saw thousands more cage fights than she’d ever been there for, she remembered buying up the bar, remembered her own face so very, very young and lost. She remembered the wife that wasn’t hers, and the two children who didn’t visit anymore. She felt grief that wasn’t her own, and when she woke it took her a moment of steady, breathless silence to remember that her name wasn’t Mack.

She hadn’t dreamt like that since she’d stolen part of David’s soul. Now she had two fragments of men who weren’t her floating in the dark corners of her mind.

Rogue stayed still, silent, keeping her eyes shut and her breathing steady as she tried to remember who she was. This wasn’t helped by not immediately recognising where she was. The bed under her felt different, the air smelt strange, and it was warmer than her room at the bar had been.

A soft murmur of voices nearby gave Rogue something to concentrate on and centre herself around. She didn’t immediately recognise the owners of the voices as she fought back through the fog of sleep and the vague sense of panic the dreams-that-weren’t-hers had brought with them.

“It’s not safe,” the lower, masculine of the two voices was saying.

“She’s safer with us than out on her own,” the female replied, soft spoken but firm.

There was a wordless grunt that was neither a yes or a no, and was a simple acknowledgement of the words spoken.

“She can’t be more than nineteen, twenty at the most,” the woman continued. “She doesn’t have anyone else.”

“Why are we having this conversation? You’ve clearly already made your mind up, and you know I can’t say ‘no’ to you, darlin’.”

There was light feminine laughter, then a brief moment of silence before the woman carried on talking. “I know you want her out on her own as much as I do,” she said lightly, teasingly.

The man grunted again. “I don’t want to bring her into our mess.”

“Then we tell her the basics, let her make a decision,” the woman replied softly and, when Rogue cracked her eyes open she saw that the two were wrapped around each other, Kayla’s face half-hidden in Logan’s neck. She quickly closed her eyes completely again, not wanting to cut into what was clearly a private moment.

It didn’t last long, with Logan moving into the driver’s seat and Kayla reaching to shake Rogue awake.

“G’morning, sleepy,” the older woman greeted. “Figured you’d need a bit of a lie in after yesterday, but if we want to get out of town today, we need to head out now before the snow blocks off the roads. Logan’s bringing us around to fill up the water tank, so you’ve got a bit of time to decide what you want to do.”

Rogue tugged at the end of her long sleeves, pulling them to cover most of her hands so the chance of touch was minimised. “What choices do I have?” she asked, voice still crusty from sleep.

Kayla watched her carefully, cataloguing the series of small movements she made, noticing again the way Rogue held herself away and apart from everyone else. “Well,” she started. “When you’re dressed and clean, you’ve got three options, really. You can leave us here, make your own way out of town although, like I said, the snow’s coming in pretty soon so the routes are going to be blocked before dark. We can give you a lift to somewhere with a bit more traffic, so it’s easier for you to get to wherever you’re thinking of going. Or-” she hesitated.

“Or?” Rogue prompted.

Kayla smiled tentatively, hopefully. “Or you can stay with us indefinitely.”

Rogue frowned at the last option. They seemed friendly, and it would be nice to go straight from one place to the next, not worrying about where she was going to sleep each night. But it sounded too good to be true. “Why would you offer me that?” she questioned suspiciously.

Kayla seemed to be expecting the question, her smile becoming approving, as though if Rogue had immediately taken any of the offers she’d have disappointed some expectation the older woman had of her. “Partly because of what you did for us last night, partly simply because we can, but also…” Kayla trailed off for a moment, seriously considering her next words. “Logan and I have both been in situations in the past where we were lost, and didn’t know what to do next - what we could do next. Both of us had family or each other to turn to, but we know you don’t have anyone at all. If you’d let us, we’ll be the people you can turn to if you need help.”

“My family?” Rogue asked, a little hopeful and a lot sarcastic.

“If you like,” Kayla agreed easily enough.

“There’s more going on than you’re telling me,” Rogue said, a statement of fact and not a question as to what it might be.

“Yes,” Kayla agreed again. “But there’s a lot that you’re not saying, too,” she reminded.

Rogue shrugged, a bit awkward. “I still don’t understand why you’d help me,” she said, looking around at her surroundings. The caravan was small, and the living things were simple. But it was clean and well maintained, and with a little adjustment there was room for another single bed, so long as the person using it wasn’t picky about how much space they had.

Kayla’s smile this time was sad, and her hand twitched as though she wanted to reach out to touch her to comfort her. “You’re not used to people being kind for the sake of being kind, are you?” she asked rhetorically.

“Mack took me in, but I paid my way,” Rogue replied anyway. She didn’t mention her foster parents, and knew that silence was telling in and of itself.

“I said last night that we’re thinking of settling down. Would it ease your mind if you did stuff around the house for us? General DIY, cleaning, cooking… if you want, you can find a job and pay us for your room, but you really don’t need to.”

“What, like a housekeeper?” Rogue asked, making Kayla laugh.

“If you like.”

Rogue hesitated for another long moment. “What are the catches?” she asked finally, certain there must be something more that Kayla hadn’t said.

To her surprise, the other woman looked vaguely guilty. “If you do stay with us I would insist - well, ask - that you carried on with your education. You don’t have to go to college if you don’t want to, but if you didn’t finish high school, I hope you’ll go back.” At Rogue’s curious look, Kayla blushed a bit. “I’m a teacher. Only kindergarten at the moment, until I get my full license, but I don’t like seeing anyone not filling their potential.”

“I only finished my sophomore year,” Rogue warned.

Kayla blinked in surprise. Either Rogue was younger than she looked, or the girl had been on her own for longer than she’d previously suspected. “I - how old are you?” she asked, the time for subtleties over.

Rogue scowled fiercely. “If you even mention the words ‘foster system’ I’ll be out of here faster than your boyfriend can skewer me.”

“I won’t,” Kayla promised. “And Logan wouldn’t.”

There was a long moment of hesitation filled only with the sounds of the water tank slowly being filled.

“Seventeen,” Rogue finally admitted, looking away when Kayla’s sincere gaze became too much. She waited expectantly for protestations that were sure to come, the insistence on taking her to the authorities to do things the ‘proper’ way. But, like with Mack, that insistence never came.

Kayla let out a long, steady breath, her youth obviously coming as a surprise. “Ok,” she said, seemingly to reassure herself then repeated, stronger and more certain, “Ok. That’s - younger than I expected. But ok.”

“Really?” Rogue asked her, suspicious again. Kayla didn’t sound or look like she was ok with it.

The woman laughed humourlessly. “Seventeen! Only finished Sophomore year, so you’ve been on your own for what? A year? More? God, it’s a wonder you’re as healthy as you are.”

“I survived,” Rogue bit out defensively. Although, to be fair to Kayla, she was only as good as she was thanks to Mack taking her in. The man never had asked for any ID, and knowing how she’d look through his eyes now, that was a wonder in itself.

“I -” Kayla paused, and stood up, pacing agitatedly as much as the small space would allow. “It’s still your choice, of course,” she said. “But I would really like it if you stayed with us. I hated the idea of you on your own before, but knowing how young you are-”

“I’m not weak, or useless!” Rogue broke in angrily, the residual, aimless anger from the night before rearing up again. “And no one can touch me, not without hurting themselves more than me,” she added petulantly.

“Oh honey,” Kayla said in the same soft, sympathetic way that she had the night before. “I’m not worried about people touching you.”

Rogue didn’t know what she meant, so she said nothing, tucking her knees up under her chin in the same defensive position she’d adopted the night before.

“Last night, when you asked if Logan and I were married,” Kayla said, apparently randomly, “I said we were. But the truth is we never officially did. Our last name isn’t really Vadas. But when our house got destroyed - before that really - there were… issues. An old associate of Logan’s caused both of us a lot of trouble. We managed to move past that, and we haven’t heard from this associate or Logan’s half-brother in a long time, but there’s still the risk that they’d try and hunt us down.

“So, we adopted a fake name. We travelled, made sure not to stay in one place for too long. It was easier to just tell everyone we were married, it drew less attention to us. According to our current IDs we’re Mr. and Mrs. Vadas, and that suits us just fine. If… if you stayed with us, if you wanted… we could get the paperwork to make it seem as though you were our daughter? Niece, maybe, if you’re more comfortable with that.”

“Why?” Rogue blurted, before she’d had time to consciously decide to ask the question. “Why are you doing this? Why would you want to?”

Kayla shrugged and didn’t offer an explanation. “I can understand that you’re wary of us, it’s good that you are. We’re good people, but of course I’d say that, and there are a lot of people out there who would try and take advantage of you so - I’m trying not to push you into anything, but-”

The door swung open, letting in a blast of cold air and a flutter of snow. “Ladies,” Logan’s voice interrupted. “You reached a decision?” he asked, surprised to see Rogue still in her sleep things.

“You have terrible timing, baby,” Kayla complained good-naturedly as he shut the door, shucking off his boots and leaning over for a kiss that she gladly gave him.

Logan looked at Rogue speculatively, before pulling on Kayla’s hand, tugging her towards the cabin. “How about we leave the kid to get dressed, then I’ve got an idea that might work.”

Once the couple had left her to it, Rogue changed quickly and used the bathroom even faster. It was not that she was particularly body-shy, nor that she didn’t trust Kayla or Logan to leave her be, but rather the fact that she hated having any bare skin on display anywhere there was even the remotest of possibilities of someone touching her. And Kayla in particular seemed to like being in physical contact with people she was talking to or spending time with.

When she emerged the only decision she’d come to was that she would spend at least another night with them. Rogue was unwilling, at this point, to agree to anything more long term than a couple of days that relied so heavily on other people whom she didn’t really know, but she was willing to take advantage of their hospitality for a little while longer.

“I’ll stay at least until we hit the next town,” she told them when she emerged. She knew Lotham city and it’s coach station, and wouldn’t know anywhere else, but everyone in Lotham knew her, too. And she knew enough about them not to know whether they would suffer a mutant in their town for even a night before they started circling in to do harm.

Kayla beamed at her, clearly pleased with the decision and already planning new ways to try and persuade her to stay longer.

The snow was already starting to get quite heavy, so they headed out of town straight away, although once they were on the main road, the suggestion Logan had mentioned earlier came back up in conversation.

“We were wondering how your mutation worked,” Kayla explained. She and Rogue had folded the bed the younger woman had used the night before back into the two chairs it had been previously, and pulled the table back open. “If you just knock people out or, well Logan thought you might read them mentally a bit, too.”

Rogue thought for a moment, fiddling with the glass in front of her. “My foster mother said I stole people’s souls,” she said. “I think I just steal fragments, but who knows.” She shrugged, smiling bitterly. “My boyfriend ended up in a coma for three weeks, and for weeks afterwards my dreams weren’t my own. He’s still there, in the back of my head. Now Mack - the guy who I touched last night - he is too. I don’t know much about what I do, just that when I touch people they get hurt.”

“Would you be willing to touch me?” Kayla asked, and ignored the way Rogue blanched in horror. “Not to hurt me, just to know that I won’t hurt you.”

“You don’t get it,” Rogue hissed angrily. “I can’t help what I do! Whether I mean to or not, when I touch someone, I hurt them. I’m not going to hurt you.”

Kayla frowned in thought, obviously upset by Rogue’s lack of control over her own power, but shrugged it off. Every day more and more mutant powers were coming to light and it was astonishing the sheer variation and number of mutations out there. “Would it help if I told you I have a level of healing factor? I doubt a brief touch would knock me out for very long, if at all. Logan’s healing is even stronger, if you’d feel better about that?”

“No!” Rogue almost shouted. “I’m not touching either of you. I won’t hurt you.”

Kayla sighed, but backed off. “If we trust that you won’t hurt us, can you by the same token trust we won’t hurt you?”

Rogue shrugged but didn’t agree to anything, looking awkward and stubborn.

“My skill works by touch, too,” Kayla said, offering an explanation of her powers as a truce. “I can persuade people to do things they might not have done otherwise, just by touching their skin. I could make a man kill himself, if I wanted.”

In spite of herself, Rogue had to ask, “Logan doesn’t mind that?”

A snort sounded from the cabin, startling Rogue who didn’t think the man could hear them.

“It doesn’t work on him, or on his brother. It doesn’t work on anyone who has at least half-decent mental protection. It’s a bit of a useless skill really. My sister, Emma, she’s a full blown telepath. Doesn’t need to touch someone to get a read on them.”

“Yeah, well, at least this way I know you won’t make me do anything I don’t want to.”

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Logan called from the front. “Twists my arm all the time, mutant skill or not.”

“Logan has better senses than most humans,” Kayla explained, smiling a bit smugly at his comment. “Better smell, better sight, better hearing. Better taste and touch, too,” she added the last, expression turning wickedly gleeful.

“Can’t talk like that around the kid, if you’re thinking of us adopting her,” was Logan’s only reply, although Rogue thought maybe the tips of his ears were a bit pinker than they’d been before.

“Oh tsk,” Kayla disagreed. “Us girls will talk about whatever we want. Serves you right for eavesdropping.”

“It’s not like I can turn it off,” Logan complained, though there wasn’t any real annoyance in his words.

Rogue listened to them bicker contently, allowing herself a brief moment to think that maybe - just maybe - this would work out. It still seemed too good to be true, and she didn’t think she could trust them yet, but if there was a chance that this could work out, maybe she should just grab it and not let go. Kayla was the most genuine person she’d ever met, although the casual confession as to what her power was unnerved Rogue slightly. If Kayla was telling the truth, that she needed to touch someone for it to work, there wouldn’t be a problem. But if that wasn’t the truth, if Kayla was a straight forward telepath, Rogue wasn’t sure she’d feel safe around her.

She hated the fear normal humans had towards mutants, but she understood it too. She felt it, a bit. She felt more comfortable around Kayla and Logan than she had felt around any of the ‘base-line’ humans, but she was still afraid of what they might do to her. Rogue wasn’t certain that had much to do with their mutant powers, though. Being afraid of other people was something that she’d been for a lot longer than she’d been a mutant.

Chapter Text

Logan and Kayla continued to travel for another two weeks before the weather forced them to settle in one place and leave travelling for the spring, and the thaw it would bring. They used this as an excuse to finally stop travelling altogether and buy a house. A house large enough for themselves and Rogue. For, although it had only been two weeks, Rogue had stayed and had made the decision that she would continue with them indefinitely.

That decision had not come about lightly, and had left tensions in the trailer ridiculously high for almost two days. The incident that had caused all this occurred five days after Rogue’s first night with them, when the distrust had faded to an echoing doubt and Rogue had managed to form tenuous connections of friendship with both Logan and Kayla.

The problem with living in a trailer was that it was a very small space. It had been too small, really, for just Kayla and Logan, but adding a third person into that made everything just that much more cramped. Especially given that Rogue’s mutation worked by touch. It was, perhaps, a miracle that she had avoided touching anyone for so long as she had, given the roughness of the roads they were travelling, that caused them to bounce all over the place inside the trailer. But Rogue had been very particular about making sure every inch of bare skin was covered.

Kayla and Rogue had been hunched over the table, with the elder teaching the younger how to play poker, when Logan had driven them over a particularly deep pothole and sent the pair of women crashing towards each other. Their foreheads had been touching for mere seconds, before the jolt of the trailer coming out of the pothole sent them bouncing away from one another again, but it was long enough for Rogue’s mutation to set in, and for Kayla’s eyes to roll up in her head and faint dead away.

Rogue had sat in astonishment for a moment, the skin of her forehead on fire with the now familiar pins and needles sensation of her power being used. It was only Logan’s apology that brought her back to her senses, and she called for his help.

By the time Logan had pulled over and shut the engine off, Rogue had already worked herself into a hysterical mess. It was not helped by the swirl of knowledge that belonged to Kayla, that was now spinning around her mind. She’d known that Kayla was a good person, didn’t think that anyone could keep up the act of gentle concern for Rogue for as long as Kayla had without it being entirely genuine, but to be literally thrown headfirst into the knowledge that Kayla was a good person was more than Rogue could cope with.

The darkest spot on Kayla’s record was betraying Logan’s trust - and Rogue knew it to be the darkest, because it was a clear feeling of guilt and regret, the kind of which usually faded as the event fell further into the past and especially faced with Logan’s forgiveness. And even that dark spot was done for the safety of her sister. Everything else about Kayla was… good. There was nothing in her personality or her ideals that was in the least bit morally reprehensible. It was astonishing.

And Rogue had stolen part of her soul. Rogue, who was not a good person and never had been, had dared to take a piece of something that was far too good for her to ever deserve. She had dared to sully something - someone - so perfect and wonderful with her touch. And, considering what had happened the last two times Rogue had used her powers, there was no doubt in her mind that she would be thrown from the trailer, and from Logan and Kayla’s lives. She deserved that and more.

The thing that had Rogue in shuddering misery was that, for the briefest of moments she had dared to hope that maybe, just maybe, she could have a future with these people, that she might actually be able to call them family at some point. Her head had been full of ridiculous images of the three of them living in domestic bliss, cut off from most of the rest of the world so as not to have to fear strangers’ condemning prejudices were they to be discovered as mutants. And, yes, during the darkest part of the night, Rogue had lain awake and wondered what it would have been like if these had been her parents, and not the strangers who had abandoned her.

And that hope, as bright and far off as it had been, was now extinguished with one fleeting moment of accidental skin to skin touch. And Rogue didn’t she’d ever felt the loss of anything quite so keenly as she did that.

“Kayla?” Logan asked, carefully lifting her head from where it had crashed into the table. Her temple was bleeding a little, but not badly. After quickly checking that she was only unconscious and not worse, Logan picked her up easily and moved her to lay in their bed before he turned his attention to Rogue.

“What happened?” he asked her gruffly.

Rogue choked on the words that tried to escape, her panic silencing anything that she might have wanted to say.

“Kid,” Logan said, still gruff but much more gentle now that he’d had time to observe the state she was in. “It’s ok. Kayla’s going to be fine. You just need to tell me what happened.” He approached slowly, palms up and open to show that he wasn’t going to hurt her.

“Don’t touch me!” she managed to screech, and for a while all she could see was David’s prone form, the rushing paramedics and the figure of her foster father. He was warped, now, by long absence and nothing but bad memories, so he was larger, more fearsome than he’d ever been in reality. And glowering eyes, piercing light blue made unreal by the straining whites that were too bright in comparison to the shadow of his body.

“I’m not going to hurt you, kid,” a different voice cut through the madness. So much more powerful, more dangerous than the thing that haunted her, but so much more careful too. “Kid? Rogue? Come on, darlin’, don’t freak out on me now.”

And, not really knowing what she did, Rogue burst into tears and threw herself into Logan’s arms, sobs wracking her thin frame.

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I didn’t mean to, I swear. It was an accident.”

“It’s ok, kid. Kayla’s not that badly hurt. Give her half an hour, she’ll be fine.” He stroked her back gently, clearly uncomfortable with the contact and totally at a loss as to what to do with a sobbing teenager. “Now, can you tell me what happened?” he asked once Rogue had regained some control over her tears.

The question had her drawing away from him, as far as the small space would allow. “I didn’t mean to touch her,” she confessed quietly, unable to look Logan in the eyes and see the condemnation she was certain would be there.

Logan stood over her for a moment, clearly not sure whether the greater comfort would be to try and hug her again - as awkward as he’d found it before - or to give her some space. “I know you didn’t want to hurt her,” he told her, then left her to go and check on Kayla again.

Two more silent tears ran down Rogue’s cheeks and she hastily wiped them away. If she was going to be kicked out again, she should keep as pleasant a face as she could. There was no point making this more difficult for Logan and Kayla. They’d taken her in for almost a week, without even thinking of asking for any money in return. And if she was to be on her own again, she couldn’t afford to have any emotional breakdowns. No point feeling sorry for herself.

Kayla had woken with the half an hour that Logan had suggested, looking no worse for wear. A faint bruise appeared on her forehead where she had crashed into the table, but it faded almost as soon as it appeared. She’d joked off the incident, but had made no move to talk to Rogue again, spending her time in the driver’s cabin with Logan instead, exchanging whispered words and shooting worried looks at the younger woman.

And so almost two full days had been spent anxiously avoiding each other as much as was possible, until Rogue could bare it no longer and had snapped, “If you’re going to ask me to leave, can you just ask already!”

Inexplicably, Kayla had whacked Logan on the shoulder. “Space!” she’d hissed accusingly, before turning away from him and reaching across the table to take Rogue’s gloved hands in her own. “We’re not going to get rid of you, honey,” she’d reassured. “We knew what your powers were when we asked you to stay, and we can hardly fault you for something that was an accident.”

“But-” Rogue had cut in, utterly bewildered.

Kayla’s expression softened to something that was not quite pity, and indicated that she wanted to scoop Rogue up into her arms and keep her safe from everything the world had to offer. “If I were to trip and pour scolding water on you, would you blame me?” she asked. “You wouldn’t; you’d blame the water, or the ground I tripped over, or yourself for being in my way. So, in this case, I must blame the road, and Logan’s driving, and myself for leaning so close. Do you see?”

Rogue nodded, unable to speak lest the tears she was fighting cause her to make another display like the one she’d made in front of Logan.

“You didn’t even really hurt me,” Kayla said. “When you touched me - it tingled, like acute pins and needles; shocking, but not harmful. I think it was probably the blows to the head that knocked me out.”

Rogue wanted to argue with this, to say that it had taken only the slightest of touches to knock Mack out. But Kayla looked resolute. There would be no arguing her out of the idea she’d decided on. And, at that, something in Rogue settled. There had never been anyone, before, who was willing to fight for her. And here, now, was someone who had looked out for her since they’d met, was entirely too good of a person, and was guarding her against the cruel words of even herself. It was astonishing, and heart warming.

There was still Logan to consider, but the man seemed no more or less eager to be around Rogue than he had before. If Kayla was right, that it hadn’t been Rogue’s touch that had knocked her out - and it was a big ‘if’ - then Logan had even less to worry about, in that respect. His healing factor was clearly a lot better than Kayla’s, given the number of cuts and bruises he acquired on a near daily basis, that never lasted longer than a handful of seconds. Besides which, even without that healing factor, there was an immovability to Logan’s attitude that suggested he’d never fear anything so simple as a touch.

Once the awkwardness of that conversation had passed, and Rogue had managed to accept, again, that she was being allowed to stay, that was when she made her decision to stay indefinitely. Kayla and Logan had already started discussing the option of staying in one place much more seriously than they ever had before, and Kayla had phoned her sister for information on real estate in the Rockies. Other than their first offer of sort-of adopting her, the same way they were sort-of married, nothing had been said about Rogue’s role in whatever life they were going to build together. It took her a while to realise this was because neither of them were the type of people to offer twice something that had not been properly answered the first time.

“How difficult would it be?” Rogue asked them, a few days after the touching incident had been resolved.

“What?” Logan grunted around his burger. They were sat in a pokey little diner that was attached to a gas station and water tank.

“To, uh, get the paperwork. To make me a Vadas.” Try as she might, Rogue knew that she would not be able to say ‘your daughter’. It was too foreign a concept.

As soon as the words left her mouth, both Logan and Kayla were staring at her, trying to see more than the obvious.

“Really?” Kayla asked.

“If - I mean, if it’s still an option,” Rogue shrugged and stared at her plate.

Kayla was frozen in place, gaping a little at Rogue and still wondering if maybe she’d misheard the younger woman. Logan glanced between the two of them, before nodding once and deciding that this was a conversation best left to them. He stood up and left them to it.

“Of course it’s still an option,” Kayla managed to say, soothing Rogue’s mounting uncertainty. “You. You really want to be our daughter?”

“You really want me to be?” Rogue shot back with equal incredulity.

Kayla made a wordless noise of joy and slid around the table to hug Rogue tightly, dropping a kiss to her hair. “Of course!” she said. “Oh my God. Oh my God. My daughter!”

“I don’t really understand,” Rogue said, once Kayla had calmed down a bit and slid away to give her a bit more room. “I mean, I get that you want to look out for me.” She tapped the side of her head as a reminder of the echo of Kayla that existed there besides David and Mack. The older woman really couldn’t stand the idea of anyone, no matter how young or old, having to face the world alone without some sort of safety line. “But I don’t understand why you’re so happy that I’m going to be, well, yours.”

Kayla grinned wildly. “Because,” she said, “It means that you’re mine. It means that I can mother you, and feel proud of you, and want the best for you, without feeling ridiculous doing so.”

“You don’t feel ridiculous doing so anyway,” Rogue remarked, blushing a bit. “And you’ve only known me a fortnight. If you do this, I could turn out to be horrible and you’ll never be rid of me.”

“Fortnight or not, I know you Rogue. I know that you don’t like crowds, that you’re confident but shy too. I know that you’re a good person, but you always expect the worst in other people. I know you hope for the best. I know that you’ve hated not being able to do anything for us for taking you in. I know that I’m looking forward to knowing you better. You’re not horrible, and I can’t imagine myself ever wanting to be rid of you.”

Rogue’s blush was full blown now, and she studied her hands intently. “What about Logan?” she asked, whispering out of habit. She didn’t know where the man was, but hiding at the far end of the trailer and talking as quietly as possible whilst Logan was driving was the only way the two women could gossip about Logan without being overheard. Even then, they both suspected that Logan heard, just chose not to comment.

Kayla reached out and, very careful not to touch her skin, tucked a strand of Rogue’s hair behind her ear. “He loves you as much as I do,” she said. “He’s just not very good at expressing it. The only person, before me, that he loved freely, was his brother. And Creed is one of the reasons why we haven’t settled down in one place before now. Stryker managed to get them so tightly woven into his plot that the two of them hate each other, are sworn to kill each other. And not a day goes by that Logan doesn’t regret that.”

“You’re going to have to tell me the whole story, one day,” Rogue said. “I only see fragments of people’s minds when I touch them, and I’ve only seen enough fragments to have a basic idea of the incident you’re talking about. Most of what I got from you was -” Rogue’s blush returned worse than before. “Well, Logan,” she finished.

Kayla threw her head back and laughed freely. “Oh you poor, innocent child!” she exclaimed. “I dread to think what you might have seen me and Logan getting up to,” she added with a wink, making Rogue laugh too.

“It made for a few interesting night’s sleep,” was all she revealed, causing both of them to start laughing again.

“Perhaps you should be lucky that we’re your parents in name only, then, and not blood. Knowing what you know about us,” Kayla said, a little more sombrely, but still teasing.

Rogue grinned again, and shrugged. “I’ll take what I can get.” The confession was one of the most honest that she’d ever made, and Kayla smiled in understanding. If they had been her real parents and Rogue had learnt what she now knew of their sex life - what would she care? It would be embarrassing, but what would that be in comparison to a childhood of being loved?

-xXx-

Kayla’s sister, Emma, was the one who found, and bought, the house that they settled into. After confirming whereabouts they were in Canada, the fact that they were sort-of adopting a seventeen year old, and the fact that the only money they had was from Logan’s cage fights and whatever the seventeen year old had saved up from her bartending work, Emma had bought the house and told them if they didn’t move in, the place would just go dusty from disuse.

“I’m an heiress, honey,” she told Kayla. “And I’m only an heiress because you passed over that opportunity. God knows what you see in these vagrants you pick up, but if they make you happy, I’m not about to get in your way. So let me spend a couple of grand on some God forsaken hut in the middle of nowhere for you to live in.”

“Emma, I really can’t-” Kayla had tried to protest.

“You can and you will. Mostly because the deal has already gone through, and the estate agents are just waiting for you to go and pick up the key. So go, settle in, and for God’s sake install some internet. I want to see some proper pictures of my brother-in-law and new niece.”

Kayla laughed. “I don’t remember you ever being this heavy handed when we were kids.”

“That’s because you’re five years older than me, and I stood in awe of you,” Emma admitted frankly. “Also, you used to consider father’s money your right. Now, you flit about in poverty with the man you love, like something out of a deranged fairytale and, yes, deranged, because Logan’s no prince charming. I know enough of him to know that.”

Kayla couldn’t help laughing again. She spoke to Emma far too little and the snippets of conversation they did have were wonderful. “It’s not poverty, Ems. Just because I don’t have a different fur coat for every day of the week.”

“Alas, Tuesday’s got ruined when some moron poured coffee all over it,” Emma replied, mostly teasingly, but with a ring of truth in her words.

“Whatever shall you do?”

“Well, obviously I shall give up everything I have and live in a van with a handsome hermit.”

“And six fur coats,” Kayla added.

“And a computer. Honestly, I don’t know how you survive without one.”

“You’re a business woman, Emma. I’m a teacher. Or, I was. Teachers are supposed to be inept at all things technological. Or so Rogue tells me.”

Emma tsked. “I still can’t believe the girl calls herself that. Anna Marie is such a sweet name. I should dearly like to take the girl out shopping sometime. Introduce her to the family pastimes, such as they are.”

“You mean spending horrendous amounts of money on entirely superficial things?” Kayla joked. “I think you’d probably terrify Rogue. She’s very determined to pay her own way, you know.”

“Then I shall send her plenty of extravagant gifts and you can write them off as the foibles of an eccentric relative. And you shan’t keep me away for her birthday, you know. So many fun things to do when you’re eighteen!” Emma gushed.

“Long sleeves,” Kayla reminded. There would be no stopping Emma now. Since being kidnapped and held prisoner by Stryker, her sister had become a lot colder towards strangers, rarely trusting anyone unless it was in an official capacity, and even then she had built a formidable fortune of her own by not trusting her business partners. But Kayla was still as dear to Emma as she had ever been, if not more so.

Their father was a self-made millionaire who cared not an iota for anyone besides himself. Kayla’s mother had been his first wife and rumour had it that he had genuinely cared for her. But the woman had lived only long enough to give him a daughter, Kayla, before she had died. What followed was a string of affairs and romances with everyone from his own staff to strangers on the street. Eventually he had settled and married a second woman - a lady for whom he cared nothing for. She had borne him Christian, a son, then Emma. She was still alive, still married, but her mind was lost in a haze of painkillers that she technically no longer needed.

Growing up, Kayla had forged her own way, doing her best to care for her little brother and sister. Christian, however, was soon beyond her reach. For as soon as Christian could understand that he was a son, and they daughters, and that meant that it should be to him the family fortune would be handed, he paid them no attention. Which had left Kayla and Emma. Emma had been quietly stubborn as a little girl, but she had turned every decision she made to Kayla for inspection. And Kayla, five years older and familiar with the cold expectations of a distant father and the almost utter lack of mother figure, had guided Emma as best she could.

They had always been best friends and Kayla suspected that they would always be such. They’d grown apart since they’d been kidnapped, but only in distance. The month she’d spent away from Logan and with Emma had been like returning to her childhood. Now, perhaps Kayla was a little more wild and Emma a little more confident, but they were family to one another in a way that their father and their brother were not.

And so when Kayla had explained Logan to Emma, even when she’d been so coldly angry with him as she had been during that month estrangement, Emma had accepted him whole-heartedly as her brother-in-law. Which was not to say that she’d hesitate in killing him if he hurt Kayla too badly. So now that Kayla was telling her the information of adding Rogue to her strange collection of family members, the only reaction Emma could have was to accept her, too, with open arms.

Without the link of Kayla, it was possible that Emma would still respect Rogue, although she would probably not have liked her much. When offered the family fortune in its entirety, Emma, like she’d accused Kayla of doing, had turned it down. She had set off into the world to make her own fortune. And she had succeeded in doing so, in spite of a series of dangerous set backs. So, if for nothing else, she would respect Rogue for making her own way in the world rather than sitting about and waiting for the judgement of the authorities.

“I’ve mailed a copy of all the paperwork you need to your new address,” Emma told Kayla. “There’re birth certificates, marriage certificate, passports, driving licenses, I’ve even provided some job references for both you and Logan. All the numbers and emails will come back to myself or one of my associates. I looked up Rogue’s foster parents, who were all too eager to tell me about the freak that the foster system had foisted on them, so I could provide an accurate set of school reports for her. You know, I don’t think I’ve spoken to two such horrible people in a long time. Let Rogue know if she just says the word I’ll have both of them arrested for one thing or another.”

“I think Rogue would prefer just to move on,” Kayla soothed. Rogue talked as little about her foster parents as she could, but mentions were unavoidable when she’d spent the majority of her life in their care. What she had said had made Kayla very thankful that neither she nor Logan had any inclination to visit Mississippi, for she was certain that if either of them set eyes on Rogue’s foster parents the people in question would not escape the meeting without, at the very least, a fair collection of bruises.

“Can’t say I blame her,” Emma agreed.

“We should go,” Kayla said, reluctantly bringing the phone call to an end. “If we want to get there before the snows block off all the roads completely. Thank you for all your help.

“It’s a trifle,” Emma replied sincerely. “I’d do a thousand times more for you and our family, you should know that.”

“I do. But thank you anyway. I love you.”

“I love you too, Kayla. Let me know when you’re there and safe.”

“Of course.”

Kayla hugged the phone to her breast for a long moment after she’d hung up, before she slithered down off the roof of the trailer.

“Did you hear all that?” she asked Logan, who’d been filling the gas tank.

“Most of it,” he agreed. “So she’s ours?”

“She’s ours,” Kayla agreed with a big smile, wrapping her arms around Logan’s shoulders and kissing him sloppily. “Our daughter,” she whispered happily.

Logan grinned back, the wild, soft smile that had so intrigued her when she’d first met him. He kissed her again, lifting her a few inches off the ground and turning quickly on the spot, causing Kayla to give a shriek of surprised delight and bury her face in his neck. “And a house,” he added. “It’s like we actually have a decided future now.”

Kayla didn’t mention that they’d already had a future. That wasn’t what he meant. Logan was referring to a future with the three of them as a family. A future where they weren’t constantly rubbing elbows in the back of a trailer and always half worrying about what the next meal would be. She laughed and kissed him again. “We’ve still got a fair distance to cover before we get there,” she remarked.

“Best get started then,” he replied, then nodded towards where Rogue was trying to watch them without being totally obvious about it. “You go tell the kid the good news.” He kissed Kayla again before letting her go.

As Logan went to pay for their fuel, Kayla approached Rogue.

“Good news?” Rogue questioned, already knowing it was, but not knowing what it was.

Kayla nodded, waving the mobile phone. “It was Emma. She’s bought us a house!” She finished with a slight squeal of excitement again.

“A house?” Rogue asked incredulously. “Your sister bought us a house?”

“My family is sort of ridiculously wealthy,” Kayla explained as though it were nothing. “It’s just what we were hoping for, too! Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a barn that can be converted into a garage and several acres of land. It’s a couple of miles away from anything, but there’s a town about five miles away that’s got a couple of bars, shops, and the local school’s supposed to be really good. Plus, if you want, there’s a community college about an hour’s drive away. It’s a bit of a distance, but I’m sure we’ll work something out.”

Rogue groped for words, staring at Kayla’s excitement with amused bafflement. “If you’re so rich, how come…” she trailed off, waving a hand at the motor home as explanation.

Kayla shrugged. “It’s family money, not my money,” she said, again as though it meant nothing to her. “But I’ve got extra good news, on top of that.”

“Yeah?” Rogue asked, wondering if she should try and sound more enthusiastic.

Kayla nodded with a smug smile. “Yep. When we get to our new home, there’s some exciting paperwork waiting for us.”

Rogue’s head snapped round to try and analyse Kayla’s expression. “You mean-” she cut herself off, again unable to complete the thought.

“Yep,” Kayla said again, smile growing. “Birth certificates for all three of us. Most importantly, for you. Anna Marie Vadas, born March 12th to Mrs Kayla Vadas and her husband Mr Logan Vadas.”

Rogue froze, entirely unable to move - even to breathe - as though the slightest twitch might wake her from whatever wonderful dream she was having. Then she took a deep breath and struggled with herself not to start crying. Then, meeting Kayla’s gaze full-on, she managed to give a tremulous smile.

-xXx-

Rogue did not take to calling Kayla and Logan ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’. When speaking to either of them she tried her best not to call them anything at all, sticking with pronouns and the occasional endearment wherever possible (although she would never so freely call everyone ‘honey’ as Kayla did). And now that Rogue didn’t need to, she tried to avoid conversation with strangers where she could. Where it was unavoidable, however, the terms ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ were weird and heavy on her tongue, carrying connotations for her that she didn’t like to link to Kayla and Logan.

‘Mom’ was the fussy, nervous woman who would flutter her hands over every surface, constantly petting to check that everything was as it should be. Well set in her ways and habits, anything that did not fit into her everyday routine put her into a tizzy of movement and nerves. ‘Dad’ was a constant background presence who emanated disapproval over everything and spoke to Rogue only when there was no other option available. This was not who Kayla and Logan were.

But neither of the couple seemed particularly fussed about what Rogue called them, and she got the distinct impression from Logan that so long as she didn’t start calling him ‘flower’, or an equally overbearing name, he couldn’t care less. Apart from the first time Rogue directly addressed Kayla as Mom - that had set both of them into a round of sobbing tears that had confused Logan who had, for once, been out of ear shot - there was no discussion as to who would be calling whom what, so Rogue decided to put it out of mind and go with whatever felt natural.

She’d decided all of this before they reached their new house, because it did indeed take them a couple more days’ travel to get there. It took longer than they’d hoped because the weather was making all travel slow going, but eventually they collected the keys and the post that the agency had kept for them, and parked up by the house.

It was not quite all that they’d hoped for. The layout and the included rooms were exactly what they wanted, or as close as they could get without designing their own house, but the building itself was almost falling apart.

“Shitty construction,” Logan remarked, kicking at a section of wall that looked as though it was one strong gust of wind away from disintegrating.

“Will it get through the winter?” Kayla asked anxiously.

Logan shrugged, wandering around a corner of the building and back again. “Should do. The original design was smaller, and that looks as though that it was pretty well done. It’s just the extra bedrooms that look as though they’re about to fall off the side. Kitchen and living room look good.”

“You’ll want to redo the windows,” Rogue remarked, then blushed as both Logan and Kayla sent her curious looks. “Sorry, it’s just - I did a bit of reconstruction work for Mack at the bar. Resealing windows, updating the plumbing, nothing major.”

Logan just nodded and asked her gruffly, “You’ll give me a hand when Spring comes round?”

“Yeah,” Rogue agreed easily enough, digging her hands into her pockets and curling in on herself a bit. She didn’t want to draw too much attention to what skills she might have, as she only had a rudimentary knowledge of anything, really.

Kayla walked up to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Don’t you worry,” she informed Rogue warmly. “It’s all going to work itself out from now on, you’ll see.”

Rogue was uncertain about this, but agreed anyway; there was no point arguing.

And, as things turned out, the majority of the obstacles they faced did work themselves out. The house weathered the winter as well as might be expected, although several nights saw the three of them huddled together in the living room around the fireplace, rather than in separate rooms. And, once the snows had started to thaw, a quick inspection proved that it was materials of the walls of the added bedrooms that were the main cause of the problem, not the foundations or the design itself.

Late February saw Kayla returning to a teaching job, as a replacement for the first grade teacher who had gone on maternity leave, and with the prospect of a permanent placement the following school year. Logan did not take up any steady employment, although he picked up odd jobs around the town when it became known how good a mechanic he was. It vastly amused the men about town when his daughter followed him to these jobs apparently interested in whatever he was teaching her. The amusement faded when it became clear that  - long sleeves or not, female or not - Rogue was more than happy to get elbow deep in grease in an effort to resolve the problem presented to her.

In fact, Rogue spent the vast majority of the first few months following Logan around. Her friendship with Kayla had been immediate and fond, and they had only become fonder of one another since their first meeting. Logan, however, was more of a wild card. Certainly he didn’t mind Rogue being part of their lives, he’d been as happy as Kayla had that they’d taken Rogue in. But he was not the kind of man to speak openly about his feelings and, with the exception of the kisses he shared frequently with Kayla, was not particularly good at expressing his affections in nonverbal ways either.

What Logan was good at was beating people up. Which, perhaps, should not have been a skill that provided any sort of encouragement for his and Rogue’s relationship. However, when Rogue had said that she’d taken some boxing lessons with Ted but they’d ended mostly in frustration when she’d refused to wear any type of clothing that left any bare skin, Logan offered to teach her how to fight properly.

“Boxing’s all well and good, but it’s not much use for real life,” he’d told her, grinning wolfishly as Kayla sighed and rolled her eyes at the topic of conversation. “There’re too many rules. And it assumes that the area you have is even ground with no obstacles in your way.”

“I don’t think Mack or Ted would have been particularly amused if I’d asked them to teach me how to brawl,” Rogue had remarked dryly.

“And all Mack and Ted have to their names is a bar and dubious fighting arena in bumfuck nowhere,” Logan replied coolly, not even bothering to try and duck the smack to the head he received from Kayla at his language. She wasn’t normally too bothered, but they were actually eating at a dining table and that, apparently, called for some decorum.

“All you’ve got is a decrepit hut in the middle of a nowhere,” Rogue shot back, only just becoming comfortable enough with her position as part of their family to chat back at them. Even then, it was only because of her time warding off hecklers that gave her the courage to do so at all. She still winced a bit every time she said something remotely inflammatory.

Kayla laughed a bit at the comment anyway. “Here you two are, reassuring me that it’s not about to fall apart and all it’ll take is a couple of month’s tender attention to get this place resembling a house again, and it’s actually about to collapse around our shoulders!” she teased.

“The house is fine,” Logan reassured, rolling his eyes at Rogue. “It’s just the kid trying to downplay my achievements. I’ll have you know I fought with Captain America, once. Can’t remember it now, of course,” he added the last as a grumble.

Rogue raised an eyebrow. “You know Captain America’s been dead for sixty-odd years, right?”

Logan and Kayla exchanged a significant look. Finally, Logan admitted, “I don’t really age, as such.”

Rogue had stared at them in astonishment for a long moment, before shaking her head. “You know what? I don’t want to know,” she told both of them firmly. Although she couldn’t help but add a moment later, “Only you would forget fighting alongside America’s greatest hero.”

Kayla was delighted by this comment and, in spite of the sometimes painful reminder of Logan’s loss of memory, couldn’t help but approve of the teasing.

“I’m Canadian,” Logan grumbled quietly, stepping back from the conversation good naturedly.

So February faded into March, and March into April, the familial relationships between the three of them only growing stronger as they came to know each other better and adjusted to living settled in one place. With Logan and Kayla’s love of the Canadian countryside so obvious, whatever worries Rogue might have had about settling so far out of the way were soon abolished. In fact, with very little encouragement, she came to love it almost as much as they did.

The expanse of land around their home, empty save for the natural wildlife, certainly made training with Logan easier. It was a strange sort of training, incorporating half a dozen different fighting techniques - “I may have been taught by a samurai at some point. But I didn’t tell the story to Kayla, and it might just have been a weird dream rather than a bit of memory.” - as well as hunting and tracking.

There was no room for anything other than perfection under Logan’s tutelage, and Rogue had rapidly become very glad for the hard work she’d put in at the bar. If she’d gone straight from her foster parents’ to Logan and Kayla’s care, she would not have been able to keep up with Logan’s demands. She’d never been unfit, as such, but she wouldn’t have coped with the physical demands to the point that she may have bowed out of the lessons. Rogue, after the year and a half’s time on her own, could appreciate what a loss that might have been, and found herself thinking, more and more often, that she was thankful for the difficult path her life had taken, because of how good it was now.

The things she’d only dreamt of being allowed at her foster parents were now hers for the taking, if she still wished them. Rogue’s once-wish for more scandalous clothing was now rather over shadowed by her need to have all of her skin covered at all times, but even in that she had more freedom than before.

Rogue’s birthday, so far as the foster agency had been able to tell, was mid-March, and Kayla’s extravagant sister had taken the opportunity to spirit both of the female Vadases away for a long weekend. Emma had brought the pair of them back with her to Boston, had dressed them in many fine things and taken great pleasure in introducing them to any number of strangers. Rogue had protested, at first, to the amount of money being spent on them, but Kayla had soon soothed her worries.

“My sister has more money than she knows what to do with,” she explained. “So spending a lot of it on the people she loves is a way of showing them she cares.”

Emma’s inability to simply say that she cared was something that Rogue half-understood, so she’d accepted all of the rest of her new aunt’s gifts without complaint. Especially when Emma introduced Rogue to the idea of wearing see-through long sleeved tops over whatever her desired fashion was. Although Rogue felt as though she should be upset by being treated like a Barbie-doll for several days, Emma’s clear delight in picking outfits and Kayla’s steadying presence keeping her from becoming too over the top made it fun. Not something she’d want to do everyday, but something she’d look forward to doing again the following year.

Of course, when they returned home the appreciative looks Rogue received from several of the boys in town at her new look helped. Untouchable or not, it was nice to be thought of as pretty.

A second dream of Rogue’s that she’d had at her foster parents, was less easily achieved. And that was riding on a motorcycle. It took several more months, and the careful arrangement of the selling of the trailer before it was even mentioned. The trailer had sold for a higher price than any of them expected, and there was more money left over after they’d bought a car than they immediately needed in continuing the renovations on the house.

Kayla had argued that they save it, since they would need the extra money sooner or later, and Logan had suggested that he buy a motorcycle. Not a good one - he’d hastened to add which, honestly, had only made Kayla more opposed to the idea. In the end Kayla had won the argument - of course - but not before Rogue had expressed her wish to have a go on one. Logan had been delighted.

“She was your friend first,” he’d told Kayla smugly, “but she’s my daughter first.” Which had been yet another nail in the lid of the coffin of the buying a motorcycle idea. It had also caused Rogue to worry for several days whether she was neglecting Kayla in her open appreciation for Logan.

Kayla, when she’d learned of Rogue’s concern, had done just as she had from the first moment she’d met the teenager - swept her up in a warm hug and muttered “Oh, honey,” into her hair.

“It’s just that I never had a father figure before,” Rogue had confessed in whispers later. “I mean, compared to you and Logan, I can see that my foster parents didn’t really care about me, but my mother tried, you know? I was five when they took me in, and she clearly didn’t have a clue what to do with me, but she did try. My father just - didn’t. I never really thought of him as a father, in my head. He was just the man who happened to be married to my foster mother.”

“What about Mack and Ted? I know you speak pretty fondly of them,” Kayla prompted.

Rogue didn’t say anything immediately, trying to think out her response. “They were good to me,” she admitted. “But I don’t think it was ever out of anything more than concern for an employee. They never took any interest in me beyond what I was able to do for them.”

They sat in silence for a while, huddled together on the couch in front of the fire place.

“Logan was probably the first good male influence on me,” Kayla said, after a while. “My father is a cold man, and was never much of an influence on my day to day life anyway. I suppose Tony had a bit of an impact, but he was only a few years older than me, and I don’t think he could be described as a good influence.”

“Tony?” Rogue invited Kayla to explain.

“Hmm, yes. Tony Stark,” Kayla agreed. “When his father and mine went into business together, we ended up spending a great deal of time together. He was nineteen, and I was sixteen and, thinking about it now, he was a terrible influence.” She paused to shoot a sly look at Rogue. “He stole me out from under my father’s nose to take me to a party. We both got roaring drunk and decided that we would one-up our equally emotionally distant fathers by declaring undying hatred of one another and forcing them to cancel their business plans.”

Rogue giggled, tucking her knees under her chin and listening to Kayla’s story incredulously. “Did you?”

“Oh yes,” Kayla confirmed. “We staggered back to the hotel where the Starks were staying, and my father was sharing drinks with his, and told both of them that they had to cancel the contract at once because he and I would simply take it apart as soon as we were able.”

“What did they do?”

Kayla laughed a little in fond remembrance, recounting, “Well, considering we were propping each other up and giggling all over the place, they assumed we weren’t serious and sent us both to bed. The contract went ahead, and I was told on no uncertain terms that I was not to act with such lack of decorum ever again. So, naturally, I snuck out to see Tony again as soon as I was able.”

“Did you and he ever - you know,” Rogue wiggled her eyebrows suggestively, “do the nasty?”

This caused Kayla to laugh again. “Do people really say that?” she asked rhetorically. “And no, we didn’t ‘do the nasty’. I was only sixteen at the time and although Tony’s only three years older than me, he’d already achieved two masters degrees at MIT by then and was technically supposed to be shadowing his father in order to learn the business. I imagine I seemed like a little girl to him.”

“What happened?” At Kayla’s curious look, Rogue expanded, “With you and Tony? It seemed like you were really good friends for a bit.”

“Maybe,” Kayla admitted. “It was always difficult to tell when he was being serious, and when he was just teasing. Being an only child to an absent father can do that to a person. I was lucky in that I had Christian and Emma. I stayed in contact with Tony for a while - he said that he liked having another person around who didn’t care what he was worth or what he looked like - but it was only a couple of years after that when Emma and I got kidnapped, which is not exactly helpful when trying to stay in contact with old friends.”

“You should call him,” Rogue said, firmly.

Kayla startled at this. “What?”

“You should call him,” she repeated. “If it was your kidnapping that stopped you from talking in the first place, then he’s probably still your friend.”

“It’s been twelve years,” Kayla protested. “We were never that close friends!”

“But you were friends. And, from what I can gather of both of your childhoods, that was a rare thing for you. You shouldn’t let that go.”

Neither woman could settle on the right course of action from there, both too stubborn to share the other’s perspective, and so rapidly turned their conversation elsewhere. Although not before Rogue started plotting. If Stark Industries had connections with Frost International, then no doubt Emma could put Rogue in contact with Tony, and she might be able to work out if the billionaire was interested in rekindling old friendships.

All plots of any kind were promptly removed from Rogue’s mind when Logan woke her very early the following morning and stole her away for the day to teach her how to properly ride a motorcycle. He had, apparently, ‘borrowed’ it from some neighbours while they were out of town. Rogue didn’t ask too many questions and chose, instead, just to be excited about the opportunity. Although she did make sure that Logan returned the motorcycle from wherever he found it the following day.

Chapter Text

The question of Rogue’s education didn’t arise until the beginning of the summer holidays. As soon as Kayla was no longer occupied every day in teaching the twenty or so six year olds that made up her class she turned her attention to Rogue. The question she asked, however, was not the one that Rogue expected.

The pair of them were lazing about on a rug they’d spread in the patch of grass that passed for their garden, passing their time doing nothing more strenuous than reading or making daisy chains. Logan had thoroughly disapproved of this lack of activity and disappeared into the wilderness sometime earlier.

“What do you want to do?” Kayla asked Rogue.

Rogue only hummed questioningly in response. Her book had been put aside in favour of napping.

“With your life,” Kayla expanded. “Who do you want to be?”

Rogue roused herself more fully then. Initially she was alarmed by the questions, but seeing Kayla’s lazy smile put her at ease. “I don’t know,” she confessed. “I’d like to maybe have some proper art lessons.” All three of the sketchbooks she’d brought with her were now full, and Emma had sent her a fourth with a very fancy front cover that Rogue wasn’t sure she actually liked. She’d taken up sketching to fill the hours, but she carried it on for her own enjoyment. She wasn’t very good, but even she could see the gradual improvements she was making.

“Do you want to be artist?” Kayla asked, obviously a little dubious of that wish. Not because she didn’t approve of art as a profession, simply because Rogue being one clashed with what she knew of the girl’s personality.

“I don’t think so,” Rogue answered. “I think I’d find myself directionless too often.” There was a long while of silence as they enjoyed the sunshine and the hum of nature around them. “I wanted to be a lawyer, when I was little,” Rogue said, voice light and amused. “I wanted to wear a long black gown and stalk about the place yelling ‘I object!’”

They both giggled at the image.

“After the first time I listened to the Beatles I wanted to be submarine,” Kayla said. “Although, not yellow. I wouldn’t be as unoriginal as that.” She paused and laughed. “I think it was probably because my father hates pop music, and British pop music more than anything else.”

“Don’t ever tell Logan,” Rogue started, “but for a while I wanted to be Agent Carter, from the Captain America comics.”

“Don’t tell Logan,” Kayla repeated with a wicked smile, “but me too.”

Both of them dissolved into giggles again, both of them picturing the expression of horror that might have appeared on Logan’s face, were he to ever find out.

“When did you decide you wanted to be a teacher?” Rogue asked, some time later.

“For the first time, when I first held Christian in my arms. I was four and had just started kindergarten, and my new teacher had shown me more affection in those hours of school surrounded by my class than I’d received from any adult figure in my life. She was my hero, and I decided that I was to be Christian’s hero.”

“That didn’t work out?”

“A year later and Emma was born, and I made the same decision again, for her too,” Kayla continued. “But it only took a couple of years for Christian to discover he was a son, and we merely daughters. I didn’t have the patience, at nine years old, to knock some sense into him. So I narrowed my wishes. I would be teacher to Emma, and to help her however I could. Everyone else had to find someone else, or look after themselves.”

The was a sharp, crystalline grief in Kayla’s face as she said that. She spoke as little of Christian as she could. Rogue knew enough to know that he had very little of his own mind left to him, and after seeing the almost desperate affection the sisters had for one another, she didn’t care ask them about him. She didn’t think she wanted to know.

“When I finished high school I travelled for a while, undecided what to do, and I met a large variety of people from all walks of life. And I ended up - teaching them, a bit. Mostly it was the exchange of stories, but there was always something more than just the story that was being shared. I returned home having decided that I would become a teacher.”

Kayla trailed off, and Rogue was left to wonder if that was the end of her story. It hadn’t felt like it was, but perhaps she was mistaken.

Eventually, the older woman continued, “I was packing to leave for my course when Stryker’s men appeared in the family home. He wanted to show me and Emma something, they told us. So we followed.

“One look at the cells, at all of the poor teenagers - some younger than that, even! - and I would have helped Stryker, with a promise to free them. But, no, he took my sister, experimented on her, and locked her up alongside them. My own skills are just a watered down version of others, so he didn’t need me. But he used me anyway, threw me in the path of Logan and told me to ensnare him. He told me to make him love me, and persuade him to tell me all his secrets or else he’d kill Emma.

“So, I did. But I did more than that. I fell in love with Logan, too. I barely had to ask for any secrets, he shared what he wanted with me. I passed a bare minimum of those on. And I worked towards my teaching certificate. I started to hope that I might be allowed to love him, that I might have my freedom back.” Kayla stopped and shook her head as though she was shaking loose memories. “And here I am,” she finished softly. “My sister is free, all those other children Stryker had kidnapped are free, Logan and I are free, and in love.”

Rogue watched her seriously, considering the best course of action. There was more story that Kayla wasn’t telling her, but perhaps Rogue didn’t want to know. So, she chose to tease the heavy subject towards lighter matters. “You’re a sap,” she told Kayla seriously. “And a romantic.”

Kayla was startled into laughter, before agreeing. “Yes, I suppose I am. Although, one of us has to be, or else Logan and I would already act like an old married couple.”

“You do,” Rogue corrected, laughing herself when Kayla threw the last few drops of water in her glass at the younger woman.

“The only thing I ever really wanted to do was to move away from my foster parents and to never return to the system,” Rogue admitted. “I’m not very smart, nor particularly talented, so it’s not as if I can point at something I’m good at and say I’ll expand on that.”

“I think you are smart,” Kayla contradicted. “Just maybe not in ways that an exam-based education system can acknowledge. And you’ve kept up with Logan’s training, which shows that you are good at some things.”

“I don’t think I could make my fortune on selling a self-help book on how to survive Logan Vadas,” Rogue joked.

Kayla agreed to this with a smile. “But if you’re good at combat, you could maybe go into the army?”

Rogue wrinkled her nose in distaste. “No,” she immediately turned the idea down. “Can you imagine me in uniform?” she asked rhetorically.

“I have to admit, men in uniform look a lot better than women,” Kayla said. She’d never seen Logan in any of the many uniforms he’d worn in war through his long life, but knowing that he had worn them was enough to supply her imagination.

“You’re thinking bad thoughts about Logan again,” Rogue pointed out, trying to sound disgruntled but only succeeding in sounding reluctantly amused.

Kayla just smiled slyly.

“I think I’ll finish high school,” Rogue said after more time spent musing on her future. “If nothing else it gives me another couple of years to try and decide what to do.”

“It won’t be easy,” Kayla warned. “You’ve missed two years of school, and you’ll be a couple of years older than the rest of your class.”

“I thought you wanted me to go back?”

Kayla sighed. “I do,” she said. “I just want you to be prepared.”

“I think,” Rogue said dryly, “that compared to what I’ve already been through, a couple of mouthy teenagers aren’t going to concern me.” She added, after a moment’s deliberation; “Besides, I can set Logan on them, if I want.”

“No you won’t!” Kayla responded to the teasing. “No pitiful teenager deserves Logan’s rage, I’m sure.”

Rogue laughed and inclined her head. “It would be fun to see their faces though, right?”

“You’re a cruel person,” Kayla protested, before agreeing. “Although, from what I saw of your last training session, you don’t really need Logan’s protection anymore, do you?”

“I never really needed Logan’s protection,” Rogue argued. “The one advantage of my mutation is that it’s a little bit harder to hurt me compared to other people. But, yeah, I have got a lot better at self-defence with his help.”

“Certainly enough to ward off any teenagers,” Kayla said. She was more worried about Rogue than she let on. Although it was true that the no-touch thing would make it more difficult for, say, a mugger to successfully take advantage of her, it would certainly be no obstacle for men such as Creed and Stryker. It was part of the reason why she was glad that Rogue was taking lessons from Logan.

Kayla had neither the patience nor the dedication to self defence to be able to learn to fight half so well as even Rogue, now. What she did have was very good aim and a gun license. Also, a very thorough understanding of what parts of the human anatomy were most vulnerable and a penknife attached to her keychain. Not the most effective defence against ill will, perhaps, but it sufficed. The gun was courtesy of a Frost family legacy - never leave your children undefended - and the understanding of anatomy was thanks to Logan and a medical text Kayla had pilfered at one point.

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to mention,” Rogue said, oblivious to Kayla’s inner speculations. “It was about back when I - uh - touched you.”

The emphasis on the word ‘touch’ did not escape Kayla’s notice. Kayla touched people casually as easily as she breathed, and although she had tried to honour Rogue’s wishes of avoidance, she had not been particularly successful. When it became clear that Rogue welcomed that touch, so long as it did not hurt either of them, Kayla had put the entire thing from her mind and treated Rogue just as she did anyone else. Although, more like she treated her sister than a stranger.

“Go on,” Kayla encouraged, when the silence stretched at it seemed as though Rogue might not actually share what had been on her mind.

“Well, it’s just that - before I touched you, I had a massive purple bruise on one of knees. And, when I changed that evening, it was gone. I thought maybe it was a coincidence, but I’ve been thinking about it again, and maybe it isn’t.”

Kayla considered this, before asking, “Why are you sharing this thought with me now?”

Rogue shifted uncomfortably, and sat up from her reclined position. “I was talking to Auntie Emma last night. She said, while we stayed with her, she did a quick sweep of my mind to make sure I really didn’t mean you any harm. She said there were - ‘flavors’ in my mind, that weren’t mine. She didn’t mention them at the time, but when I brought it up she told me that she didn’t say anything because they were under my complete control. She suggested that, if I wanted, I’d be able to use your powers for my own.”

“Really?” Kayla asked, intrigued. She shifted so that she, too, was sat cross legged on the rug. She was half furious at Emma for invading Rogue’s privacy, but thankful as well, if it meant that Rogue might be able to better understand her powers.

“I don’t know,” Rogue said, shrugging. “I want to believe it’s true, but it sounds too unreal. Besides, I don’t think I’ve got that kind of control.” She pulled of one of her gloves and lifted her hand, to reveal a small cut across the pad of her index finger. It was small enough to be passed off as a paper cut, but a closer look now revealed it to be more deliberate than that.

Kayla tilted her head, blinking through the sunlight at the small cut. “How do you think my healing ability works?” she asked softly after considering for a short while.

Rogue frowned. “You just think about it, and it works?” she suggested, sounding sceptical.

“No,” Kayla replied. “It’s just like whenever anyone without healing gets hurt. I assume that my body will sort it out itself. It’s a little better than that, of course. My bones will realign themselves without a cast, I can regrow things that normal people can’t, and it all happens a lot faster than for most people. But I don’t consciously think about it, beyond poking at a scab and wondering if it will scar.” The only thing, so far, that had scarred, was the bullet hole she’d received whilst escaping The Island with Logan. Even the scars left from childhood mishaps had faded to non-existence now.

“So you’re saying, what? That I have to think about it and not think about it at the same time?” Rogue asked incredulously.

Kayla shrugged. “I don’t know. Unfortunately, the only skill of mine that I have to think about using works through skin-to-skin touch.”

“Which I can’t try out if I wanted because I’d end up frying someone’s brain in the process,” Rogue finished, rolling her eyes and flopping back down.

Kayla sniggered. “We should watch Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal sometime,” she remarked. “Then you can watch someone actually frying someone’s brain - and eating it.”

“Oh, ew!” Rogue exclaimed in disgust. “You have a very macabre taste in films.”

-xXx-

The girls’ afternoon was cut short when Logan arrived home unexpectedly early. As often as Logan disappeared for a day or two, or just a couple of hours, he was very conscientious about making sure that either Kayla or Rogue knew approximately when he’d be getting back. Given the vaguely smug smile that Kayla always wears when he tells them, Rogue assumed that this was an argument that they’d had in the past that Kayla hadn’t just won (because she wins most arguments with Logan) but had trashed Logan’s excuses so thoroughly that she still feels victorious about it now, at least half a year later.

Logan had told them when he left that he’d bring back pizzas and more beer. Which meant that he would be gone most of the day and would arrive back later than they normally had dinner, but early enough that they didn’t need to eat without him. Thus the take away. It provided ceaseless amusement for Rogue that Logan measured what time of day it was by how hungry he was likely to be (or, occasionally, where the position of the sun was).

He arrived back at the house at 4.30pm without pizza or beer and with a furious expression on his face that Rogue had learnt meant ‘I’m worried’ more than ‘I’m angry’, which actually made her more anxious.

“What is it?” Kayla asked, jumping up and immediately moving to his side.

“We have visitors,” Logan growled.

Rogue frowned to herself. She’d toyed with the idea of writing to Tony Stark, but she had yet to actually get around to doing it. Partly because she wasn’t sure how, exactly, she was going to explain her reasoning to Emma, and partly because she had no idea what to write. What does one say to one’s adopted mother’s long-lost ‘genius billionaire playboy philanthropist’ childhood friend that she hasn’t spoken to in years? Which meant that Rogue was out of ideas as to who might be visiting in a friendly capacity. She had any number of ideas who might be there with not quite so honourable intentions.

Kayla looked as concerned as Rogue did. “Who?” she asked.

Logan tilted his head and squinted up at the sky. In the distance a flying black dot was gradually approaching. “Not sure. Private jet - military style, not passenger service - not US Army.” He added the last like it held some kind of significance, and Rogue figured it was another part of the Stryker story that they hadn’t told her yet.

As the black dot moved closer, Rogue was able to actually determine that it was a jet, and not just an amorphous flying blob. It looked as though it was either supposed to be built for stealth - either that, or someone had made it curvy and slick looking just to boast to the neighbours. Did people do that with jets like they did cars? As it slowed to a stop above them, lowering itself slowly to land on the patch of grass where Kayla and Rogue had been enjoying the sun, Rogue could also make out a distinctive yellow ‘X’ in a circle, that made her jaw clench.

She moved closer to where Logan and Kayla were stood together and told them quietly, as the jets engines cut out - “Xavier institute. You know, one of the mutants’ rights groups?”

“What the fuck do they want with us?” Logan growled lowly.

“I’m more concerned with how they found us,” Kayla said, gripping Logan’s elbow tightly. Her other hand moved to rest in the small of her back.

Rogue slipped instinctively into a crouch in front of them, toying with the hem of one of her pants legs.

The door to the jet slid open and all three of them tensed.

There is no need for concern, a disembodied voice informed them in a cool British accent.

Rogue pulled a dagger from her ankle sheath  and stood fluidly, taking a step towards the jet. “Get the fuck out of my head,” she warned out loud, screaming the words in her head.

“I’m not here to hurt you,” the same voice said, although it was this time said out loud, and was accompanied by the appearance of a bald man in a wheelchair. “You can stop screaming, Rogue,” he added with a wince.

Logan and Kayla shot curious looks at Rogue, but she didn’t stop yelling in her head. “Promise you won’t go looking. I’ll know.”

The man inclined his head, and thanked her quietly when she stopped projecting so loudly.

“Emma told me,” Rogue said for the benefit of Kayla and Logan, more than anything else. “She said until she could train me properly, if I met a telepath I should scream in my head, and try and direct it at whoever I thought was the telepath.”

“And an effective defence it is, too!” the stranger agreed, his mood apparently not at all affected by what almost amounted to an attack. “I’ve no doubt that if I had any less training than I do, I would be fighting off a rather nasty migraine now. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Professor Charles Xavier, I’m the headmaster of a school for the gifted. It is my belief that Rogue is uniquely suited to some of the courses we offer.”

Rogue wanted to immediately turn him down. She knew that was unreasonable, but just then she didn’t feel like being reasonable. If this Professor was indeed what he said he was, where the hell had he been two years ago when she needed someone to help her?

“How’d you find us?” Kayla ask, gently taking Rogue by the wrist of the hand that held the dagger and pulling the younger woman to her feet.

“I have a machine called Cerebro,” Professor Xavier explained, “Using it, I can enhance my own powers so that I’m able to see the minds of all humans in the world - baseline and mutant alike. Earlier today I detected a conversation between two mutants, discussing the future education of the younger mind. I came to offer my school as a place of sanctuary.”

Rogue couldn’t stand it any longer, wrenching her wrist away from Kayla and barrelling towards the house, slamming the back door firmly behind her and pacing up and down the living room angrily. She screamed shrilly in her head for a moment - a wordless not-sound that she hoped expressed all of her feelings on her matter - before she lowered her face to her hands and sunk down onto the couch with a sob.

Two years now, since her foster parents had thrown her out. Had she not thought loudly enough about her education when she was watching her meagre savings rapidly dwindle as she hitchhiked across the country? Had she not screamed loudly enough in her head, all those lonely nights in the back room at Mack’s bar? Had her daydreams not been potent enough when she’d faced the uncertain future of untouchable, uneducated mutant barmaid for the rest of her life?

She hadn’t let herself breakdown since she’d lost her home. She hadn’t had the means to do so. Without privacy, without anyone that cared, the only thing she’d do was further ruin her chances. Now, she had a home, and a family, hell she had parents again. Proper ones, this time, who actually gave a damn. So there was nothing standing in the way of the emotional downpour when it actually hit her; two years of missed opportunities because her daydreams hadn’t coincided with Xavier’s searches.

Rogue was a sobbing mess by the time Kayla came after her. The older woman took one look, placed a box of tissues on the coffee table in front of Rogue, and had gone to put the kettle on. Kayla was the only one who drank tea on a regular basis - both Logan and Rogue preferred coffee - but just the smell of it was wonderfully soothing, and Rogue found herself calming down quicker than she might have.

Kayla gave her own mug, and held onto her own before cuddling up next to Rogue on the sofa. “The Professor apologised,” she murmured.

Rogue shook her head. “Not his fault,” she immediately denied. “It’s just hard. Being told my mutation makes me ‘uniquely suited’, but two years too late.”

“It doesn’t have to be too late,” Kayla said softly, both of them keeping their voices low, in spite of knowing that Logan would hear regardless, and the telepath could easily snoop. Whispers at least made it feel private.

“It is though,” Rogue said. She took a deep breath, still a little shaky but no longer trembling as badly as she had been before. “Two years ago, I would have snapped the offer up. Now I have you, and Logan, and a home, and a life here. Now, the decision isn’t so easy anymore.”

“You know that Logan and I will respect any decision you come to,” Kayla reassured her.

“Yeah, but respecting it, doesn’t mean you’d like it.”

Kayla put an arm around Rogue’s shoulders, squeezing the two of them together tighter. “I want to have you safe,” she said. “I want to see you happy.”

Rogue narrowed her eyes a bit. “You’re worried that I won’t be safe here?”

Kayla sighed, and closed her eyes briefly. “It’s become easy to find us,” she admitted. “I know we have different names, we’re in a different province - a different country, even - compared to when it all happened, but yes, I’m worried. I like having a home and not moving all the time but it makes me anxious.”

“Do you really think Stryker and Creed will come after us?”

“I don’t know. Creed, I think, if he’d wanted to track us down, would have done so a long time ago. He has, according to Logan, ‘a nose for those kinds of things’.”

Rogue snorted quietly. She still found it funny when Logan twitched his nose and used that to work out what was going on, rather than relying on eyesight.

Kayla smiled fondly, and continued, “Stryker, I’m not so sure about. I like to think that he’s forgotten about us, but I know that he won’t have done. I hope he’s dead. It’s more likely that he moved on to a different experiment and is trying to form a plan for taking us out with as little effort on his part as possible.”

“He’d do that?”

“If it was just me? Probably not. I knew next to nothing about what was going on until afterwards, and my mutations are of very little use to him. But Logan? Logan was one of his pain projects. He invested a fortune putting the adamantium in Logan’s skeleton, to test whether it would work. Then he used that information for the next step of the Weapon X project, which Logan and Creed managed to destroy. So if he doesn’t want to kill Logan, then he certainly wants to capture him again to see what else he can learn from his healing ability.”

Rogue shuddered at the ideas Kayla’s words conjured. Stryker, in her mind, was an evil genius of especially sadistic tendencies who performed all sorts of terrifying surgeries with the ‘patient’ still conscious and feeling. The problem with this was that nothing Kayla said ever went a single step towards dissuading the image she had of him, and that scared Rogue more than she’d like to admit.

“Surely he’s not a threat to me?” Rogue asked.

Kayla twitched her shoulders in what would have been a shrug, had she not been curled to tightly against Rogue’s side. “You’re something different,” she said. “And if Emma’s theory proves true, I think Stryker would be very interested in the asset your powers would offer.” It was an ugly truth, but one that Rogue knew that Kayla no doubt felt she owed her.

“You trust Xavier?” she asked.

Kayla nodded. “He was the one that took Emma and the other imprisoned children to safety. She doesn’t like him personally much, but Emma doesn’t like most people. She said he was trustworthy. She stayed in contact with one of the boys she met on The Island, and he’s one of the teachers at the Professor’s school now.”

“She actually stayed in touch with someone that wasn’t family?” Rogue couldn’t help but ask. Perhaps it was thanks to her telepathic ability, allowing Emma to see the darkest corners of people’s personalities, but she didn’t, as a rule, like anyone. Kayla was an exception to this rule, and by extension so too were Logan and Rogue.

“Yes. I can’t remember his name, now, but I remember being quite surprised by it too,” Kayla confessed with a grin, then added conspiringly; “I think he was my little sister’s first proper crush.”

Rogue did her best to giggle over an image of a teenaged Emma blushing furiously over a crush, rather than the idea of just how sad it was that Emma’s crush was a fellow kidnappee.

The door creaking open put a rapid stop to their conversation, but it was only Logan who poked his head round. “Ladies,” he said, “Should I invite Chuck in for tea or not? Only, the wind’s picking up a bit.”

Kayla inched away from Rogue, stretching on the sofa and letting the teenager answer the question.

“I - yeah,” Rogue said stumblingly. “I haven’t decided anything yet,” she told Logan sincerely, and she was pretty sure she wasn’t imagining anything when his shoulders relaxed a bit.

There were a couple of steps up to get into the house, and both the front and back doorways were slightly too narrow to make manoeuvring a wheelchair through them particularly easy, but with a couple of planks of wood from the barn and the careful repositioning of Kayla’s potted plants the Professor was soon happily ensconced in their living room with a newly brewed cup of tea in his hands.

“Sorry,” Rogue apologised, sounding more reluctant to give the apology than she actually felt. “It’s just - well, you have crap timing, Prof.”

“Language!” Kayla hissed, with a gentle nudge of her elbow in Rogue’s ribs. Apparently visitors, as well as new dining tables, required cleaner mouths than either Logan or Rogue usually possessed.

“It’s quite alright,” the Professor reassured, as unfazed by her language as she had been by her previous outburst. “From what I am given to understand, I’m surprised you didn’t have a far more explosive reaction than screaming and a bit of a cry.”

Rogue and her puffy eyes felt as though it had been rather more than ‘a bit of a cry’, but she wasn’t about to argue that. “How come you didn’t pick me up before?” she felt compelled to ask.

“Bad luck, I’m afraid,” the Professor answered honestly, looking abashed by the truth. “I’ve picked up a number of young mutants who had similar experiences to yourself, and I had hoped that I was doing a relatively good job of stopping too many fall through the gaps. Unfortunately, no plan is foolproof, and the method I use is still relatively new.”

Rogue nodded her head in understanding. ‘Bad luck’ summed up her life pretty succinctly. Well, up until finding the Vadases, anyway. When she glanced up and caught the Professor’s eye, it was to see a pleased smile on his face, and she thought very loudly, Keep out of my head!

“You were projecting, my dear,” the Professor said, by way of apology. Rogue stuck a mental tongue out at him in reply. “I am pleased - very pleased indeed - that you’ve been looked after.”

“Not always,” Rogue hastened to correct him. “I found them - or they found me - at the beginning of this year. Before that I was on my own.”

“You’re happy here and now, though,” the Professor replied. “And I am very proud of that.”

Kayla shifted awkwardly under the praise, and Logan rolled his eyes. Neither one of them wanted or needed thanks for something they felt as though any decent human being would do. And didn’t that just say so much about the state of human affairs at the moment, that people felt the need to be proud of doing the decent thing.

“If you knew I was happy without your interference, why did you come?” Rogue asked.

Charles leant forward in his chair, placing his tea cup on the coffee table and balancing his elbows in his knees, fingertips touching. “Because I feel as though you deserve to be aware of all of your options,” he told her. “I am aware how difficult it can be for a young adult still struggling to find their place in this world to return to their education in the face of the ignorant cruelties of other teenagers. I would be saddened to see that person unable to achieve their full potential because of that. So, I came to offer you a place at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning. Due to the special needs of various of our students, the timetable and courses are much more variable than an average high school, and the ages of our students vary from five years to fifty.”

Rogue shook her head, cutting the Professor off. The offer was tempting, very tempting, but she needed him to stop talking so that she could think.

“You might want to rethink your speech a little,” Kayla told Charles in a light tone. “You make it sound as though your students are disabled, rather than gifted.”

Looking inordinately pleased that Kayla described a mutation as a gift, the Professor turned his attention solely on her and they began a long, rambling conversation about genetics and mutation that Rogue wouldn’t have cared to listen to, even if she’d tried. Taking advantage of the distraction, she escaped again from Charles’ presence. She needed something hard and solid to lean against as she tried to get her head together.

Logan followed her silently to the kitchen, lurking in the doorway and just watching as she leant heavily against the counter.

“Fuck,” she muttered, a minute or two later. “Fuck!” she repeated, harder.

Logan took that as his cue to enter the room properly, and after grabbing the last beer from the fridge he sat himself on the edge of the counter next to Rogue. “You alright, kid?” he asked.

Rogue laughed shakily. “Not really, no.”

“Me and Kayla, you know we’ll be there for you, no matter what you choose,” he stated, like it was a fact that she should already know and that Rogue was a little bit slow for him needing to repeat it.

“I wish he hadn’t come,” Rogue admitted quietly. “I wish he’d seen that I was happy now, and that I didn’t want his fucking ‘options’, and that he’d stayed away.”

“I know the guy’s a mind-reader,” Logan said, “but I think he might be pretty short-sighted, when it comes to what he thinks is the right course of action.”

“He seems like a good guy.”

Logan kicked his foot a bit against the bottom of the counter, popping the beer open with his teeth and spitting the lid in the direction of the bin. “Kayla likes him,” was his only opinion on the matter. Which actually said quite a lot. Logan was very good at telling when people were being honest or not, but he didn’t normally care enough to pay attention to whether the truth or the lies were being used with good or bad intentions. He relied on Kayla for that.

Kayla’s power was technically just that, with skin-to-skin contact, she could give them a mental push to persuade them to do just about anything. Rogue had a theory that her mutation actually went a little deeper than that; that just as Kayla could influence other people, she could detect what was already influencing them, however unconsciously she did it. Whether it was part of her mutation or not, Kayla was very good at cutting right to the root of an emotional outburst and saying just the right thing to deflect it.

If Kayla liked a person, Logan trusted unquestioningly that that person was good. Or had good intentions, at the very least.

“I don’t want to leave you and Kayla,” Rogue said, blushing as she did so. “I know it sounds kind of clingy, but I feel like I’ve only just found you, and you’re my family.”

“I don’t want you to leave,” Logan replied, returning her honesty with his own. “But it’s like Chuck said, you got to think what your best options are.”

Rogue shook her head angrily. “I refuse to believe that my best option is leaving behind the one good thing I’ve got.”

“Pretty certain you’ve got more than one good thing,” Logan said, smirking. “Besides, you’re family now. It sort of means you’re stuck with us.”

“I like it here,” Rogue told him quietly. “It feels like home. I don’t think I’ve felt like that before.”

Logan watched her carefully, then switched his beer to his other hand, opening up the free arm to her, and wrapping it round her shoulders when she moved towards him. “It’s pretty weird for me too. One house. Our house. It seems so fucking small sometimes that I can’t breathe. But sometimes I see you and Kayla, and I can’t help but wonder how a stupid bastard like me got so damn lucky.”

Rogue just sighed and leant against him. It seemed kind of stupid, being so upset about what school to go to. With her foster parents she’d been so eager to graduate and move away. But now - now she sort of wanted to grab her childhood by its dregs and demand that it last longer. Rogue closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She had to do this, say it out loud. Until she told someone else, it would be like she hadn’t actually made a decision and that would make it harder later.

“I think I’m going to stay,” she said, exhaling rapidly and the words tumbling over themselves.

“You sure, kid?” Logan asked.

Rogue waited a beat, and then another, just to check. But no, now that she said it out loud she was even more certain. “Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I’m staying.”

-xXx-

Rogue had worried, for the brief moment it took to walk from the kitchen to the living room, that telling the Professor would be difficult. That he would be disappointed in her, and her choices, and that any chance of going to the Xavier Institute would disappear when she turned down this first offer. Things in her life were too new and raw for Rogue to be able to leave Logan and Kayla now, but she could imagine herself in a couple of years time wanting to branch out beyond the family she’d started building for herself.

But Charles looked as pleased with her decision as he had seemed to be about how happy her new life had made her.

“I’m proud of you,” he said. “The rapidly expanding numbers of mutants has caused many families and friendships to fall apart. It’s a pleasure to stumble across a family made strong by the changes.”

“If in the future, I wanted to stop by…” Rogue trailed off awkwardly.

Charles smiled fondly. “My doors will always be open to you,” he told her. “And to you two, as well,” he added to Kayla and Logan. Kayla looked pleased and unsurprised by this, and Logan just rolled his eyes. “If you ever find yourself in a tight spot,” the Professor continued, “know that I will offer whatever assistance I can. And that we have excellent medical facilities, should any of you find yourself in need of a physician and wanting to avoid hospital.”

Logan stared purposefully out of the window, a tight grimace crossing his features. If Logan ever needed those medical facilities, it would not be for his own benefit and he was not a man who liked to think about the people he loved getting hurt. Kayla rose gracefully from her place on the couch to go to his side, wrapping an arm around his waist and leaning against his side.

“Thanks,” Rogue said in reply to the Professor’s offer. Then, out of curiosity, felt compelled to ask, “Do you know of anyone with a mutation like mine?”

Charles looked at her for a long moment, serious and sad. “No, my dear, I’m afraid not. Perhaps it might be a comfort to you to know that I have yet to come across any two mutations that are precisely the same, and that there are several students at the Institute who can no longer touch someone else skin-to-skin without undesirable effects.”

“But no one else ‘steals souls’?” Rogue had to ask. Kayla hated the terminology about as much as Rogue did, but the words had ingrained themselves in her brain long before she’d met Kayla and Logan, and there was no getting rid of them now. The slight wince the Professor gave at her choice of words indicated that he, too, disliked the phrase.

“Your gift is quite unique,” Charles told her, emphasising the word ‘gift’ more heavily than he might have done without the idea of stealing souls hanging between them. There was a slightly distant look in his eye, like he wanted to sit down with Rogue one day and have a long discussion about mutations; about what they really were, about how they could be used, and about their moral implications. Rogue wasn’t sure if it was a shared idea somehow transmitted telepathically, or if she was just projecting her own wishes onto the Professor’s vague expression.

“Would you like to stay for dinner?” Kayla asked, squeezing Logan briefly once more before returning to the couch. “We’ve nothing exciting planned, but it wouldn’t be a hassle.”

“Thank you Mrs Vadas, but no. Scott’s still waiting for me in the Blackbird and we should return home.”

Kayla frowned briefly, then her expression cleared. “Scott!” she exclaimed. “Was he-”

Having had the conversation with Kayla about Emma’s first crush not that long ago, Rogue immediately cottoned on.

“Ah, yes,” the Professor admitted reluctantly. “Scott is the only child from the Island who stayed with us. Most, like your sister, returned to their families and their lives. A few - did not fare so well. There was one young lady, in particular, who had apparently been born as part of one of their experiments and had spent her entire life in their less than stellar care. We did our best to try and reverse the damage done to her mind, but I fear it wasn’t entirely effectual. She ran away a couple of years after we took her in. Similarly, Stryker’s son was entirely unable to adapt to his new freedom-”

“Stryker had a son?” Logan blurted. “How’d that godless son of a bitch ever get that?”

This time, Kayla made no comment about bad language. She had gone pale and was gripping the edge of the couch too tightly.

“The usual way, I assume,” Charles retorted with dry humour. “You must remember, Logan, that no one is born evil. It is life and circumstance that makes them that way. Stryker was a family man, once. A little vicious in his rise in ranks through his military career, but a loving husband and father nonetheless.”

“What happened?” Logan growled. He had tensed and his posture had shifted instinctively into a protective stance.

Charles frowned, and shook his head. “Stryker’s son developed his mutant talent when he was a few years old. He could force visual illusions into other people’s heads. It should have been a ground breaking new step in discovering more about the X-Gene, but it manifested when he was too young to properly control it. Without any way of being able to tell what was real and what was a vision put in her head by her son’s power, Stryker’s wife killed herself and tried to kill her son too.

“Stryker had his son cryogenically frozen, and that was when his vendetta against mutants started. Combined with his lust for military power and control, the Mutant X Program was born.”

The lounge was chilled by silence for a long minute, Rogue moving to curl against Kayla’s side to try and comfort her.

“What happened to the son?” Logan asked eventually.

“He was saved from The Island, and I did my best to try and teach him, but he was a traumatised five year old whose mother had tried to kill him and whose father had attacked and imprisoned him. He retreated into his own dreams where even I could not reach him. He disappeared last year.”

“What do you mean, ‘disappeared’?” Logan questioned suspiciously.

Charles frowned again, and briefly pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know, exactly. He was so far entrapped in his own dreams that he had convinced himself that there was no true reality, that even the people he spoke to were figments of his own imagination. Then, one, day, he was no longer anywhere on the grounds. Whether he ran away, or has forged a permanent illusion where no one can see him, or maybe even transcending into one of the other worlds his mutation and imagination created, I cannot know.”

“Is that possible? Creating your own reality and then living in it, leaving this one behind entirely?” Rogue asked.

“If there is one thing I have learnt, Ms. Vadas,” the Professor replied, “It is that with the unpredictability of the X-Gene and the seemingly endless variations of mutant powers, anything, at this point, is possible.” He watched the three of them calmly for a moment, before a bland smile appeared on his face. “Now, I really must be going. I apologise for having so dampened your day. My visit here today was supposed to be a happy one, an offer of friendship and a place at my school if or when you want it.”

Kayla, Logan and Rogue moved mostly on autopilot to manoeuvre Charles and his wheelchair back out of the door and across the lawn to where the ‘Blackbird’ was parked. A slim, tall young man with red shades was waiting for them, leaning against the aircraft and failing to look casual and not at all worried.

“You must be Scott,” Rogue said. “Emma’s friend.”

The young man eyed her suspiciously for a long moment, before nodding. “Kayla’s her sister,” Rogue continued. “You should trust your friends more.”

“I trust Emma, I just don’t trust you,” Scott blurted before he could think better of it.

“Watch it, Slim,” Logan growled.

Rogue shrugged. “I was talking about the Prof. He knew he wasn’t at risk here, so he would have told you that it would be fine, and you’ve gone and given yourself a strained back by standing out here for the past hour tense as a virgin about to have her first time.”

Scott opened his mouth, glowering furiously at her, but thought better of it at Logan’s warning growl. He snapped his mouth shut and walked prissily back into the jet.

“That really wasn’t necessary, Rogue,” Charles chided softly, although she was certain she could detect some amusement in his tone.

“He’s trigger happy,” Rogue replied, a little grumpily. “His hand jumped up when he saw us coming out of the house. He needs to learn to chill out before he accidentally shoots someone. Insulting people so they learn to control their impulses helps.”

Charles shook his head and looked vaguely despairing, although the amusement still hadn’t entirely gone. “It also makes enemies,” he warned her, before bidding her and Kayla and Logan goodbye. “If you’re ever in the state of New York, drop by for a while,” he offered finally, before the hatch swung shut behind him and the jet took off.

The three of them watched until the jet disappeared from even Logan’s better than an average human’s sight.

“What are you thinking?” Kayla asked softly, curling an arm around Logan’s waist, and his arm looping around her shoulders instinctively.

“I don’t like this,” Logan confessed. “Chuck means well coming out here and talking to us. It’s good that he offered Rogue a place at his school, but I don’t like it.”

Rogue kicked at a loose rock, the stone sailing through the air and landing with a thump and a rustle in one of the bushes. “I wish he hadn’t come,” she told them grumpily.

Kayla glanced at her sharply, but didn’t verbally chide Rogue for her rudeness.

“I think,” Logan said slowly, carefully, “that we should take a vacation. Chuck coming here in his big ass jet, flying all the way from New York is sort of like hanging a neon arrow over our house for all the world to see. If Stryker was looking for us, he’s probably seen us now.”

“I’m sure the Professor has some kind of cloaking device on his jet - it seems irresponsible for it not to, since he keeps it at a school full of super powered teenagers,” Kayla tried to reassure.

“And that stuff about Stryker’s kid,” Logan added, tightening his grip around Kayla and staring moodily at Rogue. “I don’t want him coming near either of you ever.”

“You didn’t want that anyway, baby,” Kayla murmured, leaning up and kissing his cheek softly. “It’s ok. We’re here, and we’re safe.”

“I still want to get away from here for a while,” Logan insisted. “Just in case.”

Neither Kayla nor Rogue could think up any real reason to argue against that.

Chapter Text

Logan left them briefly to go and pick up the pizza he’d mentioned before, but in light of how wrought up everyone was after Professor Xavier’s visit they decided to give the beer a miss.

“So are we going to see Auntie Emma?” Rogue asked. She’d never been on an out-of-state vacation before and her only taste of travel had been the hitchhiking when she first ran away, and the couple of weeks spent in the motor home with Kayla and Logan. The closest she’d come to a holiday had been the weekend in Boston with Kayla and Emma, and that still seemed like a bizarre, extravagant dream.

Kayla glanced at Logan, to see whether he had made that decision yet. When he didn’t even look up at either of them and just carried on eating, Kayla sighed and answered, “I don’t know. Emma would be happy to see us, and she certainly wouldn’t mind if we came and stayed with her for a while.”

“But?” Rogue prompted when Kayla trailed off. “I’m sensing a pretty big argument against staying with her.”

Kayla put down her slice of pizza and rested her chin on her hands. Logan reached towards her still without looking up and rested a hand on her shoulder. That silent support seemed to be all Kayla needed to try and explain. “I love my sister, more than anyone in the world other than the two of you, but it’s difficult spending any length of time with her. What happened with Stryker affected both of us, deeply, and she was changed because of it.”

“It sounds stupid, but she’s not the little girl that I grew up with,” Kayla tried to explain. “She used to be so carefree, so willing to share her happiness with everyone. But afterwards - you’ve seen what she’s like now. Emma’s cold to strangers, closed off and separate from everything. It’s not all Stryker’s fault. There was Shaw, too, and that ridiculous Hellfire club that she was part of.”

Rogue tilted her head in question, wanting to know, but unwilling to ask. She really did consider Kayla and Logan her parents now, which meant that Emma was family too. She wouldn’t shun Emma because of anything she’d done in the past, but she didn’t need to know that past either. She’d trust Emma just for being Kayla’s sister.

“When our father first told Emma that she’d be the one to take over the company, that she’d inherit everything, Emma left,” Kayla said. “She went out on her own with a few hundred dollars in her savings and that was about it. She got a job at the Hellfire Club as an exotic dancer. Emma built her own fortune, starting from nothing, but she fell in with a man named Sebastian Shaw who - well, I don’t know the whole story.” Kayla hesitated on the edge of something dangerous, before she shook her head. “Either way, Shaw’s dead and Emma’s building a business empire with the fortune she made herself, barely touching what father left.”

Rogue watched her adopted mother carefully for a moment before declaring, “I like Emma. She’s fierce, and cold, and independent, but she loves you, and she loves us.”

Kayla smiled warmly, leaning across the table and clasping Rogue’s hand in her own for a minute. “Thank you,” she said, before they all returned to eating.

“I think we should go to New Orleans,” Logan said, some time later and clearly surprising Kayla.

“Really?” she asked.

“Why? What’s in New Orleans?” Rogue enquired.

Logan and Kayla shared a long look that was an entire silent conversation which Rogue wasn’t privy to. “Gambit,” was the answer she received when she resorted to kicking Logan under the table.

“That’s not helpful,” Rogue complained, unaffected by the glower that Logan was treating her to.

Kayla glanced between the two of them and laughed. “Stop fighting,” she ordered, mostly ineffectually.

“Gambit rescued us from The Island where Stryker was keeping Emma and the other children locked up,” Logan said although, again, it didn’t really clear anything up for Rogue.

“No, seriously,” she muttered. “You’re going to have to give me more to go on than that. Is this Gambit a person? A plane? An alien from another dimension?”

Logan snorted and rolled his eyes. “Gambit’s a person. He’s the kid that flew me to The Island and back off it again.”

“Is that really his name?” Rogue felt compelled to ask. “‘Gambit’?”

“Pot, meet kettle,” Kayla remarked dryly. “If you can be called Rogue, he can be called Gambit.”

“And you can be Silver Fox and Wolverine?” Rogue asked in an overly sweet tone of voice.

“His real name’s Remy LeBeau,” Logan groused before the conversation on names and codenames dragged on any longer. “Or, sometimes, Le Diable Blanc.”

“The White Devil?” Rogue translated. “How can that be his ‘real name’?”

“Cos he’s of the Thieves Guild and they’re a bunch of superstitious bastards?” Logan suggested.

“He’s a thief?” Rogue squeaked. “Why would we go and visit him?”

“He’s a friend,” Logan growled back. “Or he was last time I checked, anyway. We haven’t seen him in a while.”

“We can trust him, Rogue,” Kayla reassured before Rogue could ask again why they would want to go and visit Gambit. “The Thieves Guild is not some group of rebellious outcasts, punching in windows and nicking people’s TVs. They’re a family based group of highly trained professionals who can crack into just about any system, and any building anywhere in the world, so long as they think they’re being paid well enough.”

Rogue hunched her shoulders and slouched a bit in her chair. “Surprisingly, that doesn’t make me feel any better about this plan.”

“If it’s their morality that you’re worried about, maybe you should look a little closer at mine and Logan’s pasts,” Kayla suggested gently.

“No!” Rogue burst out, straightening suddenly and causing her chair to creak loudly. “That’s not - I mean, yeah, I don’t like that they’re thieves, but I would never - you took me in, you’re good people!” Rogue protested, not entirely sure what it was she was arguing for or against, just that Kayla had implied that Rogue didn’t trust them. Which was far from the truth. Kayla and Logan were the first people ever that she’d trusted so well.

“And so is Gambit,” Kayla reassured. “I can’t speak for his family, but they adopted him out of the goodness of their heart, so they can’t be all bad.”

Rogue hunched back in on herself and played with her food a little despondently. “I’m sorry,” she muttered. “I didn’t mean to imply anything. I just - I’ve been told my whole life that sinners are going to burn in hell, and that stealing is a pretty hefty sin. It’s… I’m not…” She sighed and tried again. “I don’t think I believe in God. Not really, but it’s hard.”

“And that’s ok,” Kayla said. “No one said that any of it would be easy. I’m just asking that you wait to meet people before you decide whether you like them. Trust your instincts, rather than what other people think they know.”

Rogue nodded, then stood up and started to clear away the remains of their meal.

“How come you know so much about Gambit?” Logan asked Kayla casually.

“How do you?” she shot back. Remy had only given them a cell number and his surname last time they’d seen him - none of the information about the Thieves Guild or his other names that they’d just shared with Rogue.

“I keep my ear to the ground,” Logan said almost defensively.

Kayla smiled, shifting her chair sideways a bit so she could lean against his side. “I knew when he said he was a LeBeau. Anyone who’s rich enough, with questionable enough morals knows about the Thieves Guild. Anyone who’s worked with them more than once knows the prophecies of Le Diable Blanc. Your rebellious friend Gambit is a bit of a legend. They thought he’d unite the Guilds, and instead he shuns his marriage and gets exiled and kidnapped. I almost felt honoured to have met him,” Kayla told him with a secretive smile.

“Almost?” Logan asked, his arm tightening around her and an undercurrent of jealousy in his tone.

“Well, I did only hear all these stories through locked doors whilst my father arranged various illegal business transactions. Maybe, as a girl, I dreamed of a handsome devil coming to steal me away from my father’s fortress?”

Logan growled, low in his chest and it made Kayla laugh softly against his collar bone. “I love you, Logan. I wouldn’t give you up for anyone, much less a childish old daydream.”

“You two are disgusting,” Rogue remarked, interrupting their moment as she came back in to clear away the glasses too. She stood in the doorway, leaning her hip against the jamb and with loosely crossed arms. In spite of her words, her tone was light and teasing, and she was pleased rather than upset. “So is Gambit really that handsome, that you’re getting all jealous about him?” Rogue asked.

Kayla laughed again. “He is quite a looker,” she confirmed.

“Should you be talking about how attractive other men are when I’m right here? Should you be talking about how attractive other men are at all?” Logan asked, looking disgruntled at the interruption and at the conversation.

“Girls talk about hot guys,” Rogue informed him. “Just like guys talk about hot girls.”

“You don’t have to do it while I’m right here,” he argued, clearly already knowing it was a lost cause.

Kayla kissed him on the cheek and slid smoothly out of her chair and his grasp. “Are we leaving tomorrow?” she asked him.

“As early as we can,” he agreed.

“Well then,” Kayla said, walking over to Rogue and looping an arm through hers. “We’re going to pack our bags and talk about attractive men. Can you sort out the dishes and take out the trash?”

Logan grumbled half heartedly, but they all knew he didn’t really have much of a choice and he didn’t mind all that much anyway.

“Are we actually going to talk about attractive men, or was that just what you told Logan so he wouldn’t try and help?” Rogue asked as they left Logan to it and wandered into the master bedroom. She’d seen Logan’s attempt at packing before, and it mostly consisted of throwing a clean shirt and underpants, a toothbrush and maybe a razor into a bag.

Kayla laughed and pulled out the travel bags they’d bought whilst staying with Emma out from under the bed. “It was mostly to keep him out of the way, but we can talk about men if you like?”

Rogue shrugged, uncomfortable with the topic now that it wasn’t just for the sake of teasing Logan. After the fiasco with David, she preferred not to talk about guys in anything even approaching a sexual way. She didn’t mind teasing Kayla and Logan, but that was them, not her. And talking about what had happened with David was completely out of the question. Rogue didn’t want to go anywhere near that topic even in the safety of her own head, let alone out loud to another person, as much as she trusted Kayla.

Kayla watched her and hummed thoughtfully. “You know you can talk to me about anything,” she reminded Rogue.

“Yeah, I know,” she acknowledged. “There are just some things that I don’t want to talk about with anyone.”

Kayla nodded in understand and passed one of the bags over to Rogue to take to her room to do her own packing. The arrival of summer had at least heralded enough good weather for Rogue and Logan to finish the majority of the outside work the house needed. They still wanted to put in double glazing before the winter hit again, but the rooms were all now liveable, and the temperature warm enough that the drafty windows didn’t matter.

Not that it mattered, now that they were travelling the breadth of the States and spending the summer in New Orleans not knowing if or when they’d return. Rogue was excited for the vacation, she was, but she wished that it had been more of a voluntary thing. She didn’t like being forced to leave a place she’d started calling home.

-xXx-

The journey to New Orleans was a lot worse than the time the three of them had spent travelling in the motor home, regardless of the fact that it covered a couple of days rather than a couple of weeks. The caravan had been cramped, certainly, but at least it had been possible to shut the other two away if you wanted a bit of privacy. That wasn’t possible in a car.

Logan drove with the radio off, which was something that Rogue had known, but hadn’t really appreciated before. She and Kayla were happy to chat quietly off and on, but they weren’t the most talkative of people, and Logan wasn’t exactly a fan of small talk. The silence rapidly became oppressive when paired with the lack of mobility or anything to do. Not to mention that the motor home had contained a functioning toilet, small as it might have been.

After they stopped for lunch, Rogue had dug her sketch pad and drawing pencils out of her bag in the hope that it might entertain her, at least for a while, but the movement of the car was too shaky for her to be able to get anything even half decent done. She soon gave up sketching as a lost cause too and returned to staring out at the country side passing by. She didn’t remember hitchhiking being this boring, but she’d been mostly living off the adrenaline then, so maybe she just hadn‘t realised it.

By dinnertime her irritation was rubbing off on Logan and even Kayla too.

“Can’t you sit still for one goddamned minute?” Logan groused.

“I’m bored,” Rogue complained. “You don’t even have the radio on.”

“The rate we’re travelling, I’d be changing stations every couple of hours anyway.”

“Oh, because that’s so difficult.”

“What are you, five? Grow the hell up!”

“Shut up, both of you!” Kayla ordered both of them. “It’s a long journey and I’d prefer if we reached the end of it without strangling each other. We’ll pick up a book or something for you Rogue, and we’ll keep the radio turned off if we want to avoid bloodshed.”

Logan looked mutinous for a moment, as though he were about to argue for the sake of arguing, but thankfully didn’t actually verbalise whatever complaint he was going to make.

“Sorry,” Rogue muttered, feeling suddenly guilty. Kayla and Logan must have travelled together for long enough that they were used to being alone in each other’s presence, so she was probably the main reason why this journey was being so difficult

“Don’t worry about it,” Kayla said to her. “We’re all a bit on edge.”

Rogue shrugged, but slouched in her seat, staring out the window again. In spite of Kayla’s reassurance, she still felt as though it was her fault. The outsider, the newcomer. Rogue bit the inside of her cheek and closed her eyes, scolding herself for thinking like that. Maybe she was new to this situation, maybe she had made Kayla and Logan’s lives that bit more difficult, but it was a choice that they’d all made. She was theirs now, and they’d made it clear on more than one occasion that she absolutely wasn’t a burden to them.

But Rogue still had her moments of weakness, her moments of doubt, and she chewed harder on her cheek to keep from apologising again. These periods of silence, with only her thoughts for company were exactly why she’d taken up sketching in the first place. With that idea starting to take root in her brain, Rogue kept her eyes closed and leant her forehead against the cool glass, using the pressure of it to centre her as she tried to meditate.

Meditation wasn’t something that Rogue had ever really tried out herself, but she’d read up on it briefly after Emma had first told her that she might be able to control the shades of other people within her if she tried. The general hype around the practice seemed to be better mind-body control, as well as giving time to properly organise thoughts. It sounded like rubbish to Rogue, but she was stuck in a silent car with only the roar of the engine and the passing scenery for distraction. There was no harm in trying it out.

And it was so easy to touch the minds that were hidden in hers. Three of them, now - David, Mack and Kayla, their names and personalities seared into Rogue’s being. She imagined a corridor, with three rooms, their names on the doors, and the doors already opening, each of them stepping out to welcome her. Rogue only imagined three doors, but the corridor stretched on and on, the doors ahead still blank, their rooms empty.

Anna Marie, little Marie, my Marie, have you come to talk to me? the shade that used to be David thought to her, and although he had no physical presence in her mind, and nor did she, Rogue thought he might have stretched out a hand to hold hers. But he was so young. He was exactly as she remembered him at sixteen; a little puppy fat still in his cheeks, no facial hair to speak of, and the hints of a childhood lisp only just being left behind.

And his mind - because she could see that here, in the depths of her own - was not the mind of an 18 year old. Or indeed, the mind of a 16 year old. It was just an echo of the person he’d been. There were flavours of memories that Rogue somehow knew she could chase and pin down if she wanted to, but they were only flavours, not the real thing.

Rogue found comfort in this, the words of her foster mother losing a little more of their power. If she had stolen their souls, then they had never been true souls to begin with - only half people, floating through life not really remembering, not really learning, not really growing. And Rogue knew that David had woken from the coma she’d put him in, no worse the wear for the weeks he’d lost. She had checked a few months after she’d settled in at Mack’s bar. Rogue still remembered David’s cell number by heart, had used a public phone booth to call him, to hear that he was ok, to tell him that she was alright, but she wasn’t ever coming back.

Rogue, barmaid, mutant girl. You’re not what the media says. And there was Mack’s voice, he too barely a reflection of what his soul must have been like. He was angry, so terribly angry that he’d had a mutant working at his bar this entire time. But he was sad, and lonely, and missed her. Which was strange, because he was inside her head, not even real, just a scrap of an impression. Rogue’s fingers had touched him for less than a second, around his wrist long enough to knock him out and that was it.

He was less than David’s shade, for all that he’d been in her mind for a much shorter period of time. Rogue could piece together the boy she thought she’d loved if she wanted to, from the pieces in her mind. She could use her own memory of him to fill in the blanks, pulling tattered, incomplete edges together to make what was almost a whole person. But Mack was just a collection of memories and feelings and beliefs. Still there, but much less of an impression that David was.

Kayla’s shade was even less than that. If David was almost a real boy, if Mack was less than half a man, then Kayla was the ghost that tagged along behind them. But unlike David and Mack there was an edge to her, a strange piece of humanity that was only an echo of the real thing still, but something more than the men in her head had. Rogue tried to explore the strangeness, but it slipped through her fingers like oil. Where she touched it, with whatever part of her mind that had become corporeal in her imaginings, her mind sparked and tingled, and little aches that she hadn’t even been aware of faded.

A mosquito bite on her ankle disappeared, the cut on her finger healed, and a small bruise on her elbow faded. Rogue knew, then, in an instinctive way that did not need explanations, that if she could grasp hold of this unnameable thing, if she could wield it as her own, then she would be able to touch someone and persuade them to do things just as Kayla did.

That was the reason Kayla’s shade had a strange edge that neither David’s nor Mack’s did - neither of them were mutants. Rogue wished she could test out this thing that she felt must be true, but knew that there was no way of doing so without hurting someone else. Either by trying Kayla’s power and having to touch them to do so, or touching another mutant and using their power instead. Neither option appealed to Rogue’s sensibilities.

Instead, she reached for that slippery edge that she now knew was Kayla’s power. Not trying to grasp hold of it this time, just trying to explore it as best she could while not really understanding what she was doing, or what she was looking for. It was a mere shard of power, like a lock of hair; nothing compared to what it was an echo of, and not missed. A dim reflection, still shining with power.

Rogue pulled herself slowly, carefully, from her inner musings, trying to sort through her thoughts as she drew back to herself, but still feeling scattered and confused, although a little bit excited too. When she opened her eyes it was fully dark outside, the world still spinning past in a blue-black blur.

“You okay, kid?” Logan asked gruffly, his eyes shining in the dark and looking at her through the rear view mirror.

“Yeah,” Rogue replied instantly, before stopping to think about it. “Yeah, I think I am,” she repeated, smiling a bit. The seemingly endless corridor in her mind that she’d conjured, when only really thinking of three rooms scared her a little. Did that mean that she was already mentally prepared to - what? Touch hundreds of people? Make copies of their souls? Was the corridor, was her capacity for these shades, endless? Or would she one day lose David, then Mack, then Kayla, if she touched too many people?

Rogue hated that she had these echoes in her head, but they were part of her now. They were shards of her own soul, and the thought of losing them, or of them being pushed aside in favour of new things, new people was as abominable a thought as hurting people with the slightest of touches was.

“You don’t sound so sure,” Logan prodded gently.

“I don’t really know,” Rogue admitted. She rolled her shoulders, twisting in her seat to stretch her back that was aching from what must have been hours curved into an awkward, sideways position. “I was just… thinking. Exploring.”

“Dangerous,” Logan said. His tone was low and serious. From anyone else, the comment might have been a tease, but from him it sounded like sympathy. “What did you find?”

“Echoes. Shades,” Rogue told him, using the words she’d been using in her head. She refused to call them ghosts - that implied death, and Rogue had never taken her mutant power that far.

Logan didn’t say anything, just waited her out for the explanation that either would or wouldn’t come. Kayla was asleep beside him on the passenger seat, and they drove in silence for another half an hour before Rogue spoke up. The silence was comforting now, seeming natural in the darkness of the night.

“I’ve touched three people since my skills manifested,” Rogue whispered, staring out into the night. She couldn’t really see much, but she didn’t want to catch Logan’s glittering gaze in the rear mirror. “David. Mack. Kayla,” she spoke each name like it was a gift. “They’re in my head, Logan,” she confided quietly. No one else would have been able to hear her over the car engine, but Rogue knew that Logan had heard. “Echoes of them, sitting cosy in my head. Never changing, just fragments.”

“Fragments of dreams,” Logan said quietly. Whether he was agreeing with her, or talking about himself, Rogue didn’t know. But his words were a warm comfort, regardless of how what he’d meant them. The intention was the same.

“I haven’t seen David in two years, but he’s just the same in my head. Foolish teenager, big dreams, big ambitions. He might have achieved some of those wishes by now, but I’ll never know.”

“You loved this boy?” Logan asked. Rogue had never really explained about David, just that he’d been her boyfriend, and that he’d ended up in a coma because of it. But there were some things that didn’t need explaining.

So Rogue agreed, “I thought I did.”

“And you broke up because you’re a mutant, because you hurt him,” Logan said, not asking this time. “So do you really want him growing and evolving in your head? You want a constant link to whether he’s happy or sad, whether he’s got a new girlfriend? A new boyfriend? In ten, twenty years time when you’ve reconciled yourself with who you are, when you’re happy and have a job, a family, whatever - you want to know how your high school boyfriend is doing in life?”

Rogue chuckled a little wetly and shook her head. “No. No, I don’t. It’s just - sad, I guess. That there’s a stolen impression of him in my mind, that will never get a chance to become whatever he could be.”

“It’s just an impression,” Logan said, using her own words. “Think of it like a photo, or a video. He’s not really trapped in your head.”

“I know. It’s just - hard. Strange.”

“Rogue, darlin’, we live in a world where telepaths flying around in private jets, escorted by trigger-happy guys who shoot lasers from their eyes is just your average day. ‘Strange’ doesn’t even start to cover it.”

Rogue shifted and sighed softly. “I don’t really know my power. It’s stupid, I guess, but my foster parents and Mack were mutant phobic, so I tried to ignore it. I guess living with you and Kayla, it’s forcing me to face some truths about myself I’ve been running away from for a long time.”

“That’s probably not a bad thing,” Logan said. “Your power is part of you, you can’t just keep running away from it. I spent a long time convinced my mutant power made me nothing more than an animal, a beast trying to get by as human. I don’t really remember it. Kayla’s always seen me as human, but believing something like that for so long left an impression in me that memory loss won’t ever shake free.”

“What’s it like? Not knowing your past? Having to rely on Kayla?”

There was quiet for a long time after that, and Rogue wondered if maybe her questions had pushed too far. But the privacy of the dark, combined with the forced intimacy of the car made her feel more comfortable talking about things that she wouldn’t in the harsh light of day. It made her happier to ask questions that probably weren’t her right to ask.

But, eventually, Logan replied. “Relying on Kayla’s easy. The rest of it is… harder. I’m the same man that I was before, I know that, but there are times when it doesn’t feel like that. Kayla told me I was born in 1837. And that’s… well, it’s a lot of memories not to have anymore.”

Rogue swallowed the reply that immediately flew to her throat. An exclamation over his age. A natural reaction, because Logan looked maybe forty, forty five years old, but it wasn’t the kind of reaction that the conversation needed. “You have a lot of your past missing,” she said instead.

“And you have extra bits added on,” Logan acknowledged.

“I don’t… I’m not sure they are extra bits,” Rogue confessed, voice dropping so that it could barely be heard again. “They are… more than I could ever be on my own, but my mind is - open? I guess. There’s so much room, for so many more fragments and shades and echoes.”

There was a long quiet again as neither of them spoke, both absorbed in their own thoughts. “Does it hurt you?” Logan asked.

“Hurt me?”

“When you touch someone, and make these impressions in your head. Does it hurt you?”

Rogue thought about that question, and tried to remember what she’d felt each time she touched someone. With David she hadn’t known it was happening until he started seizing and everything in her world became about fear. Mack had been the only intentional one of the three, and then there had been only sadness. Kayla’s touch had been accidental again and, as before, Rogue had felt only fear.

“I don’t think so? It’s like pins and needles, except - warmer? Like electricity running under my skin. The point of contact feels a little bit like it’s on fire, but not… it doesn’t hurt. It’s bright, and hot, and flickering, but it doesn’t burn me.” Rogue tried to explain.

“It burns them,” Logan said, apparently understanding. “But I meant, when you make the impressions, it doesn’t give you a headache or something similar?”

Rogue shrugged. “I don’t know,” she told him honestly. “I’ve always been too busy feeling afraid, or upset, or angry to notice if it has.”

Logan nodded, as though knowing that her powers didn’t hurt herself came as relief to him. Maybe it did. Rogue didn’t think it made any difference. Her powers hurt other people, and that was enough of a reason not to use them.

-xXx-

They drove late into the night, only stopping at about midnight to pull up at a cheap motel and allow everyone the chance to catch a few hours sleep before they carried on travelling. The second day of their journey was much easier than the first, the quiet still a little too heavy, but everyone a little too tired to get particularly upset about it.

Rogue did pick up a pulp novel from one of the gas stations they stopped at, but she spent most of her time staring blankly at the words, too busy thinking about her internal revelations to be able to concentrate on the story. Back at the house in the Canadian hills that had become her home, Rogue would have been able to damp down on all the questions that buzzed forward, could have distracted herself with mindless menial work. But in the car with only a plotless book to keep her thoughts company, what she could have spent days processing and dealing with was all coming to the forefront in one go.

These internalised questions all rising at once wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but more and more of the answers needed more than what Rogue currently had at her disposal. So many thoughts ended with an abrupt realisation that she needed to touch another mutant, to really be able to take the next step towards understanding her own powers. And Rogue knew that she was not ready to even consider seriously touching someone else.

So she spent the majority of their second day travelling lost in her own thoughts and not able to answer any of the many questions about her own power that rose to the surface. However, it did give her time to realise that, untouchable or not, Rogue could not regret that she’d become a mutant. She didn’t like the skill she’d been given, but that it had thrown her in the path of Kayla and Logan, had given her a family and home was not something that she would ever be able to feel sorry for.

Whether Logan had told Kayla or not about Rogue’s whispered confessions the previous night, she didn’t know, but both of the adults seemed to realise that Rogue needed some space and time with her own thoughts. That they didn’t keep asking what was wrong, and left her to herself was something that Rogue was grateful to them for.

They stopped for dinner just outside Louisiana and it was decided unanimously that, with just over an hour left before they reached New Orleans, they should call Gambit and let him know that they were coming. Their plans weren’t set in stone, but they were thinking of finding a hotel on the outskirts of the city and staying for a month or so. It wasn’t ideal, living like that would be expensive, and more than they could really afford, but Emma had promised them help if they needed it. And none of them wanted to find out, in person, if Professor Xavier’s visit had given away their location.

But accommodation plans aside, Gambit had told them if they needed help he would provide, and even if that help was just an extra ear on the street, listening for any unusual mutant activity, it would be appreciated. He would also likely hear about them being in the city sooner rather than later anyway and he was sort of their friend, so it seemed like courtesy just to let him know they were coming.

The ancient mobile that was still their main source of communication beeped loudly in complaint when switched on, and refused to get any signal unless they pulled over and sat on the roof of the car. Eventually, however, it condescended to connect them to Gambit’s phone.

“Who is this?” was the immediate response, barely the first chime of the phone before it was picked up. “Very few people have this number.”

“Gambit?” Kayla asked. It sounded like him - it was the same, thick Cajun accent that she remembered, but she’d only known him a couple of hours before they went their separate ways.

Non, that is me. I asked who are you?” Gambit replied, confirming his identity but sounding more and more distressed. Recalling what he’d said - that very few people had that number - Kayla wondered if maybe it was a number used only for emergency cases, and felt a little guilty about her non-urgent call if that was the case.

“It’s Kayla. And Logan. From about six years ago? With the-”

“Yes, yes, I remember,” Gambit interrupted. “Are you in trouble? Do you need my help?”

Yep, definitely an emergency number. Kayla shook away the first tendrils of guilt as best she could; it wasn’t as though she had a choice using this phone - it was the only number he’d given her, after all. Still, the panic in his voice as well as his offer of help in spite of his blatant fear of Stryker’s Island was touching. “No, there’s nothing wrong,” Kayla reassured. “We’re fine. We just had an unusual visitor and thought we might… come and stay in New Orleans for a little while.”

“This visitor - you aren’t hurt?”

“No, he just wasn’t particularly subtle about finding us. We were worried that someone might have been able to follow him. We’re taking a bit of a vacation just in case.”

There was a hesitation on the other end of the line and when Gambit spoke again, Kayla could practically see his grin. “This is a social call,” he crowed. “You have come to keep Gambit company, no?”

“Have you always talked in third person, or is that a new thing?” Kayla asked, although the man talked straight over her so she didn’t get her answer.

“You should come straight into the city, I’ll clear out a guest room for the pair of you. Tante Mattie won’t mind - it’s more people for her to boss around, anyway. How far away are you? And what sort of car are you bringing? There’s room for a small van in the garage, but if you have anything bigger than that we’ll have to find somewhere else-”

“Gambit,” Kayla tried to interrupt, repeating his name again more loudly when he kept on talking. At that he did quieten down. “Are you alright? I don’t remember you being this excitable.”

“I am bored,” Gambit complained, putting heavy emphasis on the last word. “The Guilds are trying to organise a union, so I have to be here as a show of good faith, but Gambit has nothing to do! Politics is boring, and there are no interesting jobs in town.”

Kayla tried to feel sympathetic, but if an alliance between the Thieves and the Assassins Guild meant an end to their somewhat legendary feud, she couldn’t feel too bad for him. “Is it a bad time for us to visit?” she asked.

To her pleased surprise Gambit took the question seriously, not just dismissing it out of hand because of his lack of anything exciting to do. “It is maybe not the best time, but there is no real reason for you not to come,” he said. “Everyone is anxious to see this go well, so it’s unlikely a couple of old friends visiting Gambit will upset the balance.”

“Oh,” Kayla said, realising that Gambit didn’t know about Rogue. “There are actually three of us. Logan and myself, of course, but also-”

Mon dieu, you had a baby?!” Gambit butted in with a squawk. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Stop interrupting me!” Kayla scolded with a laugh. “It’s not a baby. We met a young mutant about half a year ago who was kicked out of her home because of her powers. We were thinking of buying a house and not travelling anymore so we… sort of adopted her.”

“It is a baby,” Gambit argued gleefully. “You have a child. You’re a mommy.” He paused, considered for a moment, then blurted, “Sacre bleu, Logan’s a daddy!”

It took Kayla a while to fall back into conversation, she was laughing so hard. “You sound so surprised,” she explained to him. “It’s not really that simple. Rogue was seventeen when we met her, she’d been living on her own for over a year already and, before that, with foster parents who didn’t really care for her.”

“This Rogue, she’s a good kid?” Gambit asked, clearly wanting to know more than just whether Rogue behaved herself or not. Logan had only known Gambit very briefly, and Kayla for even shorter time than that, but they had done a lot in those few short hours. Gambit cared about their wellbeing, that much was clear, and he likely wanted to know that this new person wasn’t doing any harm to either Kayla, Logan, or their relationship.

“Yeah,” Kayla hastened to reassure him. “She’s a bit defensive, some times. She spent a long time on her own, relying on herself, and surrounded by people who hated mutants, so she’s still not quite comfortable with herself yet. You’d like her.”

“What can she do?”

Kayla chuckled softly at that. So many people seemed to forget that a mutant was more than just what their powers let them be. “She can draw. And wanted to be a lawyer when she was little.”

Gambit hissed a bit. “Don’t tease Gambit, you knew what I meant.”

“She touches people, and catches glimpses of their soul,” Kayla said. The phrasing was awkward - a little too poetic to properly describe Rogue’s skill, but she was uncertain what to call her power. She absolutely refused to think of what Rogue did as soul-stealing, but it was clear from the way Rogue spoke that something of the person she touched was left behind in her mind.

“A telepath?” Gambit asked.

“No. It’s more physical than that, I think,” Kayla struggled to explain. “When she touches them, her mind almost records a version of that person. It hurts them - she put a boy in a coma when her power first came out, and everyone else she’s touched has been knocked unconscious by it. Rogue also thinks that if she touches a mutant there’s a possibility that she’ll have control over their powers, but she’s not certain. The only mutant she’s touched is me, and my skill requires skin-to-skin contact, which is a little bit of an issue.”

Gambit whistled a low, long sound. “She sounds dangerous, and powerful,” he said.

“She’s a teenager, and my daughter,” Kayla reminded, a little sharper than she necessarily needed to be.

“No offence meant!” he insisted. “I’m just glad that she’s our friend, not our enemy.”

“Yeah,” Kayla agreed quietly, tugging at a loose strand of thread in her cardigan and feeling slightly uncomfortable, though she wasn’t entirely sure why. “So, is the invitation to stay with you still on the table?” she asked after a moment or two of disconcerting quiet.

Oui, of course. Two rooms will be ready,” Gambit promised. “You will have to meet the family,” he warned. “They are good people, but sometimes… over enthusiastic? Their traditions mean a lot.”

“That’s fine,” Kayla agreed quickly. “I’m not sure what we’d do with a month in New Orleans, anyway, so it should be good to meet them.”

“Gambit will show you the city!” he enthused. “I know all of the best hang outs.”

Kayla coughed. “Rogue’s eighteen,” she told him. “Nothing inappropriate, please.”

“No promises!” Gambit teased, and after they quickly sorted out when Kayla, Logan and Rogue would be arriving, and whereabouts in the city to head for, soon hung up.

“Everything sorted?” Logan asked as Kayla jumped down off the car and strolled over to where Logan and Rogue were eating soggy fries and enjoying the fading sunshine. “The phone call lasted longer than I expected.”

“When I told Gambit about Rogue, he though at first we’d had a baby,” Kayla said blithely, grinning and winking at Rogue as Logan spluttered around his drink.

“He - a baby?” Logan asked, before shutting up pretty rapidly and busying himself with eating his food.

Kayla slid onto the bench seat next to him and kissed his cheek. “You’re more flustered than I’d have expected,” she remarked thoughtfully.

Logan refused to say anything, or even react like he’d heard at all.

“Anyway, Gambit’s getting a couple of rooms ready for us at his home so we don’t need to worry about a hotel,” Kayla said. “I don’t know how long we’ll be welcome, but from the sounds of things the LeBeau family has a mansion that’s too big for just the family, so Gambit says it’ll be alright for us to stay as long as we’d like.”

“You’ll want to be back for the start of the school year,” Rogue reminded. “So we won’t be staying for very long.”

Kayla shot a sideways glance at Logan, who seemed to be listening closely, but happy not to add his own thoughts. “A month is probably long enough for whatever might happen in Canada to happen. And I think if we do need help, Gambit won’t turn us away.”

“There’s always Auntie Emma or Professor X,” Rogue added, still dubious about the decision to trust a thief.

“We’ve got a quite a few friends we can turn to in a tight spot now, haven’t we?” Kayla agreed with a soft smile, not wanting to potentially get in an argument.

“We should get going,” Logan said, wolfing down the last of his burger and throwing the trash in the bin. Kayla and Rogue watched him go, equally amused and fond.

“That baby joke really got to him,” Rogue remarked as she finished her food in her own sweet time, ignoring Logan’s brooding form and the fact that he could probably hear every word she said.

Kayla looked thoughtful again. “We’ve never talked about kids,” she murmured, part in reply to Rogue, and partly to supplement her own inner dialogue. “I just assumed he didn’t want any.”

“‘To assume makes an ass out of you and me’,” Rogue said dryly, reciting the phrase that had been a favourite among her middle school teachers. Not that they’d ever taken their own advice. “And I’m saying that to both of you,” she added, no louder than before. “Since you’re married, and have a house, and are a couple of planks of wood and a paint job away from the white picket fence. You really should’ve had the ‘will you have my babies?’ conversation by now.” The last was said lightly, teasingly, Rogue’s tone taking away from the seriousness of the massive topic of conversation that Kayla and Logan hadn’t ever really thought about, much less actually approached with one another.

Logan thumped his hand against the side of the car, making a loud ding that drew everyone’s attention, not just Kayla and Rogue’s. “You coming or what?” he asked grumpily.

“We’re coming,” Kayla replied, getting into the passenger seat and leaning across to Logan to kiss him. The kiss said ‘I love you’ and ‘it’s ok’ better than any words might’ve done, and effectively got Logan’s shoulders to lose their tension and relax.

Between the awkward conversation and the knowledge that they didn’t have far left to go, the last hour or so stuck in the car were the worst yet.  Rogue was on edge with nervous tension, still wary of strangers and doubly so now that she was going to meet a stranger who was Kayla and Logan’s friend. The impression she’d received that Gambit didn’t particularly like her didn’t help either.

Logan was tenser than he’d been earlier, although that was thanks to the baby revelation or the reminder that their vacation wasn’t just for pleasure, was impossible to tell. Kayla was in turns locked up inside her own thoughts and obnoxiously cheerful. As much as she loved the isolation of their home, Kayla was a sociable person and the thought of meeting up with an old friend, of probably making new friends was exciting to her in a way that neither Logan nor Rogue could understand.

It was lucky for all three of them that there was only an hour’s journey left, before the silence got broken with thoughtless, irritable words. But soon enough, the city rose up around them in all it’s sparkling, exotic glory.

The streets were a maze of colour and scents, the rising sound of people’s voices loud and strange after so long in silence. It was difficult trying to find their way to the ‘LeBeau Mansion’, as Rogue had unofficially dubbed it in her mind, but Logan had an unerring sense of direction and it seemed like they didn’t spend enough time just watching the city before they pulled up outside a rather battered looking building, on the outskirts of the city and perched on the edge of the swamp.

As soon as the car drew to stop and Logan killed the engine, the door opened and spilled warm light across the porch. Gambit appeared first, waving and smiling, but was soon followed by a whole tribe of others. The strangers’ expressions varied from just as enthusiastic as Gambit, to suspicious and a bit angry.

“Logan!” Gambit greeted, smile not wavering at the other mutant’s glower and clapping him cheerfully on the back. “And the beautiful Kayla,” he added, bowing and kissing Kayla’s hand, before sweeping her up into a hug and spinning her around.

Kayla shrieked with delight and hugged him back just as enthusiastically. “It’s good to see you too, Gambit!” she told him, moving to Logan’s side as soon as she was set free and taking his hand in hers. Logan continued trying to glower and look suspicious, but there was the slight upturn to the corners of his mouth that a stranger might miss, that said he was happy to see Gambit again.

“And who are you, Chére?” Gambit asked, taking one of Rogue’s hands, and bowing and kissing it like he had Kayla, though he didn’t wrap Rogue in an embrace.

“This is Rogue,” Kayla said.

“It’s a pleasure,” Gambit told Rogue warmly, smiling and winking before whirling away. “Welcome to my home,” he told all three of them, and started waving everyone back in doors.

Chapter Text

The Thieves Guild seemed to be much more a family than it was a business, and they were all so normal that if Rogue hadn’t been told, she wouldn’t have thought any of them professional thieves. The sense of family was probably mostly thanks to Tante Mattie who was a daunting woman of indeterminate age, who seemed to have been the nanny of just about every person present.

In fact, beyond the general classifications of ‘older’ and ‘younger’ it was impossible to tell how old any of them were, with the exception of a boy of about ten years old who kept getting under everyone’s feet. Kayla got along with everybody there, of course, and Logan’s piss-off attitude seemed to endear him to the older gentlemen of the group, rather than annoy them. It was all very surreal to Rogue, so as soon as all of the introductions had been made and it wasn’t too rude of her, she slipped out of the crowded living room and onto the balcony.

The cool air, thick from the swamp and tinged with spices, came as relief, and Rogue perched herself on the railing, half wrapped around one of the thin columns. The pervading warmth, in spite of the last of the sun’s rays rapidly disappearing, was something she was familiar with. Earlier that day they had driven through the state that she’d grown up in, and the countryside had been achingly familiar. A place she’d lived for so long, but never really called home.

And now she was so close to that place, with a different family just through the doors behind her, and it made her feel more displaced than ever. The idea of a vacation, when she’d sat discussing it over pizza with only Kayla and Logan for company had been nice, comforting, ordinary. Now, it was too alien.

“Are you alright Chére?” a Cajun accent asked from behind her, low enough that although his presence surprised her, she didn’t startle and topple off the balcony.

“It’s Rogue,” she reminded him. Gambit, the friend Kayla had called on. The one who’d opened their house to them. The one that didn’t trust her.

“I know,” he replied, voice still a low, comforting timbre. “You’re the orphan Kayla and Logan took in.”

Rogue laughed, and hoped it didn’t sound as bitter as it tasted. “That’s me. Poor little orphan girl, living off their dime.”

“Remy doubts that,” he said, confusing her for a moment before she remembered Gambit’s other names. Seeing her confusion, however, Gambit took a step back and gave a low, sweeping bow, more extravagant than the one he’d offered her when she’d first arrived. “Remy LeBeau, at your service.”

“Kayla said you didn’t trust me,” Rogue blurted without censoring her words.

“I don’t trust anyone until I meet them at least once. Especially where my friends are concerned. But you’re pretty fine, Chére. I think I’ll trust you.”

“You always trust so easily?”

“When faced with a girl as pretty as you? Always. Remy’s fatal flaw,” he said the last with exaggerated despondency, shaking his head at himself.

Rogue laughed softly, and blushed a little. Remy - and he was Remy to her now that he’d started talking to her in third person about himself with that name - smiled genuinely at her reaction, and it lit up his face. He was stunningly handsome, in a dangerous way that should send all good Christian girls running for the hills. There was an edge to his smirk that said he could kill you if he wanted, and a confidence to his posture that said he had killed in the past, and didn’t regret it now.

But Remy’s most stunning feature were his eyes. With black sclera and red irises that appeared to glow in the last tendrils of sunlight, his eyes were the most alien thing of all. And yet Rogue was not scared by them, or worried about it. Because his eyes were friendly, had a depth to them that made her think he was older than he appeared. There was sadness etched in Remy’s face, but there was mischief and laughter there too. It was the face of a man that Rogue could fall in love with, if she wasn’t careful, and she looked away again.

Remy moved closer, leaning against the railing next to where she was sat, and she could feel the heat of his arm along the length of her thigh, though he didn’t touch her. “My eyes don’t scare you,” he stated, staring out at the swamp just as she was doing.

“What’s to be scared of, when your eyes are just a funny colour?” Rogue asked.

“People don’t like it.”

Rogue tilted her head back, following with her eyes the etchings in the metal column she was leaning against; up, and along, and back down again. She wondered if they meant anything, or where just fanciful curls of decoration. “People don’t like a lot of things,” she remarked.

“You don’t count yourself as ‘people’ anymore?”

“Oh, I was never ‘people’, sugar,” Rogue replied, wondering absently where her endearment for him had come from. “Never quite fit in, never quite good enough.”

“Then it’s good Kayla and Logan took you in,” Remy said decisively. “You just need to be able to agree with whatever he thinks to be good enough for Logan, and you just have to be kind occasionally to be good enough for Kayla.”

Rogue laughed, and it was more real than her previous one. “I think it’s a little more complicated than that.”

“Is that why you’re out here, while the party’s in there?” Remy asked. “You never did answer Remy’s first question.”

“I don’t like people,” Rogue said, but that wasn’t the whole truth and she felt a little bad for lying to Remy, even though it hadn’t been consciously done. “Or rather - I don’t like being where I can touch people.”

“Not them touching you. You touching them,” Remy said, and it wasn’t really a question and it wasn’t really said to her. It was just something that he’d spoken aloud.

“I hurt people,” Rogue said. “Kayla told you, I think. I touch people, and they get hurt.”

Apparently from nowhere, Remy pulled out a playing card, flicking it back and forth between his fingers playfully. Then he stopped its movement, holding it face down between his thumb and forefinger. As Rogue watched the card, it began to glow red, the details on the surface of the card blurring as it burned with energy, without truly burning. Then the glow faded, and it became just a card again.

“I hurt people too,” Remy said. “But when I do it, it’s on purpose.”

The words were strange, like they should have been a threat, but sounded like a comfort, and they caught Rogue off guard. She realised that whatever Remy had done to the card was part of his mutant power, although she hadn’t been able to tell what that power was. Something to do with energy, probably, but that wasn’t exactly specific. The card had looked as though it had been moments away from catching fire, but it didn’t even look singed now.

He passed her the card with a smile and a sly, sideways glance. “Keep it,” he told her. “For luck,” he added.

Rogue plucked it from his fingers, holding it by opposite corners and spinning it slowly. The Ace of Hearts. The card didn’t look at all effected by whatever he’d done to it.

“Kinetic energy,” he informed her, in the same low burr that he’d had when he’d first walked onto the balcony. It sounded like he was sharing a secret, although his mutant gift must be something that all of his family knew. “Remy senses the energy in an object and increases it. If the energy is increased enough…” he trailed off and pulled another card from the air.

Remy didn’t take his time with this one, he just lit it up and flicked it over the edge of the balcony, and whispered, “Boom,” just as it exploded. It was only a small explosion, and one that Rogue had been half expecting, but she flinched away from it anyway. Then, after a moment, she laughed.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. When Remy looked at her and cocked his head in question she continued, “When you light up your cards, and they fill with energy. Then, when they explode - it’s beautiful. Like a small firework display.”

“Not much of a firework display - it’s all the same colour,” Remy argued, flicking another card into the darkness and watching it explode.

Rogue turned to look at him, and thought that he looked sad, although she couldn’t tell why. “Fireworks don’t have to be different colours to be beautiful,” she told him. “Take the compliment at face value, swamp rat. Don’t over think it.”

“Swamp rat?” Remy asked, his surprise pulling him from whatever melancholy had momentarily gripped him. “You’re one to talk, Chére. You sound like you’re straight from the river.”

“Not for two years now,” Rogue corrected with a smile. “I live with Kayla and Logan in Canada now.”

Remy shook his head. “Doesn’t stop you from being a river rat.”

“Stop stealing my nicknames. Come up with your own,” Rogue groused half-heartedly, leaning against him briefly in the moment of teasing, before straightening again.

It was easy to bicker quietly with Remy on the rapidly darkening balcony, ignoring the people inside, and watching him periodically flicking cards into the dark and making them pop and crackle like their own personal firework display. But Rogue was at the tail end of a long two days of travelling, and her exhaustion snuck up on her suddenly now she’d allowed herself to relax. By the fifth yawn, Remy insisted she move from her perch on the balcony railings, and by the eighth he took her by the elbow and directed her indoors.

The majority of the family had split up and gone their own way by then, only Logan and Jean-Luc, the LeBeau family patriarch, left; sitting in a corner, sipping bourbon and not talking to each other. Tante Mattie popped up at Rogue’s side like an apparition, however, and soon took over from Remy in directing Rogue out of the lounge and up to the room they’d made ready for her, scolding Remy softly as they left.

Logan glowered at Remy, and didn’t stop even as Remy shifted his weight awkwardly from foot to foot. He didn’t say anything, just glared and watched Remy get more uncomfortable until the younger man snapped.

“What?” Remy asked.

Logan waited a beat longer, drawing it out for as long as he could. Then, finally, he growled, “Don’t even think about it.”

Remy swayed for a moment, caught between Logan’s fearsome stare and denial. He chose denial. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he disavowed.

“Don’t,” Logan repeated. “Even. Think. About it.”

“Remy - he was just being a good host!” Remy attempted to dissuade Logan.

“There’s ‘being a good host’,” Logan said. “And there’s ‘being a good host’. If I even think you’re thinking of the second, I will gut you.”

Remy shook his head in denial again, glancing at his father who only looked amused and didn’t offer any help at all.

“Rogue is my kid now. If anyone hurts her, or thinks too hard about hurting her, I will shred them. I will gouge their innards out and make certain that they burn in the deepest pits of hell. That includes you. So,” Logan paused, smiled a terrifying smile, and said again, “Don’t even think about it.”

And Remy took that advice to heart, and didn’t think about anything other than how quickly he could escape the room. He considered Logan a friend, even if the man didn’t remember half of what they’d done together, but that didn’t stop him from being scary. Remy couldn’t even begrudge him the protectiveness the man had of his adopted daughter. Remy already suspected that he’d hurt anyone that tried to hurt Rogue. But that was the problem, wasn’t it? Logan wasn’t just talking about not thinking about hurting Rogue. He was telling him to keeps his hands off his daughter, old-fashioned, shot-gun style.

-xXx-

Rogue woke early the following morning, in spite of how late she’d been getting to bed and lack of sleep before that. But the smell of chicory coffee wafted along the corridors and through her bedroom door, waking her and inviting her down. With no idea how formal breakfast was in the LeBeau household, Rogue decided to properly get up and ready for the day. It was strange going back to that, after six months eating breakfast in her pyjamas, but not unfamiliar.

She used the bathroom across the hall to wash away the remains of the long journey, then hesitated at her suitcase, wondering what to wear. This was not an issue she’d ever really had a problem with in the past, either not caring what people thought of her, or not having enough clothing to make any choice other than a practical one. But warm black and red eyes, and a dangerous smirk hid behind Rogue’s eyelids and she wanted to look good.

The nice pair of gloves that she’d bought for herself - one of the rare treats she’d indulged in whilst serving at Mack’s bar - were folded neatly in the outside pocket of her bag, and she took them out and smoothed out the wrinkles. Compared to some of the things that she’d bought whilst she and Kayla had been in Boston with Emma, the gloves weren’t that fancy. But they had far more meaning than any of the elegant things Emma had bought her.

Rogue hesitated for a moment longer, her pale fingers stroking the soft fabric. Then she smiled. The gloves weren’t too fancy, but they were nice, and they were special to her. Remy wouldn’t know how special they were, but she could feel like she was showing off anyway. After that, dressing was easy. A pair of jeans, a plain dark vest top, and one of the sheer blouses Emma had introduced Rogue too.

Before leaving to head towards the inviting smell of breakfast - the scent of frying bacon mixing in with the chicory now - Rogue stood by the mirror, running self conscious hands down her frame. She bit her lip, nervous and excited, like it was her first date with David all over again, and scolded herself for being such a fool. She was untouchable - there would be no more first dates. Rogue grinned at her reflection. She did look good though.

Feeling as though her day was off to a good start, her own foolishness aside, Rogue hummed to herself as she crept down the stairs, following the scent of cooking and the murmur of voices. It wasn’t difficult to find the kitchen, it had been pointed out to her when she first arrived the day before, even if there weren’t several loud conversations emanating from there this morning.

Rogue hesitated at the threshold, peering through the open doorway to see who was there and try and remember all their names.  Jean-Luc was there, in the corner again, sipping his coffee and ignoring everyone in favour of his newspaper. Tante Mattie was by the hob, conducting the source of all of the delicious smells with the air of someone who’d spent decades making the perfect fry-up breakfasts and could now do so without thinking about it.

Leaning against the counter next to the hob, chatting with Tante Mattie and waving the glass of orange juice in her hand a little more than was really advisable was a young-ish looking woman with short, spiky blonde hair who Rogue didn’t recognise from the previous night. At the table next to Jean-Luc was a man who Rogue thought might be Henri, Remy’s older brother. He was talking loudly and cheerfully to Jean-Luc, and didn’t seem at all perturbed by the total lack of attention he was receiving.

After a few moments just watching, the woman whom Rogue did not recognise glanced up and saw her.

“Hello,” she greeted cheerfully, waving Rogue into the room. “You must be one of Remy’s friends.”

“Yeah. I’m Rogue,” she said, wondering if she should offer a hand to shake and sitting cautiously on the edge of one of the chairs.

“Sorry I missed your arrival last night, I’m Merci,” the woman offered, going back to leaning against the counter and picking up her drink again. “I don’t know what Remy’s told you, but we’re all quite busy at the moment, trying to unify the Guilds.”

“He, um. He mentioned it,” Rogue said, feeling distinctly uncomfortable with that topic of conversation. She still hadn’t quite been able to get used to the idea that this family, that seemed like any other family, made their fortune by being professional thieves.

“Tsh,” Merci said dismissively, waving the orange juice glass enthusiastically again. “That boy. He has no taste for politics at all! You’d have thought he was ashamed to have us as his family.”

“You did exile me for several years,” Remy said dryly from the doorway, inserting himself into the conversation. His sudden appearance made Rogue startle a little, but the others all took it in stride.

Henri’s one-sided conversation with Jean-Luc came to an abrupt halt as he turned and stared at Remy. “You killed Julien!”

Remy slid into the seat next to Rogue and waved a hand dismissively at his brother. “That was hardly my fault.”

Henri’s mouth opened, apparently to argue the point further, but Tante Mattie interrupted with the unerring timing of a woman who had raised a household of thieves from birth to adulthood. “Julien was an over-protective fool who couldn’t see beyond his own wishes, and both of you acted like hot-headed idiots. Now shut up and eat.”

She tipped the bacon and eggs onto a plate and placed that in the centre of the table, this time not interrupting the brothers when they started to squabble over whose piece was whose. “They were far worse as children,” she explained at Rogue’s curious look, and made sure that she got some of the food before Henri and Remy stole it all.

“What do you have planned for today, Chére?” Remy asked Rogue once he’d swallowed the last of his food, and peered at her over his cup of coffee.

Rogue shrugged. “I don’t know.” She felt a little foolish, now, taking so long deciding what to wear. Remy was still sinfully handsome, but he wasn’t half as warm or inviting as he’d been the night before. “I guess I was going to see what Kayla and Logan were going to do.”

“They’re your parents,” Remy said, sounding a little scandalised that she’d put so much weight on what they wanted to do. “What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know,” Rogue shrugged again. She thought about what she’d seen of New Orleans the previous day, and how what she’d seen was all that she knew of the city. Then Rogue looked up to meet Remy’s gaze and she felt daring. She wanted to explore, a little. So, she smiled, and said, “Maybe you could show me the city?”

Remy’s smile was slow and delighted. He considered her a moment before he said, “Can you ride a motorcycle?”

Rogue grinned. “So far as Kayla knows, no,” she said by way of answer.

“Then Remy shall take you for his personalised tour,” he promised.

A cough interrupted their conversation, reminding Rogue that they weren’t alone in the room. She blushed and turned back to see the array of emotions on the faces of the others in the room who were watching them. “Rogue, how old are you?” Merci asked sweetly, the smile on her face looking pasted on. Henri looked amused, Tante Mattie faintly disapproving and Jean-Luc still hadn’t glanced up from his paper.

“Eighteen?” Rogue answered, uncertain as to why Merci wanted to know. But it wasn’t Rogue the other woman turned to, it was Remy.

“No,” she said firmly. “Don’t even think about ‘personalising’ anything,” she ordered him, scowling furiously.

Rogue wasn’t an idiot, and it didn’t take a genius to work out what it was Merci was getting at. She blushed and raised a hand to her forehead to half hide behind. But when she chanced a glance up at Remy, who was protesting the accusation loudly and not very sincerely, she caught his eye and smiled. A corner of his mouth quirked up in response and Merci, upon seeing it, whacked Remy lightly across the back of his head.

“Eighteen!” she reminded him.

“If it’s, uh, any consolation?” Rogue interrupted before Merci could get back into the flow of her tirade again. “I knock out anyone who touches me. So Remy’s - um - virtue? is safe with me.”

At that, Henri lost the fight against his laughter that he’d been trying so hard to swallow. “I like you,” he told Rogue cheerfully, snagging Merci around the waist and pulling her to sit down in his lap. “Nothing’s going to happen,” he reassured Merci. “The boy knows when to keep his hands to himself - and even if he didn’t, he’s the one who’ll wind up hurt.”

Merci didn’t seem particularly pleased with this statement, but she didn’t return to telling Remy off, and settled into place on Henri’s lap, so Rogue supposed that must have counted as a win.

“Come on, Chére, let’s go,” Remy said, standing swiftly and offering her a hand to standing. They made their escape from the kitchen fast enough that no more insinuations could be laid on them.

“I should check with -” Rogue tried to say, but Remy spoke over her.

“It is fine. If Tante Mattie does not tell them our plans, Merci definitely will. Relax - live a little.”

“I don’t know if I trust you,” Rogue said, following him out of the house and round the side to the garage. She watched him through narrowed eyes and tried to be assessing rather than ogling.

Remy turned and gave her an exaggerated pout. “I am sorely wounded by you lack of faith in me,” he told her as sincerely as he could without being at all serious.

Rogue perched herself on the hood of one of the cars, watching as Remy flitted between the motorcycles. His movements were graceful and agile, and he reminded her of a cat sneaking rapidly from one place to the next and pausing, still as a statue for long moments before racing on again.

“How good are you?” he asked her, handing over a spare helmet he thought might fit her.

“I’ve had a days worth of instruction from Logan,” Rogue told him, tucking her hair behind her ears and under her blouse to keep it out of the way.

Remy winced in sympathy for her, saying, “That must have been terrifying.”

Rogue shrugged but didn’t answer. Compared to some of the hand-to-hand training sessions she’d had with Logan, the day he’d spent teaching her to ride a motorcycle had been a walk in the park.

“But one day with him must be like having enough lessons to get a licence, so you should be fine so long as we don’t do anything extravagant,” Remy continued talking, mostly to himself. “Here,” he said, throwing the keys of one of the bikes to her.

He’d only charged the keys a little, but they felt warm through her gloves and Rogue stuck her tongue out at him. “Just don’t charge them enough to ruin my gloves,” she said. The warning was less flippant than she’d intended it, and she thought she saw a dark shadow of emotion slipping across Remy’s face before he was smiling again.

They walked the motorcycles out of the garage, and Rogue watched them glisten in the sun with rising excitement as Remy locked up. The lesson she’d had with Logan had been fun, but it had been one bike between the two of them, and she’d spent the majority of the day learning how to ride it, and ride it well. Although the motorcycle hadn’t belonged to Logan, he’d been very protective of it, and worried for her, so he had demanded nothing but the best from her.

Today, however, she’d have a bike to herself, and she’d be riding for the sake of riding - and exploring a new city while she was at it. Rogue pulled her helmet on and straddled the bike, hands hovering over the ignition while she waited for Remy.

“Ready Chére?” he asked, grinning wildly.

“Ready,” she agreed, returning his grin.

They travelled slowly to start off with, Remy obviously assessing Rogue’s skills with the motorcycle, before he began pushing a bit faster, and leading her into the city. They wove in and out of traffic, occasionally yelling things at each other, but not hearing what the other said. It didn’t matter, that wasn’t the point. Remy was just showing Rogue the sights, swooping up and down the main roads to point out the tallest, glittering buildings.

A few hours after they set off, they pulled up in front of a small café, and left their helmets with their bikes to grab a bite to eat. The area they were in now was different from the steel and glass giants of buildings they’d passed before. It was the part of the city Rogue driven through the previous night with Kayla and Logan, air thick with spices, and the buildings were prettier, more exotic and overflowing with greenery.

“The French Quarter,” Remy explained as they sat down at a table. “Remy thought he’d show you the ugly part of the city first, then I show you the beautiful part.”

“It is beautiful,” Rogue agreed, relaxing back in her chair and taking in the city around her. “I’m not used to cities, but this doesn’t feel like one.”

“You’ve been in the wilds of Canada too long,” Remy remarked. “Cities are fun. They’ve the shining mask, hiding all the dark secrets below.”

“And are you one of those dark secrets?” Rogue asked teasingly, propping her elbows in the table and leaning over them to peer at him. “Hiding behind a handsome face?”

He leaned forward too, and Rogue regretted the dark shades that hid his eyes from the baseline humans who would take objection to them. “You think I’m handsome Chére? Even though I have the eyes of the devil?” Remy’s tone of voice was strange - teasing, a little bit, but strangely vulnerable too.

Rogue hummed, cocking her head to the side and smiling a little. “I already told you I don’t mind your eyes,” she said. “But maybe you’re fishing for compliments?”

The vulnerability was gone, and left only the boyish pride of being called handsome by a pretty girl. Remy straightened in his seat, puffing his chest up a bit and smiling rakishly at her. “Remy doesn’t need to fish for compliments - they jump up and offer themselves.”

Rogue laughed and leaned back in her chair. “You’re still just a swamp rat, pretty face or not,” she teased.

“Remy is never ‘just’ anything,” he argued. “River rat,” he called her after a pause.

“Remy does steal other people’s nicknames, though,” Rogue grumbled good naturedly.

Remy shook his head, and leaned back in his seat as well, basking in the sunshine. “I can steal more than nicknames,” he whispered. His face was expressionless as he said it, and his eyes were invisible behind the glinting light off his sunglasses, so Rogue had no idea what he was thinking as he said it.

“That’s why you’re one of the dark secrets of the city, I suppose,” she said, only able to conjure up a smile.

He leaned forward again, brows furrowed together. “You really don’t like that, do you? The thief thing. You live with Logan, who would happily kill a man who crosses him, and Kayla who is not technically married to him yet shares his bed, but it is me being a thief that unnerves you.”

Rogue shrugged awkwardly, and looked away from him and down the street instead. “Some things are easy,” she said. “Kayla and Logan have become my parents. You’re still just a stranger with a warm smile.”

“So if you knew me, if Remy was your friend, you wouldn’t mind?”

Rogue looked at him again and smiled in a bemused fashion. “I don’t know.” was the only non-answer she could give him.

Remy huffed and a card appeared in his hand, seemingly for nowhere. He flicked and folded it around his fingers, so that it was a blur of movement, but did not put any of his mutant power into the card. He toyed with it, ignoring her, for some moments, before he arrested it against the table with two fingers, laughing softly at it. Then, like the night before, he passed the card to Rogue.

She took it from him, unwilling to turn away the gift, but not certain why he was giving it to her, or why he found it funny. When Rogue turned it to see the face, she too smiled. This one was the two of hearts. “You’re saying I’m of two hearts about this?”

“Remy say nothing! That was the cards talking,” he protested, but his smile was wicked and teasing.

-xXx-

They moved their motorcycles out of the way of the street; tucking them into an alleyway and making sure they were locked, before they took to the streets of the New Orleans French Quarter. They strolled around the tangle of streets, with Remy narrating everything he saw, and pointing out half a dozen miraculous things Rogue would’ve missed if he hadn’t. He had a story for every corner, and a smile for every stranger.

There were horse-drawn carriages on every other road, and the street lamps looked as though they were old fashioned gas ones, though they’d probably been adapted to be electric. This part of the city was caught somewhere between old fashioned and new; French styles, American styles, and something else entirely. It was exotic and intriguing and Rogue loved it.

Part of her appreciation, she knew, was from the stories Remy wove as they wandered around, each one intertwining with one he had already told or was just about to, and each a vibrant shard of his childhood. Rogue learnt that Remy had been abandoned in the hospital after his birth, that he’d been stolen away by some kind of collector, and that Jean-Luc had rescued him and had taken him in to raise him as his own. There was something infinitely sad in that, Remy’s mutation stopping his parents from loving him before he’d even known them.

“If you don’t mind me asking, why did Logan come to you for help?” Rogue asked in a lull between the stories.

“You don’t think it was Remy’s sparkling personality?” he joked, before becoming more serious. “I was one of the many children Stryker kidnapped,” he explained softly. “And I was the only one who ever managed to escape, before the last day.”

“Oh,” Rogue said, feeling suddenly sorry to have asked. She had thought that maybe Remy helping Logan had been a thing that had happened by chance; Logan needed a lift, and Remy had a plane.

“Don’t feel sorry, Chére,” Remy chided gently. “It was an honest question, and it is some years ago now.”

Rogue smiled sadly and shrugged. “I shouldn’t have asked,” she said, which was the closest she could get to apologising without saying sorry.

They walked in silence for a while, breathing in the fragrant air and enjoying the sun. The question had darkened the mood a little, but the area they were in was too cheerful for the melancholy to last and soon enough Remy was back to telling his stories.

“Maybe you tell me some of your childhood memories?” he suggested. “You’ve let Remy’s motor mouth get away from him.”

“I don’t think I ‘let’ you do anything, sugar,” Rogue said, chuckling. “I’m afraid my stories aren’t nearly as interesting as yours. I was in foster care and spent most of my time trying to be the perfect daughter so I wouldn’t go back into the system.”

Remy hesitated for a long moment, swallowing that information with a frown. Then the same wicked smile from before stole across his face, and he grabbed her hand, and raced down the street, pulling her along behind him.

Startled by the sudden movement, Rogue almost tripped over her own feet before she settled into racing beside him, laughing breathlessly. “Where are we going?” she asked, but he didn’t answer.

After a few minutes and countless twisting streets, they reached a wider road where a band was playing in the open, and a crowd had gathered around them. Some of the crowd were just watching, some tapping their feet in time to the music, and still others were dancing. Stopping at the edge of the crowd, Remy waited until they’d caught their breath from their impromptu run. “The best way to have stories, is to live them,” he said, then offered her his left hand, palm up. “Dance with me, Chére?” he asked.

Laughing at the ridiculousness of it, Rogue nodded wordlessly, taking his hand and letting him pull her through the crowd until they got to the area where the other dancers were. Then he spun her under his arm and tugged her against his chest, laughing at her surprise and pleasure.

Rogue had never really been one for dancing before. Her foster parents had frowned on it, and there hadn’t been much call for it at Mack’s. The most experience she had was swinging her hips in time to the radio whilst cleaning or doing the laundry. But Remy was a good dancer, with natural rhythm, who could lead her flawlessly. There were no specific steps, just whatever he made up on the spot, and Rogue melted into his arms, letting him lead her without resistance.

They weren’t the best dancers there, but they were far from the worst, and the fun and good humour of the crowd was infectious. The music was cheerful and fast; the same twist of familiar and strange that the rest of the city oozed, and it was easy to get lost in the beat.

Eventually the light began to fade, and Remy and Rogue grew too tired and breathless to keep on dancing. Remy held Rogue against him this time as he pressed through the crowd, keeping his arm around her waist as casually as if it had always been there. The road with the musicians had a number of small restaurants, and Remy led her to one that had it’s chairs and tables spilling halfway across the road.

“Now you can say you spent a day dancing with a thief on the streets,” Remy told her with a smile, pulling out a chair for her and sitting down next to her, turning his own chair so that he could watch the crowd and the musicians too.

“And who would I tell such a ridiculous tale to who would believe a word of it?” she asked teasingly. “Good little girl like me, dancing with thieves?”

“I don’t think you’re half as good as you pretend to be, Chére,” Remy said, leaning into her space, and draping an arm around the back of her chair.

“I’m not as bad as you think I might be,” she teased back, shifting her chair forward so his arm fell to his side.

Remy pouted at her, but was smiling again soon enough.

They talked and bickered and flirted as they sat and enjoyed the early evening, ordering food and taking their time eating it. Rogue felt comfortable in Remy’s company in a way that she rarely was around anyone. Part of it, she knew, was the long coat he wore, that meant the chances of her accidentally touching him and hurting him were slimmer than with most people. But a larger part was the charm and charisma Remy exuded and aimed at her.

He had an easy, warm personality, and you could easily forget that there was more to Remy than the happy-go-lucky, mischievous person he appeared to be. But Rogue knew who he was, although she didn’t know everything about him, and she could tell by virtue of her own common sense, as well as Kayla’s approval of Remy, that in spite of anything questionable Remy might have done in the past, he was a good person now.

Only once their meals had been cleared away, the streetlights flickering on all down the street, did Rogue think of Kayla and Logan. It was strange, that before that day she’d spent almost every waking moment in the presence of one of both of them, and a day without seeing them was almost enough to miss them. Almost, but not quite, not when she had Remy keeping her company and telling her increasingly bizarre stories.

“We should probably head back,” she murmured anyway. Rogue wondered if they were worried for her, or if they trusted Remy enough to look after her for a day.

“Already, Chére? The night’s still young. I could take you to a jazz club, more live music and more dancing. Remy thinks you liked dancing, no?”

Rogue smiled and stretched in her seat. “Dancing was fun,” she agreed. “But we can’t do everything in one day.”

“Tomorrow, then,” Remy said, as though agreeing with a suggestion that she’d made.

Rogue laughed freely, feeling more relaxed than she had in a while. “I thought you promised to show Kayla and Logan around the city too?”

“That was before I met you,” Remy explained with a grin. “If they wanted Remy as a tour guide, they shouldn’t have adopted such a pretty girl.”

“You know that makes you sound like a pervert, right?” Rogue teased, laughing again at the shocked outrage on Remy’s face, and accepting his arguments against the accusation with a warm smile. “Come on,” she said, standing and grabbing his hand, pulling him up too. “I want to ride through the streets while it’s still only half dark.”

He stood up at her demand, and happily led her back to where their motorcycles were still parked, although he didn’t let go of her hand. It felt strange, and made Rogue feel like she was staking a claim over him that she had no right to take. It wasn’t bad strange, though; it felt good to have Remy’s fingers laced in her own, and she wondered if he felt the same.

When they got back to the bikes, Remy left her for the public toilets across the street, promising to just be a minute. That minute was, naturally, just long enough for trouble to find Rogue.

She was fiddling with the strap of her helmet when a shadow appeared at the end of the alleyway. Thinking it was Remy back already, Rogue didn’t look up until scuffed boots that definitely weren’t Remy’s appeared at the edge of her vision. She was surprised when she looked up to see a rather desperate looking man, pointing a penknife at her.

“Just give me all your money, girlie, and I won’t have to hurt you,” the man said, poking the knife forward, and looking like he didn’t have a clue what he was doing, but desperate enough to try and get it anyway.

“I don’t have any money,” Rogue tried to explain to him. It was true, she hadn’t thought she’d need her purse just to have breakfast, and Remy had led her straight from the kitchen to the motorcycles. He’d been the one who’d been paying for their meals.

The man stuttered for a moment. “I - I don’t believe you! Just, just give me your money and I won’t hurt you.”

“Honestly,” Rogue said, turning out her pockets for him to see they were empty. “I don’t have anything you can steal.” She hoped that the man would believe her, would walk out of the alley and give up, or at least try something else.

Something dark and angry took hold of the stranger then, his grip on the knife adjusting to hold it better, and his hand going from shaking to absolutely still. Rogue only had time to wonder if the man was a mutant of suffered from a mental disorder before he threw himself at her, knife first.

Thankfully, several months training with Logan had paid off, and Rogue was able to get out of the way before the knife caught her, and fell into a defensive stance. Her hand went to her ankle, where she kept a knife concealed in a holster most of the time just in case, and she thanked whatever deities were listening that she’d felt uncomfortable enough in the LeBeau household to put on the ankle holster even just for breakfast.

“Please stop,” she asked the stranger, but to no avail, as he lurched round and threw himself forward again.

Although he had appeared to be just another desperate, homeless man when she first seen him, without any clue about what he was doing, he seemed to have transformed into something other now. He was fast, and quick with the knife and although his movements were a little lurching to begin with, they soon gained more fluidity. Rogue had been able to hold him off pretty easily to begin with, by dodging and blocking blows, but it was becoming harder and harder to just keep up the defensive.

“Please stop,” she tried again, but the stranger didn’t even seem to hear her.

“If you haven’t get anything you can give me, I’ll bet you’ve got something I can take,” he leered at her, taking his time raking his eyes up and down her form, lingering over her chest.

“I don’t think you’d find that much fun,” Rogue said, dodging out of the way again, and landing a long cut across the back of the man’s hand whilst he was distracted. She ducked and rolled as he lunged at her again, and sighed to herself in disappointment. “Just remember I told you to stop,” she told the stranger, as he spun and ran at her again.

Fed up now of just defending herself and not getting very far with that, Rogue slid her knife back into its holster at the next available opportunity. With her hands thus freed, she landed a dizzying blow to the side of the man’s head, a strike across the back of his shoulders, and then finally, as he spun slightly from the force of the hits, she punched hard in the face, knocking him clean out.

The man collapsed backwards, spread eagle across the alley way, the knife he’d had having span off at some point in the direction of the gutter. Rogue huffed out a breath and leant against the cool dampness of one of the brick walls. She should probably feel a little guilty, but the man had been attacking her and it had been exhilarating fighting like that. Rogue fought often with Logan of course, and those fights were much more challenging than this one, but there was no real danger in them.

It was probably a little perverse to find pleasure in the fact that she’d so narrowly avoided being stabbed, but the man hadn’t actually been all that difficult to beat. And she’d fought him without having to use her power. Rogue had always told herself, from the moment she knew what her power did, that she would never be at too much risk from attacks because of it. The self defence had been a precautionary measure, and because she wanted to learn it. Now, it felt as though her power was the failsafe and the self defence was the reason she was safe from attack.

A low whistle at the end of the alleyway reminded Rogue that Remy had said he wouldn’t take long, and she looked up with a blush and a slightly sheepish grin. One of the motorcycles tires had got slashed during the tussle, and she was reminded of it now she was faced with the bike’s owner.

“Sorry,” she said, then giggled a bit at the adrenaline still coursing through her.

Remy shook his head. “No apologies,” he told her. “Remy saw the end of the fight. I was coming to save you, but you didn’t really need saving, eh?”

Rogue giggled again and shook her head. “Nope,” she said, making the ‘p’ pop and feeling a little giddy. “No need for a knight in shining armour for me,” she added, pouting a little and reassuring him, “You can pretend to be a hero anyway, if you want?”

Remy laughed, and walked over to the stranger, bending over him and tsking loudly. He picked the man up, hauling him over his shoulder, and moved him to the edge of the alleyway. He glanced around for the stranger’s penknife and, upon finding it, picked that up too, but tucked it into his coat rather than leaving it with the man.

“When did you learn to fight like that, Chére?” Remy asked, straightening and moving over to where she was still leaning against the wall.

Rogue giggled again, sobering quickly now the fight was over and her heart rate was returning to normal. “Motorcycle lessons with Logan,” she told him, reminding him of their conversation in the garage that morning, “Are nothing compared to sparring lessons with him.” Then she pushed away from the wall, and nearly fell over because the end of the adrenaline rush had left her knees feeling like jelly.

Remy caught her before she fell, shaking with silent laughter. “You really are something else,” he said fondly, keeping an arm around her shoulders until she rediscovered her balance. “Maybe Remy’ll teach you a few tricks too, while you’re here?” he offered.

“Are we talking self defence, here, or card tricks?” Rogue teased. “I am sorry about the motorcycle, though.”

Remy waved away her concern nonchalantly. “I’ll tell Henri when we get back, and he’ll come and fetch it. Is your helmet still alright?”

Rogue nodded, and picked it up from where she’d dropped it when the stranger attacked. The chin strap was fine, but there was a slight dent in the casing that wasn’t ideal. It was as good as they were going to get at that point in time, without calling in the cavalry, so she resolved not to tell Remy until they got back. She looked forlornly at the motorcycle with the slashed tire and sighed, Rogue had really been looking forward to riding through the French Quarter in the fading sun, enjoying the sights and smells on their way back to the LeBeau house.

Remy seemed to sense her thoughts, and grinned rakishly at her. “Think of it as an opportunity to cuddle me, rather than a missed chance to ride alone,” he suggested, taking his sunglasses off now that it was getting dark and he was about to hide his eyes behind the motorcycle helmet’s visor anyway.

“First you burst into my fight where you aren’t needed, hoping to play hero, and now you’re fishing for compliments again,” Rogue said, teasing him so he wouldn’t see how the thought of being able to hug him the whole ride back actually had cheered her up. “I don’t know, swamp rat, I’m starting to think you’ve got an ulterior motive.”

“Maybe Remy just wants a hug?” he said, trying to look pleading and mostly just looking mischievous.

Rogue snorted in disbelief, but climbed on the back of the motorcycle without complaint. She wrapped her arms around his waist and tucked her legs up behind his, rolling her eyes at the grin she knew must be on his face.

“I have to say, Chére, although I don’t like the idea of anyone attacking you or hurting you, that fight certainly had some benefits,” he said, wiggling a bit in her arms.

Rogue pinched the skin across his hip through his shirt in retaliation to that remark, and grinned to herself at his quiet yelp. Then Remy started up the engine and wheeled them out of alley. If he took the long, scenic route back to his home, he would blame it on Rogue wanting to see the sights New Orleans had to offer.

Chapter Text

Kayla and Logan hadn’t been too worried about Rogue going off and spending the day exploring the city with Remy. They trusted that Rogue was quite capable of taking care of herself, and that Remy would be more than happy to offer her his protection too. This did not stop their concern when they heard about the unfortunate mugger Rogue had faced.

When Remy and Rogue pulled up outside the LeBeau house, Logan and Jean-Luc were sat on the front porch, drinking whiskey and not talking to each other again. The sound of their arrival summoned Kayla out from the house, followed by Merci. Although Kayla hadn’t been too keen on Rogue learning to ride a motorcycle herself, she didn’t seem particularly phased about her riding behind Remy.

“Rogue, honey, did you have a good day?” Kayla asked once Rogue had slid off the back and pulled off her helmet. “Merci told me Remy had taken you out to see the city.”

“Yeah, it was good,” Rogue said with a smile. Then, with a sly sideways smirk at Remy, she added, “I spent the day dancing with a thief on the streets.”

Kayla looked confused, but happy for her, and Rogue explained about her day. Merci’s expression got darker and darker the more Rogue told, and eventually the blonde stormed off towards Remy and the garage with a thunderous expression. Rogue supposed she’d gone to remind Remy that Rogue was ‘only eighteen!’ again.

It was only when Rogue was explaining about the mugger that Kayla grew concerned.

“I’m fine,” Rogue hastened to reassure her. “The guy had crummy technique, didn’t even land a scratch.”

Logan grunted his approval at that, then waved her over to him. “Take off your gloves,” he told her. It was a ritual they went through after every training session, as it gave Logan the chance to survey and damage she might have done to her knuckles or wrists. She had never broken anything, but she’d had some pretty spectacular bruises after some of the rougher lessons.

But taking her gloves off in front of anyone was not something Rogue felt comfortable doing. It made her feel indecent, now. She knew that there was nothing special about her hands, that there was nothing to be ashamed of, but her gloves had become a permanent fixture in her life, only taking them off to wash or sleep. It had taken her weeks to get used to Logan seeing her without the gloves, and that had only been because he’d refused to continue the training sessions unless he knew that she wasn’t doing too much damage to her hands.

To take off her gloves here and now, in an environment she wasn’t comfortable in and surrounded by people she didn’t really know, was an almost terrifying concept and Rogue baulked at it. She shook her head, clasping her hands tightly around the strap of the motorcycle helmet she still held.

“You know I don’t like taking my gloves off,” Rogue reminded Logan quietly.

“Well you’re going to,” he told her, tone leaving no room for argument. He softened slightly after a moment. “We can go up to the bedrooms, if you want?”

Rogue shrugged, still not entirely comfortable with it, but knowing that Logan would get his way somehow. “I’ll just take the helmet to Remy,” she said, and shared a secretive grin with Kayla when Logan gave a low growl of protest at her calling him Remy, rather than Gambit.

“Remy can’t help what his heart hopes for! It doesn’t mean he’ll do anything about it.” Rogue heard Remy say as she neared the garage, and her grin turned into a full blown smile before she could check it. Rogue felt a little giddy, like she was riding out an adrenaline rush, and took a moment to relax back to normal before she coughed purposefully to announce her presence.

Merci looked furious, still, and Remy was leaning against a workbench, arms crossed over his chest defensively. When she saw Rogue, Merci’s face shifted strangely to something that was attempting to be friendly, in spite of how angry she clearly still was.

“I honestly can’t touch anyone,” Rogue tried to explain to her. “So me and Remy - it’s just flirting. You can ask Kayla about my power, if you like.”

“I have,” Merci said, more sharply than she intended because she immediately looked contrite. “But I don’t like your ‘just flirting’. Nothing good will come of it.” Then she brushed past Rogue and out of the garage.

Rogue watched her go curiously, not knowing what to make of the other woman. After a moment, she walked over to where Remy was standing and leant against the workbench next to him. “I don’t think she likes me,” Rogue commented.

“She likes you just fine,” Remy said. “She just doesn’t like the idea of ‘us’.”

Rogue snorted and shook her head. “I can’t touch,” she reiterated. “I will never be part of an ‘us’. Not seriously, anyway.”

“Remy thinks you’re too hasty in that judgement,” he replied, with a soft smile. “Just makes things interesting,” he added lecherously with an exaggerated wink, and made Rogue laugh.

She handed over the helmet, turning it the right way up and pointing out the ding in the surface from where she’d dropped it. “I didn’t notice at the time,” Rogue lied.

Remy shook his head. “Liar,” he pointed out. “You shouldn’t ride with a damaged helmet. One flaw can make it a useless ornament,” he explained.

“There wasn’t much we could do at the time - I didn’t fancy waiting around until someone picked us up,” Rogue explained. “Would’ve made the mugger business messier.” She clenched and unclenched one of her hands. Rogue hadn’t noticed until Logan had pointed it out, but her knuckles were a bit sore.

“You alright, Chére?” Remy asked, concerned at the slight wince she’d made.

Rogue nodded. “I’m sure it’s nothing. Logan’s going to take a look in a minute, make sure nothing’s wrong.”

“Can Remy see?” he asked.

Her instant reaction was to tell him no. Rogue didn’t like anyone seeing her with her gloves off - strangely charming young men or not - but Remy looked so honestly concerned about her, and he’d been so worried earlier when he’d found her after the fight… she shrugged. “I don’t like taking my gloves off,” she told him. “I guess you can check too, but you have to remember not to touch me.”

That had been the hardest thing about Logan check her hands for sprains and breaks post-lesson. His first reaction was to take her hands in his and bend them and twist them, fingers prodding at the joints to see if anything felt strange. Logan had come very close to getting zapped by Rogue’s power a number of times because of that instinct, but Rogue had always been that little bit faster at hiding her hands before he took them.

They’d reached a compromise, of course - if Rogue wasn’t wearing her gloves, then Logan had to be wearing a pair instead. Opposite to Rogue, Logan hated wearing gloves for any length of time, and the first thing he’d done when putting them on had been to punch his claws through the material.

Remy nodded in agreement to Rogue’s condition, and left the helmet on the workbench surface before following her out of the garage and into the house, nodding at her explanation that she didn’t like taking off her gloves where she might touch anyone.

“What’s Gumbo doing here?” Logan grumbled when the pair of them appeared in the doorway of the bedroom he and Kayla were sharing. Kayla was in the room too, but apart from looking up and smiling at Rogue when she arrived, was ignoring them in favour of doing something fancy to her hair.

“Remy asked. He was worried I got hurt, so I said ok,” Rogue explained, sitting on the bed next to Logan with a bounce and grinning at the complaint she got for it. “I’m fine,” she added, when Remy looked worried.

“We’ll see,” Logan argued.

“It was just a couple of punches,” Rogue complained. “It barely even counted as a fight! The guy just kept lunging at me.”

“I think you broke his nose,” Remy said, unhelpfully.

“Gloves. Off,” Logan ordered.

Rogue scowled and took her time unbuttoning the tops of the gloves and peeling them down her arm and off her fingers. Her hands really were very pale, she considered. Rogue was naturally quite pale, but now that her hands never saw any sunlight they looked almost ghostly compared to the faint tan of her upper arm. As for whether they were hurt or not, aside from a little redness around her knuckles and small patch of scraped skin, there was nothing wrong with them.

“You remembered the techniques I’ve been showing you?” Logan asked her as he checked over the joints.

Yes,” Rogue said exasperatedly. “I’m fine.” She took her hand back from him, and waved her fingers in a mocking wave. “See? All fine.”

Logan grunted and, finally satisfied that she really was ‘fine’, sat back and pulled his own gloves off, only not throwing them to the opposite corner of the room when he saw Kayla’s frown. “Just want to know you’re ok, kid,” he told Rogue as she pulled her gloves back on, and redid the buttons on her gloves.

Rogue let her frustration fade and smiled warmly at him. “I know,” she said. “I just-”

“Don’t like taking your gloves off,” he finished for her, with a shake of his head. “I know.”

When Rogue looked up from her hands, Logan was watching her with a bemused sort of fondness, as though he wasn’t entirely sure what to do about her. It made something warm uncurl inside her chest and Rogue had to wonder if that feeling was what it was like to have a father. When she glanced back at the doorway, Remy had left. She wasn’t sure what to make of that, so she decided to ignore it.

“I’ll wait downstairs,” Logan told Kayla, leaning over and kissing the top of her head. Then he nodded to Rogue, and left.

“Are you two heading out?” Rogue said, toeing off her boots and shifting so she was sat cross-legged at the end of the bed, watching Kayla fix the pins that had been loosened by Logan’s gesture.

“Yes. Merci and Henri said something about a lovely wine bar just down the road that we should try out, so Logan and I are escaping for a couple of hours,” Kayla explained.

Rogue grinned. “A wine bar? Logan?”

“Oh, shush you. Logan can be civilised when he tries to be. He’s spent most of today in brooding silence in a corner with Jean-Luc, so he should be fully stocked with civility.”

Rogue giggled at that description and nodded. “Does Jean-Luc ever talk?” she asked. “I don’t think I’ve seen him say a word.”

“He wished me good morning,” Kayla said, then frowned. “And you shouldn’t speak ill of our host.”

“I’m not speaking ill!” Rogue protested. “It was genuinely something I was curious about.”

Kayla snorted and smiled fondly at Rogue through the mirror’s reflection. “I hear you and Remy are getting on very well,” she said, leaving the remark open for comment on Rogue’s part.

“He’s very charming,” Rogue said with a small smile. “He has the strangest tales he tells, I’m half convinced he’s made most of them up.”

“I saw that he went and joined you on the balcony last night,” Kayla remarked. “That was nice of him.”

“He was worried that I thought his family might disapprove of me,” Rogue explained. “Then he kept me company when I said I don’t like being around too many people.”

“Are you ok in crowds?” Kayla asked, suddenly concerned. “I didn’t think you had a problem, because we met you in that bar and you were fine, but if it’s something you don’t like we’ll need to try and come up with a solution for that if you want to return to school-”

“I’m fine,” Rogue said with a bit of a laugh, reassuring Kayla with the same words she’d tried to reassure Logan with earlier. “I don’t like crowds, exactly, but I can deal with them. Can we get back to talking about the cute guy who escorted me around his home city now, please?”

Kayla laughed as well, turning on the stool to face Rogue now that she’d finished her make up. It wasn’t often that Kayla wore make up - she didn’t need to, she was gorgeous without it - but whenever she and Logan went out on one of their date nights she put in a bit of extra effort. She also did things with her hair that seemed to defy all logic and plausibility and looked absolutely stunning.

“So tell me about your Remy,” Kayla invited Rogue.

Rogue blushed a bit at Kayla’s use of the word ‘your’ and how possessive it sounded, and smiled a bit at it too. “He showed me around the city, and we wandered around the French Quarter most of the afternoon, and he had a story for every street, like the whole city was his home. And when I said I didn’t have any exciting stories, he led me to where a group of musicians were playing. I really wasn’t just joking earlier, we really did spend a couple of hours dancing in the street and he is a fantastic dancer.”

“Sounds like you had a lot of fun,” Kayla said, smiling warmly. “He didn’t say anything too inappropriate? I know Gambit can be a bit forward sometimes.”

“Oh he said plenty of inappropriate things,” Rogue replied with a laugh. “But he’s so damn charming about it.”

“And he’s gorgeous,” Kayla added.

“That too!” Rogue agreed. “And the inappropriate stuff wasn’t serious, you know? He was quite the gentleman most of the day.”

Kayla bit her lip, obviously trying to decide whether to tell Rogue something or not, and finally nodded decisively to herself. “Merci’s worried,” she told Rogue gently.

Rogue hunched her shoulders a bit and nodded. “I don’t think she likes me,” she said, just as she had to Remy not long before.

“It’s not that,” Kayla soothed. “It’s just that Gambit doesn’t have a great history in the love department, apparently. He falls in love very easily and she worries for him. Merci thinks that your mutant powers and your age are going to lead to him getting his heart broken again. She doesn’t think you’d do it on purpose, she just thinks you’re too different, and that you being untouchable is just a challenge that Remy wants to solve.”

Rogue couldn’t meet Kayla’s eyes, and inspected the seams of her nice gloves, checking that the excitement of the day hadn’t damaged them in anyway. “I’m not totally innocent,” she said after a long minute and it didn’t look as though Kayla was going to say anything more. “That’s part of why David ended up in a coma and I got kicked out.” Which was more, far more, than she’d ever said on that topic before.

Kayla reached across the space between them, and wrapped her hand around one of Rogue’s. “I think…” she said, trailing off briefly. “I think we’re only here for a month. That you shouldn’t worry about things too much. I think you should take advantage of whatever opportunities arise, but not expect anything more than can fit in four weeks vacation time.” She stopped, and Rogue looked up to meet her eyes. “You are young and beautiful. Try not to break any hearts, and try not to let your heart get broken. But don’t worry too much about it.”

Rogue smiled at her, and squeezed her hand. “Thank you,” she said sincerely.

“You’re welcome,” Kayla replied with a smile. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, Logan’s waiting for me.”

“Have fun.”

“I will,” Kayla promised with a wink and a wave, leaving Rogue to her own thoughts.

-xXx-

The following weeks were spent in much the same fashion as the first day had been, with Remy showing Rogue around the city and showing her all the things that she would have missed if she visited just as a tourist. Some days Kayla and Logan came with them, but more often than not it was just the two of them.

Remy did show her to the jazz club he’d talked of the first day, and multiple others too. He had a natural grace and fluidity of movement that meant he was a brilliant dancer, and learning from him was easy. Rogue being able to dance on her own was a natural progression of dancing with him, something she couldn’t have been ashamed of even if she’d remembered to feel self conscious about it. Dancing with Remy soon became one of the highlights of her day.

He didn’t seem to have any kind of gainful employment, so Remy spent the entire time they were visiting doing whatever he or Rogue felt like. He explained a little about the situation, but shook his head ruefully when Rogue brought up the negotiations. Remy thought it was ‘too soon’ for a unification of the guilds to work.

“When Jean-Luc took me in, everyone thought I’d be the person to unify the Guilds,” he told her late one afternoon as they strolled down a quiet avenue hand in hand. “I grew up with the daughter of the leader of the Guild of Assassins, Bella Donna. She was one of my closest friends, and we always knew our fathers planned for us to marry.”

“What happened?” Rogue asked. There was no wedding ring on Remy’s finger, and although he hadn’t made any moves on her, they often walked with arms around each other, or hands clasped. She knew enough about him now to know that he wouldn’t be so casually affectionate to some other girl when he had a wife waiting for him.

“I loved her like a sister,” Remy said. “I never intended to go through with the marriage, but her brother found out what our fathers had planned, and he challenged me to a duel.”

Rogue frowned. “What, like with swords and throwing gloves to the ground? Isn’t that a bit archaic?”

Remy smiled, but it was a sad expression and didn’t last long. “He swore he would kill me before he’d let me marry his sister. I tried to explain to him, but he didn’t listen. Wouldn’t listen. He just kept attacking me, I wasn’t safe anywhere.”

“He was Julien,” Rogue breathed as comprehension dawned, remembering the conversation Remy and Henri had had over the breakfast table that first morning.

“Yes,” Remy agreed simply. “I killed him; he left me no choice. Bella has never forgiven me, and I was exiled from New Orleans by both the Thieves and the Assassins.”

Rogue squeezed his hand, bumping her hip gently against his in a silent offer of comfort, should he need it. Remy smiled softly, sweetly at her, and squeezed her hand back.

“Stryker picked me up shortly after I was exiled,” Remy continued his story. “I was one of the first kids he kidnapped, and he lost interest in me pretty quickly when more and more interesting skills started popping up for him to take and harvest. It’s part of why I was able to escape, Stryker started to forget that I was raised a thief, that I can break out of places as well as into them.” He paused, pulling them to a standstill and turning so that he was facing her completely.

“I would have saved more of them, if I could,” he told Rogue, desperate for her to understand. “I would have crept into every cage and let all of them free, and ended their captivity. But I was so afraid, and so cold.” Remy raised a hand between them, letting his fingers glow with the power of his mutant ability. “I’ve never been cold,” Remy explained. “Even before I knew how to properly control my powers, I always became too warm. I’ve never been cold.”

“But Stryker had some kind of prohibiter that he strapped onto the kids who were harder to contain. It took away my mutant abilities, left me without my power running under my skin, and it felt to me as though all the warmth had left the world. It terrified me. But he forgot that it wasn’t my mutant power that made me a thief - that was all me. So one day I managed to unlock my cell, and creep past the guards and off the Island. I found Destiny, who knew how to take the prohibiter off. And I didn’t - couldn’t even think about going back.

“I did, eventually. After my family welcomed me back to New Orleans, and Logan came in search of me. I flew him to the Island, helped him free the other kids. I made sure everyone got away safely,” Remy paused and closed his eyes, shuddering suddenly. “I didn’t meant to leave them behind the first time,” he promised her.

Rogue reached up, cupping his cheek in one of her gloved hands without thinking about it. “I believe you,” she said. “You should be proud you went back at all. I don’t think many people would have been able to do that.”

Remy tilted his head into her hand, opening his eyes again and smiling at her. “You are too enchanting, Chére. Remy keeps telling himself he shouldn’t fall for you, but it’s difficult not to.”

Rogue blushed at his confession and licked her lips instinctively. His eyes dropped to follow her tongue’s movement before darting back up to meet her gaze again. Remy leaned forward slightly, an invitation and a signal of what he wanted to do. But Rogue shook her head, dropped her hand from his cheek and turned away. “Don’t,” she whispered.

He dropped the hand he’d been holding, and wrapped that arm around her waist instead, pulling her in for a hug and being careful not to touch her skin. “Sorry,” he apologised. “I know I shouldn’t.”

Rogue laughed a little wetly and tried to pretend that she wasn’t crying. “I don’t care about should or should nots,” she told him fiercely. “I don’t care if everyone thinks I’m too young for you, or if they’re worried we’re going to break each other’s hearts! I like you, Remy, and I won’t see you get hurt. And I hurt everything I touch!”

Remy didn’t say anything, just held her close and rubbed a hand soothingly up and down her back. When her sobs had quietened, Rogue took a step back and rubbed hastily at her cheeks. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“Remy doesn’t mind. I like you too, and I don’t want to see you hurting either.”

“What a sorry pair we make,” Rogue chuckled ruefully as they linked hands again and carried on walking.

“I don’t think so. We’re beautiful, no? All the men should be jealous of Remy for holding hands with the prettiest girl in the city, and all the women should be jealous of Rogue for holding hands with the most charming man around!” he cried, waving his free hand extravagantly, and grinning as he got Rogue to laugh.

“You still think an awful lot of yourself, swamp rat,” she teased, then sobered a little. “David was… David was my boyfriend, before I knew I was a mutant. I think, even if I didn’t hurt people, I’d still be a bit phobic of touch after what happened.”

“Not entirely phobic,” Remy said, raising her hand that he held in his, and kissing her knuckles through her gloves. “You don’t have to tell me,” he added.

Rogue shook her head. “You told me about Bella Donna.” Then she took a deep breath and explained how David had ended up in a coma for three weeks. How all they’d been doing was kissing and groping; teenagers fumbling around in her room without any idea what they were doing. Rogue told Remy about how David had gone stiff and cold in her arms, how he’d started gasping for air and his skin had gone terrifyingly pale, his veins protruding in a sickening way. She told him about how David was in the back of her head now, and that he wouldn’t ever go away.

“He recovered?” Remy asked.

Rogue nodded tightly. “I phoned him a month or so after I left. He was fine, back to normal. He didn’t want to ever see me again, although he hoped that I was alright.”

Remy considered her story for a while, swinging their hands between them and not looking at all inclined to let go any time soon. After a while, he spoke. “I’ve heard some pretty weird ‘first time’ stories,” he told her. “But yours has to be one of the worst.”

Rogue tipped her head back and laughed, thinking that it was two years ago, and this was Remy, who she trusted, and it was alright to laugh about it now. That wasn’t something she’d ever thought before. That night had always been a dark shadow in her past, the beginning of a land slide down into eighteen months worth of lonely misery. But now Rogue had Kayla and Logan, and Remy too.

“I don’t think I would count it as a first time,” she confessed. “We only managed to get my t-shirt and his shirt off before my powers kicked in.”

“The first time Remy was with a girl, he came in his pants before we even got that far,” Remy told her quietly, blushing tomato red. “She was not impressed,” he added with a rueful shake of his head.

Rogue giggled a little, and leaned against his shoulder briefly. “How old are you?” she asked as they turned off the avenue they’d been wandering down and into a smaller street lined with cafes.

“Remy doesn’t know, exactly. Somewhere between 25 and 30, probably. Remy doesn’t keep track.”

“Well when’s your birthday, then?” Rogue prodded, thinking that even at thirty, the age difference between them wasn’t that bad.

Remy shrugged, and pulled her into an ice cream parlour. “Why all the questions, Chére? Does it matter?”

“Well,” Rogue said, between choosing flavours, “if I wanted to get you a present for your birthday, I’d have to know when it was, wouldn’t I?”

Remy tilted his head, as though the prospect of gift giving was foreign to him. “Remy doesn’t need presents,” he told her.

Rogue hummed and licked a drip of ice cream that threatened to escape. “Sometimes the best bit is giving a gift, rather than receiving one,” she told him. “Maybe I want to give you something to make me feel better, rather than you.”

“Then why do you need the excuse of my birthday?” he reasoned. “If you want to give me something, why don’t you just do it when you feel like it, rather than waiting for a specific time?” He paid for their ice creams and they wandered back onto the street, heading towards one of the parks.

“Maybe I want to celebrate the day you came into the world,” Rogue said. “I kind of like the fact that you exist.”

Remy shook his head. “Remy doesn’t know how many years old he is, you think I know what month I was born? Never mind the day. I celebrate being born by living. And by eating ice cream with pretty girls on summer days,” he added.

Rogue nodded in mock seriousness at that, sitting down on a bench and pulling Remy to sit down next to her. “Can I pick a day?” she asked. “If I want to spend a whole day once a year thinking about you and being glad you exist, can I chose a day? It doesn’t have to be your birthday. More of a celebration that Remy exists day.”

Remy laughed at her persistence. “If you really want, I won’t argue with you having a day dedicated to me. But you will have to let me chose a day for you too.”

“Ok,” Rogue said, licking her ice cream and watching the park, ignoring Remy beside her.

“Well?” he asked after a long few minutes of silence, practically vibrating with curiosity. “What day did you pick?”

“Not telling,” Rogue said with a cheeky grin. “It’s my day for you. You don’t need to know when it is.”

“Then I won’t tell you what day I picked for you,” Remy replied, pouting a bit and making Rogue laugh.

“You haven’t picked a day,” she said knowingly. “You were going to pick the same day that I picked for you so that you could try and redirect all the attention back at me.”

He gaped. “How did you - no! That wasn’t what I was going to do,” he protested.

“You’re getting ice cream on your hand,” Rogue told him, nodding at where the sticky brown treat was dribbling all over his fingers.

Remy scowled at her as he mopped up the mess he was making. “You are a ridiculous person,” he told her sincerely. “You are beautiful, and funny, and ridiculous.”

“Well that’s alright,” Rogue said with a grin. “Since you’re handsome, and charming, and ridiculous.” She stood up, finishing her ice cream and heading towards the bin to get rid of the cone. Remy stood too, following her and cursing at his ice cream as he did so. Rogue laughed again and took his hand - the one that wasn’t covered in ice cream.

Remy threw the remains of his icy treat in the bin too and looked petulant as he licked the last of the ice cream from his fingers. “I’m not normally that uncivilised,” he said.

“I know,” Rogue told him, but giggled again anyway.

Remy met her gaze, then pulled her to a sudden stop, stepping up close and into her personal space. Rogue was a little surprised by the suddenness and apparent randomness of this, but she had become used to Remy tugging her suddenly round sharp corners or into a dance, so she didn’t startle or pull away.

Without thinking, he poured a spark of energy into his forefinger, then swiped it across Rogue’s cheek. “You had some ice cream,” he told her.

Rogue stood frozen, entirely unable to move. “Remy?” she croaked.

“Chére? Are you alright?” he asked, suddenly concerned for her.

“Me?” she blurted incredulously. “Me? I’m fine! What about you?” she grasped at the hand that had touched her cheek, cradling it in two of her own and staring at it. Rogue looked up at Remy, searching his face desperately for - what? If she was going to hurt him, it would have happened by now. “How are you not hurt?” she asked him.

“Rogue, Chére, what do you mean?” he asked, looking adorably confused for a long moment before he got it too. Remy stared at his hand as well, then a wicked grin stole across his face, and he laughed. “My powers!” he exclaimed quietly. Then he wrapped her in his arms, picked her up, and span in an excited circle. “My powers,” he repeated. “They let me touch you.”

Rogue laughed at his excitement, at being spun around so suddenly, but she was still worried. “Maybe,” she warned. “Maybe they do.” Rogue didn’t want to get her hopes up. She really didn’t want to think that this might be an answer, or part of an answer, only to learn later that it had been a fluke. When her feet were back on the ground, she dropped her arms from where they’d automatically gone to around his neck, and clung to his elbows. She needed some contact, to know he was real, and there, but she needed some space, too.

Remy raised the same hand again, lighting up his forefinger with just a spark of energy. “May I?” he asked her.

Rogue hesitated only very briefly. It was foolish, testing this here, in the middle of a park, in the middle of the day. But she had to know, so the nodded. “If you feel anything, or if I tell you to stop,” she started to say as he moved his hand closer.

“I’ll stop,” he promised. Then he closed the distance and brushed his finger, feather light, from her cheek to her chin, along her jaw. It was like he was tracing a line of fire, but it didn’t hurt, and it didn’t feel anything like when Rogue had touched someone before. The pins and needles in her skin, that she’d learned existed in connection to her power, twisted anxiously inside her, but didn’t rise to the surface, didn’t flash up to Remy’s touch to try and steal his mind and his powers.

He laughed softly, disbelievingly, and brushed his finger from her hairline, down the centre of her forehead, over the bridge of her nose and down, down, tugging her lower lip a little, over her chin, down her neck to the hollow of her throat. Remy lit his thumb, and traced it across the seam of her lips. He was infinitely careful as he traced her face with his fingertips; along her brows, around the curl of her ear, under her eyes, around her mouth. Then, finally, slowly, as it started to become too much for both of them, he put a spark of energy to his lips and kissed her tenderly on the forehead.

They pulled apart, watching each other incredulously, and clasping their hands between them. Then Rogue stepped forwards, initiating a hug between them for the first time, and pressing a kiss to Remy’s collar, careful not to touch any of his skin not currently protected by his power.

“Thank you,” she told him, clutching him tightly. “Thank you,” she repeated, and tried not to cry again.

-xXx-

Kayla was delighted by Rogue’s discovery that Remy could touch her, so long as his powers protected him. Logan was not so happy at the development, and spent the next few days glaring at Remy whenever they were in the same room, and refusing to let the two of them spend any time alone together. Rogue had put up with this for only so long before she’d told Logan to get over himself.

“I’m not stupid!” she’d shouted at him. “I know that as soon as either of us stop thinking about it, he’s going to wind up hurt. All he’s done is stroke my cheek! He hasn’t even held my freaking hand without my gloves on, because I hurt everything, and I know I’ll just wind up hurting him sooner or later too!” And then Rogue had slammed out of lounge and hidden herself in the bedroom she’d occupied for her stay.

An hour or two following her outburst, Logan had knocked on her doorframe to announce his presence and she’d waved him in, feeling tired and wrung out.  Rogue had been curled up on the window seat sketching dark, angry shapes that didn’t really look like anything. She flipped her sketchpad shut as he entered and threw it to the bed, swinging her legs to the floor and looking at Logan expectantly.

He looked awkward, something that was strange on a man like him, and sat on the corner of her bed that was closest to her seat. “I don’t want to see you hurt,” he told her sincerely. “Whether it’s because of your mutation, or because some fool of a boy breaks your heart. You’re… you’re my kid now. If I could, I’d hide you away from the world.”

“You can’t,” Rogue told him flatly.

“I know that,” Logan growled. “You’re your own person, had been for long before we met you. Doesn’t stop me from wanting to protect you from the rest of the world.”

Rogue considered making a remark about the difference between hiding her away, and trying to protect her, but bit her tongue and swallowed it. Logan wasn’t a great talker, he’d probably communicate entirely in a series of grunts, if he could, but he was worse when it came to expressing feelings.

“When you left earlier, I realised that maybe I was the one who was hurting you,” Logan told her regretfully.

Rogue let out a long breath, leaning her head back against the glass behind her and staring at the ceiling. “Do you have any idea how happy it makes me feel, to see you and Kayla so happy together?” Rogue asked. “Because I’ve known - or thought I’ve known - ever since David and that stupid kiss years ago, that I was going to be alone. Because no one’s going to love a girl who can’t be touched. Not long term, anyway. So when we came here and Remy seemed genuinely interested in me, I loved it, enjoyed it while it lasted. Now there’s a chance that I might not have to stop liking him…” Rogue trailed off, turning to stare out of the window.

“Promise me you don’t like him just because he can touch you,” Logan said forcefully, leaning towards her. “Promise me.”

Rogue forced herself to look at Logan, not realising that she’d been avoiding his gaze until she tried to meet it. She shrugged awkwardly. “I trust him,” she said simply. Then she turned away again. “Besides, we’re going home in a couple of days.”

There was a long moment of quiet that stretched beyond a pause in the conversation and into the pair of them just sitting together in silence. Eventually Logan stood to go back downstairs. “We can buy you a cell phone,” he offered just before he left. “So you can stay in contact with your friends.”

When Rogue looked over, Logan had vanished and she was alone in her room again. She allowed herself a warm smile, moving to the bed and hugging one of the pillows happily. She didn’t know how she’d managed it, but Rogue had found herself the perfect parents for her. Logan’s gruff, distant protectiveness was a better reminder that he cared for her than any proclamations would have ever been. And Kayla was the balm to Logan’s rough edges.

With what amounted to reluctant permission from Logan, Rogue and Remy escaped that night into the city and the dance clubs he’d been introducing her to. Knowing she was only there for a few more days, that Remy had survived touching her without a hint of him left behind in her mind, Rogue was freer with herself, more relaxed and faster to enjoy herself. They didn’t touch again after that first day, it took Remy more effort than he’d let on to keep his power so regulated that he could protect himself and not hurt her. But he’d taken to kissing her on her gloved hand, or through the material of her shoulder, of on the top of her head where her hair protected him.

Rogue was less free with her affection, but she kissed his shoulder through his jacket, or ran gloved fingers through his hair. That night, in the restless movement of dance and the anonymity of the crowd, she put her hand over his mouth, and kissed the back of it. She laughed at his sudden, surprised stillness, and laughed again at his obvious pleasure and the way he tugged her, spinning, back into the dance.

“You constantly surprise and delight me,” he whispered in her ear at the next opportunity. “Maybe Merci was right. I should have stayed away from you. Remy thinks you’re going to break his heart.”

“I’m only here for a month,” Rogue reminded him. “I was only ever here for a month. But-” she cut herself off with a sharp, anxious breath, and closed her eyes. She lowered her voice to a hot murmur against his neck. “If I’m breaking your heart, you must know you’re breaking mine too.”

Remy nodded tightly, holding her tight against his side for half a second, before loosening her grip and spinning her in the dance again. They didn’t speak again, just danced into the early hours of the morning and stumbled their way back to bed without a word. The following day they pretended as though the conversation hadn’t happened.

Kayla, ever sensitive to the emotions of those around her, pulled Rogue to one side the next day. “When I said not to expect anything more than could fit into four weeks, that didn’t mean you wouldn’t,” she told her. “It’s not a deadline, or a death sentence. You are allowed to care for him after we move back home.”

“I know,” Rogue said. “But it has only been a month, and I’m only eighteen, and it’s a very long distance.”

Kayla shook her head dismissively at each of those problems. “People have built more from less. You’ve spent all day everyday for four weeks with Remy, which is more than a couple dating regularly for the better part of a year might do. Eighteen is relatively young, but you’ve been an adult in your mentality for a while now. And in light of the modern age and technologies, what’s a thousand miles or so? If you want a relationship with Remy, you’ll both have to work hard for it, but it’s not impossible.”

Rogue thought about that. Thought about Kayla and Logan’s relationship. She’d told Logan that seeing the pair of them together made her happy, but she’d never stopped to consider the difficulties they’d have faced as a couple. She knew them now, after twelve years of knowing each other, when they knew each other as much as any person can know another. Rogue wondered guiltily what it must have been like when Logan had lost his memories, and Kayla was left with a man who was the same that she knew and loved, but who didn’t remember her at all.

She nodded decisively. “Can we come back here next year?” she asked Kayla. Rogue and Remy weren’t technically in a relationship, as such. She didn’t think. Neither of them had made any promises to the other, or even to themselves, so far as she knew, but if she knew that she and Kayla and Logan were returning to New Orleans it gave her something to look forward to.

Kayla smiled, as though she knew what Rogue was thinking. “I don’t know, but we can see. It would be nice if we did have somewhere we could come on holiday to. It’s a lovely city.” She paused and looked thoughtfully at Rogue for a long while. “Have you considered the thought that maybe Remy’s the one who can touch you, because you want him to be?”

“What do you mean?” Rogue asked.

Kayla bit her lip uncertainly. “I was just thinking that of all the people in the world who might be able to touch you, wasn’t it strange that the one who can just happens to be the young man you’re sweet on?”

Rogue frowned, not entirely sure what it was Kayla was trying to get at.

Kayla continued, “You said that you might be able to control the powers of the people you’ve touched. I just wondered if maybe you had some control over your own powers too. It’s just a theory, but I thought maybe if you wanted to be able touch someone enough without hurting them, maybe you could.”

“I don’t think that’s it,” Rogue said, shaking her head in denial. “It might… might not just be Remy’s power, I guess. But the first time he touched me, it wasn’t because I really wanted him to. I had ice cream on my cheek that he just swiped off. I didn’t even know it was there.”

Kayla sighed sadly. “I don’t know then,” she confessed quietly. “I’d hoped that if it wasn’t just Remy, if we knew why he could touch you without getting hurt, maybe we could help you.”

Rogue offered a one shouldered shrug. “It’s alright,” she said, even though it wasn’t. “I’ve had plenty of time to get used to the knowledge that I may never touch anyone else ever again. I’m trying very hard not to get my hopes up too much.”

Kayla, Logan, and Rogue stayed in the LeBeau household for a further two days before they left to travel back to Canada, and they did so with mixed feelings. Logan had indeed bought Rogue the phone that he’d offered to get her, and Remy’s had been the first number that had been put into it. But having his number in her phone didn’t make Rogue feel any less disappointed at having to say good bye to him so soon after having met him.

On the positive side of things, there had been no attack on their home in Canada, and none of Logan or Remy’s contacts had heard anything about Stryker or Creed, so it looked as though Professor Xavier’s visit hadn’t drawn any unwelcome attention. Perhaps his ‘Blackbird’ was more invisible to satellite detection than it was to Logan’s sight. Rogue had also heard back from the local high school about her application to study there. They were a little worried about her age, but otherwise were happy to welcome her to their number.

“See?” Remy challenged. “You’ll soon have plenty of other things to think about, plenty of other people to get to know.”

“What about you? You sound as though you’re going to be pretty busy soon too,” Rogue shot back.

Although Rogue didn’t know much about the specifics of the two Guilds, and their attempt at unification, it had been impossible not to notice the rising tension during the last week of their stay. As Remy had suspected, it was too soon after the marriage that wasn’t and Julien’s consequent death, and the Guilds were preparing to fight one another again, rather than settle under a joint leadership. The end of the negotiations meant various things for Remy, most important of which were that the ban on taking jobs would be raised and he would return to his career of a thief, and that he would have to be much more careful about when and where he travelled in the city.

It was probably a good thing that the Vadases were leaving when they were, especially considering that on top of the brewing Guild war, Logan had started to become agitated about being cooped up in a city for so long. No promises had been made on either side about visiting the following year, but the offer had been made. Rogue got the feeling that whether they returned or not depended heavily on what happened between her and Remy in the months between.

“I’ll miss you,” she murmured to Remy the night before they left, the pair of them leaning against the railing on the balcony where they’d talked that first night. He had an arm loosely around her waist and they were both staring out at the swamp.

“Remy, he’ll - I’ll miss you too,” he whispered back.

Rogue turned and smiled at him, cupping his cheek. “You don’t have to change who you are for me,” she told him. She’d grown used to, and almost fond of, his strange speech patterns over the month she’d known him.

“Then say you won’t change either,” he asked of her.

She didn’t say anything to that. No promises, that was the only thing they’d really agreed on, although they hadn’t said that out loud either. They stayed out in the dark not saying anything, until it got too cold and they had to start thinking about heading back inside. Before they went in, he raised her hand to her lips and kissed the back of her fingers sweetly.

“For the road,” he told her.

Rogue wanted, so badly, to be able to promise that they’d be back next year, that they could go back to being whatever they were now. But it wouldn’t be fair to either of them, Remy especially, is they made any promises now.

So she told him that they would stay in contact, and when she left with Kayla and Logan the following morning she didn’t look back.

Chapter Text

Returning to their house in the Canadian Rockies was strange for all three of them. Logan and Kayla had been a couple for several years now, but this was the first time that Logan could remember them having a home, and the first time they’d gone away long enough for it to truly be a homecoming. Rogue had never been sure enough of her welcome to really call anywhere home before, so the experience was entirely new to her.

It was… nice. A little strange, but comforting. There was a fine layer of dust over everything and the rooms were a little stuffy from being shut up for a month, but both of those were things easily sorted and easily ignored in favour of the appreciation that they were home.

Logan wasted no time, once he’d parked the car and hauled their bags inside, heading out into the woods for a run. He’d just driven for another two days solid, but Rogue could easily see that he was aching to get out on his own feet in land that he was familiar with. The name Wolverine wasn’t just name, it pointed at the very nature of Logan too, and Kayla and Rogue were his pack, their house and the land it was on his territory.

Kayla watched Logan disappear into the tree line with affectionate eyes.

“Do you mind?” Rogue asked her. “That as soon as we get home he’s off again?”

“The three acres surrounding this house are his home,” Kayla corrected. “The same way we check the house for broken windows and anything missing, Logan is searching the land for anything unusual. Getting reacquainted with it. Besides,” she added with a secretive smile, “He’ll be back before I go to sleep.”

Rogue gave a fond chuckle and shook her head. “You’re kind of my parents. I’m not sure how I feel about knowing about my parents’ sex lives.”

“You don’t know anything about our sex lives,” Kayla said with a laugh. “You just know that we have sex. And that I have a very fine appreciation of Logan’s ass.”

Rogue laughed and tilted her head in agreement. They were her parents and not her parents. Perhaps something between ‘friend’ and ‘guardian’, although that latter had always made Rogue think of errant princes and princesses followed around to stop them escaping, which was not at all how Logan and Kayla made her feel.

Kayla touched Rogue’s elbow, and indicated they head inside. “We might as well get the house aired and our bags unpacked before Logan gets back,” she suggested.

Rogue nodded, and followed Kayla into the house, taking note of the improvements they still wanted to make to the building, the cracked paintwork along the frame of the front door, and the loose spoke of the low railing around the porch. They’d done a lot to the house since they’d first got it, the two rooms that had been added to the original structure were now solid and insulated, rather than about to fall down, and the dodgy plumbing in the bathroom had been sorted out. All that remained, really, was to redo the windows and polish off the edges.

The house was something all three of them were rather proud of. They’d all had their hand in making the improvements - Kayla had an eye for interior design that both Rogue and Logan lacked - and they’d made it into the home they wanted. Now, Kayla wandered into the spare bedroom that still hadn’t been redecorated after they’d redone the walls, and eyed it speculatively.

“What are you thinking?” Rogue asked, standing in the doorway and watching with a small smile as Kayla turned slowly on the spot, taking in all the details of the room.

“Logan and I talked,” Kayla said. “About maybe having a baby. We don’t… we don’t want one just yet. We still need to make sure that we aren’t at risk from Stryker or Creed, but maybe in a couple of years, it might… it might be an option. And, well, I was thinking. We were going to make this a guest room or a study, but maybe,” she bit her tongue and trailed off, looking uncertain and almost shy.

Rogue stepped into the room properly and wrapped Kayla up in a hug. “You would be great parents,” she reassured her. “And this room would make a lovely nursery.”

“You think?” Kayla blurted, flushing a little. “I feel like a little girl planning the ridiculous wedding she’ll never actually have.”

“You know you can have the ridiculous wedding, if you want,” Rogue pointed out. “Just say the word to Emma, and she’ll be all over it.”

Kayla gave a hiccoughing laugh, and Rogue realised with some consternation that she was crying. “I don’t really want a ridiculous wedding. I just want you, and me, and Logan, and a future with a little boy or girl running around causing havoc.”

Rogue hugged Kayla tighter, and shushed her gently. “You can have that. You can have that,” she repeated.

Kayla laughed, sounding anxious and overjoyed and a little bit confused. “I know! Before now, it feels like my life has been on hold, waiting for some kind of catastrophe that never happened. And I’m starting to realise that it might never happen. That I’m going to be happy with my husband and family. I’m not entirely sure what to do with that knowledge.”

“Just go with it,” Rogue said with a laugh. “Enjoy life again.”

They hugged each other for a moment longer, before breaking apart and smiling a little wetly at each other.

“Come on, let’s get some tissues and have a mug of cocoa each,” Kayla suggested. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to have a minor breakdown like this.”

“I think you’re allowed to have one,” Rogue told her with a grin. “We’re coming home, properly coming home, for the first time in too long. And then you have to consider all the drama of you and the man of your dreams maybe having a baby together.”

“Just don’t tell Emma,” Kayla requested. “She’d never let me hear the end of it.”

Rogue held up her hand. “Wait a second. Give me a second to get used to what I just said. Logan. With a baby. Can you imagine his face when he’s presented with the first dirty nappy?”

“You might be surprised,” Kayla said with an amused grin. “When we were talking about the possibility of it, we agreed that it would have to be something we worked together on. Logan confessed he wouldn’t really know what he was doing, but he looked… excited, at the prospect. I don’t think dirty nappies are going to dampen that excitement any time soon.”

“He’s very protective of the people he calls his own, isn’t he?” Rogue mused.

Kayla didn’t reply to that, just hummed in agreement as she heated the milk for their drinks.

Rogue watched her for a couple of minutes, at the soft smile and the easy affection in her eyes, and eventually she sighed. “You are so in love with him,” she remarked.

Surprised by the non sequitur, Kayla just raised her eyebrows, startling the gooey expression off her face. “I - yes, I am. Does that surprise you?”

“No, not at all. But you were daydreaming about him, and I just thought I’d point out the obvious.”

Kayla shot Rogue a vaguely bemused look before returning to the cocoa.

-xXx-

Returning to high school turned out to be one of the hardest things Rogue had ever done. She’d take running away from her foster home again over that any day.

Two years was a long time to try and remember all of the things that she hadn’t been particularly interested in, which made math and the sciences hellish to try and get back into. She had also originally opted to learn Spanish, which was still offered at her new school, but was an impractical choice when French was much more commonly used in Canada, and her sort-of boyfriend was fluent on Cajun-French. Which meant that she was learning a whole new language from scratch.

Thankfully, she had at least been given the reading list for her English class before term started, and was able to read each of those books and prepare herself for that class. Gym, as well, was pretty easy. Compared to Logan’s training sessions, the Gym teacher just didn’t measure up. Rogue found it amusing to listen to the other students’ complaints about Mr McTarrant and his supposed ‘hard-ass-ness’, and she silently wondered what they’d do when faced with Logan on a good day, let alone when he was in a mood.

It was the students who were the biggest problem, in all honesty. If Rogue had stayed in high school she would have graduated that past summer, which meant that there was no one the same age as she was at the school. On top of that, the eighteen months she’d spent on her own, followed by the time with Kayla and Logan where she’d been training in self defence meant that she didn’t look like a teenager anymore. She was still a little lanky from a recent growth spurt that the rest of her hadn’t quite caught up with yet, but she looked like a young woman now.

The rest of her year, and the seniors too, all still looked like children. Some still had the podgy cheeks of someone who hasn’t quite lost all their baby fat, some looked like rakes thanks to new, faster metabolisms and not having grown into their height yet. No one seemed quite settled into their own skin yet; still experimenting, still testing their limits. And while Rogue still wasn’t used to her powers, she knew who she was and was confident in her own ability to survive on her own if she needed to.

It was more than just appearances, of course. Professor Xavier hadn’t been wrong in his assumption that Rogue would have to face a number of ‘ignorant cruelties’ from her classmates. It was nothing that Rogue couldn’t cope with, and none of their remarks came anywhere near close to actually hurting her, but they didn’t exactly make for a pleasant day. They also reminded Rogue of how alone she was in this crowd of strangers, and made her look forward to the end of each day.

Kayla helped Rogue in the subject areas she struggled most with where she could, but she had indeed been given the permanent teaching position that had been mentioned before, and now had a class of five and six year olds doing their best to make her life awkward. Kayla loved them, and her job, but it was the first time she’d had her own class, rather than acting as substitute or teaching assistant, and she was busier than she’d been before.

This led to Rogue, who had never been particularly good at mathematics, actively failing that class and being warned by her teacher that she had to pick her grades up, and fast, otherwise the school would have to reconsider their decision in regards to letting Rogue attend.

“It’s bad enough that you don’t have any friends here,” he’d told her. “But failing my class and barely passing your biology and chemistry modules? Are you sure you really want to be here? Because it seems to me like you’re not putting that much effort in.”

Rogue had bitten her tongue and escaped his presence and his classroom as fast as she could, boiling with frustration. She had been putting effort in, more than any of the other worthless cretins in her classes, but she hadn’t studied any of the subjects for so long that she’d forgotten a lot of what she knew. What did she care how to find the area under a graph, so long as she had a roof over her head and a good chance of eating?

Logan had looked as though he’d wanted to help, but Kayla and Rogue knew that, while he certainly had his areas of expertise, mathematics was hardly one of them. The only thing Kayla could suggest was that Rogue find herself a tutor, preferably someone who could help with both math and science, who could at least bring her to the same level as the rest of the class. Rogue hated the idea of having to ask one of her class mates for assistance, but she also knew that there wasn’t much she could do about that other than suck it up and hope the teacher wouldn’t make her request too humiliating.

Rogue wasn’t sure what to make of her math teacher. He seemed impressed that she was asking for help, but disappointed that she needed help. He still appeared to believe her failing grade was through lack of trying on her part, and was reluctant to assign a tutor whose own grade might suffer by being dragged down by her. Still, he couldn’t turn down her request and arranged for her to meet Shiro Yoshida Tuesdays after school for tutoring.

Yoshida was a junior, and like Rogue mostly kept to himself. It soon became abundantly clear that his self-imposed exile was due to a hatred of all things American and a general distaste for Canadians too. He was a Japanese national, and the majority of his family had been killed or affected by the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima during the second world war, something that he was still deeply bitter about. The only reason he was in Canada at all was because his father was an ambassador for the UN and had insisted that Yoshida spend at least a year studying abroad.

His hatred for Rogue was immediate and deeply rooted. Rogue considered, briefly, being offended by how immediately he’d decided to dislike her, but mostly it just amused her. Yoshida was arrogant and temperamental, but he was also very clever and with his help Rogue found herself rapidly catching up to the level that the rest of the class were at.

“Why are you tutoring me, if you hate me so much?” she asked him when they were packing up their things after another successful tutoring session.

“Why, are you quitting?” he asked, looking hopeful.

Rogue felt gleeful when she said, “Nope,” and his face fell dramatically.

“Mr. Nose,” he began, meaning the math teacher who they’d both taken to calling ‘Nose’ due to how large his was. “Is a racist bigot who hates me because I am a foreigner who is doing better in his class than any of his precious Canadians. He implied he would give me a less than perfect grade if I did not help you.”

By ‘less than perfect’ Rogue assumed Yoshida meant that he’d get an ‘A’ instead of an ‘A+’. Which to any other student might have been fine, but to him and his determination for everything to be perfect was simply not acceptable.

“I don’t suppose it’s any consolation,” Rogue told Yoshida, “But Nose implied that I shouldn’t bother with high school at all, since I clearly wasn’t bothering in his class.”

Yoshida waved his hand belligerently. “You are not as stupid as the rest of the morons that attend this pit they pretend is a school -” which was the closest he’d ever come to complimenting her “- he is the stupid one for forgetting you have been cleaning tables for two years. It is no wonder your small brain has forgotten all you’ve put into it.”

Rogue snorted in amusement, and didn’t bother to argue. “I take that to mean tutoring me isn’t all bad,” she muttered.

“No. It is all bad, and a disgusting waste of my time. But it could be worse.” With that, he swept out of the room and left her to finish packing her things into her bag on her own, shaking her head and laughing to herself. Being insulted by Yoshida was almost a pleasure when compared to the infantile name-calling of the other students. Rogue was also probably the closest thing Yoshida had to a friend, and while he clearly still disliked her intensely, he had also taken to glaring furiously at any of the other students attempting to insult her.

As the year wore on Rogue did gradually acquire a few friends - or people who weren’t actively out to get her blood and didn’t mind sitting next to her in class and the food hall anyway. There were a couple of self-dubbed ‘bad boys’ who sulked about the place in leather jackets and biker boots, who looked as though  a gust of wind might knock them over if it hit them too hard. And there was a pudgy girl with thick, bottle-bottom glasses who mostly seemed to sit with Rogue so she could sit near Yoshida, who she looked to with awe. They all sort of irritated Rogue in the same way younger siblings might do, but they were a constant source of amusement and asinine conversation so it wasn’t all bad.

The ‘bad boys’ had started talking to Rogue about two months into term, when the principal’s car broke down in the middle of the parking lot, and it was discovered that the town’s usual mechanic was on holiday somewhere. So Rogue had offered to phone up Logan, and had taken a look at the engine herself while they were waiting for him to turn up.

The principal had been on edge about the whole thing, and seemed reluctant to trust Rogue, but by then the majority of the school was pointing and whispering. Before he could voice any doubts, Rogue had popped the hood and was poking about in the engine. Logan had arrived soon enough, and between the two of them they had the car functional again, if not at its best.

“You need to give this thing a full maintenance,” Logan had told the principal, thumping the hood hard enough to make the car rock a little and make the other man wince. “If you want I can take a proper look at it over the weekend.”

The principal had wavered a little bit, and Logan had stood there looking accidentally menacing, and had eventually agreed. Then Logan had disappeared back off down the road.

Dude,” Bad Boy number one had murmured. “That guy is bad ass.”

Rogue had snorted at that comment and wandered back into the school, where class had been delayed half an hour until the spectacle in the parking lot had played itself out. Which personally Rogue thought was ridiculous - it was a broken down car, for crying out loud, it wasn’t like someone had died or something - but it was a pretty small town, so they obviously got their amusement where they could.

By lunch time the school was rife with rumours about what her link to the hunky/terrifying mechanic was, ranging from close to the truth, to the utterly fantastical. Rogue couldn’t remember anything prompting quite this much speculation at her old school, but then she’d always done her best to keep out of it, even she’d been aware of the hottest topics of gossip.

Normally at lunch she sat on her own, but the two leather-clad menaces had sat opposite her that day and barely stopped to introduce themselves as Matt and Eddie before they launched into questions about Logan. Apparently their dad had been one of the men whose car Logan and Rogue had fixed up in the spring, so they’d half recognised her, but hadn’t been able to tell from where until they saw Logan. They were the type of boys who wanted to be the tough mechanic types when they grew up, but were more likely to end up owning a hardware store.

They were nice enough, and adorably enthusiastic about learning everything they could about Logan (which wasn’t much) so Rogue didn’t have any trouble getting to know them and becoming friendly with them. They were normally a little more sober than that first day, a fact for which she was thankful. By knowing them Rogue also became an acceptable addition to their group of friends, which was mostly made up of those who didn’t fit in with the jocks and the cheerleaders, and shared a passion for rubbishy cop TV shows and Supernatural.

Eliza, Yoshida’s fan girl, had started sort of always being there about a fortnight after Rogue and Yoshida’s first study session. She had never breathed a word to either of them, and never dared to sit anywhere nearer than the opposite end of the table, and Rogue eventually lost patience with the girl’s hovering and asked her why she was doing it.

“I - I’m sorry. I’ll just…” Eliza had stuttered, looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights. She turned away from Rogue, meaning to leave.

Rogue had huffed loudly, grabbed the girl’s arm and led her over to one of the food hall’s tables. “I didn’t mean ‘leave me alone’,” Rogue said. “I just want to know what your deal is. You’re everywhere I look, but you’ve never once said anything to me!”

“I’m sorry,” she muttered again, hunching her shoulders and shrinking into her seat.

Rogue closed her eyes, prayed for strength and asked, gently, “What’s your name?”

“Eliza. Well, Elizabeth, but my mom only calls me that when she’s angry s-so, Eliza,” she said, then added, “please,” on the end.

“Well, Eliza, it’s nice to meet you. Feel free to sit next to me again if you want to,” Rogue offered. She considered the unbearably shy girl for a moment or two longer, before shrugging and turning to the much more interesting task of her lunch and a battered copy of The Da Vinci Code that she’d borrowed from the school library.

Eventually, after almost twenty minutes of mostly ignoring each other and sitting in silence, Eliza started talking. Quietly at first, little bursts of information about herself; she didn’t really have any friends, it was just her and her mom, she was a sophomore but she’d been bumped up a year so she should have been a freshman. Rogue listened to her without saying anything, keeping her attention on her book rather than the other girl, and if Eliza didn’t notice Rogue hadn’t turned a new page for fifteen minutes, she wasn’t about to correct her.

When Eliza’s little fact sharing spiel seemed to have come to an end, Rogue carefully folded a bookmark into her novel to save her page and gave Eliza a condensed version of her own life story, leaving out the parts about being a mutant, putting her first boyfriend in a coma and all that she knew of Kayla and Logan’s pasts. It was more than Rogue had shared with anyone else at the school, but still nowhere approaching the whole story. It sort of felt good that Eliza knew at least the bare details of Rogue’s life.

After that, Eliza always sat next to Rogue at lunch, and Rogue began to carefully introduce her to Matt, Eddie and their friends. Although all of the people Rogue knew where still the year above Eliza, and two years older than her, it seemed that anyone Rogue liked, Matt and Eddie liked by default. As eclectic as her friends were, they did make school life that bit more bearable for Rogue, and combined with Yoshida’s tutelage in the subject areas Rogue found most difficult, she actually started to enjoy school again.

The cell phone Logan had got Rogue also came in handy. Matt and Eddie and their friends seemed to send hundreds of texts everyday to one another, mostly comprised of ‘omg’s, ‘lol’s, and an excessive number of kisses. Eliza didn’t use her phone so much, but had frequent mild emotional breakdowns when she’d phone Rogue, who would reassure her that she was fine, that everything would be ok, and did she want Rogue to come around with chocolate and a sappy rom-com? That was almost always enough to cheer Eliza up again, and when it wasn’t Ben and Jerry’s usually did the trick.

Yoshida, whose communication skills were poor at best and non-existent at worse, mostly used Rogue’s number to text her insults and complain about the materialistic self-involvement of Canadian and American society. They also eventually moved their study sessions away from school and to one or the other of their houses where they’d sit at a table over mugs of coffee and their notes and bitch at each other about topics one or both of them didn’t really care that much about. The move was mostly dictated by the access to coffee and the fact that ‘Mr Nose’ wasn’t likely to burst in on them at any moment.

But more importantly - in Rogue’s eyes, anyway - the cell phone meant a link of contact to Remy. She hadn’t known much about what he did, beyond the general idea that he got paid to steal things, but she learnt bits and pieces about what he was up to whenever they talked. A couple of weeks after they’d left New Orleans the Guild negotiations had broken down entirely and life had returned to business as usual, but keeping a sharper eye out for members of the opposing guild who might hold a grudge.

Unfortunately for Remy, almost all of the Assassin’s Guild held a grudge against him for one reason or another (although mostly it was because of the wedding that never was) so he had to keep a better watch than most of the others. That further meant that he was getting all of the interesting out of town jobs, in an attempt to stay out of trouble, which was a good thing for Remy’s sense of adventure, but made it a little more difficult for him and Rogue to plan when to call one another.

They tried, when possible, to talk at least once a week, but they were often reduced to texting each other a bizarre narrative of their day. Remy could never give too much detail about whatever job he was on, mostly because anyone could pick up their phones and read the messages, but also partly because Rogue was still a bit wary of the idea of thieving as a profession. Which led to a variety of strange texts that didn’t make much sense.

I’m surrounded by men who don’t know how to play poker! This is good for my bank balance, very bad for my temper.
RL 

Is there something erotic about elephants Remy doesn’t know about? Or does this guy just have a strange fetish?
RL

I miss going dancing with you.
RL

I can’t tell if this cat is dead or just sleeping. I don’t think I want to poke it to see.
RL

Rogue replied to the ones she could, and otherwise just saved the messages and waited for the next one. On particularly slow days, she’d send him messages about what she’d been doing, about the other students whom she’d made friends with or whom she hated. Remy didn’t seem to have much of an opinion on most of the people Rogue told him about, although he was highly amused by her explanation of the dynamic between herself and Yoshida.

The strange contact between them, irregular but frequent as it was, made it easy to slip into a state where their relationship didn’t need defining. Rogue didn’t see or talk to Remy every single day so the gradual slide she’d started down to falling in love with him was put on hold, almost. She still liked him a lot and was desperately hoping she, Kayla and Logan would return to New Orleans the following summer, but she was starting to learn it was something she could live without. Rogue and Remy would always be very good friends, even if they never became anything more.

-xXx-

Mid November, Tony Stark, head of Stark Industries and childhood friend to Kayla, went to Afghanistan for a missile demonstration. While he was there he got kidnapped by a terrorist group known as the Ten Rings, the location of whom no one who was likely to save Tony knew. The only thing the majority of the world knew was that Tony had been kidnapped, and that he hadn’t been killed. Yet.

To the majority of people, this news was something to idly worry about and speculate over, but didn’t really matter. For Kayla, and thereby Logan and Rogue as well, it was a little more personal than that. While Kayla hadn’t talked to Tony for a long time, he was still a dear friend from her past, someone who’d opened a few doors and introduced Kayla to a world of possibilities she hadn’t even known existed. So to hear that he’d been stolen away, just like she and Emma had all those years ago, came as a terrible blow.

Ever since Kayla had mentioned her friendship with the somewhat eccentric billionaire, Rogue had been drafting and redrafting letters to him that she’d hoped Emma might pass on in order to reunite Tony and Kayla. But the letters all sounded wrong in her head, either too desperate or not caring enough, too pretentious or too much like she was a bumbling idiot. In the week that followed the breaking of the new across international television, Rogue sat down and wrote a letter.

She didn’t stop to second guess herself, just sat down and wrote everything she felt needed to be said. It probably ended up being a jumble of misspelt words that didn’t get across the message she was trying to send, but Rogue didn’t allow herself to read through it. Instead, she dug out an envelope and folded the letter up inside, writing in her best cursive ‘Mr Tony Stark’ on the front and nothing else. She then jotted down a quick note for Emma, folding that up and sliding it into a bigger envelope along with the letter for Tony.

Then Rogue had emailed Emma, informing her of Kayla and Tony’s friendship, how it had fallen apart and what Rogue wanted to do to try and get it back together again. Emma had been aware that Kayla and Tony had been friends briefly, but hadn’t known much more than that. She’d been eleven at the time the Starks were in Boston sorting out the contract, and had very little contact with either of them, and the rest of Kayla’s friendship with Tony had been via telephone calls and long winded emails.

Rogue asked Emma to pass on her letter to Tony, if he made it back from Afghanistan. She didn’t have to make sure he definitely read it, or anything, just that he did eventually receive the letter. Already, Rogue couldn’t remember the details of what she’d written, but she didn’t care too much about that. She just felt guilty that she hadn’t tried to re-establish this friendship before Tony had been kidnapped, so that Kayla at least had had the chance to talk to her old friend again.

Then again, if Tony never made it back, maybe it was a good thing Rogue had kept delaying writing to him. Kayla was upset enough as it was, with only the memory of him as an arrogant teenager. How much worse an emotional state would she have been in if she’d become friends with him again? But thoughts like that led to the idea that Tony was never coming back, a prospect that Rogue didn’t like to consider. So she mailed the letter to Emma and hoped.

Emma had, of course, agreed to pass on the correspondence as soon as she was able, although she did gently remind Rogue that, supposing Tony did make it back to the US, there was no saying how far in the future that might be, or what kind of mental damage he might have sustained at the less than tender mercies of his captors. No promises could be made.

But Rogue was getting used to that. No certainties in life, no promises in relationships. Just the definite facts that the world did keep on spinning, and family was family. When she mentioned this in passing to Yoshida, he had shrugged and told her that she better watch out or she’d become a cynic like him, which he thought was something that wouldn’t suit her. This had cheered Rogue up briefly, something that made his seem disgruntled but secretly pleased.

When the Christmas holidays finally rolled around - although the high school technically wasn’t supposed to call them that as it was a non-denominational centre for education - Kayla had seemed to accept that Tony was kidnapped somewhere foreign, that he wouldn’t be around anytime soon, and that there was nothing she could do about it. Which was not to say that she was pleased about it at all, nor was she back to her usual good humour, but she spent less time ignoring Rogue and Logan and seemed to be getting back into her normal routine.

Logan had been as baffled by how he should act around Kayla as Rogue had been, and it had led to him becoming more foul tempered too. Their sparring sessions and survival lessons had become more and more brutal, not helped by the declining weather, and Logan had become even more silent and brooding than before. In the awkward silences that then filled their house, Rogue continued to carry on as much as she could like nothing had happened. She was a little louder, movements more exaggerated, trying to fill the quiet that hadn’t been uncomfortable before.

But gradually Kayla relaxed, started having long winded, pointless conversations again with Rogue and flitting about the house doing general maintenance that had been half forgotten in the strange, melancholic stagnation the three of them had settled into. She also began to touch Rogue and Logan casually again, something that they’d both sorely missed. Rogue because people just didn’t touch her casually, and she missed being tapped on the shoulder, or someone tugging on her elbow. Logan because he missed their kisses and the soft reminders of their affection for each other.

So by Christmas, then New Year, things were almost back to normal again. Since neither Kayla nor Logan were religious, and saw Christmas more as an excuse to over eat and exchange gifts than anything else, Rogue had asked that Yoshida celebrate it with them. She still didn’t know much about the young man, beyond his political views (which basically amounted to ‘kill everything American’) and the fact that he thought school was a waste of time, but anything less than perfect was not acceptable. But Rogue did know that, with the exception of a housekeeper, Yoshida was alone in the mini mansion in which he lived.

It was a choice he’d made when he chose to do his exchange year in Canada, rather than America, and while he was still in regular contact with both his father and his uncle it struck Rogue as a very lonely lifestyle. And, since Yoshida didn’t celebrate Christmas either, as such, she used the day as an excuse to introduce him to her adopted parents, and try to get him to eat more than a few leaves of salad.

Yoshida, who still proclaimed regularly that he hated Rogue and all she stood for, and had once told her that the insulting texts he sent were sometimes the highlight of his day, agreed to join them with next to no complaint.

“But if you start babbling about Jesus Christ, and angels, I reserve the right to set fire to your Christmas tree and throw mashed potato in everyone’s face,” he’d warned her, when Rogue had arrived at his door with the borrowed car to go and pick him up.

“We don’t have a Christmas tree, and the potatoes are roasted,” Rogue had told him cheerfully. “But if you want, you’re welcome to upturn the gravy boat over Logan’s head.”

“Ha! Torturous woman! I’ve met Logan, I don’t think I’d dare poke him with a stick, if the stick was several miles long and I was in a different country.”

“I didn’t say poke him, I said pour gravy over his head,” Rogue argued

“That would be worse,” Yoshida stated firmly. “I think you want to see him kill me.”

“Then where would I get my fun?” Rogue asked cheekily. “He’s going to hate you, and I’m going to have so much fun watching you quiver in fear.”

“I hate you. With deep, unabating passion. I hope you die young and burn in the pits of hell for all eternity.”

Rogue reached over to ruffle Yoshida’s hair, giggling as he slapped her hand away angrily. “You say the sweetest things to me,” she exclaimed.

As it turned out, Logan didn’t hate Yoshida and reacted much the same way as Rogue had done when she’d first got to know him; regarding him with a detached sort of amusement. That did not stop Rogue finding it hilarious, because to anyone who did not know Logan particularly well, his ‘mildly amused’ face was exactly the same as his ‘really pissed off and about to skewer you’ face. Which, in turn, had Yoshida switching between cowering away from Logan and being the arrogant jackass he normally was.

Kayla though Yoshida was a lovely young man, and when she learnt that he essentially lived on his own  gave him an open invitation to join them for dinner whenever he wanted. She also thought that Rogue’s amusement at Yoshida’s expense was cruel of her, and their antagonistic friendship bizarre, not to mention vaguely unhealthy.

It was only after they’d finished eating, and Rogue and Kayla had started clearing the dishes away, trying to cajole Logan into helping then, when things went wrong. Rogue rarely took her gloves off, even in the safety of their home. Partly because she didn’t like taking them off, but mostly because her always having them on meant that the three of them could be a little less careful about always being aware of where Rogue was and whether she was likely to touch someone. However, when it came to doing the dishes - both when she was washing and drying them - Rogue had to take off her gloves as a matter of practicality.

So, when they started cleaning up from their meal, she took her gloves of and left them on the windowsill without even thinking that they had a friend in their midst who didn’t even know she was a mutant, let alone what might happen if he touched her bare skin. Kayla and Logan, similarly, thought nothing of it. Which was how, barely ten minutes later, Yoshida’s fingers brushed Rogue’s when they reached for the same plate.

There was a moment when nothing happened. The tingling, pins and needles ball of energy inside of Rogue that normally rushed to the surface of her skin as soon as anyone came close, lay dormant. But as soon as she realised what was happening, it stretched out, quick as a snake bite, and attacked Yoshida. He fainted before he had time to know that anything was wrong, and in moments a hot rush of energy swept over Rogue that she knew had nothing to do with her own mutant ability.

Without pausing to think about it, Rogue rushed for the front door, throwing herself out into the snow, and barely managed to do so before she caught entirely alight. But it wasn’t like her skin, or her clothing was on fire, she was fire. Uncontrollable, fiery heat that made the very heart of her ache with its burning.

Somewhere, distantly, she heard someone whispering her name. Or maybe screaming it, it was difficult to tell over the rushing in her ears. Rogue waited still, silent, as she burned with this strange new power, utterly unable to dampen it or try and direct. So she stood frozen in her front yard, unseeing and unaware of her surroundings until the star she had become started to wane.

It could have been minutes, it could have been years, Rogue had no sense of passing time until she started becoming herself again. She found the edges of her own mind, and pulled them tight around herself, shoving the new, alien abilities into the next room in her corridor of psyches. Eventually, she fell to her knees, released from the strange spell she felt as though she’d been under. Kayla rushed to her side, wrapping a blanket around her shoulders and checking her for any residual burns.

“How long was I like that?” Rogue rasped, immediately regretting the choice to speak, because her throat felt as though it was still on fire.

“Hush, don’t try and talk yet,” Kayla murmured, before answering the question, “You were burning for maybe twenty minutes? Your friend woke up very shortly after we lost sight of you through the flames, he was probably the only reason we didn’t panic entirely. Apparently Mr Yoshida is a mutant.”

“No kidding?” Rogue said, coughing and starting to shiver now that she was stood in the snow and no longer burning. Kayla helped her to standing again, and kept an arm tight around her shoulders, directing her into the living room. She settled Rogue onto the end of the couch, the blanket wrapped tight around her, before heading from the room with a promise of hot drinks.

“So,” Yoshida said, from where he’d perched himself on the opposite arm of the couch. “You’re a mutant.”

“So are you,” Rogue shot back.

“Little bit, yeah,” Yoshida said, sliding sideways off the arm so he was sat at the far end of the couch from Rogue. “I was pretty pissed off that you stole my powers, at first, but I still have them whole and intact. So, care to explain what your little display was about, and what you did to me?”

“She doesn’t ‘steal’ anything,” Logan barked angrily from where he was lurking in the corner.

“I… copy, I suppose is the best word,” Rogue explained. “I’ve only touched baseline humans, and Kayla, before, so nothing like this has happened before. I get echoes of the people I touch, left behind in my mind. They’re not real, not whole, just fragments. I talked to… a telepath, once, who thought that if I touched a mutant I might have an echo of their power too, but I haven’t had any proof of it before now.”

Yoshida nodded seriously at this explanation, then glanced at the kitchen door. “Kayla’s a mutant? You didn’t know from her powers?”

“She manipulates people by touching them, so I didn’t exactly have a chance to check,” Rogue said a little dryly. She’d also been mid panic attack following the time she’d touched Kayla, and hadn’t been in any kind of position to persuade herself to do anything, let alone anyone else, but Yoshida didn’t need to know that. “What are your powers? I felt like I had a small star inside me - no, I felt like I was a small star for a while there.”

Yoshida smiled, and it was a hard, ugly thing. “My uncle calls me ‘Sunfire’. The first time my power manifested, he said that I looked like the sun, fallen from the skies, and everything went dark in comparison.”

“Is it always as fierce and uncontrollable as that?” Rogue asked. “It was all I could do to stay standing.”

“I don’t understand,” Yoshida said with a shake of his head, and not answering her question. “How can you burn as brightly as I do, if you did not steal my power? If you only have an ‘echo’ of it?”

“It’s only to start off with,” Rogue tried to explain. “When I touch someone I… feel their life force, I copy it and, for a little while, I am everything they are and there isn’t much of me left. But before long I become myself again, and whoever I’ve touched goes back to being them, and I’m left with an echo of who they were in the back of my mind. With both you and Kayla, your echoes have a… an extra something attached to them, compared to baseline humans. I think it’s your powers. But, like I said, I haven’t been able to check before. And if I’m going to burn like that again, I don’t think I want to check now.”

Yoshida looked a little disturbed, and angry by this. “You have me, in your head? All my memories? I don’t like that. Is there anyway to remove it?”

“Not that I know of,” Rogue replied, feeling miserable and curling into a tighter ball.

Yoshida stood suddenly from the couch, and stalked across the room, back again, and across, pacing furiously and clenching his fists. He kept stopping to scowl at Rogue, sometime opening his mouth to say something, but never going through with it, and then returning to his pacing.

“Look, bub, if you’re going to freak out, do it somewhere else,” Logan growled thunderously. “I won’t have you making a scene or making Rogue feel bad about herself. So either grow the fuck up, or get the fuck out.”

Yoshida stopped pacing and stared sullenly at his shoes for a bit, hunching his shoulders. Eventually he asked Rogue; “There are no long term effects? On me?”

Rogue shook her head. “No. Other than when I first touched you, and it knocked you out, that’s it. I will probably be affected by that moment for the rest of my life, but you won’t.”

Kayla entered then with the cups of tea, but Yoshida brushed her away.

“I would like a lift home now, please,” he told Kayla, not looking at Rogue or Logan.

Kayla glanced between the other three, frowning, but agreeing.

As Yoshida was about to leave, Rogue called his name. “Yoshida. Are we - I mean, our tutor sessions,” she said hopelessly.

He stared at a spot just past her left, apparently unable to meet her gaze. “I will see you when school starts again,” he said, and didn’t answer her question. Then he and Kayla left.

As soon as they were gone, Logan lowered himself onto the couch next to Rogue and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her against his side. “You alright, kid?” he asked as gently as he was capable.

“I don’t know,” Rogue replied honestly, curling against him and thankful for the comfort he was offering. “He was just… a friend. Someone I could say anything to and not worry about being judged, because he’s already passed judgement.”

“You know you can say anything to us,” Logan, relaying a fact rather than attempting to try and sooth Rogue’s fears.

Rogue nodded. “I know. And I really appreciate that.” She didn’t try and explain that it was nice to have a larger circle of friends, or that she liked having people to talk to outside of her parent-figures, or even that the more friends she made the less time she had to think about Remy and miss him. Because Logan already knew all that. He was a solitary man, on the whole, preferring his own company or that of his nearest and dearest. But even he had enjoyed meeting up with Gambit again.

“There was -” Rogue cut herself off, closed her eyes briefly, then continued; “There was a moment, though. When Yoshida touched my hand. There was a moment when nothing happened. It was only when I realised that we were touching that I started freaking out, and that’s when it - my power - kicked in.”

“You think you might be able to control your power?” Logan asked.

Rogue shook her head again. “No, it’s not that. I didn’t have control over it. But, in the kitchen, doing dishes, with you and Kayla there - I was safe. I felt relaxed, and safe, and I trusted that nothing could happen to me. I trust you and Kayla would never hurt me. It’s just when I realised it was Yoshida that my powers reacted.

“I think that, if I feel safe enough, if I trust someone enough, that I won’t hurt them. I think, maybe, my power is a - a self defence,” Rogue continued.

Logan didn’t say anything for a minute, just thinking this theory through. “Yoshida’s powers are based on heat and light,” he said finally. “I hope it is just you trusting someone that does the trick, but it could just be that their powers are similar.”

Rogue buried her face in her knees, not replying to Logan, but hoping - wishing - that her theory on trust was true.

Chapter Text

When school started again after winter break, Yoshida avoided Rogue as much as he could. He still gave her tutoring session, but they were in classrooms again rather than their homes, and he avoided making eye contact. Rogue accepted this with no argument, and as a consequence became closer friends with Eliza.

The echo of Yoshida inside Rogue’s mind was made entirely of anger. Like his mutation had scorched across her skin, his mind burned inside hers. He was just a shade, but until Rogue got used to the fourth presence in her mind, and learnt to shut the door on him, to keep him locked away, he was like a toothache. Constant and prevailing, but also easy to ignore for the most part. His anger was something that had been spurred on by his uncle, Rogue could tell that much, and she wanted to tell him not to listen to everything he heard. She wanted to tell Yoshida not to listen to the grudges of old men, but he wasn’t her friend anymore and it wasn’t her place to do so.

Eliza didn’t know what happened and, for the first couple of weeks back, didn’t notice the change. She was still struggling to make her way in high school, and while she listened to Rogue talk with as much enthusiasm as she herself talked, Rogue preferred not to mention her other friends, so Eliza chose not to mention them. She was, however, something of a fan of Yoshida’s, and did eventually notice the difference.

“What happened between you and Yoshida?” she asked hesitantly one day. While Eliza was mostly happy to talk to Rogue without worrying anymore that she wasn’t welcome, she did still occasionally stutter over topics she wasn’t sure she was allowed to approach.

“We had a falling out,” Rogue said, hoping that would be enough to dissuade Eliza from asking further. The younger girl didn’t ask any more questions, sensing that they wouldn’t be welcome, but she seemed incapable of not shooting Rogue curious glances every so often, and finally Rogue caved.

“There was an accident, over Christmas,” she tried to explain without giving away the fact that both she and Yoshida were mutants. She had no idea how Eliza would react to that fact, let alone the one where, if Rogue touched her skin, she would steal her thoughts. “I ended up - hurting him, I guess. Not physically!” she added quickly, seeing Eliza’s alarmed expression. “Just his feelings, or something. I didn’t mean to, but he’s decided that he doesn’t want to hang out any more. His call, I guess,” Rogue said with the closest to a nonchalant shrug as she could.

Eliza looked torn for a long moment, between supporting Rogue her friend, and Yoshida the boy she’d looked up to with something approaching hero worship. “He’s an idiot,” she said finally, with a decisive bob of her head. “I mean, he’s a genius, but he’s an idiot.”

Rogue smiled warmly at her in gratitude. “I know what you mean,” she assured her. “I think it’s a description that covers most guys - especially teenagers,” she joked.

Eliza grinned back, looking as relieved as Rogue that that subject of conversation was over and they could return to their normal commentary of the other students.

It was only after Rogue had returned home that day that she had time to think about what Eliza had done for her. Rogue didn’t know what it was about Yoshida that had made him so important to Eliza, but that she had brushed aside whatever it was in favour of supporting Rogue probably meant more than it had seemed at the time. Rogue smiled to herself at that, and threw herself more enthusiastically into her sparring session that evening with Logan than she had since before their trip to New Orleans.

“What’s got you in such a good mood?” Logan asked her once they were done for the day. He still beat her relatively easily, but Rogue was still improving and she hoped that, one day, she’d be able to give him a proper run for his money.

Rogue shrugged and grinned. “One of my friends at school.”

“Yeah?”

“It sounds kind of ridiculous, but she worked out Yoshida and I had a falling out. She told me he was an idiot,” Rogue told him.

“I could’ve told you that - I have told you that,” Logan grumbled, although he did still look pleased that Rogue was happier.

Rogue just smiled at him, and thanked him for the training session. While she had not exactly been without friends when she had lived with her foster parents, Rogue had never really connected to any of the other kids at her school. There had been David, of course, and there had been a couple of others who she’d been friendly with, but she’d felt separated from all of it. Not happy enough in being who she was, to feel happy about knowing and being appreciated by others.

Now it was different. While Rogue still felt awkward about her powers, especially in light of the incident with Yoshida, she knew who she was as a person now. She was confident in her own beliefs, her likes and her dislikes and knew that she didn’t need to make friends in high school to feel good about herself. Which meant that Eliza was that much more important to her.

Kayla also picked up on Rogue’s good mood pretty rapidly, and anything that made the people around her happy, tended to make Kayla happy too, although Kayla didn’t ask what it was. Their evening was made even more exciting when, upon turning the radio on whilst sorting out the dishes from dinner, it was announced that Tony Stark had been rescued, and was now back on American soil.

And in a fantastic turn of events, Mr Stark has announced that Stark Industries will no longer be producing weapons! Although the company has hastened to assure the public that Mr Stark is simply suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the future of Stark Industries is looking very uncertain at the moment. And in other news -

“Oh my God,” Kayla exclaimed, dropping the plate she’d been holding back into the sink.

Logan glanced at her for a long moment, caught between a scowl and trying to be glad that everything was likely to return to what passed as normal. He hadn’t totally understood what it was about Tony going missing in the first place that had set Kayla off, but Rogue had since explained to him that they’d been childhood friends. His initial jealousy, though somewhat lost in the melancholy that they’d all been suffering from at the time, had quickly dissipated when he learnt that Kayla and Tony had never been anything more than friends.

Spurred into action, Rogue made for the freezer part of the fridge, prodding around at its innards for a bit and frowning in disappointment. “I’m going to go to the shop,” she announced, pulling the car keys from the hook by the door.

“Why?” Kayla asked, looking confused and happy.

“Because,” Rogue said, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world, “This calls for ice cream. Maybe a cake. We need to celebrate.”

“Oh don’t be silly,” Kayla tried to argue. “He was an old friend, we don’t even talk anymore-”

“If we’re not doing it for his return,” Rogue interrupted. “Then we’ll do it for the fact I think I just managed to get a bonafide best friend today, for the first time ever.”

Kayla’s smile, which had already been pretty large, lit up a couple more notches, and she laughed a little at her own foolishness. Then she swept forwards and wrapped Rogue up in a tight hug. “Today’s a good day!” she exclaimed.

Rogue laughed, and nodded in agreement. “I’d say so. I’ll be back in a minute,” she added, ducking out of the house and heading to the car to drive to the store.

Logan, who’s been leaning against the counter, watching them fondly, smiled a bit more when Kayla turned and noticed his attention. Her smile grew softer as she walked up to him and wrapped her arms around his neck, his own settling around her waist.

“You’re not jealous, are you?” Kayla asked.

Logan shook his head. “If I am, it’s only because he knew you for longer. I think I’d have liked seeing you as an awkward teenager.”

“No you wouldn’t,” she contradicted with a knowing smile. “If you’d known me as a teenager you wouldn’t have come anywhere near me as an adult. Then I’d be without a husband.”

“I doubt that. You’re too beautiful and clever not to be married by now. I’m just damned lucky that you chose me.”

Kayla moved a little closer, leaning the distance still between them to kiss him softly. “And I’m lucky that you chose me,” she repeated back to him.

Logan breathed her in, the familiar scent of Kayla, and love, and home, and kissed her again. “I’m happy for you,” he told her quietly. “I know you keep saying you don’t talk anymore, that he hasn’t been your friend for a long time. But you do still care for him.”

“Yes,” she confessed quietly. “He was my best friend before I was kidnapped. I’d half hoped that he might find me again, and half feared it too. It had always been an option, running to my father or to Tony when Stryker sent me to you. But I was terrified if I did so that I would lose Emma.”

Logan hugged Kayla close, letting her bury her face in his chest and content to offer silent support. “Why didn’t Stark look for you?” he asked her gently. He didn’t want to upset Kayla, not when she was so happy that Tony was home safe.

“Tony’s… remarkably self-doubting, for someone who appears so confident. He doesn’t - or didn’t, anyway - really understand why people liked him. He understood that they were attracted to him, wanted to sleep with him, use him, and he understood why people would want him for what he could do for them in terms of robotics. Tony is every bit the genius the papers make him out to be, and more. But he didn’t understand why people would want to be friends with him. He’d seemed constantly amazed that I continued to return his phone calls and emails. I suppose when I was kidnapped he saw it as the inevitable finally happening.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Logan said. “You’d never do that. He should have trusted you.”

Kayla quieted him with another kiss. “He trusted me. He just didn’t trust himself not to turn away everyone, eventually. Besides, it’s a good thing, in the end, that he didn’t come looking for me. Who knows what might’ve happened then? Emma and the other kids might never have escaped, you might not have been shot, but you might have died instead, we’d never have travelled around Canada all those years, we’d never have met Rogue…”

“I get it,” Logan said, interrupting her, this time, with a kiss. “Still think he should’ve done differently.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Kayla insisted. “Let’s leave the what-ifs behind, shall we? I’m just happy that he’s alive.” She broke out into another smile, as she reminded herself of the good news. It was strange how, recently, she hadn’t even noticed the weight of her anxiety over Tony’s well being. It had been heavy across her shoulders at first, when the news had first broken late the previous year, but she’d grown accustomed to it, had settled back into the routines of everyday life again.

But that weight was gone now, and Kayla almost thought she might be able to fly because of it. She tightened her arms around Logan and leant into him to kiss him again.

“It’s adorable how happy you are,” he told her seriously when they parted.

“Did you just call me adorable?” Kayla asked, astounded, and nipped at his lower lip in chastisement. He grinned wolfishly at her and ducked his head for another kiss.

When Rogue got back to the shop, Kayla and Logan were still like that; Logan leaning against the counter, Kayla leaning against him, arms wrapped tightly around one another, and attached at the lips. Rogue’s eyebrows shot up at the display. They exchanged brief kisses often enough, and Logan was possessive enough of Kayla that he often ended up wrapping an arm around her waist if she stood still long enough near him, but anything more than that both Kayla and Logan made sure to keep in the bedroom. Or at least away from where Rogue could see it.

She grinned at them and gave a loud, very deliberate wolf-whistle, which effectively broke Kayla and Logan apart. “I see you two already got the party started,” Rogue said cheekily, winking at them and grinning.

Logan just looked grumpy from being interrupted, but Kayla blushed a delicate pink and gave Rogue an apologetic smile.

Rogue brushed it away. “You’re happy,” she said simply to Kayla. “We’re celebrating. It’s alright if you make out with your husband from time to time.”

Kayla’s blush deepened, but she laughed anyway, and indicated the bag Rogue had. “What treats have you decided are worthy of this celebration then?

Rogue grinned again, and pulled out a chocolate cake and a tub of vanilla ice cream with a flourish. “I thought that chocolate ice cream might be a little too much,” she said with a wink, giggling at Kayla’s enthusiastic nod in agreement, and the dubious look Logan was shooting the chocolate monstrosity.

-xXx-

Several weeks after Tony had been rescued, Emma sent emails to both Kayla and Rogue. The one she sent to Rogue informed her that the letter she’d sent to Emma to pass on to Tony, was now in the hands of his PA, a Miss Pepper Potts, who said that she would make sure it reached Tony’s hands. It was also an invitation for Rogue and Kayla to come to Boston again sometime between both their birthdays for either a long weekend or for the whole week.

The email Emma had sent to Kayla was a little more worrying. While the sisters stayed in relatively frequent contact, now that the Vadases had a landline number, Emma preferred to call rather than email. She chose to send emails mostly when she had more important news to share. In this case, Emma had become privy to some concerning news before it was broadcast to the public in general.

Hatred of mutants was as widespread as the mutants themselves were, but up until this point in time, all mutants were afforded a small amount of protection through their anonymity. Certainly, there were those with physical manifestations of their powers, but those who looked normal, or almost normal, were protected from scrutiny by their peers simply because no one could tell, by sight, that they were mutants. However, the government was being petitioned to introduce a mutant registration bill.

The bill would require all mutants to declare their status as such, and the register would be published so that everyone who was at all interested could see who in their community was a mutant. The petition also suggested heavy fines and even jail sentences for mutants who did not voluntarily declare themselves. It was a ridiculous suggestion, in Emma’s eyes, something that would cause panic nationwide, and make the fights between mutants and baseline humans escalate.

One of the worst things about the petition - aside from the fact that it had gained enough support already that it was only a matter of time before it was posed before congress - was that, if it passed in America, it was likely to become a matter of discussion in hundreds of other countries worldwide. Emma feared that it would only be a matter of time before mutants had to register in every country, that borders would soon start to close for them, and visas and passports for mutants would become so astronomically expensive as to make them almost impossible to obtain.

There was already a register in America, as well as Canada, New Zealand, and Russia, but it was not yet compulsory. Parents of teenagers who had become mutants were using the register as a way of getting in contact with other parents, and creating a support system to help deal with the strangeness of the situation. But as soon as the existence of a mutant register become known to the general public, Emma feared that any good that had come of it so far would dissolve under the pressure of so much ill opinion.

When Kayla shared this news with Logan and Rogue, Logan immediately told both of them that there was no way any of them were signing up to this register, even if the bill did pass. He had spent over a century slipping from one place to the next without much difficulty and, while he could no longer remember much of the specifics, he still knew how to become invisible to others.

Rogue had been more worried about it, because she was certain that if her foster parents caught wind of the register they would give them her name, as well as a photo. Rogue rarely went by ‘Anna Marie’ anymore, and her surname was now legally ‘Vadas’, so she wasn’t too worried about her name being on it, but if it included photographs there would be more trouble. It may now have been almost three years since she left them behind, but her face hadn’t changed so much in that time that she would be unrecognizable.

Eliza, who Rogue had become closer and closer friends with, picked up on her worry almost immediately. Rogue refused to talk about it to begin with, but eventually her own curiosity got the better of her.

“What do you think of mutants?” she asked Eliza in late February as they sat outside enjoying the first spring sun in spite of the cold.

Eliza froze, and then very carefully relaxed again. Rogue hadn’t been looking at her, had been staring out across the parking lot, but she still caught the movement out of the corner of her eye and wondered about it.

“They’re people, same as everyone else,” Eliza said, guardedly.

Rogue nodded. “Have you ever met one?”

“Not - not that I know of?” Eliza asked. “They’re people,” she repeated. “The only thing different about them is that they have a skill that most people don’t. Yeah some of them look strange, or their skill might be dangerous or invasive, but it’s not like they chose to be born different! You shouldn’t judge someone just cause they’re a mutant. Some people, normal people are ten times more dangerous! It’s what people decide to do that make them monsters or not.”

As she was talking, Eliza was getting more and more heated, twitching in agitation and looking as though she might either stalk off in anger or burst into tears. Carefully, Rogue laid a hand on her arm.

“It’s ok,” Rogue told Eliza. “Whoever hurt you - I’m not them. I’m not going to judge you.”

“I - I’m sorry,” Eliza said, collapsing in on herself, curling her legs up tight under chin and hunching her shoulders defensively.

Rogue shook her head. “No, don’t be sorry. You don’t have to apologise for other people being mutant-hating idiots. It’s… I understand what it’s like, thinking everyone will hate you for who you are.”

Eliza looked at her with so much shy hope it hurt. “You’re -”

“Yes,” Rogue agreed as quietly as she could, whilst still being heard by Eliza. “My foster parents kicked me out, because of it. It’s why I’m two years behind at school. Before Logan and Kayla took me in I was on my own, hiding who I was so that I wouldn’t be thrown out again.”

Eliza shuddered, and looked like she was on the brink of tears. “My dad,” she confessed just as quietly. “When he found out, he left me and my mom. A-and my mom’s not always in the b-best of health, you know?”

Rogue leaned over and gave Eliza a quick, tight hug. “You need any help,” she offered, “Any help at all, just let me know, ok?”

They sat in silence for the rest of their lunch period, just mulling over what the other had said and appreciating the support. Later, Eliza would ask again what it was that was worrying Rogue, and this time Rogue would explain, rather than asking a vague explanation. Eliza appeared worried as well, but not as badly.

“They’ll never get me,” she said. Eliza said it as though it was already decided, as though there was no way that a baseline human organisation could catch her, rather than a promise that she would do her best to avoid having to register. Rogue wondered, silently, what Eliza’s power was, but found that she didn’t care that much.

Neither of them talked about their powers, about what kind of mutant they were. That wasn’t the point of their friendship. Just knowing that the other was a mutant, that they could now share all the details of their home lives and their pasts without being worried about being ridiculed for it was a relief. Similarly, although the topic came up between Rogue, and Kayla and Logan, and between Eliza and her mom, the question of what sort of mutation Eliza and Rogue had never came up.

If Eliza ever made a connection between Rogue’s power and her constantly wearing gloves and long sleeves, she didn’t say anything. And there was nothing particular about the way that Eliza acted that gave any hint as to what her power might be. And that was fine. It was almost soothing not knowing what it was, and not having to worry about it.

When Emma heard that her adopted niece had made a nice little mutant friend, she’d even extended her invitation to come and stay with her to include Eliza. Rogue had posed the question to her friend, and hadn’t been surprised when Eliza had blanched and rapidly turned it down. It was much the same reaction that Rogue had had the first time round, although she had been so concerned about offending Kayla or Emma that she hadn’t been quite so insistent about her refusal.

Rogue had explained her amusement to Eliza, who had then hastened to say that she hadn’t been trying to insult her, or the offer, or any of them, but the idea of travelling all the way to Boston to stay a week with her friend’s ridiculously rich aunt was - well, it was terrifying. Rogue had agreed with that assessment of the situation and had encouraged Eliza to run as far and as fast away from Emma as she could.

“I love her, she’s been very supportive from the moment Kayla and Logan decided to adopt me, but she uses my birthday as an excuse to play dress up. I feel awkward when anyone spends money on me, let alone the ludicrous amounts Auntie Emma throws around. Kayla explained to me it’s how Emma tries to express affection for people, but that doesn’t really make me feel any less awkward.”

“She sounds a bit like a fairy godmother,” Eliza remarked.

“Making all my wishes come true?” Rogue asked with a laugh. “Not exactly, but I’ll tell her you think so.”

“Don’t do that!” Eliza squeaked in dismay.

Seeing an opportunity, Rogue said, “I won’t, if you let me spend some of her money on an expensive gift for you.”

Eliza had hesitated and stuttered a bit, but had looked secretly pleased so Rogue brushed aside all her protests and promised that she would do so.

“But it’s your birthday, not mine,” Eliza had tried one more time.

Rogue just grinned. “My present if giving you a present,” she’d told her.

Eliza had shook her head a little hopelessly, and just gone along with it, realising that anymore protests at this point would fall on deaf ears. She didn’t mind too much. As she was Rogue’s first best friend, so to was Rogue hers.

-xXx-

The journey to Boston with Kayla was a lot less stressful than the journey across America to New Orleans. Not because Logan didn’t come with the two of them, just because Emma had booked airplane tickets for Kayla and Rogue, so the journey was only a few hours, plus the time spent waiting around at the airport.

The previous trip to Boston had been the first time Rogue had been in an airplane and she spent the majority of the flight terrified that they would fall out of the sky. She’d convinced herself that there was no way that a giant hunk of metal, filled to capacity with passengers and luggage, could possibly remain airborne. The trip home had taken place late enough at night that Rogue had slept for most of the flight.

This time, however, she was determined to get a window seat and to enjoy the views. Rogue was still a little bit nervous about flying. And by a ‘little bit’ she meant that she still gripped the arm rests of her airplane seat as though they were the only things between her and certain doom, something which Kayla had initially been concerned about, but now viewed with mild amusement. It was mostly because of that amusement that Rogue had decided that she was going to keep an eye outside and she was going to enjoy it.

Unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately - it was too cloudy for most of the journey for Rogue to see anything. When the plane finally landed in Boston, Rogue felt half pleased with herself that she hadn’t had a panic attack, and half disappointed that she hadn’t really been able to see anything.

“You know, Logan’s scared of flying too,” Kayla remarked as they waited for their luggage.

“Really?” Rogue asked, not sure if Kayla was just saying that as an attempt to make her feel better, or if it was true.

“Really,” Kayla confirmed. “Logan was born in 1837, don’t forget. The only airplanes then were tiny things that crashed more often than not.”

“I think Remy said something about Logan being scared of flying,” Rogue agreed thoughtfully. Remy had told her that, briefly, he’d owned a small private aircraft, that had been used in the trip to and from the Island. He hadn’t said much about that, everything to do with Stryker still too painful for him to dwell on, but he’d clearly loved the airplane and had a number of amusing stories that he’d shared with her.

They grabbed their bags not long after that, and went outside to greet the driver that Emma had sent to pick them up. To Rogue it seemed like an extravagance they didn’t need when there was a taxi rank just outside the airport, but Kayla had just tilted her head and smiled.

“While we’re in Boston, we’re Frosts,” she’d attempted to explain to Rogue. “I am Kayla Frost, the original heiress to Frost International, who spurned my father’s fortune in order to ‘travel the world’. We tend to keep to ourselves as much as we could, but stories spread. I’m known as quite the little rebel to a lot of the business world.”

“Emma, however, is their rising star. A lot of men in certain powerful positions believe that women are incapable of running a business, let alone founding their own and turning their inheritance into a conglomeration of businesses that stretch across the world, all in a few short years. There is constant speculation surrounding Emma, and any wrong move on her part could send a lot of what she’s worked towards tumbling to the ground. Not sending a car to pick up her rebellious older sister probably wouldn’t have quite that effect, but it would certainly raise questions.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Rogue said bluntly.

“Yes, it is,” Kayla agreed with a chuckle. “And Emma wonders why I live in the wilderness with no money and the man of my dreams.”

“We have money. Don’t we?” Rogue asked, suddenly worried that she hadn’t been doing her part to help out. Kayla and Logan had both told her that she should focus on her school work and not worry about getting a weekend or evening job - at least until she had caught up to the same point as the rest of her class.

“We have money now,” Kayla reassured her. “Now that I have a steady job, and Logan’s pretty much set up his own vehicle repair business, but we didn’t used to. When we were travelling most of our money came from whatever Logan could win in those ridiculous cage fights.”

“You liked watching him fight,” Rogue reminded her dryly.

Kayla smirked. “Yes,” she agreed. “But it didn’t make them any less ridiculous.”

“How come you didn’t ask Auntie Emma for help then?” Rogue asked curiously. She would understand if it was just Kayla feeling as though she shouldn’t impose on her sister, but Emma was so happy to spend money on them, was insistent that she share a little of what she had with her beloved sister, that it seemed strange that she hadn’t offered her assistance.

Kayla looked a little awkward at the question. “You know that I told you about the, uh, the Hellfire club?” Rogue nodded, and Kayla continued, “That happened not long after the events of The Island. She stayed in contact long enough to find out that I was alright, that Logan and I had a plan for at least the next few months, before she disappeared. I didn’t hear anything from her again until a couple of years ago.”

Rogue sorted of regretted asking the question, and apologised quietly. Emma’s silence looked as though it was something that had deeply hurt Kayla, and that she hadn’t understood why her sister hadn’t come to her for help. She could understand her wanting to make her own way in the world, but not why she would cut herself off so totally from Kayla.

“It’s in the past,” Kayla said, with a weak smile.

“Maybe she couldn’t contact you?” Rogue suggested. “You said something about a man called Shaw? You gave the impression that he wasn’t a particularly good person. Perhaps he made it difficult or impossible for Emma to call you?”

“Maybe,” Kayla agreed, although she mostly just looked sad at the suggestion.

They weren’t given anymore time to think and wonder about it though, as the car pulled up outside Emma’s town house, and she rushed outside to greet them.

“My darlings!” she cried, crushing both of them into hugs, and placing kisses on Kayla’s cheeks. She blew a kiss at Rogue too, with a wink. “It’s been too long since I’ve seen you both. How are you? How’s the birthday girl?” she said the last with another smile in Rogue’s direction.

“It was my birthday last week, Auntie Emma,” Rogue replied with a fond roll of her eyes.

“Nonsense. It can be your birthday for as long as I say it’s your birthday. I am determined, since you’re here for a whole week, that we’ll actually get that spa date in that we didn’t last year - don’t you shrug your shoulders at me, I promise you’ll love it. Everyone loves spa dates, even those who pretend they don’t. How can you spend a day being pampered and not love it?”

It was unusual for Emma to be so open with her speech so as to be almost babbling, but judging from the warm smile on Kayla’s face, Rogue assumed that it was something that she had done more often as a child. That made Rogue glad, that their visit had made Emma forget some of her past for a little while, enough that she could relax and not worry about being the cold, aloof Ms. Frost that everyone else knew.

Emma had a number of things planned for their stay, which were not all revolving around shopping and spending lots of money, although that was part of it. Boston hosted a number of museums, among them was the Museum for Fine Arts, that Emma had made sure to put aside a day for, so that Rogue could spend as long as she wanted roaming around.

“I won’t come with you,” Emma warned. “I don’t have the patience for museums, and I want you to enjoy it. Plus, the world does not suddenly put itself in pause because I have my sister and niece coming to visit. I shall use your preoccupation in order to go to a few meetings and settle some of the disputes my monstrous board of directors have come up with in my absence.”

Rogue had told her not to worry, and been secretly very glad that she and Kayla could have a day to themselves in the city. Emma was a wonderful person, and Rogue appreciated everything that she was doing for them, but a whole week in her presence was a little wearing. A whole week in the endless hubbub of the city was a little wearing. Rogue had grown used to the moderate quiet of their home in Canada, where the most excitement that had happened in a while was that one of the seniors had been discovered to be pregnant, with only a few months left to go before her final exams.

Judging from the knowing smile Emma sent her, she probably knew just what it was that Rogue was thinking, and didn’t judge her for it one bit. Emma was quite sensitive to people’s moods and emotions, just as Kayla was, but she didn’t try and put them at ease. Kayla would go out of her way to offer comfort, or would stop talking about a distressing subject, while Emma continued blithely on as though she hadn’t noticed. When she recognised it in people she cared for, she would do something later that might make up for her apparent lack of caring. The visit to the museum was an example of that.

Museums weren’t something Rogue’s foster parents had been too fond of. They’d gone to a few, once or twice, over the course of various school holidays, but they’d only gone because they felt as though they ought to, and had rushed through the exhibits without really stopping to read more about what they were seeing. As such, Rogue hadn’t really had the time to explore a museum at her leisure before, and found herself excited by the prospect.

“What I suggest,” Kayla said, “Is that we split up, and agree when and where to meet up for lunch, then go our separate ways again. I don’t know about you, but I find it’s always less of a hassle wandering around a museum on your own, without constantly worrying that you’re holding someone else up, or slowing them down.”

“Alright,” Rogue agreed easily. She wouldn’t have minded either way, as Kayla didn’t seem the type to run about the museum without stopping to really look at things.

They quickly arranged what they were going to do for lunch, and then wandered off in different directions to explore the museum in their own time. It was while Rogue was wandering around the area dedicated to Art of the Ancient World when she met a striking blonde woman who was staring almost wistfully at a display dedicated to the Icarus legend.

“It’s fantastic, isn’t it?” the stranger asked, when she noticed that Rogue was interested in the same display as her.

“That he tried to fly to the sun, despite knowing that his wings would melt?” Rogue asked, confused by the question. She’d always thought Icarus was foolish for ignoring his father’s advice, that he only had himself to blame for falling into the sea and drowning.

The stranger glanced at Rogue and half shook her head. “No, I meant humanity’s obsession with being able to fly. For as long as we’ve been on the ground, and there have been birds soaring through the sky, humans have tried to find a way to fly.”

Rogue, thinking of her distaste of her airplane journeys, shrugged. “I don’t mind staying on the ground,” she said.

The other woman laughed at her expression. “Not a fan of heights?”

“Heights I can deal with. I just don’t like airplanes,” Rogue explained.

“Have you only been in passenger jets?” the stranger asked. At Rogue’s nod, she continued, “You should try flying in a two or four passenger plane. It’s very different. You normally won’t go anywhere near as high as the commercial jets, but once you’ve seen the views a flight like that can offer, you’ll probably want to fly as often as you can.”

“Are you a pilot?” Rogue asked.

“For a while, in the military. I was in training to be an astronaut for a while, but that didn’t work out. I’m a writer now.”

“Wow, it sounds like you’ve got a story or two to tell,” Rogue said. “I’m Rogue, by the way,” she added, offering her hand to shake. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Carol,” the stranger said, shaking the offered hand. “You too, I’m sure.” she gestured around them at the exhibit and asked, “Is it your first time at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts?”

Rogue nodded. “It’s only the second time I’ve visited Boston, and the first time I was only here for a weekend. But it was my birthday last week, and my aunt insisted that I stay with her and explore a bit.” She wasn’t sure why she was explaining all of this to Carol, but so long as Rogue didn’t reveal too many details, she couldn’t imagine that it would be a problem.

“I was born here,” Carol said, as they wandered around the rest of the room. “I haven’t been back in a long time. I live in New York now, but I thought I’d  come back for a visit.”

“Do you miss it? Boston?”

“Not really. A city’s a city to me. There are places I miss - my old apartment, the coffee shop down the road from where I went to school - but I haven’t lived here in a long time. I miss flying more than anything else.”

“What happened, if you don’t mind me asking?” Rogue question, realising suddenly that she was almost interviewing Carol.

“I don’t mind,” Carol assured her. “There was a difference of opinion between myself and my boss. There was something that I was required to do, which I didn’t feel like I could. So, they fired me.”

Rogue grimaced in sympathy. “That’s not fair.”

“That’s life,” Carol said with a shrug. “I’m doing alright. It was a blow, but it’s hardly slowed me down. What about you? What do you do?”

Rogue hesitated. One of the disadvantages of no longer looking quite as young as her the others at her school was that people often assumed that she had a job, that she was starting to make something of her life, rather than still being stuck in high school. And Rogue always felt a little bit like an idiot when she told them she told them. “I, uh, I’m a Junior. In high school.”

“Really?” Carol asked. “You don’t look that young. Sorry, that’s probably quite insulting.”

“No, it’s ok. I just turned nineteen, so it’s more that I’m two years behind,” Rogue said, blushing shamefully and ducking her head.

“What happened, if you don’t mind me asking?” Carol repeated Rogue’s earlier question. “You’re spending a day on your holiday exploring a museum, no one who chooses to do that is stupid enough to fall behind two years at school.”

Rogue laughed a little at that. “How do you know I’m not just here for the pretty pictures?” she suggested.

“You knew the legend of Icarus without reading the display,” Carol reminded her. “And you’ve been reading the other displays as we’ve talked.”

Rogue didn’t offer any reply for a long few moments. She didn’t know why she trusted this stranger, but she did. And Carol had already shared a fair bit of her own background. “My foster parents kicked me out,” she said finally. “I didn’t want to go back into the system, so I went out on my own.”

“You said you were here, visiting an aunt?”

Rogue grinned. “Yeah. I met a couple of people who took me in, adopted me. It’s why I’m back at school now.”

“It’s good that you went back to school. I know a lot of people wouldn’t,” Carol said with a warm smile.

Rogue shrugged uncomfortably. “I want to graduate. I don’t know what I want to do after that, but I know I don’t want to be a high school drop out.”

They walked for a while in silence, moving from the Ancient World Art and into the American Art exhibit. They kept pace with each other very well, not always interested in the same things, but interested and dismissive of enough that they moved from room to room at the same time.

After a while, Rogue confessed, “I sort of did come here for the pretty pictures.”

This startled a laugh out of Carol, who probably hadn’t been expecting any more conversation, and certainly hadn’t been expecting that. “You’re an art critic?” she teased.

“Nope,” Rogue replied cheerfully. “I took up sketching when I was on my own, for something to do that wouldn’t cost me anything and would fill the time. Since then, I like looking at what other people produce. I love looking at the masterpieces.”

“I’m not sure if I find that sweet or very sad,” Carol told her. “I’m going to go for sweet, simply because art should be appreciated, not regretted.”

“I don’t regret my past,” Rogue said. “Not most of it, anyway,” she added, thinking of the incident at Christmas. While it was true that it had not exactly been her fault, she still regretted losing Yoshida as a friend. “I’m much happier now than I ever was with my foster parents.”

“I suppose, with an aunt who lives in Boston, and insists you come and visit her, you must be,” Carol said, mostly teasing, but with a hint of hard truth behind her words.

Rogue chewed on the inside of her cheek for a moment, looking at the artwork rather than her companion. “I love my new Aunt, but I could live just as happily without her. It’s my new parents that have really made the difference.”

Carol shook her head, more at what that revealed about Rogue’s foster parents than in denial of what she’d said, and the pair of them continued walking around the museum in silence.

By one, the time Rogue had agreed to meet Kayla, they were still walking around together, although they hadn’t said much more than a few comments about whatever it was they were looking at. Rogue bid her goodbye, and started towards the stairs. On her way there, two young boys raced past and tripped Rogue up. Before she had a chance to grab for the banister, she started falling down the stairs, heading for the stone tiles at the bottom with more speed than she probably would have been able to survive.

However, before Rogue reached the bottom, Carol was there, stopping her fall. It was impossible, there was no way the woman should’ve been able to get from the other end of the corridor, to half way down the stairs fast enough to stop Rogue’s fall. But there she was.

Carol carried Rogue carefully to the bottom of the steps. Thankfully the part of the museum they were in was relatively quiet, only the shouts of the boys and the calls of their parents in the floor above any indication that they weren’t alone.

“Fuck,” Rogue said expressively, sitting heavily on the bottom step.

“Are you alright?” Carol asked anxiously. “I saw those boys tripped you up.”

Rogue rolled her neck, flexing her arms and legs for damage. She didn’t think that she’d bashed her head, and other than feeling a bit battered and bruised, there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with her.

“Fuck,” Rogue muttered again as she tried her left wrist. Movement was still possible, but it hurt like crazy. “I think I’ve sprained my wrist or something,” she said.

Carol nodded, and leant forward to take Rogue’s hand.

Rogue was only wearing wrist length gloves today, and before she had time to say anything more than, “No, don’t!” in warning, Carol had pushed her sleeve up, and pulled off the glove. Her fingers wrapped around Rogue’s wrist and, try as she might, Rogue could not keep the pins and needles feeling from rising up and settling over her skin. The point of contact between them burned, exacerbating  the pain in Rogue’s wrist.

But, unlike everyone else, whose skin-to-skin contact with Rogue had almost immediately been broken, Carol did not let go of Rogue’s wrist. Her eyes had rolled back in her head and she was clearly no longer conscious, but her fingers had twitched tighter around Rogue’s wrist. Just as Carol had reached Rogue inhumanely fast, her grip also seemed inhumanely strong, and Rogue couldn’t, just couldn’t, pry her fingers loose.

The fire in her wrist spread down her arm and along her wrist and Rogue felt like she was sucking out everything that Carol had to offer. Flickers of memories that weren’t her own passed behind her eyelids, and Rogue knew that, this time, she wasn’t just creating an echo. The touch had gone on for too long; what felt like hours, but was probably only minutes. Everything that was Carol was pouring into Rogue and she wept, because she couldn’t stop it, couldn’t reverse it, and her whole body sang with the pain of it.

It took all of Rogue’s effort to pry Carol’s fingers off her wrist. Not because it was difficult, not anymore, not now that Carol’s strength was her own. But because if she wasn’t careful she knew that she’d try too hard and snap the fragile bones in her fingers. As gently as she could, Rogue moved to Carol’s side, and lowered her to the floor.

There was a strength in her that hadn’t been there before, and Rogue knew that it had nothing to do with how well trained Carol was. Military or not, the kind of strength Rogue was sensing in her muscles now was nothing any human should have. No baseline human, anyway. If she wanted, Rogue suspected, she could pry one of the stone tiles of the floor loose and crush it with her bare hands. And that terrified her.

Because Carol’s power wasn’t fading. Rather, the strength was settling into Rogue’s muscles as though it was there to stay. And the presence of Carol in her mind wasn’t the same kind of half-presence of the others. It was strong, almost as strong as Rogue’s own. Confused and disorientated, as though it was actually Carol’s psyche, Rogue quickly pushed the newcomer in her mind into one of the rooms in the corridor in her mind, and slammed the door shut, putting deadbolt after lock after deadbolt on the door to secure it, and apologising as she did so.

Rogue didn’t want to hold Carol captive in her mind, she really didn’t, but she didn’t have any idea what else to do. She knew without knowing how she knew, that Carol would take control of Rogue if she could. Not out of cruelty, but because it would mean she wasn’t trapped inside someone else’s mind, powerless.

“I’ll try and get you back to yourself, I promise,” Rogue told Carol’s body hoarsely, hoping that the psyche trapped inside her mind heard the promise too, and believed it. Then Rogue rocked back on her heels and screamed for help.

Chapter Text

It was easier than it should have been to explain what had happened to the paramedics, although Rogue couldn’t take the credit for that. By the time anyone reached her she was a sobbing mess, and all of her effort was going into trying to keep Carol locked inside her mind. The woman was persistent and apparently tireless, while Rogue felt bruised and battered from her fall, and was exhausted from the surge of her powers combining with Carol’s.

Luckily, Kayla was one of the first to get to them, having been on her way to meet Rogue, and quickly put the pieces together. Although she didn’t know why Rogue was so much more affected by this incident than she had been with any of the others (with the exception of the first time her powers had emerged), it seemed obvious that Rogue had tripped and fallen down the stairs, that Carol had tried to stop her and, somehow, managed to get ‘zapped’ by Rogue’s mutant powers. Kayla didn’t know the specifics, but that was enough to construct a story.

The closer a lie is to the truth, the more believable it would be; Rogue had fallen down the stairs, Carol had been at the bottom and had either tried to stop Rogue’s fall, or had been unlucky enough to be knocked over by her. She had fallen too, bashed her head, and that was why she was the one who was collapsed, and not Rogue. If the paramedics had seemed a little confused about why they couldn’t see any evidence of a bump on Carol’s head, Kayla soon explained that away with a touch to the back of their hands.

When they’d asked if Rogue needed any assistance, she’d shied away from them dramatically, shaking her head. “No, no, please don’t touch me,” she begged them, and Kayla inserted herself between Rogue and the medics before the situation escalated.

“Don’t worry about her,” she soothed them. “We have a family physician who will make sure that nothing’s too wrong, but the bumps and bruises will mostly sort themselves out, I imagine. We can stop by the hospital later this week to give a statement, if you need one?”

“No, no, that’s fine,” the paramedic said, and left Rogue in Kayla’s care without any more persuading.

Kayla scooped up Rogue’s glove from where it had fallen when Carol had taken it off and wrapped an arm around Rogue’s shaking shoulders. Carefully, she navigated them through the crowd of curious bystanders, calling for Emma’s chauffeur as she did so.

“Yes… no, there’s been a change of plan… can you contact Emma?… I know, but Rogue’s had a bit of an accident… I think she’ll be fine, but I want Emma to know… Yes, thank you,” Kayla spoke into the phone, still directing Rogue through the museum and out of the front entrance to wait for their lift on the front steps. When she hung up, she asked Rogue, “Can you tell me what happened?”

Rogue nodded, opened her mouth, but found herself unable to speak. She was fighting with Carol, leaning desperately against the door she had the woman’s psyche trapped behind, and it was too much to try and talk at the same time. All she managed to gasp out was; “Need. Emma.”

“Oh. Oh no,” Kayla said, looking heartbroken. “Is she… is that woman inside your head? All of her?”

Rogue nodded desperately, then covered her face with her hands and crying. “Hurts,” she moaned.

“Ok, shh,” Kayla said, pulling Rogue into a loose hug. “It’s going to be alright. Emma will… Emma will help, somehow. I’m sure she can do something that will help sort this out.”

Rogue hoped so, she really did. Her own mental defences were poor, she’d never needed anything like that before. Emma had said that she would try and teach her to keep her mind private, to stop herself from accidentally ‘broadcasting’ thoughts to any telepaths who might be around, but she had yet to start those lessons with Rogue. The only tip she’d given her was the ‘mental screaming’ one that she’d tried with Professor Xavier. It was a technique that worked relatively well at keeping people out, but it didn’t help when someone was already in Rogue’s mind.

She didn’t remember much of the trip back to Emma’s house. It wasn’t far, Rogue knew, but she’d taken to keeping her eyes shut and doing her best not to listen to what was going on around her. The less sensory input she had, the easier it was for her to concentrate on keeping Carol locked inside. The journey seemed a lot longer than it probably was.

Emma greeted them at the steps, like she had when they’d first arrived, and scowled worriedly as Kayla explained what had happened.

“She has another person’s mind trapped inside her own?” Emma asked in an attempt to clarify.

“So far as I can tell,” Kayla agreed. “She hasn’t been able to say much. I - I think they’re fighting, inside Rogue’s head, for control of her body.”

“This other person, their body is still alive?” Emma asked.

Kayla nodded. “Taken to hospital by the paramedics. She’s unconscious, potentially comatose.”

Emma huffed derisively. “If her mind is in Rogue, then of course her body’s comatose, and probably registering as brain dead, too. I only hope whoever it is, that they don’t have a ‘Do not resuscitate’ agreement.”

Between the two of them they managed to get Rogue to the sofa, although it was difficult to avoid her gloveless hand and an impossibility to try and put the glove back on it.

“This is probably going to be a bit boring for you,” Emma told Kayla. “And I apologise in advance; I’m probably going to be exhausted.”

“That’s fine,” Kayla assured her. “Just, please, help her,” she begged.

“I’ll do my best,” Emma promised, before closing her eyes and diving into Rogue’s mind.

It was dark and difficult to navigate, to begin with, all of the ordinary paths of a person’s mind shadowed and forgotten as Rogue concentrated all of her efforts on one part of her mind, that was lit up like a star at the centre. Emma approached it slowly, cautiously, taking care not to wander into the areas of unknowns. She knew a little about Rogue’s mind, having scanned it briefly both when they’d met the previous year, and when she’d arrived a few days ago.

The only thing that Emma was certain of was that everything Rogue had, she was concentrating it on one point. One supernova explosion of effort and application. And, sure enough, when Emma drew close enough to see more than just light, she could make out the figures of both Rogue’s mental projection, and that of another woman. Carol the answer was supplied for her. I’m sorry, Carol, please. More words floated up, and Emma realised that it was Rogue.

Rogue was trying, even as she was fighting, to get across to the other woman, begging her to give in, to work with her rather than against her. But the other woman was deaf to her explanations. She was panicked and terrified, a wild animal trapped in a corner and battling to escape.

Curiously, as Emma peered closer, there seemed to be a door, or some kind of wall between the two of them, and it took her a moment to realise what Rogue had done. When she had talked to Rogue about having imprints of the people she touched left behind in her mind, Rogue had subconsciously created a corridor. Along that corridor there was a seemingly endless number of doors, and behind each door an empty room.

When Emma had scanned Rogue’s brain at the beginning of this visit, she had seen the corridor, had felt the echoes of four people living inside the rooms Rogue had made for them. They were not happy, because they were not real people and couldn’t feel emotions. But Rogue had created rooms from what she could see that the echoes liked. It was strangely courteous of her, and Emma had thought it mostly pointless, but very sweet of her.

Now, however, she realised that it was partly a defence mechanism too. As soon as Rogue had recognised the alien presence in her mind, she had shoved it into one of those rooms, locked the door, and leant against it, hoping that would be enough, like it was for the other shades. It hadn’t been, because this was an entire person, not just an echo. But it was so clever of Rogue, a way of protecting her mind from the interference of others.

She desperately needed Emma’s help, though. The room was not enough to hold Carol, and the door was bending under the pressure both of them were exerting on it. It wouldn’t break or snap, because it was only Rogue’s imagination creating the door, but the more it was warped the weaker it would be and, eventually, Carol would break out.

Emma stepped closer, and added her own thoughts to the fray. She comforted Rogue, leant her a little more energy to sustain herself, and knocked Carol back. She had no words in Rogue’s mind, but she didn’t need them to express her anger, and her disappointment at the stranger. Emma scolded her, soothed her panic, then wrapped her tight in chains that Carol would not escape from. Carol was enraged by what she saw as trickery, and battled against the chains as fiercely as she could. But for all that Carol was strong in body, Emma was the telepath and was a hundred times her superior when it came to strength of mind.

Once Carol was tied up, Emma helped Rogue repair the damage to the room she’d given her, fixed the door and made it stronger. She watched in fond amusement as Rogue spent the last of her energy spinning the room into something that she thought would make Carol feel at home. Then the pathways of her mind slowly lit again, as she let her concentration to one point wane, and the edges of Rogue’s mental projection of her self grew fuzzy as she slipped into exhausted sleep.

Emma gave her the mental equivalent of tucking her into bed and a kiss to the forehead, before gently prying herself free of Rogue’s mind. When she opened her eyes again, it was to find that several hours had passed since her submergence and Kayla was sitting anxiously in an armchair nearby, not reading the magazine that lay across her lap.

“How did it go?” she asked softly, eager for answers, but mindful of Emma’s warning that she’d be tired when she was done.

“I think she’s alright,” Emma said. “The woman, Carol, was panicking, and wouldn’t listen to Rogue. She was being an idiot!” Emma hissed in frustration. “I realise that being sucked out of your body and into someone else’s mind must be a very scary experience, but attacking that mind without thought of the consequences is not going to help anyone!”

“But is Rogue alright?”

“Yes. We managed to subdue Carol and she won’t be capable of thinking of attacking, let alone actually doing so for quite some time now. It’s not a permanent solution, I imagine that eventually she’ll break free, but I’m hoping we won’t have to worry about that. I suggest that we all visit the hospital where they’ve taken Carol’s body tomorrow, and see whether there’s some way of transferring her back to her own body.”

Kayla nodded, still looking worried, but much happier now that she knew there was no immediate risk to Rogue. She stood from the chair, walking over to Emma and hugging her tightly. “Thank you,” she said.

Emma hugged her back, each of them giving and receiving support in equal measure. “Anything. You know I’d do anything for you and your family. Rogue has become as dear to me as a daughter that you’d given birth to might,” Emma told her.

“Yes, I know. But thank you,” Kayla repeated, before finally letting her go, and leading her to the kitchen to have a belated lunch that they’d all skipped earlier.

“Rogue will be unconscious for a few more hours,” Emma explained. “She was putting all of her energy into making sure Carol didn’t take over her mind, and she slipped into sleep once we’d sorted that out. You should be very proud of her.”

“I am,” Kayla agreed with a soft smile. “Although I don’t think it’s thanks to me or Logan that Rogue is such a strong person. I think she managed to do that on her own.”

Emma shrugged gracefully. “Even the strongest of people can break or bend the wrong way, if they are not encouraged by ones whom they love and who love them in return.”

Kayla glanced up sharply at that, piercing Emma with her gaze. “I love you,” she said softly, truthfully.

“I know,” Emma confirmed. “I love you too. All things considered, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of bringing each other up, haven’t we?”

Kayla considered this. She thought of taking care of her little sister, of teaching her and helping her with homework. She thought of trusting Stryker, of Emma being kidnapped and being used to coerce Kayla away from everything she was familiar with. She thought of running away with Logan, neglecting Emma’s needs in favour of her own. She though of the Hellfire club and Sebastian Shaw. She thought of all the bad, and she wondered.

But then the image of Rogue appeared in her mind’s eye, the expression of love that she had just shared with her sister. Kayla thought about how happy she was now, and how happy and successful Emma seemed to be. She thought of quiet conversations held in the dark with Logan, about whether they should have a baby or not. Whether it was safe enough, what they might call it.

As Kayla thought of a potential baby, Emma gasped, and laughed. “You didn’t tell me!” she exclaimed.

Kayla ducked her head with a shy smile. “I’m not pregnant. We haven’t started trying, even. We just thought maybe. We have a house, and a certain future, and we’re starting to think that maybe we’re safe now, that we’re allowed to start thinking about this. We hadn’t even let ourselves think about having a kid before, so that’s all it is, really. Just talk.”

Emma smiled in a way that suggested she knew better, and perhaps she did, she was a telepath after all. But Emma let her sister keep her secrets and turned their conversation to other topics.

-xXx-

Rogue slept until the following morning, only woken up by how hungry she was for not having eaten in twenty-four hours. At some point during the previous evening Kayla and Emma had move her upstairs to the bedroom she was sleeping in, and had taken off her jacket and shoes. She still had her right glove on, but the one Carol had removed was on the bedside table.

Carol - just the thought of the other woman brought a crushing sense of guilt down around Rogue’s shoulders. She hadn’t meant to hurt her, but then Rogue had never meant to hurt a lot of people, and she had. Carol had seemed nice, tough and strong, and older than she looked, but still friendly, still willing to talk to a high school student, when so many adults were willing to brush them off or pretend they weren’t there.

The back of Rogue’s mind was still aching from the fight that had taken place, and although Emma had healed some of the damage, there was only so much she could do without being more intrusive than either of them wanted. Either way, Rogue’s mind felt as though it were in one piece, although she had one hell of a headache brewing at the base of her skull.

Rolling carefully out of bed, Rogue wandered to her ensuite and carefully stripped off all her clothing, surveying the damage her tumble down the stairs had done. There were a few impressive looking bruises blooming across her legs and side, and a number of scratches across her face and arms, but otherwise she seemed unharmed. Her left wrist was a little swollen, but Rogue had no difficulty moving it, although it did ache a little, so it was probably just a sprain.

Stepping under the hot spray of the shower came as a huge relief, soothing parts of her that Rogue hadn’t realised had been aching until that point, so she took her time getting back to feeling half way normal again. Once done with the shower, she dressed in loose, comfy clothes and prepared herself mentally for any remarks from Emma on how she was dressed. If Emma wanted to run around in revealing white outfits the day after she falls down stairs, that was her prerogative. Rogue was going with track pants and a hoodie.

However, when she got to the kitchen with an aim of at least a cup of coffee and hopefully a full fry up for breakfast, Emma was already there and, other than raising an eyebrow, didn’t say anything about what Rogue was wearing. She, of course, looked impeccable in matching white skirt and jacket and pale blue blouse.

“How are you feeling?” Emma asked, passing Rogue butter, bacon, and eggs as she dug out a frying pan.

“Like I feel down a set of stairs,” Rogue replied belligerently. She stretched a little as the butter melted, wincing as her back popped.

“No trouble from your uninvited guest?” Emma questioned pleasantly, ignoring Rogue’s hostile tone.

Rogue shrank a little, and shook her head. “No. I feel awful, but that’s more from my fall and the fact that I, you know, sucked someone dry like a fricking vampire yesterday, rather than her trying to hurt me.”

Emma nodded in understanding, and passed Rogue a glass of water and a packet of painkillers. “For the headache,” she explained.

Rogue took them gratefully, swallowing two of the pills and pocketing the others for later. “Thank you,” she said. “For these, and for your help yesterday. I don’t quite understand what you did, but I suspect that without your help I wouldn’t exactly be me anymore.”

“You were holding your own pretty well,” Emma allowed. “But you’re welcome. I suggest that we visit the hospital later, to see if there’s any way of transferring Carol’s psyche back into her own body.”

“Do you know any mutant-friendly doctors?” Rogue asked.

“Why?”

Rogue pulled her left sleeve back a bit to reveal the slightly swollen wrist. “I think it’s just sprained and a bit bruised from how tightly Carol gripped it, but I’d like to know for sure.”

“I do not know anyone at the hospital, but I believe you know Professor Xavier?”

“We met, once,” Rogue confirmed. “He offered me a place at his school. I said no.”

Emma smirked at that. “There is a doctor on his payroll who would be able to treat you without asking about the don’t-touch thing. After we sort out Carol, we can head over to Westchester and see him?”

Rogue glanced sharply at Emma as she tipped her breakfast out of the pan and onto a plate. “Don’t tell me, you’ve got a secret jet too?”

Emma laughed and shook her head. “I’m the owner of multibillion-dollar corporation that reaches across the globe, the only country in which I don’t have leading shares in one of their companies is the Vatican City, and that’s because I refuse to have ties to any particular belief system,” she said by way of answer, and as an excuse to show off, Rogue suspected. “Although I do take offence at the ‘secret’ part of your description. It’s a jet for my personal use, so ‘private’ is perhaps more apt.”

“Terribly sorry,” Rogue said with a grin and a roll of her eyes that she immediately regretted - painkillers or not, she still had a headache. “You have a private jet. In which we’re going to travel to Westchester to see a mutant doctor?”

“If that plan meets your approval,” Emma agreed. “Or rather, if that plan meets Kayla’s approval. Since she’s your legal guardian.”

“I’m nineteen, I can make my own decisions.”

“You fell down a flight of stairs and have a second consciousness trapped in the back of your head. No offence, darling, but I think Kayla should be the one to make the decision,” Emma said with saccharine sweetness Rogue was sure she was putting on for the sole purpose of winding her up. Emma stood gracefully from the table, picked up her mug of coffee, and dropped a kiss on Rogue’s head as she wandered from the room. “We’ll leave at nine,” she threw over her shoulder.

Rogue groaned and rested her forehead on the cool edge of the table for a moment before her persistant hunger got the better of her and she returned to eating her breakfast. A quick glance at the wall clock - which was ridiculously ornate for being a kitchen clock, but wasn’t that Emma’s style all over? - revealed that it was only a little past seven. Earlier than Rogue ever got up unless it was a school day. Still, she supposed she had slept the majority of the previous day.

Once she’d finished breakfast, Rogue returned to her room for a change of clothes, and also to see if she could do anything about her bruises. Even with Emma’s private jet, she’d prefer not to travel to Westchester if it could at all be avoided. She was sure that Professor Xavier’s doctor was lovely, but Rogue would like to spend as much of that day lolling about in Emma’s townhouse reading and watching TV, rather than traipsing up and down the country to try and sort out a wrist that may only just be a bit bruised.

Rogue didn’t want to dig too deeply, searching for the shades of the people she’d touched. It felt rather like poking at a bruise, although the pain wasn’t really attached to any specific part of her body, just a general ache. Still, it was something she didn’t want to spend too much time doing. Finding the echo of Kayla was easy, something that Rogue had begun to get familiar with. She’d been practicing using Kayla’s mutant powers in order to sooth bruises from Logan’s training sessions ever since she’d first realised it was an option.

Using another mutant’s power was not like using her own. Her own was not something she could control. It was a tight ball of energy coiled inside her, something she could ignore if she wasn’t thinking about it, but always there. She could coax it out of the ball to run along her skin like pins and needles skating across her skin, but there was no way of stopping it striking out when someone touched her. Even when someone touched her through her clothing, it was there underneath just waiting for the barrier to be gone.

But using someone else’s power - or using Kayla’s, at least - was a decision Rogue had to make. She had to search for the sharp edge to Kayla’s shade, and draw it out delicately. It didn’t want to be used, was slippery and tricky, but Rogue was starting to get used to that. It was all in her mind, the imagery she used was just her way of interpreting something that couldn’t properly be explained any other way. So she used the unreality of the situation to prod Kayla’s power out of the shadows and up, across her skin. Not willing it to heal, but expecting it to, like Kayla had suggested all those months ago.

Once she felt the aches of her bruises begin to fade, she directed it towards her arm, knotting it around her wrist, and wondering if she could leave it there without actively thinking about it. Willing to give it a try, Rogue rose up out of the meditative state she’d entered and padded over to the bathroom, stripping off again to see how effective she’d been. Sure enough, the majority of the bruises had already faded. Some of the larger ones were still ugly splotches of yellow, rather than having faded completely, but when she gave them an experimental poke it was mostly painless. Satisfied with that, Rogue moved back to her room.

Although Rogue fully intended to come straight back here after tipping Carol back into her own body, and spend the day lazing about in comfy clothes again rather than flying to Westchester, she didn’t really want to go to the hospital dressed in what was practically her pyjamas. That was if Emma allowed her to leave the house looking like that anyway. Emma was very particular about what she, and others, looked like, although Rogue really wasn’t surprised since this was a woman who could turn into diamond at will.

As soon as she was dressed, Rogue tested her wrist again, and was pleased to find that there was now nothing wrong with it, so far as she could tell. Satisfied that she would probably be able to avoid going out to see Professor Xavier - who had seemed perfectly charming but, really, it was hard enough dealing with one telepath at a time, let alone two in the same room - Rogue pulled on her gloves and headed towards the lounge, where Emma and Kayla were already waiting for her.

“Good morning,” Kayla said with her customary greeting. “Emma said you’re feeling a bit rough?”

Rogue grinned. “Morning. A lot better now, thanks.”

Emma scowled, frown only deepening as Rogue felt her mind brush against the edge of her own.

“Oi! No sneaking around in there,” Rogue protested.

“You could feel that?” Emma asked, looking surprised.

Rogue huffed. “I’m feeling a little sensitive today,” she replied. “Go figure.”

“You’re grumpier than usual,” remarked Emma. Then, “Why do you have the echo of Kayla wrapped around your wrist?”

Kayla, who had been watching their interaction with barely concealed amusement, startled at that. “What?”

“It’s not the echo of Kayla,” Rogue corrected. “It’s the echo of her mutant abilities. Specifically, the healing one. As lovely as your doctor might be, I’m exhausted and would love to kick Carol out of my mind and spend the rest of the day doing nothing more strenuous than watching movies and eating ice cream.”

“You have control over my powers?” Kayla asked, still surprised, but gaining a pleased edge of pride too.

“Some. I poked it at my bruises a bit, then sort of had to… tie it in place? Around my wrist, so it would stay there and heal the sprain, or whatever it was.”

“We should still see Dr McCoy to double check,” Emma insisted, but Kayla just sent her a slightly bemused look.

“Why? You said yourself that you sensed me around Rogue’s wrist, and you know as well as I do that a simple sprain - even a broken wrist, would offer my powers no difficulty.”

Something dark and ugly flashed across Emma’s face, and for a brief moment she looked very sad, saying softly, “I know.”

Once the moment had passed, however, Emma just looked a little annoyed. When Rogue glanced at Kayla, she had such a knowing look on her face that Rogue started to suspect that Emma’s wish to visit Xavier Mansion was a little less altruistic than she pretended. Possibly something to do with the trigger-happy Stryker kidnappee that Emma was still, bizarrely, in contact with. Rogue tried not to snigger at the dirty glare Emma sent her.

“You could at least not think such unflattering things so loudly,” Emma complained.

“Sorry,” Rogue apologised, not feeling sorry at all.

Taking the higher ground, Emma did not react to Rogue’s lack of sincerity and stood gracefully from her chair, refusing to look at either her sister or her niece. “Shall we go?” she suggested frostily.

Kayla rose first, moving to Emma’s side, and looping her arm through her sister’s. “I want you to be happy,” she said “That doesn’t mean I won’t tease you.”

Emma held her stony composure for a beat longer, before she softened. “He’s in love, in a long term relationship, with someone else,” she said softly, with a sad smile.

Rogue felt suddenly guilty for her teasing, especially considering how much Emma had helped her out the previous day, and hovered at Emma’s elbow. She wanted to offer more comfort than that, but between Emma’s frequently frosty demeanour and her own evasion of physical touch, Rogue didn’t know what to do. She knew better than to try and say something comforting - that was something touching Kayla had done nothing to improve her skill of.

Emma turned to Rogue with a smile. “It’s enough that you want to help,” she said. “This time, I have no one to blame for my hurt but my own foolish heart.”

Kayla squeezed Emma’s arm, and kissed her cheek. “Love is always foolish, whether it’s returned or not,” she said sagely. “Now, shall we get going? Rogue’s suggestion of movies and ice cream sounds very appealing. And the sooner we can get Carol out of Rogue’s head, the better.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Rogue agreed, and followed the sisters out of the town house and into the car that was already waiting for them. Like every car journey in the city, no matter how busy the roads, it didn’t seem to take long for them to reach their destination.

The hospital was just like any other hospital Rogue had been to, and she’d been dubious at first that they’d be able to find Carol. The building seemed to be a maze of corridors, not helped by the fact that they probably didn’t let just anyone wander in to look at apparently brain dead, unidentified female patients. She was forgetting, of course, that they weren’t just anyone. Between the Emma, Kayla, and a little mental persuasion, they were soon being escorted away from the waiting room and down one of the many corridors.

When they reached the ward where the unidentified woman who only Rogue knew to call Carol was being looked after, the nurse who had escorted them left. Emma moved toward the comatose blonde first, closing her eyes in concentration, but soon turning to Kayla and Rogue and shaking her head.

“There’s nothing there,” Emma said. “It’s very disconcerting, actually. The skeleton of her mind is there, but it’s like an abandoned honeycomb; delicate, intricate, and empty. I would very much like to try and put Carol’s mind back into her body.”

“You and me both,” Rogue agreed. “What do you need me to do?”

Emma tilted her head in consideration. “Just don’t fight me,” she said simply.

“Right,” Rogue said a little dubiously, before she felt the now-familiar brush of Emma’s mind against hers. Carefully, as though she had built an unconscious wall, Rogue lowered her defences to let Emma’s consciousness settle across her own. It was an uncomfortable sensation, far more intimate than Rogue felt comfortable with, and it took all she had not to shove against Emma as she had shoved at Carol the day before.

Easy, Emma said - no, thought. And the same feeling that Rogue vaguely recognised from the day before flooded over her, as though Emma were tucking her up in bed and placing a kiss to her forehead. Rogue gave what she hoped was a mental roll of her eyes at that, and ignored Emma’s previous direction of just not to fight.

Rogue closed her eyes and slipped easily into the meditative state she was fast getting used to when trying to work out what was going on inside her head. When she had done so, she could take a step back from Emma’s mental projection, take her by the hand and lead her through the walkways of her mind to where the corridor of shades was. She didn’t need to look to see behind which doors were empty rooms, or which room housed which shade, but she didn’t think she’d have had to point out to Emma which held Carol.

The door was painted red, on her mind, but looked like gleaming adamantium at the same time. There were warning signs taped across it and, as soon as Rogue thought of it, a small grate at eye level that could be pulled back to see inside. But when she did, she didn’t see anything. Even though it was mind space, and the room bent accordingly to show all of its contents, Carol wasn’t there. Rogue shuddered, and didn’t think it was just her mind that did so.

She isn’t there, she told Emma. I don’t understand. You said she wasn’t back in her body, and I can’t feel her fighting me… has she died?

Emma moved in front of Rogue, sliding the door open easily, Rogue allowing the locks and bars to melt away with barely a touch, and Emma stepped inside the impression of the room. Oh dear, she thought, louder than she probably meant to, and Rogue feeling her dismay as her own. She’s still here, Emma told Rogue. But she has… become part of the room. She has integrated into your mind.

What does that mean? Rogue asked, starting to feel a little panicked.

It means there is no way I can pry her free and put her in her own body, Emma replied immediately. Beyond that? I have no idea.

-xXx-

The visit to the hospital left all three of them troubled, Rogue in particular. She didn’t quite understand what Emma meant by Carol having integrated with Rogue’s mind, and she only hoped that it wasn’t as permanent as it sounded. Rogue had wanted to return Carol to her body, to apologise for what she’d done. After Yoshida’s reaction, she had no doubt that Carol would never forgive her, but honestly? She could live with that, if it meant that Carol was alive separately from her to feel anger at her.

Kayla and Rogue still had another couple of days scheduled for their stay in Boston with Emma, but the cheerful optimism of the first half of the week had disappeared. They still went shopping and sightseeing with Emma, but none of the three of them really enjoyed it. Kayla wanted to return to Logan, Emma wanted to bury herself in her work for a while, and Rogue desperately wanted the familiarity of home.

The part of Rogue’s mind which Carol was now fused with didn’t seem to be giving Rogue any problems. She’d had a headache off and on for the first day, but after that there had been no physical manifestations of any mental trauma she’d suffered, and Carol didn’t appear to be making anymore attempts in trying to overtake Rogue’s mind and body. Which was not to say that Rogue didn’t want to get rid of the alien presence inside her mind as soon as possible. It just didn’t seem to be an option anymore.

Emma checked Rogue’s mind regularly for the remainder of their stay and, having sensed no change from what she’d seen at the hospital, had admitted that there was little else she could do. She did make both Kayla and Rogue promise to return for her help as soon as there appeared to be any change at all.

“You could ask for Charles’ help too, I suppose, if that’s more efficient for you. But there is little more he’d be able to do for you than suppress the memories of the incident,” Emma conceded.

“Suppress my memories?” Rogue asked. “Would that help?”

“It’s difficult to say. It would loosen Carol’s foothold in your mind, I think, since there will be nothing for her to relate to, but in the long run I think it would just put you more at risk. Given Carol’s display of strength, I suspect that she will eventually attempt to take control, and removing your memories will make you weak to that attack.”

Rogue blanched. “So you’re saying that she could attack me at any point in time?”

“No. You are safe for now. It will take some time for Carol to regain her strength, and while it would take longer for her to gather that strength were I to remove or block off your memories of her, when she does attack again, you will be left weaker because of it. You have already weathered one attack, I’ve no doubt that will give you the strength to weather a second, at least until you manage to reach myself of Professor Xavier.”

The whole thing sounded horribly invasive, as if Rogue didn’t hate the idea of Carol in her mind as it was. To learn, now, that Carol would gather strength and probably try and attack her again was… both terrifying and sort of disgusting. When Rogue had been chatting with a blonde stranger in the Museum of Fine Arts, she had liked the stranger - as much as she could after only a few minutes acquaintance - had felt comfortable sharing details with her that she didn’t with most strangers.

It was that thought that gave Rogue an idea. Maybe, if she shared everything she was with Carol, if she showed her the passage of her days, the emotions that went along with it, the people whom she loved, and who loved her in return, maybe then Carol wouldn’t fight her so hard. She’d tried to tell her before that it had been accident, that she would help her if she could, but Carol hadn’t listened, too dazed and panicked to do anything other than fight.

But there was time now, potentially months, even years, before Carol would be strong enough attempt to take over again. Rogue could show her, could try and sooth her, try and make what was a very disorienting and worrying thing for both of them resolve itself as easily as possible. Maybe, if Rogue could convince them to work together, Carol might be returned to her body sooner than anyone now believed.

Maybe Rogue was a fool for having such hopes.

The flight back to Canada was much less interesting than the previous ones. Rogue was too preoccupied with her inner musings to pay that much attention to where she was, and Kayla spent the flight fussing over her. They were both glad when they landed, and could distract themselves from their worries with people and activities around them.

Logan and Eliza were both waiting for them at the arrivals gate, Logan looking as grumpy as he usually did and shot occasional, vaguely amused glares at his companion. Eliza, in her turn, seemed to skip between excited to see Rogue again and terrified of the man who’d brought her here. As soon as the pair of them caught sight of Rogue and Kayla, however, they were wholly distracted from whatever awkward conversation they might have been attempting.

In the true style of over-excited fourteen year olds, Eliza hopped excitedly from foot to foot for a moment before she gave in to temptation and shot across the distance between them and wrapped Rogue up in a hug. “Oh I’ve missed you! I know it’s only been a week, but so much as happened! You know Douglas, one of the guys in my old year group? He’s been taken to hospital because a tree fell on him. Can you believe that? And the business with my mum and one of her colleagues has finally worked itself out, so that’s a relief. You must have had such an exciting time in Boston, you need to tell me everything! I still can’t believe you’re nineteen now!”

In spite of the dour mood Rogue had been in moments before, she couldn’t help but chuckle and return the hug. “Do you ever stop for breath?” she asked the younger girl teasingly.

“You look sadder,” Eliza pointed out. It was easy to forget, between the nervousness and the babble, that Eliza had her moments of keen insight just as everyone else did.

Rogue gave a half hearted shrug. “There was an incident. Maybe I’ll tell you later. If you really want to know.”

Eliza cocked her head and eyed her shrewdly for a moment, before she shook her head and grinned again. “Whatever you feel like,” she said cheerfully. Then she stooped to take the weight of one of Rogue’s bags.

Kayla and Logan’s reunion had been much more sedate than the girls’, but no less heartfelt. Logan hadn’t moved from where he’d been waiting, watching every movement Kayla made with sharp eyes, and gracing her with his warmest smile when she finally stood in front of him.

Without words, Kayla had pulled herself flush against him, burying her face in his neck and breathing in the scent of love and home as they embraced tightly. They stood like that for some long minutes, reaffirming that the other existed, and was there, and that they were together again, before Kayla shifted back a bit for Logan to kiss her briefly. Neither of them had to say that they missed each other, it was there in their actions, and their expressions.

“You brought Rogue’s friend, then?” Kayla remarked when they broke apart and picked up Kayla’s bags, that had been dropped haphazardly in their reunion.

“Over excitable little punk,” Logan grumbled good-naturedly.

Kayla chuckled softly, walking as close to Logan as she could with her luggage in the way. Her normal need to be close to him was only advanced by their week’s absence from each other. “I think you sort of enjoyed her company,” Kayla argued with a sneaky grin.

“She loves our Rogue,” Logan said, as though it explained everything. And perhaps it did, for him. Logan almost always had two opinions of people. One was based on Logan’s personal opinion of them, and the second was based on how they treated the people he loved. He was more than happy to hate all of Kayla and Rogue’s friends, but still approve of them, because they were friends of his girls. Similarly, he could personally like someone and still be alright tearing them limb from limb if they threatened their safety. Logan was overly protective, but he also trusted Kayla and Rogue to pick their own battles, and ask for his help if they needed it.

It was, Kayla had to admit, one of the things that had helped her fall so inextricably in love with him. She didn’t need to be babied, not any more, and the freedom that Logan’s trust gave her was breathtaking. Kayla leant into his space again for another kiss that Logan gave her with a pleased smirk.

When they got to the car, Rogue loaded up her bags, but didn’t immediately climb in. Instead, she waited until Logan wasn’t wrapped up in Kayla for a moment, and gave him a brief, tight hug. Logan returned it without complaint, but the look on his face was concerned.

“You ok, kid?” he asked lowly.

Rogue nodded, shrugged, then gave a twitch of her head that might have meant ‘no’. “Kayla talked to you?” she asked.

Logan nodded and scowled. “Anything I can do?”

This time Rogue’s shake of her head was decisive and there was no room for another interpretation. “It scares me, a bit, but I’ll be alright.”

Logan frowned at her for a bit longer, then nodded, once, slammed the trunk shut and moved round the car to get in, Rogue following him to slide in the back. Eliza, already buckled up, undid her seatbelt and shuffled across to the middle seat to give Rogue another tight hug. “You can tell me anything, you know that,” she whispered quietly enough that neither Kayla nor Logan would have heard, if Logan hadn’t had advanced senses.

“Yeah, I know,” Rogue whispered back, suddenly overwhelmingly grateful that she’d let Eliza babble at her that first day in the food hall at school. Eliza had then seemed - and still did seem - so very young, but although there was a naiveté to her, there was also a sense that she, too, had seen more than she should. Rogue had a nasty suspicion that it had something to do with Eliza’s dad, who she had mentioned only very briefly that once, and never again.

Thinking of the collision with Carol, and the unusual strength that still thrummed through her muscles, Rogue had to wonder if maybe her and Eliza’s policy of not talking about their powers was really the best one. It had seemed the safer option, earlier in the year when their friendship was newer, a way of keeping their distance and a certain amount of anonymity. But now it seemed superfluous, an extra challenge that they had to overcome, but this time one of their own making.

Rogue was torn. She wanted to be able to tell Eliza what had happened, to share the uncertainty to with someone else, and in return be able to better understand her friend by hearing of the trials that she had gone through. But at the same time, Eliza was so young. She would be one of the youngest in her year, even if she hadn’t been pushed up a grade, and Rogue wasn’t sure that she wanted to spoil that.

“Did you want to stay for dinner, Eliza?” Kayla asked as they neared town. “Or would you like us to drop you off at home?”

“Um, actually, they’ve just got the fountain working in the park again, I was wondering if I could steal Rogue for a little bit so we could catch up?” Eliza asked, a hint of her stutter reappearing as it always did when asking favours from anyone.

“Rogue?” Kayla prompted.

“If you don’t mind dumping my stuff in my room?” Rogue questioned. “You can leave my bags on my bed.”

“No problem,” Kayla allowed. “Do you want us to come and pick you up later?”

“Nah, I’ll be alright. I’ll see you later,” Rogue added, as Logan pulled up beside the park and let the two girls jump out. She watched Kayla and Logan drive home, then glanced at Eliza in concern. “What’s wrong?” she asked Eliza.

Eliza hesitated a moment, then smiled weakly and shook her head. “I just, I really missed you,” she confessed. “Mom’s… going through a bit of a rough time at the moment, and Matt and his friends only really talk to me when I’m with you, so I’ve been a bit lonely.”

Rogue wandered over to one of the benches and sat down on it, watching the fountain bubble unimpressively at the centre of the tiny park. She waved Eliza over to sit next to her. Not really one for comforting, Rogue didn’t really acknowledge Eliza’s confession and instead launched into stories about her first half of her week with Emma. By the time they’d sat out for a couple of hours and they both needed to start thinking about heading home, Eliza was looking much more cheerful.

Before Rogue left to start walking the couple of miles home, she stopped Eliza, and scribbled a name and number on the back of the younger girl’s hand. “This guy visited me, last summer, said he ran a school for mutants. If you ever get too lonely, or can’t get in contact with me for whatever reason, phone him, ok?”

“But, he talked to you, not me,” Eliza argued, looking uncertainly at the numbers.

Rogue shrugged. “It’s a school for mutants. He’s not going to turn you away, just because he didn’t offer you a direct invitation. From what he said, his doors are open to any mutants, any time. So, I dunno, if your mom gets too sick, or if we aren’t talking, or whatever, just promise me you’ll at least talk to him, ok? He’s the hippy type who wants to be friends with everyone, and for there to be World Peace, and for everything to be butterflies and rainbows.”

Eliza giggled reluctantly. “It sort of sounds like you hate him.”

“No, not really. But his offer came at the worst possible time. He’s alright. He has a ‘secret’ jet.”

Eliza giggled again, thanked Rogue, and the two of them split up and headed back to their own homes.

Chapter Text

The final couple of months before the end of the school year passed with comparatively little drama. No one’s long lost friends got kidnapped, Rogue didn’t accidentally zap one of her classmates, and the awkward truce between Rogue and Yoshida held out until after her exams. Rogue never did end up sharing what had happened between her and Carol with Eliza, and similarly Eliza didn’t tell Rogue about whether she kept Professor Xavier’s number or not. The don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy they’d accidentally come up with probably wasn’t particularly healthy for their relationship, but it worked for them so they didn’t question it.

Of course, Logan and Rogue’s sparring sessions had become a little more interesting. Rogue’s strange, preternatural strength that she’d gained from Carol had not disappeared, hadn’t even faded a little. It was just as strong several months down the line as it had been when she’d first touched the other woman. Rogue couldn’t say whether this was because Carol’s mind was still inside hers, or whether it would remain even after Carol returned to her body (and Rogue was determined that Carol would return, eventually).

Logan had always been a little careful around Rogue, at first because she didn’t have a clue what she was doing, and later because he was several times stronger than her. He had been teaching her how to work around that lack of strength, to use her other assets such as speed and agility against a stronger opponent, but it was something that he personally had never had to learn, so it was a work in progress.

With Carol’s strength added to the skills Rogue had already been working on, it meant that their fights were now much more of a challenge for Logan and their main concern nowadays was less that he tried to avoid breaking one of her bones, and more that they didn’t wreck their clothing enough for Rogue to accidentally touch Logan. Mostly she had taken to wearing skin tight pants and top that were less likely to get caught on anything, or snagged by one of Logan’s claws.

They did, however, spend a bit of extra money on a pair of specialty gloves that were advertised as acting as a ‘second skin’. Rogue wasn’t sure how true that was, but she didn’t question it too closely. The gloves were lightweight, fit her nicely and offered a good range of movement. They also weren’t quite so sticky when they returned home and she had to peel them off to go in the wash, which was always a plus.

It was during one of their sparring sessions that Rogue and Logan learnt that super strength was not the only thing of Carol’s that Rogue had gained.

Rogue had always been relatively fast, but as she grew more used to using Carol’s powers as her own, her speed increased massively. She would never be entirely comfortable with these powers, but one of the many things Logan had taught was to use any and all of the weapons she had at hand. It was unlikely that if Rogue ever ended up in a fight, her opponent would have the same moral compunctions as herself. If she must feel guilt about doing what she had to stay alive, that could wait until after the battle was won.

This lesson was something Rogue had always taken with a slight pinch of salt because, mutant ability aside, she was a pretty normal person. She didn’t see herself getting into any fights, particularly not with the type of people Logan was suggesting. Either way, she was adapting to her new speed and strength, even if she was still snapping more pens and pencils in half than any person should.

It was early July, following the last of Rogue’s exams, when something totally inexplicable happened. She and Logan had taken to using the trees in their sparring sessions, not just as things to dodge around or hide behind, but also to climb up and drop out of. Logan had an unfair advantage at this, partly due to experience, but mostly because of his excellent sense of smell and hearing. So Rogue ‘hiding in a tree’ was less ‘hiding’ and more ‘prolonging the inevitable’.

She didn’t mind too much, the break before Logan tore up the bark either to join her or bring her down to him was time enough to catch her breath and enjoy the pissed off look Logan sent her. This time was a little different. It was the third time Rogue had escaped up a tree, and Logan was getting more and more irritable because of it.

“We’re supposed to be training, not playing hide and seek!” he roared irritably up at her before, without stopping to consider the consequence of his actions, Logan slashed straight through the trunk of the tree, and gave it a hefty push to send it toppling over. It was only when it started to fall, and Rogue let out an undignified squeak of surprise, that Logan realised that she could be seriously injured she landed badly.

He needn’t have worried, however, because although the tree fell, Rogue didn’t. Instead, she floated in the air, like a puppet dangling from its strings and looking totally nonplussed at the whole experience.

“Um,” Rogue said unhelpfully.

Logan just scowled up at her. “That has to be cheating,” he remarked dryly.

“It’s not cheating if I have no idea what I’m doing,” Rogue replied. “Besides, I thought you were a fan of the whole ‘no rules’ thing.”

“I’d prefer it if you came a little bit closer to the ground,” Logan told her.

“So would I!” Rogue agreed a little shrilly. “I have no idea what I’m doing!” she repeated.

Logan scanned the forest around them, taking a few deep breaths and sniffing noisily. “Well it ain’t anyone hiding in the bushes,” he informed her after a moment.

Rogue bit back a sarcastic retort and closed her eyes, wondering if she concentrated hard enough she could lower herself back to the ground. The problem was, she wasn’t certain what it was that had led to her, well, flying in the first place. She thought about what Kayla had said, about expectation, and whether that worked in situations where she was currently defying the expected.

“Rogue!” Logan cried out in warning, which was all Rogue knew before she opened her eyes and crashed back to earth.

“You alright, kid?” Logan asked, peering down at her and looking caught between insufferably smug and a little bit concerned.

“Ow?” Rogue claimed uncertainly. She felt as though she should hurt, but other than a flash of pain when she first landed, she felt fine. Another thing that Carol had given her, apparently. “I’m a little concerned about the floating in midair that just happened, but otherwise I think I’m fine,” she went on to say when Logan continued scowling expectantly at her. He nodded in satisfaction at that answer, then tilted his head in the direction of home.

“You want to carry on practicing your flying, or go home to tell Kayla?” he asked.

“I’m not practicing flying,” Rogue moaned, hauling herself to standing and brushing off the twigs and leaves that had attached themselves to her hair and clothing. “I can’t fly.”

Logan glanced sideways at her. “So you weren’t pulling a Superman impression just now?”

“A Superman -” Rogue cut herself off and shook her head. “Come on, if you are going to compare me to some corny comic book super hero, the least you could do is pick someone the same sex as me.”

“I don’t read comic books,” Logan grunted.

“I bet you do,” Rogue argued. “I bet you’ve got a massive pile of old Captain America magazines stuffed away somewhere.”

“Why the hell would I be a Captain America fan? Running around in bright blue and red, it’s like he painted a massive target on his chest! Not to mention his main weapon is a shield. Which, traditionally, are meant for defence.”

“You’re always saying to think outside the box,” Rogue reminded him.

“I have never said that,” Logan shot back, looking almost offended. It was true, he’d never technically said those words so far as Rogue knew, but he’d certainly expressed the intention of them more than a few times.

Rogue shrugged and, eyeing the small brook Logan had just waded through, considered jumping over it. Deciding not to take the risk in case she didn’t come back down again, Rogue carefully stepped over it, ignoring the amusement Logan didn’t even try to hide.

“I’m sure once you get used to it, the flying won’t be such a big deal,” Logan said, possibly to try and reassure her, more likely to make her feel more awkward.

“Flying will always be a big deal,” Rogue told him. “And don’t think that if this is a permanent thing I won’t totally grab you and take you for a spin.”

“I will mince you,” Logan warned, without turning around to look at her.

Rogue stuck her tongue out at his back, and laughed when he stuck his finger up at her. “No you won’t,” she replied cheerfully.

Logan did glance over his shoulder at her then. “Maybe only a little bit,” he allowed.

“Aw, the Grinch has a heart after all,” Rogue teased.

Logan froze and turned very slowly to scowl darkly at her. “Rogue?” he growled quietly.

“Mmhmm?” Rogue acknowledged, edging sideways and trying not to smile, knowing it would only make matters worse. Logan was a softy at heart, but he didn’t like being reminded of that. Comparing him to the Grinch probably hadn’t been the best idea, but Logan wasn’t really offended, Rogue knew that much, and it amused her to see him pretend to be so angry and annoyed. Well, some of the annoyance was real.

“Run,” he warned, then sprang at her.

Rogue ducked and rolled, struggling to control her breathing as she attempted to fend off Logan and laugh at the same time. With a speed that she still wasn’t quite used to, Rogue dodged out of Logan’s grasp and raced off through the forest towards the house, still laughing breathlessly as she did.

Kayla was waiting for them when they came tumbling out of the tree line, standing in the back doorway, hip perched against the doorjamb, arms folded across her chest and a fondly exasperated expression on her face.

“Just what have you two been up to?” she asked them once they drew near enough to hear her without her having to shout.

“I accused Logan of having a heart,” Rogue said, beaming at Kayla and not missing the look of amusement that flickered across her face. “He took offence,” Rogue added solemnly, and deftly ducked the swipe to the head Logan made, grinning fearlessly at him.

Logan took a couple more steps forward, kissing Kayla briefly, before she pushed him away. “You both stink,” she told them. “Dinner’s almost ready, but you need showers and a change of clothes.”

“Did we mention Rogue could fly?” Logan said, as he passed by Kayla and claimed the bathroom first, leaving Kayla gaping at his back and Rogue twitching awkwardly.

“It was less ‘flying’ and more… not falling?” Rogue suggested, trying to make the situation sound a little more plausible and failing miserably.

Kayla turned her disbelieving gaze away from where Logan had disappeared to stare a little blankly at Rogue. Then she shook her head and asked, “What happened?”

“I was up a tree -” Rogue started and broke off with a grin at the flat look that Kayla sent her at that remark. “And Logan was irritated that I kept hiding up trees, so he chopped it down.”

“While you were still in it?” Kayla asked as clarification. When Rogue nodded, her expression turned stormy. “You could have been really badly injured -”

“If it weren’t for the super strength I now have?” Rogue interrupted. “Or maybe the fact that, when the tree fell, I didn’t?”

“You didn’t?”

“Nope. Just hung there for while. Next thing I know, I’ve fallen back to earth and Logan’s having a go at Captain America for being too patriotic or something,” Rogue finished succinctly.

Kayla stared at her for another long minute, then shook her head again. “How is it that I’m starting to get used to things like this happening around you?”

Rogue looked uncertain for a moment, before shaking it off, but it was long enough for Kayla to see, and she stepped forward to give Rogue a tight - albeit brief - hug. “So do you think it was a one off? Or that it’s part of Carol’s skills that are only now coming into play?” Kayla asked.

“No idea,” Rogue replied. “I’m sort of hoping it was just a one off. As cool as flying would be, I’m absolutely fine with that skill belonging to someone else and not me. I’m finding it weird enough coping with just being stronger and faster, never mind something so ridiculous as flying.”

“That and you’re not too fond of heights,” Kayla added wryly.

Rogue huffed and didn’t try to explain again that it wasn’t heights she had a problem with, it was airplanes. “I just hope I can’t fly,” Rogue muttered, and moved past Kayla to wait her turn in the bathroom.

-xXx-

As it turned out, Rogue could fly. She just couldn’t fly very well. Yet. After the first accidental ‘flight’ Logan had insisted that Rogue spend a little bit of each of their training sessions trying to fly. It took jumping out of quite a few trees or off low over hangs before Rogue got the gist of not falling, and that was just the start.

The main problem Rogue had, once she’d managed to suspend herself in midair, was landing. Or, actually, moving at all in any way that wasn’t a natural response of the force of gravity applied to a mass. It didn’t help that Logan found the entire thing hysterical, and could offer no guidance of his own, being the very much land-bound creature that he was.

In the end Rogue had lost her temper with Logan and his so-called attempts to train her, and stormed off in the opposite direction of their house from the clearing they were using. She knew that it would take very little effort on Logan’s part to follow her, or track her down on the rare circumstance that he lost her in the first place, but he seemed to sense that she needed some space and didn’t come after her.

The banter she and Logan shared was good hearted on the whole, not pushing too far, but familiar enough to push boundaries that others wouldn’t dare. In this case Logan had pushed too far, but it wasn’t entirely his fault. Rogue was getting more and more frustrated with this new power she suddenly had that, surprise surprise! She had no control over. Rogue was fed up with fate giving her screwy powers that she couldn’t control.

But she also knew that thinking like that wouldn’t help her. She had to stay positive, had to think that she could do this, and not give up. It was just difficult with Logan constantly laughing at her. Although school had finished, between finishing the final bits of renovation on the house, helping out Kayla as she battled her way through seemingly endless homework piles and school reports, and working with Logan on various vehicles that were suffering from various problems, Rogue hadn’t had much time to herself. What time she did have, she often used either meeting up with Eliza, or throwing thoughts and emotions to the part of her mind where she thought Carol’s presence still lingered.

Rogue hadn’t had a chance to stop and think about her new speed, strength and flight since a few days after returning from Emma’s, and she took the opportunity now to meditate over it. Meditation was something that, as a child, she’d mocked. As a mutant who stored the shades of others in her mind, however, Rogue was finding it very useful, although perhaps not in the way most people might.

In this case it didn’t seem to do Rogue much good. Her ability to fly had apparently become as much a part of her as her new speed and strength had, and there was no way of really grasping at it to direct it how she wished. It was like she had suddenly been given a new limb. It was entirely hers, but it was strange and new, and she had no idea what muscles she needed to flex to get it to move.

Giving up in trying to find the answers in her mind, Rogue returned to herself, and glanced about the clearing she’d chosen. It wasn’t far from where she and Logan usually trained, as was obvious from the slash marks in some of the tree trunks, and trodden down undergrowth. She stood up and pulled off one of her gloves, holding her hand in front of her face, bending and straightening her fingers, twisting her wrist and thinking about what it was that made her hand work like that.

She didn’t have to think about moving her fingers. Not really. She just had to want them to. She wanted them to, she expected them to, and somehow her body translated that into the correct set of messages to her muscles to achieve the desired affect. Rogue straightened her fingers, spreading them wide, and stared contemplatively at the back of her hand. With a bit of prodding, she sent the only power she really thought of as her own skittering across the skin of the back of her hand, leaving a trail of pins and needles in its wake.

Nothing changed about her skin. It stayed the same, almost translucent paleness without any sign that if anyone touched it, she would hurt them, would suck out their powers and their minds, and could leave their body an empty shell. Rogue clenched her fist, and let her power return to the bundle of energy in her chest. She pulled her glove back on and returned her hand to her side.

Maybe flying was like controlling her hand. She needed to want it to happen, she needed to expect it to happen, and then, with a bit of luck, it would happen. Rogue wasn’t sure she was convinced by that but maybe without Logan hovering at her side ready to laugh at her misfortune, she would do better than before.

Rogue spent a lot of time that afternoon scowling at nothing, and not moving.

Eventually, however, she did start to take off from the ground, and even move around a little. Just baby steps, at first, never much further off the ground than a couple of feet, but at the same time it brought with it a sense of exhilaration that Rogue hadn’t expected. She hated airplanes because they didn’t make sense to her: giant chunks of metal, floating in space, it seemed ridiculous. Of course, Rogue couldn’t explain how she could fly either, but she could, and she was the one powering it, and it was amazing.

The moment she stopped thinking about it, however, Rogue shot up a little further into the air than she’d intended. Floating, once more, a little higher off the ground than she was entirely comfortable with, Rogue scowled. She could do this. She could.

So she tried to float lower, circling the clearing a little, hoping that horizontal movement that she’d been practicing would help with the control of the vertical movement she clearly totally lacked at the moment. It did help, a little, but it also sent her careening into a tree. Thankfully Rogue didn’t hit it very hard, and it was easy enough to climb down it, so she didn’t have to worry about the rest of her awkward downward spiral. Still, it wasn’t quite the graceful descent she’d been hoping for.

Laughing self deprecatingly at her own high emotions, Rogue began to make her way back to the house. There was a thundercloud looming on the horizon and she knew that, if she ran, she could get back before the rain started. She considered this for a moment, staring up at the sky, and wondered if, maybe, she might be able to fly home one day. Laughing again, she took off, racing herself and her new speed and arriving on the front porch just as the first, heavy rain drops started to fall.

Kayla opened the door before Rogue could do so herself, and immediately passed her the phone.

“Hello?” Rogue curiously, without a clue as to who it might be.

“Chére!” an excited, familiar voice greeted her. “It’s good to hear your voice again.”

Rogue laughed, kicked her shoes off in the direction of her room and sank onto the sofa, cradling the phone to her ear. “Remy,” she replied, sure that the smile she was wearing could be heard in her voice as clearly as it could be seen. “I thought you were still in Eastern Europe?” Remy had been off-grid for the last month or so on a very important, very hush-hush job that half of the Guild of Thieves didn’t even know the details about.

“I got back last night. Remy would have phoned earlier, but Tante Mattie ordered him straight to bed.” Remy pretended to be put-out by this, but Rogue knew him too well by now to think that he was anything other than pleased to be home, where Tante Mattie could order him about.

“I’m glad you’re home alright,” Rogue confessed quietly. She and Remy had remained close in the year they hadn’t met face-to-face, but it was a long-distance sort of closeness.

“Me too, Chére, me too. But you must tell me - Kayla said something about flying?”

Rogue groaned and buried her face briefly in a cushion. “You know what I told you about what happened in Boston? About how I’m stronger and faster now?”

Oui, Remy remembers.”

“Yeah, well, apparently Carol could fly, too.”

There was a long pause over the other end of the line, and Rogue wondered whether Remy just didn’t believe her, or if he was trying not to laugh. She wasn’t entirely sure that she wouldn’t hang up on him if he laughed, month without talking or not.

“You can fly?” he asked after a while. There wasn’t any kind of inflection in his voice at all, he kept if very carefully blank.

“Not very well,” Rogue told him. “I haven’t really got the hang of landing yet and, well, I keep bumping into things.”

“You aren’t joking?” Remy double checked. “You can fly? Without wings, or electronic suits, or anything?”

Rogue thought maybe she’d broken Remy a little bit. “Um, yeah. I can actually fly. Just me. Logan keeps comparing me to Superman. It sort of pisses me off.”

Mon dieu. I thought Kayla was joking,” he whispered. “You can fly?”

Rogue laughed. “Yes, I can fly. Are you alright? You sound a little strangled.”

Remy coughed a little awkwardly at that. “Just when I thought you couldn’t be anymore attractive to me,” he told her ruefully, and she could almost see the shake of his head.

Rogue blushed and curled her knees up to her chest, biting her lower lip tentatively. “Really?” she murmured into the phone. “You find the thought of me flying attractive?”

“Well,” Remy allowed, “Not if you keep crashing into things.”

Rogue laughed at the sudden change in tone, and relaxed back into her previous seated position, even if she did feel a little disappointed. “I’m afraid so. Mostly the ground, but I got tangled in a tree earlier, too.”

“You’re not very good at this flying thing yet, Chére?”

“Not exactly,” Rogue agreed with another light chuckle. “I’m getting better, but it’s - weird. Really, really strange.”

There was another pause, then Remy said, “Remy could possibly help you.”

“Really? Don’t tell me you can fly too?” Rogue teased.

Non, but Remy had difficulty with his powers for a long time. Maybe I can help you learn yours by telling you how I learnt mine.”

Rogue’s hesitation was not because she didn’t, whole heartedly, want to see Remy again, or want his help in trying to fly (as embarrassing as that might be). “That sound great,” she replied honestly.

“‘But’?” Remy prompted.

“You live in New Orleans. I live in Canada. It’s a bit of a drive for a lesson or two,” Rogue explained.

Remy laughed then, rich and cheerful and successfully making Rogue’s toes curl. He had a fantastic voice, but his laugh was something else entirely. “Has Remy not told you? When he was talking to Kayla, I invited all three of you to stay with me again!”

“No, you didn’t tell me,” Rogue scolded, trying to sound upset at being the last to know, but mostly feeling very happy that she would get to see him again soon.

“Well, it is done and you will be coming to my wonderful city for another month. Kayla thinks you all need a holiday. She also thinks this is something you have been hoping for particularly, eh?” he finished suggestively.

“There was that lovely patisserie you took me to with the amazing crepes,” Rogue agreed blithely. “I’ve just been dying to go back there again.”

Remy snorted a laugh. “You wound me, Petite. Here I thought it was for my company alone.”

“I suppose I wouldn’t be too adverse to seeing you again at some point,” Rogue said teasingly, grinning like a loon. “I’ve missed you,” she added quietly, sincerely.

“I’ve missed you too, Chére,” Remy repeated, just as earnestly.

“What about the other Guild?” Rogue asked after a moment spent revelling at his confession. “Will we be in danger from the Assassins?”

Remy chuckled. “Probably not. Next year is the tithe year, and the Assassins are trying to ignore the Thieves as much as the Thieves are trying to ignore the Assassins.”

“I don’t want to know, do I?” Rogue asked with a sigh.

“Probably not,” Remy agreed, amusement clear in his voice.

“I only hope what you say ‘try’ you’re doing better at it than you’re implying.”

Remy laughed again. “You can not have two such groups of people in one city, without them clashing from time to time. But you need not fear, Chére, I will protect you from any monsters that might lurk in the shadows.”

“Who said I need protecting?” Rogue asked. “Haven’t you heard I can fly now?” she added with her own light laugh.

Oui, Remy has. He has also heard that your flying, it’s not very good yet?”

“Oh shush you,” Rogue said, rolling her eyes. “I’d like to see you suddenly develop the skill of unassisted flight, and not crash into a tree or two.”

Their easy banter continued for some time after that, an easy rhythm that they slipped effortlessly into in spite of their months with little or no communication. It scared Rogue, a little, how effortless it was to keep their relationship strong, but it pleased her immensely too. She had missed him over the year, and she would have thought that strange, if he hadn’t missed her too. They’d only known each other for a month, and yet somehow he was one of the most important people in her life.

Rogue chose not to look too closely at it. She suspected, if she did, the edge of friendship she teetered on, would be lost to her and she would fall swiftly and totally in love with him. It was not that Rogue would have minded that, but she had another year of school to go. She had at least one more year to live in Canada, whilst he was in New Orleans, or travelling sporadically all over the world and, as easy as their touch-and-go relationship had been this time round, Rogue imagined it would be much harder if she were in love with him.

They only, finally, said their goodbyes when Kayla insisted Rogue get off the phone and Logan’s glares at the headset became too much for Rogue to ignore.

“I’ll see you soon,” she promised.

Oui, Chére. I look forward to it.”

“Me too,” she said, then hung up. Neither of them were the type for long goodbyes, especially when all that could have been said had already been included earlier in the conversation.

“I don’t like how much attention Gumbo pays you,” Logan growled, as Rogue put the phone back in its stand. He scowled at it, as though if he tried hard enough Remy might feel his disapproval.

“Why?” Rogue asked as she moved to set the dining table. “He was your friend first. And it’s not as if he’s done anything inappropriate.”

“She has a point,” Kayla told Logan gently, although her eyes glinted with amusement at the whole predicament.

“I don’t like it,” Logan repeated sullenly. “He’s too old for you.”

Rogue snorted and pointedly didn’t say anything about the age difference between Kayla and Logan. That would probably only have ended up in a fight, something which Rogue was eager to avoid given how she’d blown up in Logan’s face earlier. “He hasn’t done anything with me that he wouldn’t do with a sister,” Rogue said. While technically that was true, she was aware enough that the affection Remy had for her was hardly sisterly.

Logan was probably having the same train of thought, giving the incredulous look he sent her, but when he opened his mouth, Kayla kissed him before he could say anything.

“I don’t want to hear again how you ‘don’t like it’,” she explained. “Can we just be happy that we’ve got a holiday sorted?” she suggested.

Rogue nodded and helped herself to the food, and Logan, while he still looked grumpy, didn’t protest.

-xXx-

The trip to New Orleans took a little longer this time, mostly because of the bad weather that forced them to make two overnight stops rather than one. Logan had been irritated by this, insisting that he could carry on driving, but Kayla wasn’t having it. And when Kayla made a point to disagree with Logan there was usually a very good reason for it, one that all of Logan’s growling and threats didn’t make a dent in.

So, with rain coming down in bucketfuls, the roads slick and dangerous, Kayla refused to allow Logan to drive late into the night like he had before, and threatened him into driving much more slowly and carefully than he was used to. Rogue didn’t know what threats she used, and she suspected she didn’t want to know. She had her cell phone with her and spent the majority of the time texting Eliza or Remy, or playing one of the many games that Emma had loaded onto it for her, so the prolonged journey was not quite as torturous as it might have been.

When they finally arrived on the edge of the city the rain was starting to clear a little, to the point that, when they pulled up outside the LeBeau mansion, they could make a quick dash inside with their bags, without getting too wet in the process. Like before, they were spotted before they rang the bell, and the door was opened to expedite their arrival. Although no one came out to greet them this time, thanks to the rain.

As soon as Rogue was inside, before she knew what was happening, she was engulfed by someone’s arms and spun around excitedly, a kiss dropped to her hair. She laughed, wrapping her arms around Remy in return, and placing gloved fingers over his mouth to kiss him in greeting.

“It’s good to see you again, mes amis,” Remy greeted all three of them, apparently impervious to the dark glare Logan was sending him.

“You too, Remy,” Kayla greeted, stretching a hand out to shake and getting swept into a hug as well.

When Remy had pulled back from both of the hugs he eyed Logan for a minute, and the glare that had turned black now. “Remy, he would hug you too, if he didn’t think he would get skewered.”

As if to prove the point, Logan pointed his fist at Remy, fingers curled up, and his blades shot out, gleaming in the dull light of the rain outside. “Try it,” he dared.

“Logan,” Kayla said with an exasperated smile. “Do try not to get us kicked out before we’ve even put our bags down.” she put a hand on his forearm, and pushed gently until he retracted his claws and lowered his arm to hang at his side.

Rogue shared a knowing grin with Kayla. There was no way Kayla exerted enough pressure to force Logan to lower his arm - and no way anyone knew of to make his claws forcibly retract - but sometimes it just took a little gentle persuasion in the right direction. More bees with honey, and all that.

“Do you think I can’t see you when you share your secret smirks?” Logan grumbled loudly.

Kayla laughed and leant towards him to kiss his cheek. “No, baby, but the point is you don’t know what it is you’re seeing. Are we in the same room as before?” she added, asking Remy.

Oui,” he agreed, watching their interaction with some amusement.

Kayla and Logan headed away from the entrance, up the stairs, and towards where their room was, Logan grumbling pleasantly about not being bribed with kisses, and Kayla obviously not believing a word of it.

“I don’t remember them being that…” Remy trailed off in search of the right word.

“Schmoopy?” Rogue suggested.

“It’s like they’re in their honeymoon phase,” he added.

Rogue nodded. “I know. It’s sort of gross, but they’re happy, so whatever.”

Remy glanced sideways at her and chuckled. “Remy thinks you must be the most understanding teenage daughter ever.”

Rogue shook her head in denial, then twitched the strap of the bag that was over her shoulder. It wasn’t particularly difficult to carry. In fact, thanks to her new found strength, it felt like she had little more than a purse hanging off her shoulder, but she’d still have appreciated being able to put it down. “Same room?” she asked, as Kayla had done.

Remy nodded, then offered to take her bag.

“Super strength, sugar, I’m fine,” Rogue declined.

“I was just being a gentleman,” Remy said with a shrug that had no right to be as graceful as it was. Rogue followed the movement with hungry eyes, and grinned at the way Remy’s eyes narrowed at her.

“Are you up to something?” he asked, following her a step or two behind up the stairs.

“Always,” she promised. “Although nothing particular at the moment.” When she got to her room, however, Remy hovering in the doorway as she started to unpack, Rogue took every opportunity to stretch up and show off her midriff. It was the only part of her she really could show off, between all the clothing she was wearing and how her hair fell forward when she leant forward.

Remy only watched long enough to catch on to her plan, before he turned his back on her. He still waited in her doorway, but he wasn’t about to watch her showing off and risk himself with the temptation. When he turned again, Rogue was finished, had pushed her suitcase out of the way and was sat on the edge of her bed grinning mischievously up at him.

“You asked for that one,” Rogue told him.

He shook his head in denial, but didn’t say anything, instead moving over to sit next to her.

“Did you have a good birthday?” he asked her, reminding her of the age difference between them.

Rogue huffed and didn’t tell Remy that she wasn’t the one who minded the difference in ages. “My birthday itself was alright, but Kayla and my holiday with Auntie Emma could have gone better.”

Rogue had given Remy the outline of events for what happened during their stay in Boston, but she hadn’t gone into too much detail. Partly because at the time the whole experience was still too raw, but mostly because there was no way of knowing if someone was listening in over the phone line, and Logan was teaching her how to be paranoid about such things. So, now that the two of them had a little more privacy, Rogue told Remy everything she could remember.

Retelling the story now, months after the fact, was harder than she’d anticipated, and Rogue’s hurt about the events combined with the way she’d pushed her feelings into a corner and done her best to ignore them meant that, by the time she’d finished talking, there were tears dribbling down her cheeks.

Remy, thankfully, didn’t say anything about her upset, just sat with one arm half around her and half propping himself up, not moving until the last of the tears had stopped. Then he pulled a handkerchief apparently from thin air and offered it to her, to wipe the remains of her tears away.

“But you have strength, and speed, and flight from this?” he prodded gently after a while.

“Yeah,” Rogue confirmed. “It’s been really fun, actually. Well, the flying bit not so much, but the strength and speed have. It’s given me an extra edge when I’m training with Logan.”

“Remy still can’t believe you train with Logan.”

“I can’t believe we’ve had training sessions for this long and he hasn’t accidentally touched me.” Rogue frowned at her own words. “That sounded wrong. I meant that I haven’t zapped him.”

“I knew what you meant,” Remy reassured her with a crooked grin. “Maybe you have touched him, but your ‘zapping powers’ weren’t working?”

Rogue snorted in disbelief at that suggestion and shook her head. “Oh no,” she disagreed, “I’m absolutely sure they’re working.”

As if that were an invitation for Remy to take he drew a long, curving line down the side of her face, from brow to chin. His finger crackled with his own power and, just as before, it left a line of fire in its wake. Rogue turned her face towards him when the touch stopped, leant forward as though she were about to kiss him - this time without fingers in the way - before she caught herself, sighed, and dropped her head to rest her forehead against his shoulder.

“I sort of hate you right now,” Rogue told him, her voice muffled by his coat.

“No you don’t,” Remy argued, although he sounded more half hearted then he probably intended.

After a moment, Rogue straightened then stood from the bed to walk over to the window, gazing out at where the rain had apparently stopped briefly and the sun was peeking through. “Hey,” she said. “You want to laugh at me for a little bit?”

Remy scowled at her, clearly not understanding what she meant and disapproving of anything that might bring Rogue’s mood down further, before his expression brightened as he understood. “You want to go flying?” he asked, sounding a little bit like a child at Christmas.

“Sure,” Rogue said, then reached out for his hand, which he gladly gave, and pulled him back down the stairs and out through the back door to where there was a small expanse of wooded patio that opened on to the swamp beyond. When they got there, Rogue hesitated, wincing a little of the thought of what would happen to her clothing if she landed in the swamp rather than back on the patio.

Remy squeezed her hand, then let go, stepping back and watching her excitedly. Rogue bit her lip then, like she had in the forest at home, thought about wanting to fly, expecting to fly, and expecting her body to know what to do without her sending direct signals to the mysterious part of her that allowed her to do this. She rose a little faster than she had before, and came to float in front of Remy, her toes about two feet off the ground.

Mon dieu,” Remy whispered. “Kayla told me, you’ve told me, and still I did not believe until now. How are you doing this?”

“Not a clue,” Rogue confessed with a half smile. “I sort of, try and expect my body to do what I tell it to, then hope for the best. Do you think you’ll be able to help me?”

Remy tilted his head, for once looking up at her, rather than down, and considered her request seriously. He had offered, but like with Logan, he couldn’t personally fly, so the most he could probably give was general guidance. Which might help, but at the same time, might not. Every mutant approached their power in a different way, depending on the power and depending on the mindset of the mutant. It was like learning to drive; different techniques worked for different people. Unlike learning to drive, however, mutations were unique to each person and while some may be very similar, learning to control a mutation was something everyone had to learn individually.

“I will try and help,” Remy told her. “There was a long time when I couldn’t control my powers. I have always had my eyes, and my powers manifested when I was very young, too young to understand what I was doing. It took a lot longer than I’d like to admit to not accidentally making things explode.”

“At least you’ve got some control, sugar. I still fry anyone who touches me,” Rogue tried to cheer him up.

“Apart from me,” Remy argued.

“Yeah,” Rogue agreed, frowning at the ground as she floated another foot up. “Hang on,” she warned him, then set about trying to get a controlled descent. The problem with coming down is that she couldn’t just expect to go down. If she did, her flying power stopped completely and let gravity take control. She had to work at flying down, inch by inch, until her toes rested on the wood floorboards again and she could let the sensation of flying go completely.

“That was my smoothest landing yet,” she told Remy proudly when she only stumbled a little.

He raised his eyebrows at her in a dubious expression.

“No, honestly,” she replied, with the hint a self-deprecating smile. “I normally just drop like a rock, or crash into a tree or something. I’m just glad that I managed to land back on the porch and didn’t go scooting off into the swamp.”

“I believe that,” he corrected her. “I don’t think you need Remy’s help. You are making slow progress, but it is still progress. I don’t think there’s much I can do to help you.”

“Oh,” Rogue replied, feeling a little disappointed, and grinning when Remy stepped towards her so she could feel the warmth of his body heat, although they weren’t yet touching. She tilted her head back to look up at him and smile. “You can still carry on teaching me to dance,” she suggested.

Remy smiled in response, making the corners of his dark eyes crinkle. “Yes,” he agreed, his fingers playing with the feather-soft ends of her hair. “Maybe this year, I can teach you to play poker too?”

Rogue couldn’t help but throw her head back and laugh at that, one of her hands creeping up Remy’s chest to rest loosely on the join between his neck and shoulder. She ran her fingers through the short hairs there, and wished again that she could touch him properly.

“I already know how to play poker,” Rogue told him with a wicked smile, to explain her laugh. Then she leant up on her tiptoes and whispered in his ear, careful not to touch, “I know how to cheat at poker.”

Remy’s hands, that had apparently moved of their own volition to rest on Rogue’s hips, tightened briefly, and the red of his irises darkened to the point that his eyes seemed almost entirely black. Then he stepped back, away from her, cursing quietly. “You are a beautiful, terrible temptation, Chére,” he told her, his voice a little ragged.

Rogue tilted her head to the side, looking up at him and wondering if she should apologise. She did feel a little bad, she supposed, but not that much. After all, with her mutant power it was unlikely that she’d ever personally be able to do much more than share a few, careful kisses with someone else. But she didn’t want to dwell on that, so she took his hand and led him over to the bench seat by the door, tugging him to sit next to her.

“Did you want to go dancing tonight?” Remy asked her, carefully, as though she might reject him out of hand. Or worse, turn that into yet another excuse for flirtation.

It didn’t take much consideration for Rogue to turn the offer down. It seemed stupid, given how little energy she’d used during their journey, but whenever she travelled long distances by any form of transport, Rogue always felt exhausted by the end of them. She regretted turning Remy’s offer down, but she knew that before long she would have been dead on her feet.

Instead, they stayed on the porch, on that bench, curled up against each other as the night drew in and the cold settled in around them. Remy traced lines of warmth up and down Rogue’s arms, across her shoulders, along the backs of her hands, and she only had to tell him off once for accidentally scorching her blouse a bit.

They talked about the year they’d had; all the things they hadn’t wanted or been able to say over the phone. Rogue talked about Yoshida, and the dark, angry presence that was now a part of the back of her mind. Remy talked about a heist he’d gone on in Scandinavia, and the rumors he’d encountered there of a deadly Winter Soldier, who was a mindless assassin who had been owned by the KGB, and was now sold on to the highest bidder.

That led to conversation of horror stories of the terrible things humans did to one another, and to themselves. Rogue told Remy what she knew of a scientist  in Virginia who had been working on a secret project for the government, when one of his experiments had gone wrong and he’d disappeared off the face of the Earth. Not dead, just - gone.

Remy told Rogue about the whispered stories surrounding the Black Widow serum - a version of the super soldier serum, but aimed at women instead of men and introduced over a number of years. Stories of little girls going missing, their minds being wiped, and then being trained as assassins. Only one had survived the training process so far, and she had disappeared off the radar a number of years ago, without a hint of whether the serum had killed her, she’d been taken out, or whether she was making her own plans to take over the world.

Rogue shivered, partly out of fear, and partly because the evening was growing ever colder, the damp of the rain creeping in under layers of clothing. There was an itch at the back of her mind, the mental equivalent of an insect bite, that stung all the more when she wondered about why humanity searched so hard for bigger and better weapons. She felt sore, angry about something that she didn’t know of, and it confused her. Rogue blamed it on too long in the back of a car without a decent nights sleep for too long.

Sensing her tiredness and confusion, Remy stood and showed her back into the house.

“Sleep well, Chére,” he told her quietly as they parted at the bottom of the stairs. “Don’t dream of too many mindless assassins,” he added, half joking, half serious.

“I won’t,” she promised. “Maybe tomorrow we’ll go dancing, or you’ll show me to the dives you go to to play poker.”

“Maybe,” he replied. “If we can sneak past Logan.”

She smiled, pushing all of the grim thoughts their stories had raised deep to the back of her mind and letting herself light up with the hope of a fun evening. “Challenge accepted,” she told him with a wink, then bid him good night.

Chapter Text

Rogue woke with the sure knowledge that Carol was trying, yet again, to take control of her mind. The itch from the previous night had grown to a stinging pain at various points, and it took a few deep breaths and a moment’s internal reflection for Rogue to realise that Carol was attempting to use her brain against her. All the thoughts and feelings Rogue had been sharing with the psyche locked in the back of her own, in an attempt to comfort Carol, were now being wielded against her.

Rogue wasn’t sure how it was possible, but in attempting to comfort her, she had given Carol the strength she needed to start battling her way out. She was not yet having much of an affect, beyond giving Rogue a headache, but she knew that it was only a matter of hours before she was fighting, once more, with everything she had against the other woman inside her mind.

She knew, without really knowing how she reached that conclusion, that she needed to reach the hospital in Boston where Carol was currently being kept, as soon as she possibly could. Gasping, Rogue shoved the blankets out of the way and half threw herself to her feet. Her legs were trembling from her strong emotions and the sudden movement, and it took more effort than it usually did to get herself to the closet to pull on clothes, any clothes, before tumbling towards the door.

Remy had a plane. She knew this, she clung on to this, and she hoped desperately that in the years since he’d used it to help Logan and Kayla that it hadn’t broken or fallen into disrepair. Rogue stumbled down the corridor, fighting the pain in the back of her head and hoping that she’d be able to hold Carol off long enough to get to the hospital, to get to her body. She wanted her out of her mind already.

She more collapsed against Remy’s door, than knocked on it, but it had the desired effect of waking him up and coming over to see what had made the noise. When he opened the door Remy looked adorably rumpled and, if Rogue had been in any fit state to appreciate it, she might have marvelled at his state of undress. As it was however, she was more interested in the fact he was awake and therefore able to help her.

“Rogue, Chére, what’s wrong?” he asked, automatically moving to help prop her up. “Should I get Kayla and Logan.”

Rogue shook her head. “No, I… Carol is - Carol is fighting back again.”

“I should -” Remy started saying, already beginning to move past Rogue to walk down the corridor to wake her parents.

“No. It won’t help,” she argued. “They’ll just worry.”

“They should worry!” he hissed angrily. “You have another person in your head, trying to take over your mind. They should be out of their minds with worry.”

Rogue gasped a little, pressing the heels of her hands against her forehead. “No, no, I need -” she cut herself off.

“What?” Remy prompted. “What do you need? Come on, girl, what can Remy do for you that they can’t?”

“Your plane,” Rogue whispered. “I need to get to Boston,” she added. “Carol’s body… I need to try and -”

Remy nodded his understanding at her disjointed sentences, leaving her in the doorway briefly as he swooped back into his room, shucking his sleep pants and throwing on shirt and jeans in record timing, throwing his coat over one arm and holding Rogue upright with the other. He led them carefully along the corridor, down the stairs and towards the shed at the back of the house.

“She doesn’t need much room to take off, but she needs some,” Remy said, and left Rogue propped up against the shed as he raced along a strip of ground that didn’t resemble anything even approaching a runaway, until he started kicking the undergrowth and leaves out of the way. The trees overhung the end of it closest the house, but the far end was open sky.

It was still mostly dark out, the chill grey sunlight of very early in the morning settling over everything, giving an impression of piercing the way through clothing for the cold to follow and swallow you up. Rogue shivered against it, closing her eyes against the world and the sharp light, and wrapping her arms tightly around herself.

Carol was - laughing, it seemed like. The half-mad laughter of too long in isolation, perhaps, because it was too hard to be truly cheerful, although it did ring with a grim sort of amusement. You won’t make it, she promised. I’ll make sure you know how it feels to be trapped inside a stranger’s mind.

It’s my body! Rogue pleaded desperately. It’s my body, and I didn’t meant to hurt you! I tried to stop you!

You’ve kept me trapped for months when I could have gone back, Carol argued furiously, all traces of laughter gone. I can see that’s what you want to do now. Put me back in my body, abandon me in a comatose shell, and hope for the best! It won’t work! It didn’t work before, it won’t work now.

It will! Rogue protested, begged, hoped. She shoved Carol back, wrapping her up in layer after layer of shutupshutupshutup and muffling her cries and yells. She would repress Carol for as long as she could, she would get to the hospital and she would fins a way of transferring Carol’s psyche back in to her own body.

Maybe the other woman was right. Maybe there was nothing for her except a shell that would never move, never think, never breathe on it’s own again. Maybe Rogue would be trapping Carol in a body that would never again respond to what her mind told it to do. And maybe she felt a little guilty for that. A lot guilty, even. But that wouldn’t stop her doing it.

Rogue didn’t like the fact that her powers hurt other people. She didn’t like how, if she got lazy at the wrong moment, or stopped thinking at just the wrong time, she could shut down someone else’s body, make an echo of their mind and their power, and leave them helpless for minutes, hours, days, even weeks or months. But that didn’t meant that Rogue wouldn’t hurt Carol in order to make sure that she herself was safe. Perhaps that was wrong of her, but she cared more about protecting herself than making sure Carol was alright.

“Come on, Chére,” Remy’s voice broke into her thoughts, and she opened her eyes to look up at him. It had brightened more, the sun starting to rise rapidly now, and he’d cleared what passed for a runway. He’d opened the shed and rolled the plane out to the end of the strip. “She’s all filled up,” he told her. “Should be more than enough to get us to Boston.”

“Should be?” Rogue asked dryly, leaning heavily on Remy as he helped her across to the plane, and then gave her a foot up to climb inside.

He walked around the plane once, swiftly, double checking that all was as it should be, before he jumped up on to the wing and pulled himself into the pilot’s seat. “Should be,” he repeated, trying to shoot her his normal, easygoing smile, that was a little too nervous and worried to achieve the intended affect. “Remy hasn’t flown his baby in a couple of months. Everything looks fine, but there was no time for a proper check.”

Rogue smiled vaguely, pulling her harness into place and leaning back into the chair, concentrating on the feel of the lumpy seat, and the tug of the strap across her chest. If she thought about what she was feeling, how it smelt, if she catalogued every little thing, then maybe this wouldn’t be too bad. When they had been talking in the museum, Carol had said that smaller aircraft were better than the commercial jets, that flying was a much more intimate feeling and that she found it difficult to believe anyone could truly hate that.

But Rogue wasn’t feeling too warmly towards Carol at the moment. She’d seemed like a reasonably person, but there had been no reasoning with her when she’d been trapped in Rogue’s mind. She had fought, and shoved, and not listened to what anyone was saying. In regards to Remy’s small plane, Rogue hoped she was right. She hoped that this flight wouldn’t turn her stomach like the flights across the length of the states did, but she didn’t hold up much hope.

Remy ran rapidly through the pre-flight checks, fingers flickering over the controls, before he took one last long look around them to make sure no one was in there way. He passed Rogue one of the headsets, pulling on his own and settling it in place. Then he reached over, and wrapped his fingers around Rogue’s wrist.

“We’re going to be alright,” he promised through the microphone of the headset. “You are going to be fine.”

She gave him a flickering smile, before he moved his hand to the throttle and pushed it fully open. With the other hand, Remy held the controls and directed the plane straight along the centre of the track before slowly easing the nose off the ground and into the air. The transition from ground to air was almost unnoticeable, the hum of noise increasing ever so slightly, and the rattling of forgotten branches brushing against the wheels gone.

It took them next to no time to be above the tree line, and Rogue gasped as the city filled the sky behind them, the lakes to their right and the expanse of sea spreading across the horizon. She had no time to think about the impossibility of flying, or her dislike of flying, with the world spread out in front of her like this.

“It’s beautiful, non?” Remy asked, his voice coming clear over the headsets, in spite of the roar of the engine and the air rushing past. “It’s going to take us most of the day to get to Boston, I’ll cut across the Florida border, then follow the coast round. It will probably take longer than if we cut across country, but you didn’t give much time for Remy to prepare,” he said apologetically. “Both fuel tanks are full, it should be enough to get us there, but we’ll be flying off fumes by the end of it, and there’s no way we’ll get back without refuelling.”

Rogue laughed, feeling a little ridiculous. “I’m not too worried about getting back yet,” she told him, instinctively shouting to be heard, then quieting when he winced. “I just want to get there in one piece, and get this insect out of my head.”

“I thought you quite liked Carol?” Remy asked, glancing over at her in concern.

“When she wasn’t trying to tear my mind to pieces,” Rogue pointed out.

“Are you alright?”

“For now. She’s got a few more of my defences that Emma helped me put up to get through, before she becomes a serious threat. A more serious threat,” Rogue amended at the scowl he sent her.

“You seemed more out of it earlier.”

“I’m not trying to stand up at the same time as trying to get her to shut up,” Rogue replied. “I’ve also been awake a little while and I’m not feeling quite as vulnerable.”

Remy shook his head. “She’s been attacking you while you sleep? I’ve got to tell you Chére, the more you tell me about this person, the less I am liking her.”

“She’s convinced herself that if I get her back to her own body, she’ll be trapped inside it, unable to move. Emma thinks that her body’s only comatose because Carol’s mind isn’t there, but Carol isn’t convinced.”

“And you? What do you think?”

Rogue considered his question, gazing out at the landscape that was unfurling itself beneath them the higher they flew and the faster they travelled. “I don’t know,” she replied eventually. “I want her to be alright, but at the moment I couldn’t care less, so long as she’s out of my mind and no longer my problem.”

The words sounded cold, and callous to her own ears, so she had no idea what Remy would make of them. But Carol was pounding over and over at the back of her head, refusing to stop and refusing to let herself be forgotten. It was difficult to care about Carol’s wellbeing when she constantly attacked her, and it was difficult for Rogue to worry about what Remy thought, so long as he continued to help her. She could worry about what he thought of her afterwards, once she was free of Carol’s incessant presence.

Judging from his relaxed posture, and the warm, concerned look he sent her, however, Remy was not put off by her words, and seemed more concerned that Rogue would be alright than over what might happen to Carol.

-xXx-

They flew into Boston at seven that evening, having stopped once, briefly, to refuel and grab something to eat. Rogue had stayed in the plane, having taken to moving as little as possible in order to concentrate all of her attention at keeping Carol back. Remy, however, had taken the chance to walk around briefly to stop his legs from cramping. The pedals in a plane were not used as much as they were in cars, but they were used enough that holding his legs tensed for several hours was a necessary evil.

Rogue had eaten the sandwich that Remy had thrust in her direction, but she otherwise did not react to much. Remy had kept up a pretty steady stream of chatter for most of the journey, all of it nonsensical topics or observations, as though he were simply voicing his stream of consciousness and not trying to make conversation.

Rogue appreciated that, she really did. His voice gave her something to distract herself with, that wasn’t trying to hurt her and was more interactive than just staring out the window. But his choice of speech meant that she didn’t have to reply. She didn’t have to try and separate her words from her thoughts or Carol’s, and it made the journey easier.

It took fourteen hours, in total, from their first take off to their final landing, and it seemed like an impossibly long time to keep up her constant stream of shutupshutupshutup in Carol’s direction, as well as further thoughts to knock Carol back when she gained more of a grip, or to stop her momentarily from her pounding away at the back of Rogue’s mind.

Carol wasn’t so inexhaustible as she had first seemed, however. When she could sense that Rogue was weakening she would battle away at her with all she had, but Rogue’s surges of strength aligned with the moments of humour in Remy’s conversation and it would batter Carol back down. She would stay down for a little while, like a fearsome beast that had received an unexpected knock during battle. She prowled, keeping herself out of the way, as unnoticeable as possible, until Rogue started thinking that maybe Carol had given up, and then she’d spring up once more, attacking again.

The end result was that by the time they reached Boston Rogue was exhausted. She kept her eyes open, kept listening to everything Remy said, and concentrated in the brush of her clothing against her skin. Blocking out the world had not worked last time, maybe this time as much sensory input as she could manage to catalogue would help.

The main airport was busy, but their small aircraft was directed away from there towards a smaller hanger where the privately owned airplanes and helicopters were kept. Remy haggled briefly with the director of the hangar, before he helped Rogue up out of her seat and down to solid ground. She leant heavily against him, feeling the cool roughness of his coat collar under her cheek, and the twitch of his neck with each heartbeat. His hand reflexively gripped her shoulder tighter when she sighed, then loosened again.

“You’re girlfriend, is she alright?” the director asked.

Non,” Remy replied. “She is very sick. I need to get her to hospital.”

“Do you want me to call an ambulance? A taxi might get you there faster, just head down towards the front of the main gate, you’ll see the taxi rank,” the director said, looking a little guilty for arguing about prices, but not enough to go out of his way to help.

“Thank you,” Remy said stiffly, pulling one of Rogue’s arms around his shoulder and lifting her up into his arms.

“Sorry,” Rogue muttered hoarsely into his neck.

Remy shushed her, hurrying towards the taxis and finding one pretty quickly. “Not your fault,” he soothed as they settled into the back of a cab, and he directed the driver to the correct hospital. “Remy blames all of this on Carol, you know that.”

“Not all her fault. Didn’t ask to be trapped in my head,” Rogue protested weakly, surprised to hear herself defending Carol still, even after all the mental attacks she’d suffered through today.

“You didn’t ask for it either,” Remy told her, then lit up his fingers, and traced them carefully over her lips. At his touch, Rogue’s powers didn’t even flare, just rolled over in her core, like his energy was giving her energy, and she was accepting it wordlessly, without knowing what it meant. He kept his fingers firmly over her lips for a moment, his request that she stay quiet and not try and speak any further clear.

“We’re almost there,” Remy said before long, his voice a low vibration by her ear, and Rogue heard and felt that too, cataloguing every sensation and trying to overwhelm Carol with all of it. It didn’t seem to have much effect, but Carol’s pounding paused for a moment before starting up again, giving Rogue a moment’s reprieve before she winced under the force of Carol’s mental blows once more.

Once they got to the hospital, getting in this time was much harder than it had been before. Emma and Kayla had both smoothed the way; with a gentle mental nudge from one, and a hint or persuasion from the other, the nurses had been falling over themselves to try and help all three of them get to where they wanted to be. However, this time, not only were they unable to produce a reasonable excuse for why they wanted to see the comatose Jane Doe, but it was also after visiting open hours so they couldn’t even claim to be there to try and identify her.

“I’m sorry, but you will have to call again tomorrow,” a particularly pompous nurse insisted, standing in the way of them and the rest of the hospital.

“Madam, please, she is potentially my wife’s aunt! They lost contact when her mother died, and she is her only remaining relative,” Remy lied through his teeth very convincingly. There was no acting in his desperation though. Rogue was on her own feet, but she was leaning against him and only seemed half aware of what was going on around her now, as opposed to the sharp concentration she’d been paying everything earlier.

“Your wife? She looks very young to be married,” the nurse argued, probably only to be contrary since she barely glanced in Rogue’s direction. When she did look, though, she scowled and a new suspicion stole over her. “Are you trying to get in here to get at our drugs? Is your wife high? Is that what this is? Because we are not a free clinic! There is nothing here that you can get your hands on that will help her without medical intervention - which we will not give!”

Remy growled in frustration. “My wife is not high! She is just very tired from a very long journey. We just want to see your Jane Doe and check whether she is the person we’ve been looking for! Please, we just want a look, and then we’ll go! If it isn’t her, you’ll never see us again. If it is, you will have an identification, and we will have a relative.” And somewhere to push the psyche attacking Rogue’s mind, he added silently.

The nurse however, was unyielding, saying that they could come back during opening hours the following day, or not at all, she didn’t care, just so long as they left now. And with that, she shepherded both of them back out the front door. Remy hissed a few uncomplimentary remarks after her, but either she didn’t hear them of she didn’t care to acknowledge them, because she turned and disappeared back inside.

“Go around the outside,” Rogue mumbled into Remy’s shoulder, words almost too jumbled for him to hear, although he did get the gist of it quickly enough. Scooping her back into his arms and off her feet, he walked around the edge of the building, wondering what it was Rogue had planned.

It was only when the weight in his arms started getting lighter that he realised what Rogue was doing, and tightened his grip on her. “No!” he protested. “You can’t control your flight when you are fine! You are exhausted, how do you think that will help.”

“No choice,” Rogue muttered back, “Need to get Carol out.”

Remy hung tighter to her, as the force changed direction and Rogue’s body started pulling up, rather than threatening to fall to the ground. “Non,” he hissed angrily in denial.

“It’s ok,” Rogue argued. “I can go up fine,” she told him with a half-crazed grin and a gaze that wasn’t all there, and neither of which did anything to reassure him. “Let go,” she ordered.

Remy shook his head and clung tighter, feeling his own weight starting to shift now.

“Can’t do two,” Rogue said. “Let go,” she repeated, then clumsily pulled off one of her gloves, and waved her hand in Remy’s face. “I’ll zap you,” she warned.

“You wouldn’t,” Remy denied. “You can’t. Mon dieu, don’t do this Chére!”

“Can,” she insisted. “Chose not to. Let go,” she asked, one last time, but Remy didn’t listen.

His feet were no longer on the floor, just his toes scraping the ground and Remy suspected that, actually, Rogue could quite easily carry the two of them up into the air - possibly even more if she was doing this whilst not exhausted and fighting off an attacking psyche trapped in her mind. But she shouldn’t have to do this, there had to be another option. Rogue had barely discovered she could fly, let alone started really learning how to.

He held on too long, however, because Rogue leant up and towards him, her bare hand cupping his cheek and her unprotected lips kissing his softly. She did not hold on to the ball of energy at the heart of her, encouraging it up through her arm and neck and skating across the skin of his face. Not a lot, just gently, enough to shock him, to knock him out momentarily, not enough to get more than a fleeting impression of warmth, and fear, and static energy racing along her skin branding her with electric fire before fading away and becoming the hard edge of a shade in a room on a corridor in her mind.

Remy’s grip on her loosened, and he sank to the ground, sprawling inelegantly across the boardwalk. It was the first time Rogue had seen him as anything less than graceful and she felt sorry for it. But not for long. She floated up, up, past the first floor windows and up to the second, then she slid along sideways, the movements coming naturally to her now that she wasn’t flying, she was just looking. Rogue knew Carol was on the second floor, somewhere, and she was pretty certain that it was along this side of the building.

That was, if she was still in the same room that she had been in before. Would they have moved her? Rogue felt a shiver of worry chase down her spine, but refused to give it any more consideration than the notice of existence. Carol was fighting furiously now, not any pause as she felt Rogue’s own sense of urgency increase as they floated closer to what would hopefully be the answer to Rogue’s problems, at least, and potentially Carol’s too.

She continued along, peering through the windows, not caring if any of the doctors or nurses wandering around saw her - not caring any more - she needed to find Carol’s body now! And, there it was, a shock of blonde hair spread almost angelically across a pillow, a body surrounded by machines keeping her lungs breathing, her heart beating, and her body living even as another registered that there was no mind in that body, that there was no brain activity whatsoever.

Rogue eased the window open, fingers still sparking with Remy’s mutant powers easily frying the simplistic lock that kept it closed. She wormed her way awkwardly through the gap, noticing distantly that Remy, on the street below her, was rousing. Once she got all the way inside, Rogue fell over when the whole of her own weight was back under her control and not held floating by some invisible force that she didn’t understand. Her legs were too shaky for her to properly control, not when Carol was doing her best to shatter her mind, so she crawled over to the bed.

The woman lying there was every bit as beautiful as the one Rogue remembered from the museum. She had lost some weight and the tan was almost entirely faded from her skin, but even the face mask to keep her breathing didn’t stop her from being stunning.

Rogue pulled herself to sitting on the bed, leaning heavily over Carol’s body. “I’m sorry,” she told the body, although she knew that she wouldn’t hear. It couldn’t hear, and everything Rogue could possibly think of saying, she’d already said hundreds of times to Carol’s psyche, trapped in her own mind. “I never intended for this to happen to you; for this to happen to anyone. Your mutant powers are awesome compared to mine.”

Rogue chuckled sadly, tipping forward and half-collapsing next to Carol on the bed. She raised her hand, stroking down Carol’s face, and told her quietly that she was beautiful, and that she was sorry. Then Rogue closed her eyes again, slowed her breathing and hoped that whatever might save her, or might save Carol, would happen.

Carol was still fighting, but it wasn’t the blatant attacks or earlier, her fists beating down at the walls of the room Rogue had put her in. Now she was using her nails to scrape at the walls; deep, welling cracks that leaked as though the walls were flesh and she was making Rogue bleed. The last of the bonds Emma had trapped her in had faded to forgotten scraps in the back of the room, and the door and the walls were bending again under the sheer pressure of Carol’s presence.

A brain was only built to control one mind, or two minds born of one. It was not supposed to contain two such strong, individual personalities as both Rogue and Carol, and Rogue was starting to buckle under it, finally running head first into her physical limitations, in spite of the strength that she had borrowed from Carol.

Her whole being ached with regret and sorrow, as she fought Carol again, face to face this time without the door that Rogue had kept between them before. They grappled, pushing and pulling, biting and scratching, until the images they had built for themselves inside the unreality of a mind started merging together, and Rogue surged up.

She brought Carol to the edge of her consciousness, fighting her the whole way, until the teetered on the brink of consciousness, the hospital room spread out like a world at their feet. Rogue didn’t know what would happen if they fell. She hoped - wished - that, since it was her body, she would just wake up. Carol might return too, or dissipate into nothingness in the air, or even return to her own body.

Rogue hoped that Carol would return to her body. She didn’t want to kill her, but she couldn’t bear it if Carol stayed any longer in her mind. She wasn’t built to cope with this. She could feel, distantly, the sensations of her body; the feeling of cool air passing into her lungs, and warm air being breathed out. She could feel a curl of her hair tickling her neck. She could feel something hot and wet leaking from her nose. A nosebleed, she registered absently, too intent on Carol, that probably wasn’t a good sign.

Then, taking the chance without further thought to the risk, Rogue hurled them both over that edge and into consciousness. They fell out of her mind, and shattered across reality like bright shards of glass spinning across the floor.

With a gasp, Rogue came back to herself, feeling as though she had run a thousand miles and hadn’t even stopped for breath. Her bare hand, that still rested across Carol’s face, burned with pain, the entirety of Rogue’s power forced into those few square inches of skin and the source, perhaps, of her tears. She wrenched her hand back, the force of her action taking her rolling off the bed and crashing to the floor. Rogue gave a desperate sob, curling around her hand and too scared to close her eyes.

She felt wrong, everything about her felt wrong. She was used to breathing in, to taking and not giving back. But Rogue had just forced Carol out, had shunted her from herself and out into the abyss between them, maybe into her body, it was impossible to tell. She couldn’t look, she didn’t want to see the burning wreckage that her mind must have been turned into after her fight.

So instead, Rogue curled even tighter in on herself, staring frantically about her at the room that was starting to go fuzzy at the edges. Was she losing her mind? Was she losing consciousness? She must be losing something, because nothing made sense anymore, as the world tipped on its side and her head suddenly, sharply, hit the floor. She felt the pain, distantly, but wasn’t entirely sure what it meant.

The last thing Rogue realised before a creeping blackness stole her consciousness, was the window smashing, and a handsome face with strange eyes who she should have recognised coming to rescue her.

-xXx-

Something brushed along her mind, like a gentle stroke across the back of her knuckles. It wasn’t threatening, it wasn’t comforting, but it was there, announcing its presence and waiting. Rogue just felt it for a moment, not reacting to it.

Then she turned, as much as a psychic projection could, to face the newcomer. It - she - felt familiar. So Rogue moved closer, and, when she didn’t turn away, she curled against her side. She didn’t reach out for her, just curled by next to her and waited.

She waited a long while, staring out at a landscape that used to be familiar, but was a little tattered at the edges at the moment. There were scorch marks, and scratches, and some things - unidentifiable, now - had broken and shattered into hundreds of glittering pieces. Rogue would have to put them back together again eventually, but for now she leant against the warmth of something that was familiar and unchanged.

My name is Rogue, she told the presence after a while.

The presence looked down at her and smiled. She had long, shimmering blonde hair and pale skin, pale like Rogue’s, and dark blue eyes that were at once warm and cold. But she was just a projection of self, Rogue knew. This was not necessarily how she looked outside of Rogue’s mind. She thought it probably was, though.

I know, honey, the presence told her, and Rogue thought she looked a little sad. The thought of honey, directed at her, was familiar too. But it brought with it a different kind of warmth, one that had no cold to it at all and was all earthy elegance and calm expectation and the kind of maternal love that Rogue wasn’t sure should be familiar to her and yet some how was.

You’re not my Mama, Rogue thought clearly to her. Could a thought have a tone of voice? If so, she held back on all of it, stating a simple fact and hoping it wouldn’t offend.

But the presence did not seem offended, she seemed pleased in a surprised, bemused sort of way, that Rogue thought was odd. The word ‘honey’ tasted like home, and love, and Mama, why then would it be strange for her to say so?

I am your aunt, the presence told her, cool and fresh like running water, with an edge of the spring frost still clinging as the warmth in a sun of affection rose. I am your Mama’s sister. I am Emma.

Emma Frost, Rogue thought, not certain until she thought it, but knowing it was right when the words rang true. Auntie Emma, she corrected herself. Because she knew that that, too, was true.

The presence looked at her for another long moment, and Rogue wondered why. She was just a projection of self, while the landscape of her mind was spread like a burnt and shredded map at their feet.

I’m sorry, Rogue thought, although she wasn’t sure why she said it. She just knew that she must express it. I didn’t want to hurt anyone.

The presence - Emma - continued to watch her for a long time, before she turned and looked across Rogue’s mind. You are more whole than I was expecting. How are you feeling? she asked.

I don’t know who I am, Rogue replied honestly, looking at the ruins, and feeling as though she might cry.

You are Rogue. You are Anna Marie. You are Vadas. You are Kayla and Logan’s daughter. You are Gambit’s Chére, you are -

Everything Emma was saying sounded true, but Rogue didn’t know what any of it meant, she didn’t know who she was. Emma was just giving her a list of names and titles, they didn’t mean anything, until those names were given significance.

Rogue did not try and express this feeling to Emma, but a wash of despair flooded them for a moment, before passing again, and Emma stopped talking, stopped listing things that Rogue wasn’t sure of. Instead, Emma looked at her assessing again, then back at her mind.

Oh, Emma thought, in a way that suggested she hadn’t meant to think it so loudly. Then her projection of herself stood, offering a hand to Rogue, and pulling her to standing as well. We should start tidying up, she told Rogue warmly. Your latest adventure has left a bit of a mess.

I’m sorry, Rogue apologised. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, she continued, just as she had before, because it was the only way she remembered to express her regret. She thought that, perhaps, sometimes just the ‘sorry’ part worked, but her mind continued the thought without prompting. It made Emma look sad again.

Rogue smiled at her, in the hopes that this would help cheer Emma up, although it didn’t seem to have an affect, so she just kept pace with the presence, swinging their hands between them and humming a song the lyrics to which she didn’t think she knew. As they walked, Emma picked up broken pieces of things, putting them back where they’d once belonged, she traced her hands over gashes and stitched them back up. She massaged soothing thoughts into parts that were raw and bruised.

Rogue watched, and followed, and helped where she could, her hums growing in strength and volume until the tune reverberated through her mind, becoming a sound no human mouth could make, and instead the beat and flow of instruments only half-remembered. Rogue laughed at it, dancing to the music and spinning down the paths of her mind, no longer following Emma, but travelling her own way at her own speed. Everywhere she went she smoothed out wrinkles and braided loose threads back in, until her mind was mostly whole again and she told Emma, delightedly, I danced with a thief on the streets of New Orleans.

Emma laughed, then, too. It was happy, and charmed, and delighted, all of Rogue’s emotions reflected back at her through a family member, a loved one. And that made Rogue’s heart swell, and the memories of her life, dangling from each other by threads and a little lost in the wreckage that she had wreaked, started to sew themselves back together.

Rogue remembered, piece by piece, tugging on the ends and pulling the memories into the right line once more, like a tent collapsed on the ground being pulled into its proper shape, or a puppet’s cut strings being reattached.

I am Rogue, Rogue thought loudly, the utter conviction of the statement running all the way through her. It was just a name, but now it was a name with a meaning.

Yes, Emma replied, her presence turning to Rogue, and hugging her. Yes, she repeated, and Rogue thought that she might be crying.

Rogue hugged her tightly back, but could not stand long in one place, when her mind began ticking over in the way it usually did. There were scratches in the emotions, and dents in certain ideas, and some memories even had whole chunks missing, the parts scattered too finely to be pulled back together again. But she was whole, as she had not been for a while before, and she was too overjoyed to just watch.

She danced through her own mind, laughing and crying and refusing to be ashamed of the spectacle she must be putting on for Emma. But no, when Rogue turned to look again, when she felt for Emma’s consciousness resting alongside her own, it was gone. Not totally, there was a tingling along the very edges, where Rogue knew if she tugged, Emma would return immediately. But she had withdrawn, had returned Rogue’s mind to the privacy that it ought always to have.

Then a thought occurred, and Rogue raced through the pathways. She need not have done, a mere thought would have her there instantly, but the imagery she used to present what was not definable gave her comfort. And there was the corridor, her corridor of shades. And although the doors were endless, she knew behind which were occupied rooms, and she knew who was where.

Rogue counted down as she walked past them, oldest to newest. David was in the first, the same as always, but looking a little battered around the edges now. Mack next, tired and older than she remembered - or thought she remembered - and less substantial than before. Then Kayla, who had only ever been a wisp before, and was now less, like an outline in the air, a pencil sketch brought to life and not coloured in. Yoshida after her, dark and burning and angry, full of resentment at the world.

After him, there was Carol. She was stronger than the others, there was more of her here, more memories and hopes and dreams woven together to create the form that stood calmly in the centre of her room. She was not whole, anymore. She was not Carol. This was a shade, like the others were, an echo of the person Rogue had touched and no threat to her.

Rogue had thought that would be it, but there was another door, another occupied room, and she remembered kissing Remy. It was strange to remember, a memory made when her memories had already started falling, when her mind was not entirely her own. And yet, it existed, and Rogue found she treasured it more than many others she possessed. Now, before her, an echo of Remy was in that room. He was made of love, and concern, and a terrible fear for her life. He was warmth and comfort, with a hard edge of his power protecting him, protecting her, too.

And Rogue thought about late night phone calls, and long distance relationships, and how it would be easier if they remained on that tentative balance between friends and something more. Looking at him, this thing that wasn’t him, just a shadow of what he truly was, she knew it was too late. Rogue was in love with him. Probably had been for quite some time, only denying the truth to herself in the hope that, what? She wouldn’t be hurt? It didn’t matter, not really, because she knew now that Remy loved her too.

She withdrew slowly, happily. She was free of Carol, and she was loved as she loved. And Rogue rose up, again, and this time did not stand on the edge of consciousness and unconsciousness. She simply opened her eyes.

“Hello,” Emma said, peering down at Rogue. “I should warn you that both Kayla and Logan are in a bit of a panic. And your boyfriend isn’t much better off.”

“Oh,” Rogue said, easing herself into an upright position and glancing around.

She was in the same bedroom in which she stayed when visiting Emma. The curtains were drawn shut, although sunlight peeked through the bottom, and all she could tell from that was it was daytime. Emma was sat in an armchair by her bed, looking relieved and tired.

“How long have I been out?” Rogue asked, voicing croaking and gratefully accepting the glass of water Emma passed her.

“Three days,” Emma replied coolly. “You’re lucky I managed to convince Kayla and Logan to stay where they were.”

Rogue nodded. “How did you manage that?”

“By telling them you had transferred Carol’s psyche back to her body, and implying that you were suffering from the mental equivalent of whiplash, following your impromptu and inelegant amputation of her mind from yours. I also told them that there was nothing wrong with you, that I would return you as swiftly as I was able, and that I was keeping Gambit locked in the servants’ quarters.”

Rogue looked alarmed at the last, “Is he -”

“No, of course not,” Emma cut in. “It was all lies. Well, apart from the bit about my returning you as soon as I was able.”

“Oh,” Rogue repeated stupidly. “Is Carol not in her own body now?”

Emma tsked. “She is,” she informed Rogue. “However, what you performed was not an amputation. You tore her out, piece by painful piece, and shoved her out of your mind with very little concern for what should happen to either of you. It was the mental equivalent of tearing your leg off with your hands and nails alone, and throwing both it and yourself in a river, with the hopes that either you or it would survive.”

Rogue snorted, the sound wrenching its way forward, and hurting her throat. “A leg wouldn’t survive on its own.”

“Nor can a consciousness with neither a mind nor a body to go into. It’s sheer luck that you happened to be touching Carol at the time, and you were able to push her in the right direction.”

“Not quite luck,” Rogue argued. “I wasn’t quite with it by the end, but I knew I had to find her body.”

Emma tsked again, this time barely refraining from rolling her eyes too. “I’m not all that concerned about Carol - it’s you I’m worried about! Do you know what you did to your mind? The only thing you could tell me was that you were Rogue. You didn’t even know what that meant!”

“I know,” Rogue told her softly, unable to meet her eyes.

“You must promise me not to do anything like this again.”

Rogue chuckled, and this time it was a little less painful. “I promise to the best of my ability, never to do anything like this again.”

“The damage was mostly reparable this time. I don’t know, if it happened again, that it would be. I’m terrified with one wrong push your mind will shatter again, with no way this time to pick up the pieces,” Emma warned, the same sad expression that had been on her mental projection stealing across her real face now. “I love you, we love you, I don’t want to have to see you like that ever again.”

Rogue bowed her head and stared intently at her hands. “I don’t want to ever be like that again,” she replied honestly.

Emma nodded, then stood smoothly. She gazed down coolly at Rogue for a long moment, before tucking her hair behind her ears, and lowering herself to press a kiss to the top of Rogue’s head. Then she straightened, and walked from the room, leaving the door open as she did so.

In answer to the question that Rogue had thought but not asked, Remy appeared in the door way looking tired, and ruffled, and cautiously happy.

“You are you?” he asked her, scuffing his feet along the floor a little as he sidled into the room, pulling the door shut behind him. He stood awkwardly beside her bed, before she anxiously waved at him to sit.

“I think I’m still me. I’m mostly the same. Just - a little bruised, a little raw,” Rogue replied, turning the hand closest to Remy palm up in invitation, wondering if he would take it.

Remy stared long and hard at her hand, before he reached for it with both of his, cradling it as though he held a baby bird in his hands, and then raising it to his lips, pressing one, two, three kisses to the back of half-curled fingers.

“I love you,” he told her, plainly. “I thought I saw you die, and I realised if there was one thing I wanted you to know, it was that.”

“I know,” Rogue replied, and smiled a little shakily at him. “I’m sorry that I kissed you like that.”

Remy shook his head, returning her hand to the blankets, but keeping his fingers entwined with hers. “Remy did not know how close you were to losing.”

“You couldn’t know,” Rogue said. “I’m sorry,” she repeated, because he had to know, he had to understand.

“You did what you had to do. I am not angry at you for saving your own life. Although, a little warning would have been appreciated,” he added with a grin.

Rogue laughed at the smile, taking it as everything being alright again between them. “I love you,” she told him, as he had told her moments before.

“I know,” he returned, just like she had. “If Remy kisses you again, will you hurt me?”

Rogue took a moment to take stock of herself, but her power lay curled at the heart of her, happy to remain where it was, untouched, and trusting entirely in Remy and that he would not hurt her. “No,” she told him firmly. “I’ve probably hurt you enough these last few days.”

“You have been hurt more,” Remy replied, moving closer. “That is what hurt me.” And then he didn’t say anything else, because his hand was in her hair and his lips were on hers.

Rogue stayed utterly still for a moment, cataloguing the sensations and revelling in them. His hand in her hair, stroking through it and cradling the back of her skull made her toes curl and her mouth open to him, until there was more than just dry press of lips on lips, and his tongue was flicking experimentally at her lips. Rogue opened for him, parting just a little at first, and catching the taste of him on the tip of her tongue. Then further, her mouth sliding against his in a way that was delicious like kissing never had been before.

Too soon, he pulled away, leaning his forehead against hers and just looking in her eyes, both of them taking in all of the details that couldn’t be seen from further away. Eventually he sat up straight again, withdrawing the hand that had been stroking her hair, with an amused smile at the pout he got at that. He pulled a card from his coat pocket, lighting it a little so that it hissed slightly and felt warm when she took it from him.

Since that first night, they had been slowly working their way through the suit of hearts, one number at a time and each with meaning. This one was the number nine, and Rogue did not immediately get the reference.

Remy cocked his head at her curious look and smiled, raising her hand and kissing it again, as though suddenly incapable of keeping his mouth off of her. Rogue couldn’t say that she minded.

“You are like a cat, Chére,” Remy explained. “You seem to have nine lives.”

Chapter Text

Rogue and Remy stayed one more night with Emma, before she shuffled the pair of them into a chauffeur driven car, out to the airport, and onto her private jet. There was quite a lot of fussing about this, partly because Rogue hated the extravagance of having chauffeur, let alone a pilot, but mostly because Remy’s precious baby would have to stay in Boston.

Emma promised Remy that his airplane would be fine - in fact, she could even get someone to give it a full service, if he wanted - but he balked at all of her suggestions and eyed everything she said with mistrust. The three days that Rogue had been recovering were, apparently, more than enough time for Remy and Emma to found a mutual, passionate hatred of one another. Rogue thought that this was sort of hilarious, especially when they tried to pretend not to hate each another for her sake.

Rogue slept most of the afternoon and evening she had remaining in Boston, the mental exhaustion she’d suffered leaving her body in a state of lethargy that protested against any more exercise than getting up to go to the toilet. Luckily for her, both Emma and Remy were willing to cater to her listlessness, bringing food and forms of entertainment to her, rather than insisting that she get up and moving around. Not so luckily, it also meant that when she was passed a phone with a furious Logan on the other end, there was no way of avoiding it.

“What the hell did you think you were doing?” Logan roared down the phone at her, as soon as he was certain it was actually Rogue he was talking to.

“Um,” Rogue attempted to reply, although the fact that she didn’t have a proper explanation ready wasn’t noticed at all when Logan just carried on yelling straight over her.

He yelled at her for a good thirty minutes, going on about how stupid she was, and how worried everyone else was, and how very, very dead Remy was, before he realised that she was sobbing down the phone.

“Rogue?” Logan asked, suddenly sounding sad-worried, rather than the furious-worried he’d been moments before.

“I’m sorry,” Rogue sobbed into the phone, cradling it against her ear as she burrowed under her duvet and buried her face in the pillow. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone,” she added, because some scars run deeper than others, and she’d been thinking those words so incredibly hard when she tore Carol out of her mind that there would always be a version of them, scrawled across her psyche.

“Kid,” Logan said, then stopped at a total loss as to what to say. He always got a bit panicky when someone he loved was in tears, and he couldn’t resolve it by tearing something into teeny-tiny shreds. As much as Logan ever got panicky, anyway. “Kid, you didn’t hurt us,” he tried again. “You hurt yourself. I know why you did what you did, and hell if I wouldn’t have done the same. But we love you, Rogue.”

Rogue hiccoughed a little, scrambling for a tissue to wipe her eyes. “I love you and Kayla too,” she whispered.

“I know. She knows. Now stop giving us fucking heart attacks.”

“I already promised Emma I’d do my best to not let this happen again,” Rogue told him.

Logan grunted in reply. “From what I hear it wasn’t your fault Carol ended up locked in your head in the first place, so that’s not exactly encouraging.”

Rogue sighed and settled back comfortably to listen to Logan bitch a bit more about a lady he’d never met, irritating him more than a little when she suggested that he’d probably actually get on really well with Carol. At least his complaints were better than him yelling at her again, although Rogue didn’t doubt she’d have to face that again when she saw them both the following day. At least with a good night’s sleep and a long few hours getting back to New Orleans she might feel a less emotionally unstable and hopefully wouldn’t burst into tears again.

“How’s Kayla?” Rogue asked, when it seemed as though Logan had complained about everything he could complain about. “I sort of thought she’d be the one phoning me rather than you.”

“Kayla’s in bed,” Logan replied bluntly. “She fainted when we first heard what happened, and the doctor said she’s suffering some kind of iron deficiency or something.”

“Oh,” Rogue said eloquently. “Is she alright?”

“She insists she’ll be fine, but she isn’t telling me something.”

“You’re worried,” Rogue pointed out, wincing before she finished talking, because she knew Logan wouldn’t appreciate the comment.

“Of course I’m fucking worried!” he roared, then huffing as though he’d clenched his jaw in an effort not to yell anymore. “First you, now this, and I’m stuck in New Orleans, where I can’t do fuck all about any of it.”

Rogue bit her lip, covering her face with her hand that wasn’t holding the phone to her ear. “I’m fine. And, if Kayla says she is, she’s probably fine too. Me and Remy’ll be back tomorrow afternoon. Until then, just … be you. But try not to break anything.”

“How is that ‘being me’?” he mocked her, before coming incredibly close to sighing. “Tell Remy thanks for saving your neck, but that won’t stop me from wringing his.”

“Yeah,” Rogue agreed, before they both hung up and she threw her phone towards the end of her bed before dozing off again. If she’d had enough energy to, she might have been worried about how exhausted she felt in spite of not doing anything for three days. As it was, she slept on and off until late the following morning when Emma chivvied her out of bed and into getting ready to returning to New Orleans.

Rogue felt a little unsteady on her feet, probably due to the several days bed rest, but the extra rest had given her time to straighten a few more things in her mind, and she was feeling much more alert than she had since her arrival in New Orleans. The last of her tiredness seeped away as she showered, and so when she went downstairs to face the rest of the world - or at least Emma and Remy - Rogue was feeling much more like her normal self.

“You look happier, Chére,” Remy commented cheerfully as she appeared in the lounge doorway.

“Hmm,” she agreed, leaning over the arm of his chair, hesitating long enough for him to pull away if he wished, before she kissed his cheek. Her power stirred inside her at the skin-on-skin contact, but didn’t move to hurt him. “I feel a lot better,” she agreed.

“Remy can see that,” he replied, turning his head quickly to catch her lips with his, in what was more a brush of contact than a kiss as she leant away.

Rogue grinned at him, reaching out to ruffle his hair with gloved fingers. “Cheeky,” she told him, although it was not a disapproval of his actions.

Remy stood swiftly from his chair, with all the grace of a cat, and wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her against him but not stooping to kiss her again. “You kissed me first,” he reminded. “Remy takes what he can get.”

“I know that you two are in love,” a not entirely welcome voice interrupted coolly, “but if you’d be so kind as to not make out in front of me?” Emma requested.

Remy’s lip curled into a sneer, before he glanced down at Rogue and he attempted to turn it into a smile. He didn’t fool anyone.

“But Auntie Emma,” Rogue protested in saccharine tones, “We’re only holding hands!” She stepped away from Remy, catching the hand that had been on her hip before she’d moved, and swinging it between them. She widened her eyes comically and added, with a bit of a lisp, “Is that naughty?”

Emma scowled at her, no real anger in her gaze, although there was a fair measure of disgust. “Remind me to never have children,” she said to no one. “Stretch marks and bloating aside, teenagers are horrible people. I’m glad you belong to Kayla and not me.”

“I don’t belong to anyone,” Rogue said, in her normal voice and affecting a bit of a pout.

“You belong to me,” Remy whispered, loudly enough for Emma to hear and wince pointedly at the hand that was once more around Rogue’s waist, rather than still holding her hand.

“You belong to Kayla and Logan,” Emma added, at a normal speaking volume, still glaring a little at Remy. “And I’m glad that you are only my niece, not my daughter. It means I can pass responsibility back to them when you’ve made bad life decisions and need persuading out of them. Bad boyfriend choices, for example.” Emma said the last more to Remy than to Rogue, but Rogue felt the need to address it anyway.

“He’s not a bad boyfriend,” Rogue defended. “And while I know you don’t like him much, I’d appreciate it if you kept your personal opinion about Remy to yourself.”

Remy squeezed her gently, shaking his head slightly. “No need to defend Remy’s honor, Chére, he’s always been a scoundrel. No sensible Mama would let her girl anywhere near me.”

Rogue pulled away from him, and turned to face him with her hands on her hips and a scowl at the ready, but he interrupted before she could say anything.

“I’m not breaking up with you. Remy’s just saying your Aunt may not be wrong about me not being good enough for you,” he told her quickly, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear, his bare fingertips leaving trails of warmth over the shell of her ear.

Rogue slapped his hand away, scowl deepening. “You don’t get to make that decision. No one gets to make that decision, except me.”

“I know, Chére, did Remy not say he’d take what he can get?” he attempted to placate.

“There will be no ‘taking’ in my house,” Emma warned sharply, which did nothing to improve Rogue’s rapidly darkened mood.

“There isn’t likely to be any ‘taking’ ever. I can’t touch people, remember?” Rogue hissed angrily, drawing away from both of them.

Emma frowned. “You can touch Remy, that much is obvious.”

“And I’ve shocked him, just like I have Kayla and Carol before him,” Rogue replied furiously. “Every time he touches me, I can feel my power wanting to react, to strike out at him, and the only reason it doesn’t is because I trust him. But considering how well my last attempt at sex went, it’s incredibly unlikely that I’ll ever be able to trust anyone enough to not be terrified I’d hurt them too.” She felt hot tears welling up, and shook her head angrily. She had not meant to share this information with anyone, humiliating as it was.

“You’ve-” Emma started, then cut herself off. Her expression was caught somewhere between angry protectiveness, pride, and dismay.

“No,” Rogue spat out. “That’s the point! He ended up in a fucking coma for three weeks!”

“This was before you got kicked out of your foster home,” Emma realised.

“It’s why I got kicked out of my foster home,” Rogue shot back bitterly. “What upstanding Christian parents would keep a mutant whore in their house?”

Non,” Remy said shaking his head, and grabbing Rogue’s hand before she could move it out of her reach. “Chére, my beautiful girl, don’t talk about yourself like that.”

Rogue resisted a little, but only half heartedly, allowing Remy to pull her into him again so he could wrap her up in a warm hug.

Emma sighed, and shook her head. “I want to kill your foster parents,” she told Rogue flatly. “I would very much like to tear their lives apart piece by piece until they have nothing left in the world but themselves. And then, I’d like to keep on taking, cell by cell until there is nothing left of them. I would gladly see them burn for how they treated you.”

Rogue raised her head to meet first Emma’s gaze, then Remy’s. The last shuddering remnants of fear and anger scuttled away back into the recesses of her mind and she squared her shoulders, and wiped hastily at her eyes. “What was it you said to me? I am Rogue, I am Anna Marie, I am Vadas. I am Kayla and Logan’s daughter, and I am Remy’s Chére. That is who I am now, not the lost little girl they found two years ago.”

Emma leant forward, and captured one of Rogue’s hands, kissing it warmly. “You are strong,” she said. “You had a vengeful psyche tear through your mind not four days ago, you should still be unconscious, or curled up away from the world, sobbing at all of the newly exposed fears you have. Instead, you are already taking your life back again.”

“You need to stop before I start crying again,” Rogue warned through a watery smile. Now that Emma had mentioned it, she noticed that her emotions were indeed all over the place. With the exception of the first few days after being kicked out, Rogue really hadn’t dwelled all that much on the whore comment. She was normally too self-possessed to worry too much about the impression she made on other people, and sensible enough to know that a little heavy petting with her boyfriend when she was sixteen hardly made her a whore. Yet apparently there was some part of her that still worried about it.

There was a moment of lingering hesitation as everyone silently wondered what to say next, before Rogue turned in his arms and kissed Remy’s cheek. “Come on, then, swamp rat,” she teased, “I have to go and get yelled at by my parents.”

“I don’t think there’ll be too much yelling,” Emma said, with a secretive smile.

Rogue turned to her, and frowned as realisation struck her. “You know whatever it is Kayla isn’t telling Logan,” she accused.

“Yes,” Emma agreed with a little laugh. “And, as Kayla told him, she really is fine. She’d have already told him if Carol hadn’t chosen this time to attack you. But she wants both of you to be there.”

Another realisation struck Rogue in quick succession of the first, but this time her eyes went wide with wonder, rather than narrowing. “Are you saying-”

“I’m not saying anything!” Emma interrupted. “Now shush, and get going, and if Kayla asks, you worked it out for yourself. I didn’t tell you anything.”

“What is going on? Remy does not know what you are talking about,” Remy complained, as they were hustled unceremoniously out of Emma’s townhouse and towards the car that was waiting to take them to the airport.

Rogue giggled, but didn’t offer Remy any explanation. Her head was suddenly filled with the memories of a conversation some months ago now. A hope and a wish explained, and idle wondering of how the spare room could be converted. Rogue’s face split in a hopeful smile, as she bid Emma a cheery farewell and laughed at Remy’s pouting confusion.

-xXx-

They had to go to the main New Orleans airport this time, rather than the tiny airstrip they took off from last time: it was simply not long enough for Emma’s private jet to feasibly land and take off again from. Regardless of that, Logan and Kayla were still waiting for them when they did land.

Rogue had found that, somewhere between learning she could fly without any outside assistance, and the ten hour trip in Remy’s small aircraft, she really didn’t mind flying half so much as she used to. Now that Carol was no longer truly in her mind, she had no idea whether she still had the other woman’s mutant powers, and Rogue actually felt a little disappointed by the assumption she couldn’t fly anymore. But without suffering from any travel sickness, Rogue was still feeling relatively cheerful when she and Remy exited the plane.

That Kayla and Logan were waiting for her, looking every bit the concerned, angry parents, made Rogue want to laugh and cry all at once.

Logan had already said all that he was going to say on the phone the day before, so he greeted Rogue with a brief hug and a wordless grunt. Kayla, however, hadn’t seen or spoken to Rogue in almost four days, and as soon as she was able, swept her up into a tight hug, and didn’t seem inclined to let go anytime soon.

“Stupid girl,” she muttered into Rogue’s hair. “You should have told us.”

“I know, I know,” Rogue muttered, clinging just as tightly to Kayla. “I wasn’t thinking, couldn’t think. It just hurt and I needed to get her out of my head,” she tried to explain, and tried not to start crying again.

“Ladies,” Logan said, not trying to break them apart, but guiding them gently back towards the car, ushering them inside as quickly as he could. He got in the driver’s side, and glared at Remy, tapping his fingers on the wheel impatiently as he waited for the other man to get in.

“Are you alright?” Rogue asked Kayla quietly, once they were on the road and heading back to Remy’s family home.

Kayla gave a gasp that was somewhere between a sigh and a sob and nodded, clutching Rogue’s shoulders again. “Are you alright?” she asked fiercely. “I’m not the one who - who - amputated a limb, or whatever metaphors Emma used to explain getting rid of Carol. Without help!”

Rogue ducked her head, no longer able to meet Kayla’s gaze. “I wasn’t thinking. I couldn’t think,” she repeated her earlier words. “It hurt so much, Mama, all I knew was that she had to go.”

Rogue hadn’t meant to call Kayla ‘Mama’, but her mind was thick with heady emotions and she wasn’t really thinking about it. The word slipped from her lips, more naturally than the name ‘Mom’ had ever belonged to her foster mother, and Rogue could not regret saying it. Kayla’s only response to it was a tightening of her grip, another dry sob.

“We were so worried,” Kayla said. “I thought, maybe - because you disappeared with Remy - you had decided to run off together for a while. But you didn’t say anything, didn’t tell us and it seemed so out of character. You’re so independent, but you’ve always made sure we had half an idea, at least where you were. Then we hear from Emma of all people-” Kayla cut herself off with another gasping sob, and burying her face in her hands.

Rogue slid closer, wrapping an arm tightly around Kayla’s shoulder, bowing her head towards her. “I’m sorry,” she repeated. “I’m here, I’m fine.”

“I - I know,” Kayla tried to reassure her, face blotchy and red from the tears that were now falling. “I’m just more emotional than usual.”

Logan tensed in the front seat, his eyes meeting Rogue’s gaze in the rear-view mirror. His shoulders were hunched slightly, and there was something dangerous and concerned in his glittering dark eyes. He didn’t know what was wrong with Kayla, but he knew there was something she wasn’t saying. If Rogue could find out - if she already knew - she needed to tell him.

“You’re worrying Logan,” Rogue whispered into Kayla’s ear. She wasn’t so foolish as to think that Logan wouldn’t have heard those words, but if he wanted to know what Kayla wasn’t saying, then perhaps Kayla deserved to hear what he wasn’t saying too.

Kayla reached forward, her hand trembling a little, and rested across Logan’s shoulder, squeezing gently. She didn’t say anything, but her fingers lingered next to her neck for a moment, before she withdrew and sat straight again. He had relaxed a little at the contact, but it didn’t take a genius to work out that he was still worried.

“Carol’s gone now,” Rogue announced once the moment passed. “There’s an echo of her, just like there’s an echo of everyone I’ve touched, but she isn’t in my head anymore. I’m still a little… unsteady, but I’m ok now. I think, given a bit more time, I’ll actually be better than I have been in a long time.”

“That’s good,” Kayla said. “I’m very happy to hear that.”

Rogue glance down at Kayla’s midriff, then back up to her face, smiling questioningly, and tilting her head.

Kayla stared at her a moment, scowling briefly before a flickering smile over took it. She inclined her head ever so slightly, silently replying ‘yes’.

It took everything Rogue had not to whoop in delight and hug Kayla tightly. As it was, a broad grin spread across her face and she squeezed one of Kayla’s hands. Then she tilted her head towards Logan. Another silent question, although its asking hadn’t gone unnoticed, judging from the angry scowl Logan kept shooting over his shoulder at her.

“When we get back,” Kayla told her. “I’d been planning on telling you both the day after we arrived, but -” she cut herself off with a sharp glance at Rogue. Whether she would eventually actually be better than she’d been before meeting Carol or not, for now it was clear that her emotions were still somewhat scattered.

“Sorry,” Rogue apologised again. She was feeling as though all of her apologies were becoming rather superfluous, but until she was told to stop saying sorry, she would continue to do so.

“It’s alright,” Kayla said with a tremulous smile. “The news hasn’t changed, and a few days really didn’t make all that much difference, except on Logan’s temper.” She leant forward again to place her hand once more on Logan’s shoulder. This time she shifted further forward in her seat, too, and whispered something in his ear that neither Rogue nor Remy heard or wanted to hear.

“You’re lucky I love you,” Logan muttered, ears reddening in a way that would be adorable on any man who didn’t have razor sharp claws that popped out of his fists at any given moment.

“Yes, I am,” Kayla agreed easily, sliding back in her seat again.

Remy, who’d been keeping his nose out of the conversation as much as he could when trapped in a small car with the three of them, let out a quiet, disgusted sound.

“Problem, bub?” Logan growled threateningly.

“No, no!” Remy said, raising his hands defensively. “I just don’t understand how you are this… schmoopy,” he finished, using the word Rogue had to describe the pair of them when they’d arrived in New Orleans.

Logan seemed to recognise that the word was Rogue’s rather than Remy’s, and turned his ire towards her next. Rogue snorted, and raised her hands in the same defensive gesture Remy had made. “You are,” she protested. “Ever since we got back from visiting Auntie Emma, the pair of you have been all over each other.” Rogue stopped, thought about this for a little while, then groaned and shook her head. “Are we almost there yet?” she asked.

“You are worse than Emma,” Kayla scolded Rogue gently.

“Jesus Christ,” Logan muttered furiously, hands tightening around the steering wheel, and plunging them a little too enthusiastically into the traffic. “Can’t you just tell me already?” he asked them in frustration.

“Not while your driving, baby,” Kayla told him. “I am sorry for all the subterfuge, though.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Logan barked. He sounded mostly angry, and Remy cringed further away from him, but both Kayla and Rogue knew that he was more concerned for Kayla than anything else.

Kayla reached forward for the third time, and this time kept her hand on his shoulder for the rest of the car drive. They didn’t have far to go now, and so they travelled the last ten minutes or so in tense silence, with the exception of Logan’s occasional angry mutterings.

When they finally pulled up outside of the LeBeau mansion, Remy raced out of the car and disappeared into the house as fast as he could. He had his own version of parental scolding to face, Rogue realised. He might be older than her and technically an adult, but he had still disappeared for several days without a word as to his whereabouts.

But her concerns for him were soon pushed to one side, as Logan hurried both her and Kayla into the lounge which was thankfully empty. He persuaded Kayla to sit on the sofa, fussing over her in a way that Rogue had never seen him do before. It was sort of sweet, even if it did alter her view of Logan a little. Rogue had always known that he protected those he loved fiercely, but this was one step further; a display of tenderness that she hadn’t witnessed between them before.

His actions didn’t seem to surprise Kayla at all, and Rogue thought that maybe she just hadn’t been privy to Logan’s tenderness before. Maybe this, like starting to think of Kayla as Mama in her head, was the next step towards truly being a family.

“No more waiting,” Logan insisted, cutting through her thoughts. “What haven’t you been telling me.”

For the briefest moment, Rogue wondered how Kayla would tell him, whether it would be extravagant, or careful. Whether she would give Logan too much time to worry, or give him the wrong idea.

Instead, Kayla cupped Logan’s face tenderly with one hand, laying the other to rest on her abdomen. “I’m pregnant,” she said simply, with no concern for extravagant revelations. Then, when Logan stayed silent for a long moment, a slightly glazed look appearing in his eyes, Kayla leant towards him, brushing a sweet kiss across his lips. “We’re having a baby,” she told him, and smiled.

Logan stayed utterly still for a heartbeat longer, before one of his hands reached up to hold her hand in place over his cheek, and his eyes wandered down to where her other hand rested. There was no physical sign, yet, that Kayla was pregnant, but he couldn’t seem to help himself from staring, for his other hand reaching out to touch her stomach reverently.

“A baby,” he repeated, astonished, and when he met Kayla’s gaze again his eyes were filled with unshed tears.

He stayed silent after that, staring searchingly into her eyes, glancing down every now and then at he abdomen, before he shut his eyes with a shuddering sigh, and leant into the weight of her palm on his cheek.

“Logan,” Kayla whispered, sliding closer to him to that their knees knocked a little uncomfortably. “Logan, baby,” she repeated, and it might have been a question.

Logan opened his eyes and swept forward to deliver a gentle, heartbreaking kiss. “I love you,” he told her quietly. Then he broke into a wide grin, and a bubble of laughter escaped him. His cheeks were wet with a glorious joy, in a similarly ill-concealed attempt to hide his emotions. “God, I love you,” he repeated, his voice cracking.

Kayla laughed, her joy reflecting his, and she threw herself forward to wrap her arms tightly around his shoulders, and bury her face in the join of his neck. Then she looked up again and kissed him like fire and elation.

“Were you worried?” he murmured. “Were you worried I’d react badly? We talked about this.”

“Yes, no, I mean - I wasn’t worried, not really, but God, baby, you went so still and quiet for a moment there, and I thought you might be angry -”

“Angry? I’m not good with words, darlin’, you know that, but it wasn’t anger I was feeling. Never anger.”

“I love you,” Kayla told Logan, kissing his cheeks and his eyelids and his mouth. He stayed still under ministrations, face tilted up to her, eyes closed and smile on his lips.

“Love you,” he repeated again. Then he opened his eyes, and pulled Kayla carefully onto his lap so that he could keep one arm around her shoulders, and the hand of the other arm across where the baby would reside. “A baby,” he said, and laughed again. “Our baby.”

Kayla laughed delightedly and nodded, kissing him again. “I think you’ve gone into shock, babe,” she told him warmly.

Logan shook his head. “No. I just - I never really thought I’d get this chance. With who I am, I never thought it was an option.”

Kayla looked achingly sad at that, leaning fully against him and pushing her face back into the crook of his neck. She didn’t say anything to comfort him, just clung to him and breathed him in. Maybe she hoped that she felt as much like home to him as he did to her.

Rogue felt at once as though she was an intruder in their moment, and an undeniable part of their family. Who they were, and how they acted was not hidden here, where she could see every movement, and hear every word. She was watching something incredibly private, but she was being included silently, too. So it felt as natural as breathing to walk to them and crouch beside them on the floor.

Logan watched her movement closely, but didn’t ask her to leave, or look as though he didn’t want her there. Instead, he smiled in welcome. “My girls,” he said fondly, reaching out a hand to ruffle Rogue’s hair.

“Family,” Rogue told them, and struggled to keep her tears at bay. She’d been a Vadas from as soon as they were able to get the paperwork through, but for so long it had been a name. It had been acceptance of her presence in their lives, but not necessarily a welcome. Now, however, she felt as though she’d come home to them.

“When did you find out?” Logan asked Rogue, his hand moving back to Kayla’s abdomen as though it couldn’t stay anywhere else for any significant length of time.

“You said you’d been talking about having a baby,” Rogue said to both of them. “Just talking, considering the possibility for when our house is finished, but when you said that Kayla fainted, then Emma said you had news - I just, I made an assumption.”

“How did Emma know?” Logan asked, looking as though he wanted to be angry, but was still feeling too happy to muster up the emotion.

“She’s my sister, Logan,” Kayla reminded gently. “As soon as I started suspecting, I told her about my thoughts. She told me to stop being such a wuss and just take the test already. When that turned out positive, I went to see my doctor. He confirmed it just before we left for New Orleans. I thought I’d tell you both when we got here. Emma’s terrible at keeping secrets, but I wasn’t expecting either of you to run off to talk to her.”

Rogue opened her mouth to apologise again, but Kayla shushed her before she could.

“You saved your mind,” she told Rogue gently. “Possibly your life, too. I can’t possibly stay angry at you for long for doing that. I rather like you alive and mind intact.”

Rogue laughed softly, and knelt up to hug Kayla, somehow drawing all three of them into a group hug.

“How far along are you?” Logan asked.

“Nine, ten weeks, my doctor thinks,” Kayla told him. “So he or she should be due mid to late February.”

A shudder ran through Logan, and the dazed, overjoyed expression was back again. “Do you - do you know whether it’s a boy or a girl?”

“Too early,” Kayla said with a shake of her head. “Most… miscarriages happen in the first trimester. I want - wanted… to. Just. Have the odds in our favor before I learnt too much.”

“Why didn’t you tell me, tell us, when you first suspected?” Logan asked, his arms clenching tighter around her.

“That is why, baby,” Kayla said, kissing him tenderly and gripping Rogue’s shoulder tightly, using it as an anchor to give her the strength she needed. “The chances are good, now. But if I told you my suspicions, but I was wrong? Or if I was right, but the baby didn’t last? I know you, Logan, I know you, and I know you would have blamed yourself and I can’t have that. I need you and love you just as you are. Promise me, promise me if something goes wrong you won’t blame yourself,” she finished desperately.

“I - yes. For you, darlin’. Anything for you. Shit,” Logan promised, his expression now back to one of concern.

“Everything will be fine,” Rogue told them calmly, as she saw both of their fears written across their faces.

“You some kind of fortune teller now, kid?” Logan growled, in a more hostile fashion than he probably meant to.

Rogue shook her head. “No, but, I know you. You both have a healing factor, Kayla has a good enough sense of emotions that she’d probably pick up anything wrong with the baby a lot faster than anyone else and Logan is a fighter, a survivor. Judging from your surprise at this, you were still using contraception. Which means you’ve got a really hardy baby, who decided he or she was going to exist without either of your permission, and you think there’s even a tiny chance of miscarriage? She’s got you fighting for her now, rather than her fighting on her own. I don’t doubt that she will live, and that she’ll be beautiful.”

“‘She’?” Kayla asked, amused now that Rogue had momentarily soothed some of her worst fears.

Rogue blushed and shook her head again. “Or he,” she amended.

“I don’t mind you thinking the baby’s a girl,” Kayla said with a soft smile. “It’s better than calling them ‘it’.”

“Our baby,” Logan growled. “Isn’t an ‘it’.”

Kayla chuckled at that, and kissed his cheek. “No, baby. We know that,” she reassured him. It was a little amusing to see him become upset about the objectification, but sad too. Kayla knew better than anyone how much Logan was worried that he was little more than an animal, a wild beast too feral to be tamed. “She’ll be a ‘she’ for now, then,” Kayla stated, rubbing her belly with a fond smile.

-xXx-

That evening they had a quiet celebration, just the three of them. Remy recommended a restaurant, but declined their invitation for him to join them.

“This is a family celebration, non? Remy knows when not to be around,” he explained.

Rogue nodded in thanks, but lingered behind as they headed out, catching his hands in hers and kissing his softly. “I’ll see you later,” she promised. “You said you’d take me out dancing again.”

Remy tilted her head at her suggestion, and offered her a one shouldered shrug, a lopsided smile, and a little wave of his hand, where his cell phone had suddenly appeared. It was up to her, he was saying. Whether she came out tonight or not, he would be happy for her either way, so long as she let him know what she was up to.

“You coming, kid?” Logan called.

Rogue smiled once more at Remy, then followed her parents out of the building. The restaurant was close enough that they could walk to it, so they were taking advantage of the better weather that had followed the thunder storm of a few days ago. Logan and Kayla walked hand in hand, looking adorably happy. Rogue strolled a little behind them, listening with half an ear to their quiet conversation, but not taking part in it.

Instead, she took in the city she’d become so familiar with the previous summer and hadn’t seen in almost a year. It was less dusty than before, as last year they’d been in the middle of a heat wave, but seemed otherwise the same. It was teeming with life in the way that their home town in Canada just didn’t. It was beautiful and ugly, showing the best and the worst of humanity, and Rogue loved it.

She loved Kayla and Logan too, and she enjoyed watching them react as much as she did the city life that ebbed and flowed around them. Logan was always somewhat surprisingly courteous towards Kayla, but there was a new tenderness, now, in the way he watched her. There was a certain amount of awe of her, too, as though he couldn’t quite believe this was his life.

Kayla revelled in his attention, glowing under his fond looks, and leaning into his touches. She was always beautiful, in a casual, relaxed sort of way, but now she was absolutely stunning. Kayla was totally at ease with herself, perfectly happy with her life, and the people in her life. She glanced back to include Rogue, and the smile she sent made Rogue light up in response to it.

When they got to the restaurant, they were quickly directed to a table, and left with their menus. It was a small place, taller than it was wide, and with each floor opening up onto a balcony that overlooked the street below. A peddler was playing just down the road, a small crowd gathered round as an enthusiastic couple danced beside him, enthralled by each other and the music.

The air was thick with the scent of spices and fresh bread, Logan’s nose twitching as they were shown past the kitchens, and making Kayla lean into his side and laugh softly at him. Their food was prompt, the waiter looking delighted when Kayla informed him the reason she wasn’t drinking any alcohol, but keeping out of their way too.

Rogue had been worried that, following her abrupt departure without telling them several days before, their relationships would be strained for a while, but nothing like that happened. Beyond their initial scolding, nothing more was said of it. Somehow, they had struck a balance between treating her as their daughter, and treating her as an adult, and Rogue was beaming from the unsaid approval that came as a result of that.

Conversation was light and hopeful, the food delicious, and the evening itself wonderful. When they were finished, and wandered back out onto the street, Rogue stopped both of them to hug them tightly.

“Thank you,” she told both of them sincerely. She didn’t have to tell them what for and when she stepped away, all three of them were wearing smiles.

“Go on,” Logan said, tilting his head. “You go and meet up with that damn fool boy of yours.”

Rogue grinned and stepped away from them, walking in the opposite direction they were headed.

“Be back by midnight!” Logan called out after her.

“One!” Kayla shouted after him, her laughter chasing Rogue down the street. It didn’t really matter what time she got back, she knew. They wouldn’t be checking. So long as she was home in time for breakfast tomorrow, they wouldn’t notice. And as much as she had loved their family night out, and celebration of their future, she wanted to see Remy now.

The previous year, the majority of what Rogue and Remy had got up to was pretty tame. They’d wandered around the city, had spent long nights out dancing and drinking only a little. Remy had talked about his regular card club, but they hadn’t gone there. He hadn’t known that she could play poker, and anyone who didn’t at least know the rules enough to lose all their money there wasn’t welcome, even if they were there on the grace of one of the regulars.

But Rogue had bragged that she could play, that she could cheat, and she was hoping that would be enough of an invitation that she’d finally get to see the places that Remy chose to go to when he wasn’t on babysitting duty.

She phoned him as she wandered aimlessly around the city, the last of the sun dipping below the rooftops. Remy gave her quick directions, and when she arrived he was already waiting for her by the door. He was leaning against it, flicking cards in his hands idly. Not lighting them, just showing off. Rogue didn’t doubt that the others here knew he was a mutant - he couldn’t wear his sunglasses here, and his strange eyes were a big give away - but he didn’t need his powers to be good at cards.

Rogue greeted him coolly, with a challenging smirk and a raise of one of her eyebrows. He took the challenge for what it was, theatrically showing her through to the bar, than through to the table he’d been sat at before.

“We have room for one more, mes amis?” he asked them, sliding a chair out for Rogue, and skating his fingers along the exposed skin on the back of her neck once she’d sat down, and he stepped around her to take his own seat.

Rogue felt the hot prickle of his power on her skin, and the responding stirring of her own. She smirked at him, feeling bright with the warm love of earlier, and mischievous from the curious, doubtful looks she was receiving now. Not from him though. Remy seemed as confident of her skills as she did, and he was challenging her not to prove him wrong.

“It’s not like you to bring a chick here,” one of the men said, eyeing Rogue with a combination of distrust and lust. It was a look Rogue was familiar with from when she worked at Mack’s bar and she realised, gleefully, that men in New Orleans were just like men in Lotham City. Just as crude, just as prejudiced, and just as predictable.

“Rogue isn’t just any ‘chick’,” Remy corrected the man. “She’s my girl.”

One of the other men laughed as though it were the best joke he’d ever heard. “Since when have you stuck to only one girl?” he leant close enough to Rogue that she could almost taste the bourbon on his breath. “Hate to break it to you, pretty, but this man here won’t stick to one girl longer than one night. How’s about you give a real man a chance?”

As disgusting as his breath was, Rogue didn’t move away. She smiled at him, throwing in a few fluttering eyelashes for the hell of it. “Hate to break it to you, sugar,” she told him mockingly, throwing his own words back at him. “But a man like you wouldn’t stand a chance with a girl like me.” She eyed him up and down, and didn’t hide the curl of her lip as she grimaced at his apparel. “I like my men with at least a little experience. And my Remy, he’s very experienced,” she finished, shooting Remy an exaggeratedly lustful look, winking when the others wouldn’t notice.

“Just deal the bitch in already,” the man said, looking as though he were one drink away from throwing himself across the table and trying to claw Rogue’s throat out. 

Without any further ado, they began their game. Rogue purposefully lost the first few rounds, acting up to increase their underestimation of her. She fluttered her eyelashes more, made inane remarks, and rested her elbows next to each other on the table to squash her breasts together and draw attention to them. No one but Remy seemed to be onto her plan, until the fifth round when Rogue casually wiped the board of all of them.

“Oh,” she said, blinking innocently around at them. “Lucky me!” she squealed, causing Remy to snort and roll his eyes, and the other men to brush it off as dumb luck.

A few rounds later, and she did it again. Carefully, carefully, she laid out her plan like a web of honey, tipping the hand in her favour. Before, brutally, she apparently changed tack completely, knocking two of the men out of the game completely, a third with only two chips to his name, and Remy sitting comfy on about a third of the money in play.

“Whoopsy?” Rogue suggested, fluttering her eyelashes once more for the sake of it, before sweeping up the chips she’d won and stepping away from the table. “Guess you boys should pay more attention to your opponents,” she added, winking mischievously at them, tipping the dealer generously and then going to get the chips exchanged. Remy followed her quickly.

“You weren’t even cheating,” he said, shaking his head in awe.

“Not unless acting like a complete floozy counts as cheating,” Rogue agreed with a grin. “You should’ve seen me first few weeks at Mack’s. Every night was like that, it was like they didn’t learn. Course, then I was playing with dimes rather than dollars, so the stakes weren’t as high-” she was cut off as Remy bent down and planted a firm kiss on her lips.

Mon dieu, Chére, you are beautiful. I’ll never be able to come here again, but you were beautiful.”

“Sorry,” she said, ducking her head. “I know it’s kind of a cheap trick to duck out when you and the other guy were still playing -”

Non, no apologies. Those men aren’t Remy’s friends. If they underestimate you so easily, they deserve to be robbed blind like that.”

Rogue smiled, and waved the notes she’d just been handed under his nose. “Night’s still young, swamp rat. You promised me dancing.”

“So I did,” Remy agreed with a chuckle, getting his own money back, and wrapping an arm around Rogue’s waist. “Where would you like to go?”

“I’m happy to go wherever you’d like,” Rogue said, standing on her tip toes to lick the shell of Remy’s ear, hoping it left the same tendrils of fire his fingers across her neck had done earlier. “Maybe jazz?”

Remy smirked slow and wicked, leading her out into the night air, down the street towards one of the many clubs that would be playing live jazz. “You certainly live up to your name, Rogue,” he told her, his voice a low burr in her ear.

She caught his gaze, eyes glittering in the dark, and Rogue laughed wildly, happily. “And you, Gambit, what manoeuvre have you planned to blind side me later?”

“Ah, Chére, you say that like I haven’t already. I can call you mine now, can I not? My Rogue.”

The possessiveness in his tone, spoken in a low voice right next to her ear sent a low curl of heat that was not entirely unfamiliar coiling in Rogue’s belly. She turned, pulling them to a stop so she could tangle her fingers in her hair and feel him pressed close.

“But you are my Gambit, too,” she said softly against his lips.

Oui,” he agreed breathlessly. “Yours.”

She pulled him down towards her, so that they were breathing the same air. Then her tongue flicked out, tentatively, half licking her own lips, half searching for his. He leant further into the space between him and trapped her exploring tongue, sucking it into his mouth like an irresistible force, and she felt as though all of her went with it.

Then there was more than tongue; there were lips, soft and rough at the same time, skating along her own lips and opening beneath her as she opened for him. There were teeth, sharp and hard, nipping and pulling, and her tongue exploring them, learning their shape. There was the roof of Remy’s mouth, his cheeks, the way his eyes darkened to only a thin ring of red in an expanse of black.

When they pulled away, what could have been seconds or could have been an eternity later, they stayed close together. One of Rogue’s hands was still tangled in his hair, the other clinging to the lapel of his coat. Had she been trying to pull him even closer? His hands were warm patches on her ass, that moved back up to her waist as Remy realised where they were.

Remy rested their foreheads together, not caring any more that her touch might mean his pain. How could it, now, when there had been no threat moments before when they’d been much more tenderly embraced? And Rogue didn’t care about it either. She was happy, and safe, and she trusted Remy with her life, and her heart, and her skin. So her power stayed dormant, curled up inside.

Chapter Text

Two days after Remy and Rogue returned to New Orleans, two nights after Rogue so skillfully played Remy’s poker partners, she was attacked by the man who she had insulted at the beginning of the game. It wasn’t a particularly skillful attack, and ended with the man being knocked out cold and left in a dumpster, but more than that it brought to light some very interesting information.

Rogue had assumed, just as Logan, Kayla, and Emma had done, that the mutant powers she had held in her possession following the first incident with Carol would no longer be hers to command now that Carol’s psyche was back in the body it belonged to. However, when her reaction times to the man’s attack were just as they had been with Carol’s speed on her side, and the utter ease with which Rogue flipped the man onto his back and threw him into the dumpster implying she still had Carol’s strength, it seemed that their assumptions had been wrong.

More than just wrong, in fact. As soon as Rogue started to suspect she still had Carol’s powers, the natural progression of her thoughts was to see whether she could still fly, too. And she could. But, more that that, she could fly with relative ease compared to her previous struggles. This was not to say that she instantly knew how to do every aerobatic tumble she wanted, just that it was a lot easier to control her movements now.

When she explained this to Kayla and Logan, Kayla said that it was probably because Carol was no longer in her head that meant she now had so much better control. With Carol fighting against every decision that Rogue made, and with those powers originally belonging to Carol, it was a wonder that Rogue had managed to fly at all. This also suggested that Rogue had been subconsciously fighting Carol for the entire time that the other woman had been trapped in her mind, which made Rogue feel a little uncomfortable.

According to Emma, however, Carol had now woken up in hospital, and checked herself out at the earliest possible time. It was a medical miracle, apparently, because Carol had been comatose for the better part of four months, which means that her muscle mass should have been reduced significantly. She should have been mostly incapable of movement, and facing a year’s worth of intensive physiotherapy to get her back to where she’d been originally. Instead, Carol had just got up and walked out of there.

Rogue wished her well, but didn’t dwell too much on her. She would be perfectly happy if she never saw the other woman again. Besides, she was spending much of her time enjoying and training the talents that Carol had left behind.

Flying was still difficult, there was no escaping that, but the more Rogue practiced it the better she became. There was nowhere in New Orleans that she could really train in private, so a large part of Rogue was looking forwards to returning to Canada where there were plenty of open spaces for her to practice flying, where no nosy neighbours could wonder at what she was doing. An equally large part of Rogue wanted to stay in New Orleans as long as she could, however.

Remy had never been closed off towards Rogue, but now he was freer with her than ever before. They were both still careful in exchanging kisses - making sure the other knew that it was going to happen before it did - but they were still the same frequent and easy exchanges of affection that any couple might share. They still danced, as they had the year before, but there was more that they spent their evenings doing now, too. Remy introduced her to some of the other places where he played poker, and sometimes Rogue put on a similar performance to the first night, sometimes she played normally. Sometimes she cheated, and would be rewarded with hot, deep kisses from Remy when they left.

He also introduced her to his races about the city rooftops. Remy had an unnatural agility that meant he could glide about from building to building with very little difficulty, his coat flapping out like wings behind him. It was a way of keeping track of what was going on in the city, and a way of training himself and keeping in shape whilst doing so. If it meant that he also occasionally stopped a mugging or two, and left him feeling a little like Batman? Well, Remy wasn’t telling.

Rogue didn’t have the same agility that Remy did, but by half running, half flying beside him and she could keep up. It only involved short bursts of flight that might have been mistaken for jumps, so it didn’t allow Rogue to practice longer flights where she’d need more control for a greater period of time, but they were very good for learning the finer details of taking off and landing that she’d struggled so much with before.

Their rooftop races also gave them an excuse to show off to one another a bit more. Remy’s bo staff was little more than an accessory in day-to-day activities, but here it was a tool that he used in acrobatics, making his manoeuvres appear even more impossible than they might have been without it. Rogue soon learnt that it meant as much to him as his precious cards did, although he was a lot less likely to let someone other than himself touch it, and he never actually made it explode.

During the day, Rogue spent a lot more time than she had the previous summer spending time with Logan and Kayla. The new found sense of family had not changed at all, and Rogue continually felt herself drawn to their side and enjoying their company. Similarly, Logan was more protective of both Kayla and Rogue, paying more attention to them - especially Kayla - and giving curfews to Rogue that he hadn’t before.

They ended up spending just over three weeks in New Orleans before they decided to head home. It was less time than the previous year, but with Kayla pregnant Logan became anxious and restless in the confines of the city much faster than he had before. He wanted to get back to their home, to his territory as soon as they could. He wanted to return to an area that he was familiar with, where the dangers were all ones that Logan knew, and could face.

Rogue didn’t mind returning home, she was anxious to spread her metaphorical wings and see what she could really get up to with better control over her flying. She was not, however, anxious to say goodbye to Remy. In fact, that was one of the hardest things about leaving New Orleans, even with the tentative promise of returning the following year.

Remy had become a safe haven for Rogue. He’d helped and protected her without question when Carol had attacked her mind, and he had stayed whilst she recovered to bring her back to her parents. Then he’d let her into his life, inch by inch, to show her who he was when he wasn’t just playing the charming stranger. He loved her, she knew, and he had not hidden any part of himself from her. He talked freely of his almost-wife, Bella Donna, of the girls he had known and the men who were his friends, and the strangers who frequented his life.

And Rogue listened to ever tale he told with interesting, piecing together the complex puzzle that was Remy. It would take years to know the majority of it, and a life time to know it all, but the weeks this year and the month the year before were long enough to know a lot. He told her stories, occasionally, that she knew were supposed to scare her away. They were warnings, reminders, that whilst he was a moral man, he was not always a good one. But Rogue would listen with a smile, glowing with the knowledge that he had chosen to share this with her.

In return, she told him everything she could about herself. There were some things she couldn’t explain. The way her power coiled inside her, poised to strike at any moment, or curled contentedly, was not something she knew how to put into words. She wasn’t as eloquent as he could be, and her stories seemed pale things in comparison to the rich tales he would share. But he listened as closely to her as she did to him, and it didn’t matter if the exchange of information was a little lopsided.

Since they had met, they had spent more time apart than they had together, and perhaps it was that which made their farewells, this time, bearable. She would be twenty-one by the next time they met, and she would be an older sister, and a high school graduate too. So many things were going to change, but this time she didn’t leave without a promise.

“Stay in contact,” she ordered.

“As if that was ever in question,” he replied, with the head tilt that meant he was going to kiss her. Rogue smiled and waited, leaning into the soft press of his lips against hers when it came.

“I won’t be able to tell you everything I’m doing, Chére, but I’ll tell you what I can,” Remy promised.

Rogue chuckled. “More mysterious text messages then?”

“Of course,” he agreed with a grin.

Rogue kissed him again, hugging him tight and not wanting to let go. “No going around falling in love with another girl, either. You hear me?”

Remy looked at her with fond amusement. “You have Remy’s heart,” he said. “And he doesn’t do take backs.”

It wasn’t a promise not to look, or even a promise not to take, but Rogue found she didn’t mind so much. She’d be jealous of any woman who held Remy’s attention, of course, but so long as his heart was hers, she could live with that. It was a long eleven months, and she didn’t know what she was going to do after she graduated. She would be greedy then.

“That’s alright,” she told him, with her own heartfelt smile. “You have mine, so it’s a pretty even deal.”

He smiled a stunning, heartbreaking smile, swooping in for one more, lingering kiss, before he released her and let her climb into the back of the car.

Bon voyage, mes amis,” he wished them, ducking to wave through the car windows.

“Next year, bub,” Logan replied, with a casual wave as they pulled away to head back home.

-xXx-

They travelled without any issues until they reached the Canadian border. The weather this time was pretty good, although it was noticeably colder the further North they travelled, and when they crossed the border between Montana and Alberta they started to see snow on the ground. It was while they were passing through Banff National Park that they got attacked.

A tree fell across the road they were travelling down, close enough that Logan ended up driving straight into it, unable to pull the car to a stop soon enough. He cursed loudly as all three of them were thrown forward in their seats.

“You two ok?” he said gruffly, rapidly tearing his seatbelt off and getting out of the car to look at the damage.

“I’m fine,” Rogue said, doing the same.

Kayla didn’t reply, and Logan turned rapidly to look at her. “Kayla, darlin’, are you ok?”

She struggled a moment long, then shook her head. “My seatbelt - the strap’s stuck.”

“Here, I’ll get it,” Rogue offered, manoeuvring around the car to open the passenger side door and help free Kayla.

Logan moved around the front of the car, cursing at the damage, and looking over to the tree to see whether there was, at least, an explanation as to why it had suddenly fallen over. He scowled at what he saw. While the tree was large, it was still comparatively young, and definitely still healthy. The exposed wood was light, without even a hint of disease. There was no reason that Logan could see as to why the tree would fall over.

As he moved closer, he saw claw marks in the wood, and a scent that ought to have been familiar reached him. Logan tensed immediately, sniffing at the air but only picking up the scent left on the tree, and the stench of spilt oil from the car. He glanced up, and around at the tree line. There, in the corner of his eye, movement that wasn’t Rogue or Kayla.

The snikt of Logan’s blades shooting out caught Rogue’s attention, and she looked over at him, tilting her head in silent question.

“Get Kayla out of the car now,” Logan growled, seconds before something threw itself out of the bush and straight at him.

It was not a wild animal as Logan half suspected it might have been, although there wasn’t much of a distinction. It was a man, but he wore furs over his shoulders, and his hair, eyebrows, and facial hair were all grown out, his eyes were large and dark like a cat’s, and when he snarled at Logan, his incisors were enlarged like a predator’s. When he made a swipe at Logan’s face, he saw that the stranger didn’t have fingernails, either, instead he had sharp claws that matched the pattern Logan had seen in the tree.

Rogue was distracted by the stranger’s appearance for only a moment, before she too picked up the scent of spilt oil, and saw with a start that there was smoke streaming out of the engine, and it would likely only be minutes before the oil caught and the whole car went up in flames.

“Rogue,” Kayla said, eyes wide and desperate as she watched the attack on Logan. “You need to help him.”

“I’ve got to help you first,” Rogue insisted. Going with her instinct, she chose not to tell Kayla about what she suspected about the car possibly blowing up, and instead chose to fight with the seat belt. “Shit these things are tough,” she complained when the belt refused to break, in spite of the extra strength she was exerting on it.

“They are designed that way,” Kayla remarked breathlessly, looking a little dazed.

Rogue reared back, and turned Kayla’s face towards her. One of her pupil’s was a little bigger than the other, signalling that she had concussion. This was further confirmed by the dribble of blood seeping down from Kayla’s hairline. “Shit,” Rogue swore fiercely.

Losing patience with her battle against the seatbelt, Rogue instead went for the door, pulling it away from the car with relative ease and throwing it behind her. Then, with easier access, she went for the port of the strap, yanking it away from where it was fixed against the side of the seat, once that was done, it was relatively easy to pull the straps away from Kayla. Once that was done, Kayla could put an arm around Rogue’s shoulders, and she pulled her to standing, taking a half step away from the car.

There was a low, warning hiss, and Rogue’s eyes widened as she realised what it was. Swearing loudly again, she turned herself and Kayla away from the car, and launched herself into the air. She’d never flown whilst carrying anything heavier than a pack of cards before now, and the extra weight threw her off, causing them to crash back down into a snow bank not that far from where they’d started. Rogue pulled Kayla up to standing, placing herself between the car and the older woman, and hurrying her further away.

Behind them, the car groaned in warning before exploding. The force of it threw them forwards a few more feet, and Rogue felt the sickening crack of one of Kayla’s arm bones more than she heard it. Their backs were a little scorched, but otherwise unaffected by the explosion, thank fully. Rogue carefully helped Kayla to sitting with her back against one of the trees, her arm at an unusual angle across her lap. Kayla had gone incredibly pale, but she was still conscious, at least.

“Kayla? Kayla, can you hear me?” Rogue asked desperately.

Kayla mumbled something, eyelids drooping, before she snapped to attention. “Yeah - yep, I’m here. Mostly,” she added with a slightly broken laugh. “Fucking hurts,” she muttered.

Rogue choked back the panicky laugh that rose at Kayla using a profanity. “You have to stay awake, though. You understand?”

“Concussion,” Kayla agreed hazily. “I can tell. It’s annoying. Is Logan ok?”

“I don’t know,” Rogue admitted. From where they were, crouched down, she couldn’t see how Logan was fairing against the stranger who had appeared out of nowhere to attack them. “I need to go and help him,” she said, pre-empting Kayla’s insistence that she did so. “But you’ve got to promise you’ll stay awake. You’re fighting for two, remember?”

The fingers of Kayla’s broken arm twitched and she winced, but smiled at Rogue anyway. “Fighting for four,” she corrected. “Think you and Logan’d kill me if I died.”

“Yeah,” Rogue agreed, then kissed the top of Kayla’s head, being careful to avoid the source of the blood, before she stood slowly, and made her way cautiously back to the road.

She got there in time to see the stranger ripping up a young tree and using it like a baseball bat aimed at Logan’s head. There was another sickening crunch, and Rogue sent a fervent prayer to whatever God was listening that, if it was indeed Logan’s neck that had just been broken, his healing factor was good enough that he’d survive from it. He crashed down by where the first tree had fallen, and was still smoking from the explosion of the car engine. His blades withdrew into his arm, but Rogue didn’t have time to consider whether that was a sign he was still alive or not, when the stranger launched himself at her.

Using all the training she had, Rogue fought against the stranger fiercely. She was faster than him, and ever so slightly stronger too, but she was exhausted from the better part of two days travelling, and her back was scorched from the explosion. The only advantage she really had over the stranger was her ability of flight, but it wasn’t as though Rogue could just fly away. The stranger had gone straight for Logan, without thought or care for Rogue or Kayla, so it seemed as though his intent was to kill or kidnap Logan.

Which meant that, supposing Logan was still alive, Rogue had to stay and try to fight off the stranger. It was a difficult situation, with no way out that Rogue could see, and she cursed heavily as she blocked the stranger’s attacks, trying to fight back, but spending most of her energy on defending herself instead.

It was strange, actually. The man, whoever he was, was not fighting her as fiercely as he had been Logan. Rogue couldn’t think that it was because the man was tiring, yet it was strange that he didn’t do the same thing to her that he’d done to Logan. Certainly, having seen that attack, she’d probably have time to dodge it, but it was strange that the man hadn’t even tried it.

She was still losing, however. She was fast, but she was tiring quickly, and the stranger seemed to sense that, coming at her harder and faster with ever passing moment. Eventually he managed to land a blow that sent her flying - the traditional way, not under the influence of her powers - backwards to slump next to where Logan was collapsed. Rogue let out a low groan as her back met the tree trunk, but the fall didn’t seem to have broken anything, and the fire was mostly out now, so she managed to struggle her way to her feet, prepared to face the man again.

As he advanced towards her, however, Rogue was distracted by two figures in the snow behind him. Dear God, she hoped that they were on her side and not the stranger’s.

The wind picked up suddenly, shaping the falling snow into a twisting funnel that flew at the stranger. Moments later a beam of red light came too, and Rogue dropped to the ground just fast enough to not be hit by her attacker as he flew over her head. The two strangers advanced towards them, and Rogue jumped, taking off one of her gloves in preparation to touch one or both of them if it kept them from harming Logan or Kayla.

As they drew closer, however, she recognised one of them as Scott Summers. The pilot who had flown Professor Xavier out to see her the previous year, and the man whom her Auntie Emma had been kidnapped with, who she was still in contact with.

“Trigger happy,” she greeted with a hoarse voice. “You need to improve your aim.”

He smiled grimly, then said, “Duck.”

Rogue did, and swore again when he pressed the side of his visor, and another beam of red light shot out, over Rogue’s head, and sending the stranger flying again. With one last snarl in their direction, the stranger took off towards the trees at a run.

“You’re a dick,” Rogue told Scott as she hauled herself up to her feet again. “Please tell me you have your little jet thingy close by. Logan’s unconscious - and still unconscious, which is not a good sign - and Kayla has a concussion and a broken arm.”

“A dick who just saved your life,” Scott muttered, apparently about as happy to see her as she was to see him. Nonetheless, he still moved to where Logan still lay by the tree, and started half-carrying, half dragging him back the way that he and the other woman had appeared from in the first place.

“She’s this way,” Rogue told her, nodding towards where she’d left Kayla propped up against a tree and not waiting to see whether or not she followed.

Kayla hadn’t moved from where Rogue had left her, though her head was lolling more, and Rogue raced to her side when she saw her.

“Kayla, Kayla, Mama, please be awake. You’ve got to stay awake,” Rogue whispered desperately, tugging her glove back on, and carefully tilting Kayla’s head back.

Kayla coughed weakly, her eyes flickered open briefly, rolling lazily, and a brief smile shadowed across her lips so quickly Rogue almost missed it. “You called me ‘Mama’,” Kayla croaked.

“You are my mama, Kayla. Come on, now, stay with me.”

Kayla coughed again, her broken arm twitching with the movement of it and causing her to groan loudly.

“I am Ororo,” the other woman said, stooping down beside Rogue and introducing herself. “I am here to help. But you need to stay awake so that I can take you to see Dr McCoy. He will fix your arm.”

“No - no doctors,” Kayla argued. “M’ arm’ll fix itself,” she added, slurring more with every word.

Rogue shook her head at Ororo, signalling for her to take a step back. “Go help Scott. Can you bring the jet to the road?”

Ororo agreed, and raced off in the direction Scott had been taking Logan.

“It’s ok, Kayla, Mama,” Rogue corrected herself, blushing when she said the word. As natural as it felt to say it, it was an unusual pleasure that made Rogue feel like she was floating. “They’re here to help us. Scott is here, too, he’s the boy Emma had a crush on, though he’s not much of a boy any longer. He’s still the trigger-happy dick who flew Professor Xavier to come see us last summer. That’s where he’s taking us - to see the Professor. You know how he said if we ever needed a doctor, but didn’t want to go to human hospital, we could go to him? Well you kind of need to see that doctor now, Mama.”

“My head’s feeling better,” Kayla said. Her words were still slurred, but the smile was more firm on her trembling lips this time. “Arm still hurts like a bitch, though.”

“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you swear before today?” Rogue remarked. Even if Kayla’s head was getting better, she knew that the best way of keeping a concussed person awake was to keep talking to them, keep them invested in the conversation so they wouldn’t want to drop off to sleep.

“It’s a good thing. You and Logan swear too much.”

“I think I’m allowed to today, all things considered,” Rogue said with a rueful smile. She could hear the jet being powered up, and the air around them stirred as it was disturbed by the engines.

“How is Logan?” Kayla asked, suddenly concerned. “Why’s he not here? He needs to be here.”

“Hush,” Rogue said, moving to Kayla’s side, to help her to standing. “He’s - he’ll be ok,” she corrected herself again. “That guy, the one who attacked us, hit Logan pretty hard. You know how Logan’s out like a light when he decides to sleep.”

Kayla tensed, both with worry and with pain as she jostled her arm. “A bit of a difference between falling asleep and being knocked out,” she told Rogue stiffly. “Don’t lie to me because I’m hurt.”

“I - I don’t know,” Rogue said, struggling not to give into the sobs that rose up her throat. There would be time to worry and panic later. Now, she needed to stay in control of herself so that she could get them to safety. “There wasn’t time to check.”

“Are you ok?” Kayla asked sharply, as the jet descended to hover by them. Rogue helped her up into it, shrugging a bit.

“I’m fine,” she reassured her.

“Really?” Kayla asked suspiciously, wincing again as she sat down, and curling her broken arm carefully into her lap.

Rogue didn’t sit down, but moved to where Logan was laid out across what looked like a retractable stretcher attached to the inside of the jet in the space at the. “I’m fine,” she repeated, shooting a glance over her shoulder at Kayla.

Kayla nodded, but didn’t quite manage to pick her head up from the dip, making it loll again.

“Ororo! Can you keep an eye on Logan for me?” Rogue asked, before rushing to Kayla’s side. “Come on, Mama, stick with me here,” she said, carefully tilting Kayla’s head up again.

“I think - the world’s going a little fuzzy around the edges, Rogue. I think I might be passing out,” Kayla told her.

“No you are not,” Rogue ordered. “This is me telling you that you absolutely are not going to pass out. I know it hurts, but you’ve got to stay awake and with me, ok? I know you’ve got a healing factor, but you need to keep your head straight, don’t you? If you fall asleep you might go silly in the head, then who would be sensible for the baby, huh? Sure not me or Logan, we’re both a bit touched in the head, you know that.”

“Logan’d be a great father,” Kayla mumbled.

Rogue nodded, and kept her hand where it was propping up Kayla’s head, sliding herself around to sit in the seat next to her, and pulling the buckle down for both of them, strapping them both in place. She spared half a thought of worry for Logan, but Ororo was keeping an eye on him. He’d be fine. Kayla was the one who needed her attention at the moment.

“He will be a great father, but he needs you there with him, you know. He’d be lost without his Kayla - without you. You need to be there to make sure he doesn’t feed her pizza or let her drink his beer. You need to be around to make sure he keeps those disgusting cigars of his away from her.”

“Her,” Kayla said, her undamaged arm moving around to cradle her stomach. “Our baby. Our daughter.”

“That’s right,” Rogue encouraged. “Your baby girl. She’s going to be beautiful, you know. And you’re going to be the best Mama in the whole world.”

Kayla smiled at her, a quiet joy that made Rogue almost want to cry from it.

“How -” Rogue croaked, cleared her throat and tried again. “How far to Professor Xavier’s Mansion?” she called out to Scott.

“About three hours, if we push it,” Scott replied.

“Push it,” Rogue demanded, then returned to talking to Kayla.

Right. Three hours of trying to keep Kayla awake. Rogue wasn’t a great talker, not when she was the one trying to carry the conversation, so she only hoped she could come up with enough stories to distract Kayla with. She had said her head had been starting to feel better, however. Rogue didn’t know how strong Kayla’s healing factor was, but she hoped that it was enough to keep her awake until they got Westchester.

-xXx-

They reached Xavier’s mansion in Westchester in a little over three hours, just as Scott had predicted. Logan had yet to wake up, and while Rogue had succeeded in keeping Kayla awake, Kayla kept slipping between lucidity and barely being able to hold her head up. The gash in her head had stopped bleeding and, as far as Rogue could tell, had healed over, but without truly knowing the extent of Kayla’s healing factor, or how badly she’d been hurt in the first place, she insisted on keeping Kayla conscious for as long as possible.

Kayla was mostly lucid at the point in time when they arrived, and she and Rogue stared unabashedly at the Mansion, then at the way the basketball courts slid open for the jet to land in the bay underneath them. The landing was somewhat bumpy, and Scott apologised for it when Rogue scowled in his direction.

“You’ve got injured on board! Have a care!” Rogue scolded, jumping a little when Kayla buried her face in her shoulder and laughed softly.

“Such a mother hen,” Kayla murmured, as Rogue set about unbuckling them, and wrapping Kayla’s uninjured arm around her shoulders so she could help her to standing.

Outside the plane there was a small entourage waiting for them. Professor Xavier himself sat to one side, looking concerned in a disconcertingly controlled sort of way. There was a woman with flaming red hair standing just beside him, clutching a medical kit and barely restraining herself from rushing forward to help. And, beside them was something - someone - who looked as though he’d stepped straight out of Beauty and the Beast, but had decided to dye himself entirely blue before coming to meet them.

Rogue did a double take when she saw him, but didn’t question his presence, instead helping Kayla the rest of the way down the steps. “You a doctor?” she asked the red head with the medical kit.

“Dr McCoy’s the doctor,” she said, gesturing towards the large, blue mutant. There was a half moment when everyone seemed to hold their breath, and McCoy tensed in preparation to leave, Rogue supposed.

She didn’t have time for this. She wasn’t going to judge him for the fur, or for the fact he was blue, not when he was a medical man and both of her parents were in desperate need of medical attention. “Well get over here, then,” Rogue barked. “Kayla’s got a concussion, a broken arm, and God knows what else. The gash in her head’s stopped bleeding, but the pain keeps making her go a bit doo-lally so she’s not entirely with it. I’ve kept her awake for three God-damned hours, and I had a bit of a run in with some hick with the intention of killing me before that, so a helping hand would be appreciated.”

Rogue took a deep breath, and halted the rant she’d started. Again, now was not the time. She was tired, anxious, and the only person she really trusted here was Professor Xavier and Scott, both of them only because Emma said she could, and the latter of which she sort of hated, even if she did trust he wouldn’t try and kill them.

As soon as Rogue had stopped talking, however, Dr McCoy had stumbled into action. He’d startled a little at the lack of reaction to his appearance, but as soon as he had directions on a patience, he was by her side and checking Kayla over.

“I can take her, if you wish?” he asked, his voice surprisingly soft coming from such a beastly exterior.

Rogue smiled thinly at him, but shook her head. “I’ve got her,” she said. “Just point me in the direction of your medical rooms.”

“Rogue, honey, what about Logan?” Kayla asked hoarsely. She hadn’t been talking half as much as Rogue had been, but every once in a while she’d struggled with a series of hacking coughs that had not done her throat any good.

“Logan’s going to be just fine, you’ll see,” Rogue said. “Come on, Mama, we’ve got to get you somewhere you can lie down and the doctor here can look you over.”

Kayla frowned at McCoy for a moment, and there was another pause as everyone waited for a reaction. “I think I might be hallucinating,” she said faintly. “That’s new.”

“You see a big hairy blue guy?” Rogue asked. “Cos if so, we’re all seeing that.”

“Oh,” Kayla said, blinking slowly, then trying to smile. “Hello. Excuse my daughter’s rudeness. I’d shake your hand, but I’m afraid it’s a little damaged at the moment.”

Rogue swore. “Can the introductions wait until later?” she pleaded.

“Certainly,” McCoy said, leading the pair of them towards the door. Again, Rogue found that the most surprising thing about him was his voice, that seemed so at odds with his appearance. “Jean, would you see to this Mr. Logan that they’re talking about?”

The red head nodded, and bustled past them and up onto the jet. Professor Xavier watched her go, then turned to follow them out of the room. Rogue was limping ever so slightly, which was odd because she was almost certain that she hadn’t been hurt in the leg, but she pushed that aside and concentrated on keeping Kayla upright.

“Are you sure you do not wish for me to help you?” McCoy asked.

“Nah,” Rogue said. “I’m stronger than I look.”

“But you are hurt.”

“I’m fine,” Rogue said, just as she’d told Kayla earlier. McCoy was not so easily distracted, however, and looked at her dubiously. He did not ask any further questions, though, and led them instead into a large, open plan room with various medical equipment scattered about, and a couple of beds in the centre of the room. It was very large for how little was in it, and the set up made Rogue feel uncomfortable.

She directed Kayla towards one of the beds and, upon seeing her drooping once more, helped keep her head propped up as McCoy brought out a torch and flashed it in Kayla’s eyes.

“Hmm, she doesn’t appear to be suffering from concussion, so far as I can see, but you did a good job keeping her awake,” McCoy murmured, before directing her to lie back on the bed. “Are you allergic to anything that I should know about?” he asked Kayla and, when he got a negative reply, he hurried Rogue and the Professor out of the room. “I’m going to give her some antibiotics, then she needs a number of x-rays so that I can determine the extent of the damage.”

“She’s pregnant,” Rogue blurted, then blushed as both Professor Xavier’s and Dr McCoy’s gazes turned to stare steadily at her. “If - if that makes a difference. About three months in now, she thinks. And she’s got some healing ability. Not much, but - it might make a difference?”

“The healing ability certainly explains the lack of concussion,” McCoy muttered, more to himself than to them. He didn’t say anything about what Kayla’s injuries might mean for the pregnancy, but he did ask that Rogue stay nearby so he could at least give her a basic check up before she disappeared.

“Where am I going to go?” Rogue asked under her breath, then winced at how bitter that sounded. She wasn’t angry at McCoy, or any of the others, and certainly not at Logan or Kayla, but the attack had knocked her whole world off kilter again. She was supposed to start her final year of high school in just under a week, but there was little doubt in her mind that she wouldn’t be around to start it on time. Even if both Kayla and Logan were back to full health by that time - which was unlikely - there remained the question of whether the attack had been out of the blue, or specifically towards them.

If the attack had been against one of them, then the chances of their returning home to find it undamaged were slim. Staying with Professor Xavier was likely going to be their only option at least until they worked out who had attacked them, and why.

“Of course you will be able to stay here,” Professor Xavier said quietly.

Rogue glared at him, but couldn’t find the effort to put any real energy into it, and instead slumped back against the wall.

“Your mental barriers are stronger than they were before, but they’re a little - damaged?” he explained, just as quietly. “It is difficult for me not to feel the amount of worry you are broadcasting at the moment, my dear.”

“I had a bit of difficulty with another mind getting stuck inside my own,” Rogue muttered. “She’s back in her own body, three weeks ago now, but the damage she did hasn’t completely been fixed.”

Professor Xavier shook his head sadly. “I wish I had a better understanding of your power, Rogue.”

“You and me both,” she said. “Having her in my head - it did something strange. I’m stronger, and faster than before. And, um, I can fly.”

He blinked serenely at her for a moment, then tilted his head, a smile curling the edges of his lips. “The variety of mutations that are appearing in the human race never cease to amaze me.”

Rogue laughed a bit at that and, giving up completely on any decorum she might have been clinging to, slid the rest of the way down the wall to sit on the floor, leaning her head back against the cool metal of the wall and closing her eyes briefly.

He let her sit in silence, not asking any questions, and not trying to find out whatever answers he was looking for by searching her mind, either. If there was one advantage to the whole debacle with Carol, Rogue was very aware of when another mind was touching her own. Professor Xavier’s mental presence was infinitely warmer than Emma’s, but it was also less familiar. It wrapped around everything that Rogue could sense, but that was just how it existed. His telepathy was not something that belonged just to his mind, it existed in the world around him, like an extra sense of hearing, almost. He would hear her louder thoughts, whether he meant to or not, but he was not searching for them.

Rogue’s moment of quiet was broken when Ororo and Scott came into the corridor, each holding an end of a stretcher that Logan was laid out on, with Jean following them and concentrating harder on the stretcher than she really needed to.

Telekinetic, Professor Xavier’s voice rang through Rogue’s head. He didn’t glance over at her, and she hadn’t felt the inquisitive brush of his thoughts, so Rogue assumed he’d just seen her curiosity at Jean’s concentration. That, or he was aware that she knew what Ororo and Scott’s mutations were, and McCoy’s was pretty obvious, so he was just filling in the blank.

The three of them went through into the medical room where McCoy and Kayla were, and Rogue followed them at a distance. Once they’d lowered Logan onto one of the other beds and taken a step back, however, Rogue moved forward to his side. She brushed the hair back from Logan’s forehead, and frowned at the flicker of his eyes behind his eyelids.

“Have you given him something?” Rogue asked them.

“A general antibiotic. I’m not entirely sure what’s wrong with him. It… well, it looked as though he had his neck broken, but he’s still alive and there’s little sign of it now, so-”

Rogue swore again, interrupting Jean’s explanation. She pulled Logan’s collar down a bit and, sure enough, there were large purple bruises across the back of his neck. His heartbeat was regular, and strong though, and Rogue suspected that the only reason he was still unconscious was because of whatever medicine Jean had given him.

“The guy who attacked us decided to play baseball. With a tree and Logan’s head,” Rogue said. “I didn’t see much else of their fight. I was getting Kayla out of the car before it exploded, then making sure she understood she had to stay awake.” Rogue glanced across at where McCoy was treating Kayla at the moment. She was unconscious now, but from the serene expression on the doctor’s face, that was as expected.

“Logan’s got a healing power, though,” Rogue added. “Like - if you stabbed him, he’d bleed a bit, then minutes later he’d be perfectly fine. Well. So long as you pulled out whatever you stuck in him.”

“Are you saying that he’s going to recover without a problem from having his neck broken?” Jean asked.

Rogue nodded. “Probably. I mean, Kayla and Remy said he got shot in the head with some kind of special bullet that made him lose most of his memories, but he didn’t die.”

“He got shot in the head,” Jean repeated, frowning.

Rogue scowled back at her. “Yeah, you know what? I’m not saying anything else. I don’t know you. How do I know you won’t do some kind of fucked up medical experiments on him?”

“Rogue,” Professor Xavier said calmly, rolling forward and inserting himself into the conversation. “They are not going to hurt you or your… parents. Although mutant experimentation is not unheard of, you can rest assured that nothing like that is going on here. We are a school.”

“A school with a secret jet, an advanced medical facility, and teachers trained in combat,” Rogue replied dryly. “Right.”

“To the rest of the world, that is what we are; a school for the gifted and talented. My school is a sanctuary for young mutants where they will be accepted, and not feared. You are right, however, the lower levels are another matter entirely. There are many mutants out there who wish ill upon the rest of human kind, just as there are humans without our gifts who wish to destroy all mutants. We stand as a defence between the two.”

“The ‘X-Men’,” Rogue said.

Professor Xavier inclined his head. “Human kind has always hurt and feared that which it does not understand. I am trying to stop the war between humans and mutants before it happens.”

Rogue shook her head a little sadly. “How’s that going to work, if even you refer to everyone else as ‘humans’ and us as ‘mutants’?”

“We are all human,” Professor Xavier said. “I know that, perhaps better than many mutants do,” he paused, and Rogue glanced behind her to see that McCoy had looked up to meet the Professor’s gaze. “I refer to baseline humans as ‘humans’ simply for ease of communication.”

Rogue snorted, but didn’t argue further. She couldn’t really talk, she supposed. She didn’t really think of baseline humans as any different from mutants, but then she hadn’t had any real reason to try and separate the two groups in her head. Not really. Besides, she was too tired for the kind of debate that could grow from that observation.

“My apologies, you must be exhausted,” Professor Xavier said when she yawned. “If you will follow me, I will show you to a bedroom you can use while you stay here.”

“If you don’t mind, Charles, I’d like to give her a quick check up,” Doctor McCoy interrupted. He’d finished putting the cast on Kayla’s arm and, having looked over Logan’s readings and realised there was little that he could do on that front except wait, he indicated the third bed for Rogue to hop up onto.

“I’m fine,” she grumbled, but did what McCoy said.

“So you keep saying. However, there is a large scorch mark down the back of your coat, and you are favouring your right leg. So forgive me if I don’t trust your judgement.”

Now that Rogue didn’t need to worry about getting Kayla and Logan to safety, and had time to consider herself, she realised that there was a large part of her back that ached badly, and her left ankle was feeling particularly tender. She let McCoy strip away her coat with a minimum of fuss, and wondered whether it was really necessary for all of the others to be here watching this.

Closing her eyes and shutting out the world, she reached for that edge that she associated with Kayla’s power. She hadn’t done much more than speed up the healing of a few bruises and a sprained wrist before, but she didn’t think her injuries this time were actually all that much worse than what she’d received from tumbling down the stairs. Nonetheless, she chased the edge across her body healing what bruises she could find and, as she had done for her wrist, tying it about her ankle in the hopes that it would be enough to waylay McCoy’s worries.

The ache in her back, however, was not so easily healed. Kayla’s power seemed to have next to no affect on it and, when Rogue returned to listening to what McCoy was saying, there didn’t seem to be much he could do either.

“Unfortunately for burns like these, there’s not much to be done. I do suggest you have a long bath or shower, however, as the heat will help soothe the tender skin. You’ve not actually developed any blisters, which is good, but you should be careful about what you choose to wear against it for the next day or two.”

“Um,” Rogue said, feeling a little at a loss. Even when she had been travelling on her own, after her Foster parents had kicked her out and before Logan and Kayla had taken her in, she had never actually had nothing. However, her bag had been in the car when it had blown up, just as Kayla and Logan’s stuff had been. And everything else she owned was back at their home in Canada, if that place hadn’t also been attacked. “I don’t exactly have anything to wear,” she added.

Professor Xavier gazed at her for a moment as though, with all his great intellect, the issue of clothing had never even been considered. “Scott, Ororo, are you capable of taking the Blackbird out again tonight?” he asked them.

Scott shrugged, looking a bit put out that he had to fly the jet for another six hours, but also as though he didn’t want to say no. Ororo didn’t seem at all phased by the question.

“See if you can save their baggage from the car, then go on to their home - you know how to get there Scott - and grab anything else you think they might need. Also, if you could move their car off the road so that other travellers might pass by unimpeded?” Professor Xavier instructed. The pair of them left to return to the jet, and he turned to face Jean now. “Jean, would you be so kind as to show Rogue where she will be staying, and see whether you can find something for her to sleep in?”

“Certainly, Professor,” Jean agreed.

Rogue felt a little annoyed at being talked over, but McCoy’s suggestion of bath was currently very appealing and she knew that the less she argued, the faster she could get to it. “Only one night, guaranteed,” she told Professor Xavier sternly. “I’m staying here only as long as Kayla and Logan are.”

He smiled and nodded. “I realise that is your current decision, yes. But our doors are welcome to you, just as they have been for the past year.”

Rogue snorted and shook her head, before following Jean from the room without further complaint.

Chapter Text

The bath, when Rogue gets to it and can finally relax, is heavenly. She’d been half expecting for Jean to show her to one of the girls’ dormitories for the night, and having to use one of the shared bathrooms. Instead she’d been led to a corridor that was clearly where the teachers lived, as Jean pointed to each door as they passed it and told Rogue what was behind it. The room she’d been led to did not have it’s own bathroom, it was detached from the corridor, but there was a second door that led to the mirror image of her own room on the other side.

“That room will be Kayla and Logan’s, should they chose to stay here,” Jean had explained. “If you join the school you might be moved into one of the dormitory rooms, but until then -”

“Whatever I end up doing, I’m staying with Kayla and Logan,” Rogue had interrupted.

Jean had studied her for a moment, then nodded. “You’re not far off my size, I’ll see if I can find a nightdress for you.”

“Thanks. I’m sorry for snapping,” Rogue apologised. She didn’t offer any explanation for her wrought emotions, as she figured that was pretty self-explanatory.

Jean had brushed aside her concern, and left her in the room to fetch night wear for Rogue. Left on her own in a large, empty room, Rogue’s hands went to her pockets, searching out the few trinkets that hadn’t been in her main bag when the tree had fallen in their way. There was her phone in one pocket, that had powered off early that morning when it had run out of charge. In the other pocket was the collection of cards that Remy had been giving her. She had up to the ten of hearts now, and it made Rogue smile and wonder what the last three of that suit would come to mean to her.

Jean had returned quickly, her room with Scott being only a few doors down, and promised that she’d get Scott to leave her things in Kayla and Logan’s room when he got back.

“That way he won’t disturb you, and you don’t have to go traipsing about trying to work out where your clothes are,” she said by way of explanation. Rogue had thanked her, and the red head had left her to it, with only one last comment that she needn’t worry about when she woke up, and that if Rogue just headed downstairs when she was ready, she was sure to bump into someone sooner or later.

With that vague piece of advice, Rogue bid Jean goodnight and shut her door to run a bath for herself as McCoy suggested. The heat irritated the skin along her back a little, but once she was fully in, it soothed away a lot of the ache and it was all Rogue could do not to fall asleep in the tub. She lingered only as long as her exhaustion would allow, before collapsing onto the bed. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow.

Thankfully, as vague as Jean’s instructions for the following morning had been, they also gave Rogue enough peace of mind for her to sleep long enough to gather all of her energy back. She woke late the next morning and, just as had been promised, her bag was waiting for her in the room on the other side of the bathroom.

The bag that she’d taken with her to New Orleans was a little singed about the edges, but was otherwise undamaged, which was a relief since it had all of her gloves in it, save the ones she’d been wearing at the time. Her latest sketch pad had also, luckily, escaped the worst of the fire. The bottom right corner was blackened, and crumbled off a bit at her touch, but there was no problem with the rest of it, and the burn hardly affected any of the sketches already in there.

A few of her pieces of clothing would have to be patched up or thrown out, Rogue realised, as she tugged at a new hole in one of her tops, but it was only a couple of things, and Scott and Ororo had indeed travelled on to their home and collected a few more things. They’d included all of her sketch books, she noted, as well as the tin of colouring pencils that she hadn’t brought with her on holiday.

Freeing her phone charger from the tangle it had made itself into around one of her pants legs, Rogue plugged in her phone, before she started getting ready for the day. The sun was already high in the sky and, although she hadn’t heard from anyone about whether or not Kayla and Logan were awake, Rogue suspected that she was being left along until she emerged on her own time, so she got the rest she needed.

Once she was washed and dressed she hesitated for a moment longer by the door. Her phone was still in the charger, and Remy’s cards were in her back pocket where they belonged, and there wasn’t much else she needed to bring with her. She didn’t like to go anywhere without her phone, now that she had one, but she couldn’t imagine that she would be travelling outside of the mansion today and it wasn’t much use until it had at least a bit more power anyway.

With a steadying breath, Rogue opened the door and headed towards the main staircase. The corridors were eerily quiet, given the number of people she’d been made to understand lived here, but it was late morning, so she supposed everyone was in lessons. Rogue explored the ground floor a little, wandering into what she assumed was an entrance hall, given the large windows that opened onto a driveway, and the double doors they framed.

She discovered a library that stretched up into the second floor, as well as a lounge that housed a number of sofas, a pool table, and a large TV, although it was currently empty. When Rogue caught a whiff of baking goods, she followed her nose down a side corridor to a kitchen, where Dr McCoy dividing his attention between the pancakes he was making, and the newspaper that was spread over half the table.

“Good morning,” Rogue announced herself, after McCoy had put down his mug and wasn’t likely to spill whatever it was all over himself. As she suspected, he hadn’t been at all aware she was there, distracted as he was by the tasks he was doing.

“Oh, hello! Good morning to you too. You slept well, I hope?”

“Not too bad,” Rogue agreed. “How are Kayla and Logan?”

McCoy smiled what Rogue assumed was his attempt at a comforting smile, though it came off a little monstrous. It didn’t actually bother Rogue all that much, and she actually found it a little sad that McCoy faltered and stopped attempting a comforting smile. “I believe they will both be just fine. Kayla’s head wound was almost entirely healed by the time I saw to her, and other than a few burns across her shoulders, the only other thing wrong was her broken arm, which you know I set last night.”

“And the baby?” Rogue asked eagerly. Kayla had only been to see her doctor once before she revealed the news to Logan and Rogue, and that had just been a brief examination mostly to confirm the baby was there. She had another appointment booked for their return, but given the circumstances of their journey, it was unlikely Kayla was going to make it.

“The baby is fine,” McCoy confirmed. “About twelve weeks along, just as Kayla suspected, and as healthy as any fetus can be. He was not at all damaged by your little adventure with the car yesterday.”

“‘He’?” Rogue questioned sharply, just as Kayla had asked her about referring to the baby as ‘she’.

“Oh, I’m sorry, it’s still too early to determine the sex of the baby. I just think that calling him ‘it’ is objectifying him.”

Rogue chuckled and agreed, moving around him to help herself to her own breakfast foods, since McCoy didn’t seem to object. “We’re calling her a girl, at the moment, for pretty much the same reason,” she told him.

“Do they want a girl?”

“I don’t think they mind, so long as she or he is healthy,” Rogue said with a soft, slightly wistful smile. The idea of having a little brother or sister for her to look after and teach was a truly wonderful one. Snapping her attention back to the present, she asked, “What about Logan? How’s he doing?”

McCoy hummed over his pancakes for a moment, obviously considering his reply carefully. “I didn’t actually do anything for Logan last night,” he said. “As I believe you noticed, he had entered REM sleep by the time he reached the lab, and when x-rayed his neck, I couldn’t actually see anything wrong with it, apart from -” he stuttered to halt, then peered at Rogue over the top of his reading glasses. “Were you aware that Almost all of Logan’s skeleton is covered entirely in metal?”

Rogue thought about that. She didn’t think either Kayla or Logan had specifically told her that fact, but it was something that she’d been peripherally aware of. Just like many things about Kayla and Logan’s past, they were mentioned - neither of them specifically hid anything from her - but no true explanation was offered either. Luckily, McCoy didn’t need an explanation as he carried on talking.

“I hadn’t believed that level of integration was possible - still wouldn’t believe it, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes - and yet there it is! And Logan’s healing factor must be incredible because, metal plating aside, it was quite clear that his neck had been broken. But he’d healed it, and all of the resulting nerve damage even before he reached the medical lab! It’s truly astonishing.”

“Doc,” Rogue interrupted, putting a hand on his forearm to stop the ever increasing excited movement of his hand. “Is he alright?”

McCoy seemed thrown for a moment, staring at her hand on his arm for a long minute, before he returned his gaze to meet hers and nodded dumbly.

“Sorry,” Rogue muttered, drawing her hand back.

“No, I - no. It’s alright. I’m just not used to it,” he stuttered.

Rogue hesitated a moment, before laying her hand back on his forearm. “Your mutation kind of sucks,” she said baldly.

It startled a laugh out of McCoy, though, so she considered it a win, even if it had been a risky move. “I’ve never used quite those words to describe it before, but I find myself hesitant to argue with you. If you don’t mind me asking, what is your mutation?”

“Oh, I make a psychic copy of anyone I touch skin-to-skin,” Rogue said blithely, wondering if that would make McCoy shake her hand free of his arm. It didn’t. Instead, he looked thoroughly fascinated.

“Really?” he asked, leaning towards her, forgetting about his plate of pancakes and his news paper entirely.

Rogue laughed at his enthusiasm and started to believe that maybe - just maybe - Professor Xavier’s school really was a place where everyone could be accepted. When she spent the next hour or so talking to him about the finer points of her mutation, and then a better explanation of his, too - apparently there was more to it than just the blue fur - it certainly seemed the case.

Professor Xavier interrupted their conversation eventually, informing McCoy that he’d forgotten entirely about the chemistry class he was supposed to be teaching. Dr McCoy - who had become Hank to Rogue by then - made his apologies to both of them and left, the pancakes he’d been making for breakfast still left forgotten on the side.

The Professor tsked at them, and moved them to the trash, before directing Rogue to follow him to his office. “Although I am glad that Hank is making a friend in you, I do hope you won’t distract him from his food again. He’s never been particularly good at remembering to eat.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Rogue said, without really saying ‘sorry’. The conversation had been interesting, certainly, and Hank’s enthusiasm for the subject contagious, but she’d still been able to eat her breakfast.

“Not to worry, I’m sure Jean will bully him into eating lunch,” Professor Xavier continued cheerfully. “Did you sleep well last night?”

“Well enough,” Rogue replied guardedly. She still couldn’t quite get a grip on who Xavier was as a person. He came across as benevolent, and passionate for the mutant cause, but also somewhat too good to be true. Rogue had never been entirely self-serving, but she didn’t understand why anyone would put so much effort into building a school for mutants, with so little reward for it.

“Have you enjoyed what you’ve seen of the school?” he asked her.

Rogue shrugged, sinking into the seat opposite him. “I suppose. I haven’t seen much, other than the medical rooms, my bedroom, and the kitchen, so I haven’t really seen the school side of it yet.”

Professor Xavier smiled at her. “I can give you a tour, if you like? The majority of students are in lessons at the moment, and I would hate to disrupt their education, but I can show you the rest of the grounds.”

“You’re going to give me your ‘please join my school’ spiel again, aren’t you?” Rogue asked him wryly.

“Yes,” he agreed, smile not slipping in the slightest.

Rogue sighed, and pulled her feet up onto the chair to curl underneath her. She knew it was rude, but she felt vulnerable around Professor Xavier, and keeping her limbs curled together offered her some measure of security, juvenile as it might be. “I’m going where Kayla and Logan go,” she told him. “But - I don’t want to have to miss another year,” she confessed, sighing. “I’ve only got one more year of high school before I graduate, and I do want to graduate sooner rather than later.”

“You can study here until you chose to leave,” he offered. “There is nothing saying that you must stay here for the entire year, nothing stopping you from staying longer, if you wish. But this is an Institute for Higher Learning, and you must know that you are welcome to study here for as long as you are with us.”

Rogue considered this for a long moment, chewing on her bottom lip. “Is everyone here a mutant?”

“Yes.”

“Are they all like Hank?”

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to clarify that. Many of the students do have physical manifestations of their power, if that is what you’re asking, but similarly many of them do not.”

Rogue shook her head and said, “No, I meant, are they all so… welcoming?”

Professor Xavier gazed so penetratingly at her, Rogue would have said he was reading her mind, if she didn’t know better. “Some,” he allowed. “This might be a school for mutants, but it still a school. The teenagers here are much like teenagers anywhere else. I like to think that there is a sense of family here, and commonality between the students that other schools don’t offer, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t bullying.”

Rogue leant back on her chair, staring at the ceiling for a long while, watching the pattern of sunlight dance across it as the wind rustled the leaves of the tree outside the window. She would go where Kayla and Logan go. That was the only thing she had really decided. That, and that she would stay in contact with Remy at all costs. It was unlikely, then, that she’d be returning to her old school. What harm was there in considering Xavier’s offer?

“Alright, then,” she agreed. “Let’s have this tour, then.”

-xXx-

Logan was not a fan of waking up in unfamiliar places. If at all possible, he liked to wake up in a warm bed, in his house in Canada, with his wife curled up next to him. He liked the accompanying smell of home, and the relative safety of familiar surroundings. He did not like the cool rush of processed air, or the lingering stench of disinfectants and other chemicals.

Once he’d ascertained that he was alone in the room, Logan threw himself up and off the bed he’d been lying on, and glancing about to take in his surroundings as quickly as possible. Metal floor, walls, and ceiling. Medical sensors on a cart next to the bed he’d been lying on, no IV though. It wasn’t much of a bed, either; a thin padded layer over metal plank that rested on top of a steel frame that was secured to the floor. The room was lit by bright fluorescent lights that stung his eyes.

Aside from himself there were the scents of two, maybe three others recently in the room, the third older and staler than the first two, and was vaguely familiar. The newer two were not anything Logan recognised. Making for the door, he hissed in surprise when it opened automatically, and grunted again when it shut behind him without prompting.

There were more scents down here, enough that it was difficult to separate them out and count them. A lingering reminder that he hadn’t been alone and, apparently, whoever had taken him had taken Kayla and Rogue, too. The well loved smell of Kayla had faded almost entirely now, thanks to the constant whirring of the air conditioning, but the scent of Rogue lingered against one of the walls, as though she had leant against it heavily for a while.

Absently, he noted the dots on his chest, and ripped them off, trying to get a bearing for his surroundings. But it was all long, featureless metal corridors, with the smells that lingered heading in all directions without much of a hint as to what led where. Everything in Logan screamed at him to find his family and to get them out of there as soon as he could. He wouldn’t allow himself to even consider the possibility that they weren’t still alive.

He headed off at a light jog down the corridor, glancing about in a hope that he’d see something, smell something that would give an indication as to where he could go. The dwindling scent of Kayla and Rogue taunted him. Why had he remained unconscious for so long? Had he been drugged?

Logan caught sight of what he thought might be people at first, and ducked behind one of the corners. When there was no accompanying smell or sound, he looked again, and saw that they were instead a number of costumes, arranged in a semi-circle around what might have been another door, like the one he’d passed through earlier, or might just have been part of the design of the room. Peering closer, he saw that they were some kind of uniform, for both men and women, with a stylised  ‘X’ on the belt. The sign vaguely rang a bell, but Logan couldn’t think where he might have seen it before, and he was more preoccupied with finding his family and getting out of here - wherever he was.

Turning to head back down the corridor, he noticed that there was a slim closet with a number of jog pant and hoodies in it. Suddenly conscious of the fact that he was only wearing his pants - where had the rest of his clothes gone? - he grabbed a hoody and tugged it on.

Heading back along the corridor, a quiet whoosh caught his attention, and backed up against the wall again, keeping still as he listened to a couple of voices suddenly emerge from somewhere.

“I don’t understand why the Professor’s so eager to have them stay with us, it’s not like they want to, and I don’t see what we gain from having them here,” the first voice said. It was male, and rather pompous sounding, with an undercurrent of jealousy, as though the person whom it belonged to had been this ‘Professor’s’ favourite person, and had been pushed to one side.

“The Professor has his reasons, and you should know better by now than to doubt him,” a second voice replied soothingly. This one was female, and of a timbre that indicated it’s owner wasn’t easily phased. “Why do you not like them?”

“It’s not that I don’t-”

A door swished open, then shut behind them, cutting off any further conversation. Logan peered around the corner, and spotted a doorway of glowing light - presumably where the pair had come from. Hoping that this might be a way out, he entered, and startled again when the door shut behind him automatically. Logan wasn’t too fond of doors that responded without him specifically opening them. Combined with the strange environment, it gave him the distinct impression that he was being herded.

The room he’d entered was not a room exactly, rather it was a lift. When the doors opened again, it has into a hallway of sleek wood panelling, expensive décor, and polished wooden floors. There were hundreds of different scents here, but predominant among them - in his mind, anyway - was that of Rogue. That of family. There was no sign of Kayla, yet, but if he could track down Rogue, then that was the next part of his mission completed.

Following his nose, he raced down the corridor, noticing through glances out of the window that it was day time - probably before midday, but difficult to tell exactly - and that he was on the ground floor, which made for an easier escape. The sound of rushing feet pounding down a nearby staircase, distracted him from finding Rogue and his observations briefly, as he ducked behind a column and out of the strangers way.

They were gone as fast as they’d arrived, all of them teenagers, all of them a little strange. He didn’t recognise any of them, and though he couldn’t tell what it was, he could tell each of them had a mutation of some sort. Pushing that information aside as irrelevant, he carried on his tracking of Rogue. There, a doorway, nothing to distinguish it from the wall itself, with the exception of the door handle, and that held the scent of Rogue, fresh, the newest scent on the handle.

Without further hesitation, Logan barrelled into the room, shutting the door behind him as he unsheathed the claws of his other hand in preparation for a fight against whoever had Rogue. Once he took in his surroundings however, he pulled his claws back in, and glowered at the occupants of the room. The scent that he’d half recognised before, was Charles Xavier’s, he realised. This room - a study - stank of him, both old and new, and if that weren’t hint enough the man himself was sat behind a desk, staring at Logan with a raised eyebrow.

Rogue was sat opposite Professor Xavier, and she’d turned to look at him when he entered, not at all phased by his claws, his glower, or the snarl he offered both of them.

She turned away from Logan to face Professor Xavier and said, “Please tell me you did not put him in a different room from Kayla, with no indication as to where he was or where we might may be?” Her tone was so dry it was like weathering a desert storm, and Logan felt proud of her for it.

Without waiting for the Professor to answer, Rogue stood from her chair, moving around it and wrapping Logan in a brief, tight hug. He returned it, breathing in the smell of her alive and healthy, letting it push out all of the nightmare images that had flashed before his eyes. She stepped back soon enough, though, and indicated that Logan should take one of the other chairs opposite Xavier.

Before he sat however, there was the sound of more running footsteps along the corridor outside, and the door was once more flung open, this time to reveal trigger-happy the pilot, and an unknown female. They were, Logan realised, the owners of the voices that he’d heard when he was making his bid for escape.

“Logan’s missing!” Scott blurted as he crashed into the room, only to be brought up shot by the man he’d referred to, who was shooting him a vaguely amused look.

“You have a secret base hidden underneath a high school - which is just asking for trouble, by the way - and you don’t have surveillance?” Rogue asked, with a look of fantastic disbelief.

“There are cameras, we just haven’t-” Scott spluttered, but was cut off as Rogue muttered to herself.

“Trigger happy, and co-dependent.”

Logan snickered and didn’t try to hide the sideways look of approval he shot at Rogue. She grinned back at him.

“Glad you’re up and about again,” she told him.

“What happened?” he demanded to know. “I remember the tree falling, and being attacked by some kind of werewolf thing, then the car exploded and I think he used my head as a baseball.”

Rogue nodded. “Broke your neck,” she agreed. “Scared the shit out of me, or would’ve done if I hadn’t been so busy fending off Mr Werewolf. Friend of yours?”

“No idea,” Logan said with a shrug, still scowling. “Kayla?” he asked. He didn’t need to say anymore than her name for Rogue to understand what he meant.

“She’s mostly fine. Concussion for a bit, but that’s healed, and a broken arm. Hank - Dr McCoy, the guy who treated you - he reckons she’ll be out of it until late this afternoon. The break was a bad one. Straight forward, but painful.”

Logan tensed, his fists clenching before he realised he meant to.

“She’ll be fine,” Rogue insisted, moving closer to him instinctually, just as everyone else had leant away.

“The baby?” he asked gruffly, talking just to Rogue, but uncomfortably aware that they were the centre of attention and that the other three in the room were paying them very close attention.

Rogue smiled. “Also healthy. Hank did a quick scan once Kayla’s arm was seen to. Twelve weeks along, he reckons, and not at all damaged by the attack.”

Logan released the breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding and nodded gratefully.

“Damn fool idea keeping you in separate rooms. You were together when I left last night,” Rogue spat angrily, turning angry gaze on the others. “Not that they knew what the hell to do with you,” she added, with a nod in Logan’s direction and a fleeting, mischievous smile. Logan grunted in response.

“The room they were taken to before was an emergency room. When they’d both been seen to, they were moved to recovery rooms. You are correct however, it would have been better to keep Mr and Mrs Vadas in the same room,” Professor Xavier explained.

“Can it, Chuck,” Logan ordered. “You’ve had no problem calling me Logan up until now, don’t start going formal on me.”

Professor Xavier’s brows rose at the name ‘Chuck’ but he didn’t comment on it. Scott, on the other hand, stiffened at the perceived insult.

“Professor -” he started, but was again interrupted.

“It’s quite alright, Scott,” the Professor asserted.

Logan snorted and grinned maliciously at Scott, receiving an elbow in the ribs from Rogue for his efforts, although he didn’t miss her expression of quiet amusement.

“Do you still wish to have that tour of the school now, Rogue, or would you prefer to go and see your mother?” Professor Xavier continued.

Logan glanced sharply at Rogue, who met his gaze unflinchingly. “Don’t want to miss any more school,” she explained softly. “But only until you and Kayla move on. I’m not staying if you’re leaving.”

“Don’t know yet. Not until Kayla and the baby are in the clear,” Logan replied equally quietly, ever more aware of the sharp interest of the room’s other occupants.

Rogue frowned at him for a moment, before nodding decisively, and turning back to Xavier. “I’d like to see Kayla first, if you don’t mind. I still want that tour, but I’ll be happier if I see that Kayla’s alright for myself.”

Logan recognised the effort Rogue was making. While Rogue wasn’t too fond of these people either, he knew, she did still partially trust them, thanks to Emma’s advice, and presumably because they’d helped save her, Kayla, and himself the previous day. She also seemed to be pretty familiar with the doctor who had treated himself and Kayla.

Given all this, it wasn’t difficult to assume that the reason she wanted to see Kayla before the tour was for his benefit. Logan didn’t trust them, not one bit, and he wouldn’t trust anyone’s word that Kayla was alright until he saw her with his own eyes. But now that he had met up with Rogue again, he wasn’t about to let her out of his sight before he became a little more knowledgeable about his surroundings. Her agreeing to go and see Kayla first was her way of saying that he didn’t have to choose between them.

Professor Xavier agreed to Rogue’s suggestion without complaint, as though he too knew her reasoning - bloody mind reader, he probably did - and wheeled his way around them towards the door.

“If you’d be so kind as to oversee my Physics class, Scott,” Xavier said as they passed by, and Logan and Rogue shared another triumphant smile at Scott’s put out expression at that.

“Professor, are you sure -” Scott tried to protest.

“I’m perfectly safe,” Professor Xavier insisted, continuing down the corridor and towards the elevator without stopping to wait.

As they left Xavier’s office, Logan pulled Rogue against him briefly again, and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. She didn’t say anything, just smiled a little tightly at him. Logan suddenly realised that the hours between the accident and now must have been terrible for her, so he smiled back as comfortingly as he knew how. He waited for Rogue to pass through the doorway first, and shut it behind himself with one last malicious smirk at Scott.

-xXx-

Kayla had already woken when they got to her, talking pleasantly to Jean, who had given her a sling for her arm, and was now running through basic motor control tests to double check that the concussion hadn’t had any unfortunate side effects. Kayla lost attention immediately when Logan and Rogue appeared in the room, however.

She near flew across the room, straight into Logan’s arms, and Rogue watched, her heart overflowing with affection as they embraced. Logan was ever so careful of Kayla’s arm, and her stomach, though the baby had barely started to show. As careful as he was, he still managed to sweep her up into a kiss, and Rogue didn’t bother trying to hide her smile at that.

“I was so worried,” Logan murmured, quietly enough that Kayla and Rogue were likely the only ones who heard.

“I know, baby,” Kayla said, stroking his face, and kissing him briefly again. “Rogue said you’d probably be alright, but you hadn’t woken and you never don’t wake.”

At the mention of her name, Logan looked up at Rogue, and opened his arm to include her in the hug at almost exactly the same time Kayla did.

“My girls,” Logan breathed into their hair as the three of them huddled together.

After a few long moments, they did eventually part, although Logan didn’t move his arm from around Kayla’s waist, and looked unlikely to at any point in the near future. Similarly, Rogue didn’t feel as though she could put any significant amount of distance between herself and her parents. They’d been too close just a day before, the three of them stuffed into a cramped car for two days journey, and all of them gasping for a little time to themselves. Now, however, they couldn’t get enough of each other. They’d come so close to losing everything, Rogue figured, they needed to reaffirm that the people they loved the most were still alive.

“Would you like to move the reunion to somewhere more comfortable?” Professor Xavier suggested, and Jean hastily excused herself from the room.

“We need to talk about the attack,” Kayla told him firmly. “None of us think it was a random attack, but we all have different theories.”

Professor Xavier raised an eyebrow at her.

“Forgive me, Professor, but it doesn’t take a mind reader for me to know how my husband and my daughter’s minds work. Nor does it take a genius to realise that you know more than you have yet to tell us,” Kayla said.

The Professor sighed, and indicated they follow him out of the door and down the metallic corridors. “Please, Mrs Vadas, call me Charles.”

“Kayla, then,” she returned with a smile, but she wasn’t to be diverted. “Tell me what you know.”

They passed through a set of automatic doors and into what appeared to be some kind of conference room, with a projector set up at one end. Xavier rolled himself over to the computer, and turned on the projector, opening up a file named ‘Sabretooth’, and one named ‘Magneto’.

“The man who attacked you goes by the name Sabretooth,” the Professor explained, pulling up an image of the man who’d attacked him. “I’ve been unable to determine his origin, as the only records we have of him are in connection to Magneto, and two sightings of him three years ago, before he joined Magneto’s Brotherhood.”

“The Brotherhood of Mutants?” Rogue asked. She didn’t know the specifics, but Remy kept an ear close to the ground when it came to mutant affairs, and he’d made certain that she knew which groups she should stay away from.

“Yes,” Professor Xavier confirmed. “Have you run into them before?”

“No-o,” Rogue said, drawing the word out. “A… friend of ours, makes sure we know who to keep away from.”

Logan scowled at Rogue - this was the first he’d heard of it - and Kayla rolled her eyes at his reaction, squeezing his hand soothingly.

Xavier watched the interaction closely, but didn’t comment on it, instead turning back to his explanation. “When I was a young man, I met Erik Lehnsherr, who could create magnetic fields and control metal. He was convinced that baseline humans would never accept mutants, and he became angry and vengeful. He became Magneto, and founded the Brotherhood. The current members that we are aware of, are Toad, who has mutated to incorporate the characteristics of his codename, Mystique, who can change form at will, and Sabretooth, whom you’ve met.”

Kayla stepped away from Logan, and peered closely at the enhanced picture of Sabretooth. Frowning at it, she asked Xavier, “Can you give him a hair cut? Give him normal eyebrows, and shave off most of his beard?”

“Certainly,” the Professor acquiesced, fiddling with something on the computer and doing as Kayla asked.

She gasped as the picture cleared up, and turned to look at Logan. “Oh, baby, I am so sorry,” she said, stepping back into his embrace.

Logan automatically wrapped his arms around her in a hug, but didn’t understand what it was she apologising for. “Kayla? Kayla, darlin’, what is it?”

Kayla turned back to face the image, and seemed to be struggling with tears. “That man. He is - or used to be - Victor Creed. Your half brother, Logan.” She didn’t say anything else, but she didn’t need to, the air was heavy with the words that weren’t said.

Rogue didn’t know everything about their past, but she knew bits and pieces. She knew that Logan and Creed had fought side-by-side as brothers in blood and in arms for over a century. She knew that they had parted on bad terms - Stryker’s fault, she thought, but wasn’t certain - and that Creed had gone on to use Kayla against Logan somehow, into tricking him to go through with the experiment to bond the adamantium to his skeleton. She didn’t know it all, but she knew enough to know that there were a lot of mixed feelings towards Creed. Rogue didn’t think Logan or Kayla wanted the other man dead, but he had been one of the men they’d been worried about tracking them down.

“Does Magneto have any link to Stryker?” Logan asked next.

“Definitely not,” Professor Xavier told them. “Stryker is one of the many men that Erik would like very much to put six feet under. His experiments on mutants - more specifically mutant children - were among the many things that have spurred Erik into taking action.”

“Why’s Creed working for him? And what does he want with us?” Logan asked.

“Stryker turned you and your brother against each other,” Kayla filled in. “He was the reason you turned away after so long working together, he was the one that had Creed pretend to kill me, he was the one that turned what might have been a simple disagreement between brothers into a vendetta against one another. And neither you, nor Creed, had any clue what he was doing until it was too late. I believe that you are the only person in the world that Creed has ever loved, and Stryker is the one that taught him to hate you. It doesn’t surprise me that Creed joined the man who promised to kill him eventually.”

Rogue hesitated on the edge of the moment, emotion thick in the back of her throat and clogging any words she might have thought to say. She hadn’t realised that Stryker’s attack on Logan had been so personal. And though there was little doubt in her mind that Creed was not a good person - all of his actions sounded all colours of psychopathic - there was something very tragic about having his emotions twisted to hate the one person he had trusted. It made her very grateful that Kayla existed. Without her, Rogue supposed that Logan would be much the same as Creed was now.

“Why did he attack me? Try and kill me?” Logan asked hoarsely. He had no true memories of Creed, only what Kayla had told him, but it took more than a bullet to the brain to erase the emotions that the word ‘brother’ sent avalanching through him.

Kayla glanced at Professor Xavier, and shook her head. “Creed has almost identical powers to your own, and he knows exactly how much abuse you can survive. If he actually wanted to kill you, I suspect that you’d be dead now,” she told him.

“But why the attack?” Logan insisted. “What does he want from me?”

It was Professor Xavier that replied this time. “I doubt that it was Sabretooth that decided to go after you. If he is indeed your half brother, it would be strange, would it not, for him to go after you now, of all times, when he has left you alone for the better part of seven years?”

“What do you mean, ‘now of all times’?” Rogue asked.

“Magneto has started working on something,” Xavier said. “I don’t know what it is, but it is clear that he has some kind of plan that he has started putting into action. And since Sabretooth works for him, I find it hard to believe that it is mere coincidence that he chose now to go after you.”

“You think that his plans include us?” Rogue asked, and the Professor nodded in agreement.

“I theorise that Sabretooth mentioned his past with Stryker to Magneto, which led to a conversation about yourself, Logan. Magneto saw whatever opportunity he is now working towards, and sent Sabretooth to bring you in.”

“Are we certain that it’s Logan Magneto’s after?” Kayla asked. “A number of things have happened lately that could explain why he wants any of us.”

Professor Xavier turned to look at her, then invited her to explain.

“Well, there’s the baby, for one. Maybe that explains why Creed came after us now. It could be part of his personal grudge against Logan, or it could be that Magneto’s plans have need of an unborn child who he knows will be a mutant. Then there’s the incident with Carol in Boston - perhaps Magneto heard about it, and something about it means he wants Rogue, instead.”

“Forgive me, my dear, but what incident in Boston is it that you’re talking about?” Xavier asked.

Kayla hesitated, and looked across at Rogue. She had assumed that Professor Xavier had been keeping enough of an eye on their family that he had at least heard rumours of the events with Carol, but now she considered it, they had been very successful in keeping the entire situation under wraps, with only their family and Remy really being aware of what was happening. Before the attack on their vehicle it was arrogant to assume that Xavier had any particular interest in them, above any other mutant family who had turned down the chance to study at his school.

Now, it was up to Rogue as to whether to tell the story of not. Kayla had only been present for half of it, and Logan none of it, so their information relied on what Rogue and Emma had told them about it. There was little doubt in their minds that Rogue had shared everything that she felt comfortable with sharing with them, but it remained her tale to tell, and neither of them would begrudge her for not sharing it. Or only sharing part of it.

Rogue considered for a moment, glancing between her parents and Professor Xavier, and taking her time reaching a decision. Carol’s attack, though by its very nature had been exploitive, was still something Rogue considered very personal. Kayla and Logan knew most - if not all - of the details, though, and she did trust Professor Xavier, even if she was still wary of him.

With a sigh, she tapped her forehead. “It’ll be easer and faster if you just look,” she told him.

Slowly, so as not to alarm Rogue, the Professor rolled closer to her, and placed his hands in the air to either side of her head. “Just relax,” he told her. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

Rogue raised her eyebrows at that line, rolling her eyes in Logan’s direction, and grinning as a sniggered in reply. Then she closed her eyes and slipped easily into a meditative state. With the amount of damage Carol had done to her mind, even though Rogue was mostly recovered from it now, all of her memories attached to the blonde burned bright and fiercely. She led Charles to them - and, in her head, she could not think of him as ‘Professor’ - and helped him understand how to look through them chronologically.

Though she sensed his distress over what he was looking at, Charles was also feeling a certain amount of delight. Feeling as though she deserved something in return for what she was showing him, Rogue prodded her unspoken question at him, as to what had him so pleased.

It was her mental prowess, apparently. Charles had met very few minds that were aware enough of themselves to be able to really show a stranger around, and the majority of those he had met were telepaths themselves.

Building mind palaces, he told her, beaming like a school boy. That’s what some refer to it as. A way of storing memories in pristine condition, if you have the patience for it. You don’t have to be a mutant and, judging from what I know of your powers, a lot of this is you trying make sense of your power, of trying to categorise it in a way that gives you some amount of control. A defence, as well, of course, against this Carol.

As Charles grew more and more enthused about the idea, his mental projection changed to accommodate that. He walked - as much as a mental projection did - but he was younger than before, too. His face had become what it must have been forty years ago. Still an adult, but still child like, to math his child like excitement. He also had a full head of thick brown hair, which Rogue found vaguely amusing.

Charles, sensing her amusement, gave the mental equivalent of a huff, before he thanked her for the memories and withdrew from her mind. Rogue returned her sense of self to the room shortly afterwards, staying long enough to check that everything had been left as it was when they arrived. Not that she didn’t trust Charles, but he might have knocked things askew in his excitement, and she was still repairing the damage from Carol’s break for freedom.

“Is that really how you looked when you were younger?” Rogue asked before she could think to stop herself.

Professor Xavier gave her a long suffering stare, that didn’t entirely hide his amusement. “Yes,” he told her. “Back to the matter at hand, if you don’t mind.”

“Ah, yes, Sabretooth.”

“Magneto,” Kayla added, looking curiously between Xavier and Rogue, but not vocalising whatever questions she had.

“I don’t think the events in Boston have any affect on whatever it is Magneto wants from any of you,” the Professor said. “I could be wrong, of course, but with the exception of yourselves, Ms Frost, Mr LeBeau, and Ms Danvers, I don’t think anybody else knows what happened. From what I was able to gather about Carol’s personality, I also find it unlikely that she divulged the information to Magneto. Similarly, as profound the news might be to you, it is unlikely that the discovery of your pregnancy, Kayla, is what spurred Sabretooth into action.”

“So you definitely think it’s me he’s after?” Logan asked.

Professor Xavier shook his head. “I don’t know. That would be my best guess at the moment, but I’m afraid that’s all it is at this point - guesses.”

“We should go,” Logan said.

Rogue and Kayla both turned to stare blankly at Logan, wondering whether he meant leaving the room, or leaving Westchester.

“I want to get home,” he added.

“Don’t be petulant,” Kayla murmured into his air, keeping her voice low enough that both Rogue and Xavier realised that they weren’t supposed to hear, although it was inevitable in the quiet of the room they were in. “We’re safer here than we would be in our house.”

“I don’t like it,” Logan complained. “Two years, we’ve been working on that house, making it perfect for us, and I want to go back. It’s home.”

“Logan, baby, your safety comes first. You know that if we head home now, we’re open to another attack much like the last one. He broke your neck. If you had any other mutation, you’d be dead.”

Logan pulled her into a close hug, burying his face in the crook of her neck. “I’m alive, darlin’.”

“I know baby, but I’m scared for you. Scared for us. Please, let us stay here at least until we know what it is Magneto wants from you,” Kayla begged him.

“Until your arm’s fixed,” he bartered.

Kayla cupped his cheek with one hand and kissed him softly. “How about, we stay here until we decide otherwise? We can decide to leave when the time feels right.”

“Time feels right now,” Logan muttered mutinously, although he agreed to Kayla’s terms, and kissed her again briefly before letting her go enough to face Rogue and Xavier.

“Do you think you can work out what it is Magneto wants with Logan?” Kayla asked the Professor.

“I will do my best,” he promised. “Until you chose to leave, a bedroom has already been prepared for you, and I sent Scott and Ororo to your car, and to your house, to bring back the things you’d need.”

Kayla thanked the Professor for his generosity, and both of them ignored the way Logan snarled at the thought of Scott in his home.

Chapter Text

After they had eaten lunch, back in the kitchen and dining room where Rogue had met Dr McCoy earlier, the Professor finally got around to giving her the tour he’d promised. By waiting, however, it did have the added bonus of allowing Logan and Kayla to go round with them. Logan stayed quiet for most of it, sticking close to Kayla’s side, and only occasionally saying anything. Most of what he did say was murmured into Kayla’s ear, and it reminded Rogue of when she’d first seen the two of them together in Mack’s bar.

Kayla was as intrigued by the idea of a high school for mutants now as she had been the previous year when Professor Xavier had first visited them. She kept up the majority of the conversation with him, obviously delighted by the potential of such a school, and eager to explore every part of the facilities that he mentioned. It was only Logan’s steadying presence at her side, reminding Kayla of his wish to return home, that kept her from offering her assistance as another faculty member, if one was needed.

Rogue felt largely apathetic towards the school. It was a lot better than either of the high schools she had attended, or any of the schools she went to in lower grades, and as a consequence she felt out of place there. It felt too good for her, as though it were a school designed for kids with rich parents, children who lead a privileged life style. It was not that Rogue didn’t think she deserved a good education, just that the grandeur of the place felt… too much for her. She found herself wishing to be back at her school in Canada, chatting with Eliza and avoiding making eye contact with Yoshida.

After the tour of the school, Professor Xavier led Rogue to what appeared to be a conservatory or greenhouse. It had several rows of tables and chairs, with a desk and a whiteboard at one end of the room. Storm was teaching a class of about twenty students, a map of the world pinned up behind her.

“How may I help you, Professor?” Storm asked, smoothly interrupting her own lecture when the class, as one, stopped paying attention when the doors opened and turned to stare at the newcomers.

“My apologies for the interruption, Miss Monroe,” the Professor said. “Do you have room for one more in your class?”

It was with some amusement that Rogue watched Miss Monroe’s expression to that question. While it was clear that that dark skinned lady respected Professor Xavier, and that she would do nothing to undermine his authority, especially in front of their students, it was also clear that she found the question utterly ridiculous. Not only were there several empty chairs, but Xavier was the Principle. He could move around any students from one class to the next as he wished to.

“There is always room for one more,” Storm replied smoothly, smiling in welcome at Rogue, and perhaps letting the smile change to mean something else when she saw Rogue’s knowing look.

“Excellent!” the Professor said, pleased. “I do hope you enjoy your stay here, Miss Vadas. You know how to reach me if you need any assistance.”

Rogue nodded at him, smothering another smile at his choice of wording. Not - you know where to find me - because why would she need to find him when she just needed to start shouting in her head again? She turned to look at Kayla and Logan before the three of them left, tilting her head in question.

Logan didn’t react much, blinking at her, and the corners of his mouth and eyes tightening a little. Kayla smiled encouragingly at Rogue, and nodded, although she too seemed more tense when they were escorted away by the Professor. A hot curl of tension fell across Rogue’s shoulders as they moved out of sight, but she squared her shoulders and turned back to face all the curious faces without making a fuss. She didn’t like not knowing the school well enough to find Kayla and Logan instantly if she needed to. But there was nothing she could do about it at that moment in time.

As though sensing Rogue’s desire to make as little of a scene as possible, Storm - or Miss Monroe, Rogue supposed, since she was currently her teacher - passed her a blank exercise book and a pen, and let her settle into a chair at the back. She paused long enough to inform Rogue that if she needed help with the work, or just someone to talk to, her door was always open to her.

Rogue thanked her, but otherwise ignored the offer. Whilst it was nice of Miss Monroe, Rogue had Kayla to talk to, if she needed, as well as Logan and Remy, and even Eliza. She didn’t need to talk to a stranger with unknown mental defence capabilities who was colleagues with two telepaths. Although the offer to help her with the course work was nice of her, even if Rogue had only missed a couple of days of schooling.

Once Miss Monroe returned to her lecture, Rogue turned her attention to the students sat around her. There was some range in age, as Professor Xavier had mentioned, but the majority of those present were teenagers, all looking to be about seventeen or eighteen years old. To her left were two girls, who kept darting glances her way, and were passing a sheet of paper between themselves. When they saw her looking, one grinned, and the other offered her a finger-wiggle of a wave.

To Rogue’s right there was a boy who looked a little bit younger than everyone else. He was staring holes in the back of the head of the guy sat in front of them, but he too grinned at when he saw her looking.

The boy that he was staring at, as though sensing their attention, glanced over his shoulder and winked. Then he moved both of his hands behind his chair, a lighter appearing in one hand. He flicked it a couple of times before it lit up, and when it did, the tiny flame rapidly grew into a ball of fire about the size of a baseball, or a bit larger. The lighter disappeared again, and he cradled the ball of fire awkwardly in the palms of his hands, behind his back.

He played with it a moment, teasing flickering strands of fire from it, and chasing them with his fingertips through the air. Rogue watched, totally enraptured at the amount of control he displayed. Although the angle must be awkward for him - the back of the chair a little too wide for his arms to be anything other than uncomfortable - the fire never got out of control, and there wasn’t even a trace of singed clothing or skin.

The boy next to Rogue seemed to lose patience with his friend’s showing off, sitting up straighter, and stretching one hand across the desk, in the direction of the fire ball. There was a pale shimmer in the air, like a line drawn between his fingertips and the ball of fire. Then, quick as a flash, the fire ball froze entirely, the flame instantaneously becoming ice, as impossible as that sounded. The boy in front no longer had any control over it, and the ball went crashing to the ground, little shards of ice scattering across the floor.

“John,” Miss Monroe scolded, turning her attention away from the display for a moment.

The boy apologised quickly, and threw a scowl over his shoulder at the boy who had spoilt his fun. He received a smug grin in reply.

Rogue rolled her eyes at their behaviour. It seemed that, mutants or not, privileged or not, one teenage boy acted just as any other would. She glanced back to the girls on her left, and shared an amused look with them, one smothering a giggle with her hand, the other also rolling her eyes.

A hand reached over to Rogue’s part of the table, and she turned her attention back to the boy sat next to her. His hand glowed ever so slightly for a brief moment, before he lifted it and moved it away, to reveal a small ice sculpture. Rogue studied a moment, before looking up at the gift giver.

“My name’s Bobby,” he told her quietly.

Rogue smiled, picking up the block of ice and running her fingers over the contours, scolding herself for being surprised when her fingers came away wet. She thought it was possibly supposed to be a rose, though it was hard to tell.

“Rogue,” she told him quietly, replacing the ice.

On her other side, the girls seemed to take that as invitation to introduce themselves. One was Jubilee, the other Kitty. As they did so, they both gave minor shows of what their powers were. Jubilee offered Rogue the ‘V’ peace sign, a bolt of electricity jumping between her fingertips as she did so. Kitty leant through the table to search for something in her bag.

There was an expectant pause when Jubilee, Kitty, and Bobby all watched Rogue. They were clearly waiting for her demonstration of what her power was, but Rogue just shrugged, and wriggled her gloved hands significantly. They seemed a little disappointed, but it got the message across that she wasn’t about to show them what her power was when in the back of a lesson and supposedly paying attention.

“Welcome to mutant high,” Bobby murmured under his breath, before all four of them scrambled to catch up with the notes on the board that they’d missed.

After their geography lesson finished, Rogue was also introduced to the boy who had been sat in front of them and had been playing with fire. Kitty, Jubilee, Bobby and John were all going to a chemistry lesson next with Dr McCoy and, since Rogue hadn’t been told what to do after her lesson with Miss Monroe, she followed them.

“So what’s your power?” Jubilee asked her excitedly, bouncing in the balls of her feet as they walked to their next lesson.

“Jubes,” Kitty said, prodding her friend. “Some people don’t like talking about it, remember?”

“It’s ok,” Rogue said, shaking off her concern. “I don’t mind my power. It’s other people who it bothers.” She paused, cast a glance about the group and shrugged. Who cared if they shunned her for it? Better to just say it straight away, and let them deal with whatever issues they might have about the can’t-touch thing. “When I touch people, I steal their energy. I get an echo of them in my head and, if they’re a mutant, I get an echo of their ability.”

Bobby and John both stopped short at that. Rogue came to a halt as well, turning to look at them uncertainly.

“Dude,” John said, voice low. “That is. So. Awesome!”

Bobby shook his head and grinned. “You get to play around with other people’s powers? That must be really cool. I wish I could borrow other people’s powers sometimes.”

Rogue smiled, and tried to pretend she wasn’t at least a little relieved. She didn’t want to get into the details of her power worked, so didn’t correct the misapprehension that she only ‘borrowed’ powers. Or the idea that using other people’s powers were cool. Most of the time, immediately after she touched someone, she couldn’t help but use their powers. And she got the full brunt of them at once, rather than the gradual increase of energy that was the natural progression of a mutation, which meant that she had none of the control others had.

Kitty hooked her arm through Rogue’s, happy to ignore and drag her away from the excited babble of the two boys. “I don’t know if it’s a mutant thing, or whether there’s something in the water here, or what, but everyone just sort of blurts out whatever they’re thinking all the time. So don’t be offended by the general weirdness.”

“It probably has more to do with the telepaths you have wandering around,” Rogue remarked dryly, before lightening up a little. “And it takes more than a few strange remarks to offend me. Weird and wonderful, right?”

“Sure,” Kitty agreed. “Just don’t say the ‘wonderful’ bit too loudly or too often. Bobby and John’s heads are big enough without any encouragement.”

Rogue sniggered at that, and settled down in the seat next to Kitty when they got to the chemistry lab. It was on the first floor, but apart from the rows of desks, and the projector at the front, it looked much more like it was part of the secret-base in the basement than a classroom. When Rogue caught Kitty’s eye, the younger girl just nodded sagely and remarked, “Weird,” again.

Once the class had all filed in, and they were only waiting for their teacher to arrive, all four of Rogue’s new acquaintances turned to look at her eagerly, and she was confused as to what they were expecting. When Dr McCoy walked in, however, it soon became clear that they’d just been waiting for her reaction. There was a general sense of disappointment when Rogue greeted him in a friendly manner, and didn’t react at all to the blue fur.

“Ah, Rogue, good to see you again! Charles mentioned you might be joining this lesson. I see you’ve made some friends, I am glad that you’re settling in well.”

“Thanks, Hank - or should I call you Dr McCoy?”

“Dr McCoy whilst I’m teaching you, if you don’t mind,” he corrected gently. “Do you have everything you need?”

Dr McCoy took longer making sure Rogue was settled in than Miss Monroe had, and after Rogue’s non-reaction to his appearance, the rest of the class rapidly lost interest.

The lesson itself didn’t seem to take very long at all. They were still doing introductions to the topics they’d be covering that semester, so Rogue hadn’t missed much, and what she had, Kitty was more than happy to help fill her in on. Chemistry wasn’t exactly a strong point, but with as good a teacher as Dr McCoy was, and with a lab partner who knew what was going on, and wanted to do the work, Rogue was confident she would do better here than she ever had before. It was almost disappointing to remind herself that she was probably only going to stay for a few weeks.

It was towards the end of the lecture when Kitty said something that reminded Rogue sharply of Eliza. She couldn’t say what it was, exactly, but it reminded Rogue that she hadn’t spoken to her best friend for almost a week now, between the painful good byes in New Orleans and the rather eventful journey home they’d had. So as soon as the class was over, she excused herself from the others, and returned to her room to retrieve her mobile.

Normally, Rogue would just fire off a text, but given how long it had been since she’d talked to Eliza, she thought she’d actually phone her. She was glad that she did, because the number rang off as unrecognised. Scowling at her phone, Rogue tried again with the same result. That was strange, but she quickly talked herself down from worrying too much. Sabretooth’s attack on them had happened miles away from home, and had almost definitely been aimed at Logan. There was no reason for Eliza to be dragged into it. She’d probably broken her phone, or lost it or something. That would explain why Rogue hadn’t heard from her.

Remembering that there was a computer in the communal area she’d passed that morning, Rogue made her way back there and logged into her email account. The only person she really emailed was Emma, and she’d seen her Aunt not too long ago, so there weren’t any new messages in her inbox. But that wasn’t why she was there. Doing her best not to broadcast her worry, Rogue typed up a quick message to Eliza, with a brief explanation as to why she wasn’t back at school, but avoiding most of the details. She also included her mobile number, in case Eliza didn’t have it any more.

Knowing there was little more that she could do, other than worry, Rogue logged back out and headed out towards the basketball court, where Bobby and John had said they were headed after Chemistry. She wasn’t interested in playing, but their conversation might distract her from her concern about Eliza.

-xXx-

Leaving Rogue in the conservatory-cum-classroom felt rather as though it were her first day of school, and they were leaving a four year old to fend for herself for the first time. It was an absurd reaction to have, of course, not least because Rogue was twenty years old, and had spent well over a year without any kind of adult support whatsoever. Nonetheless, both Kayla and Logan felt distinctly uneasy about not having Rogue within visual range. Neither of them said anything about it, but they moved closer together, and both of them were tenser than they’d been before, ready to react immediately.

“She will be perfectly safe,” Professor Xavier attempted to reassure them, not having to use his mutation to sense their discomfort.

Kayla smiled uneasily, but didn’t argue, and Logan grunted wordlessly.

“Come, I will show you the less - ah - public side of the school.”

They had already seen some of the underground complex, but that was mostly just the medical centre and one of the meeting rooms. Logan, of course, had seen a little more than that, but he had been quietly shepherded up into the main body of the school before he had seen that much. This time, Professor Xavier showed them around properly.

He started with the secret jet that he had visited them in the previous year, and which had flown to their rescue the previous day. It was nicknamed the blackbird, and the basketball courts slid open and shut for it to take off and land. Logan eyed the jet distrustfully, and was happy when they moved on from there.

The underground was a veritable labyrinth of corridors, and gave the impression of the possibility of literally anything being just around the corner. Besides the medical centre and the meeting rooms, there were a number of labs, a small gym with a much wider range of equipment than the one open to students, a shooting range, and a large spherical room that Professor Xavier proudly proclaimed to be cerebro. Neither Kayla nor Logan had any idea what ‘cerebro’ was, but by this point they were both familiar enough with the Professor that, given long enough, he would happily explain what it was under his own steam.

“The brainwaves of mutants are different from those of average human beings. This device amplifies my power, allowing me to locate mutants across great distances. That’s how I picked up your conversation with Rogue last summer,” the Professor added, with a nod at Kayla.

“Why don’t you use it to find Magneto?” Logan asked, as though it were the simplest thing in the world.

The Professor did not react to Logan’s condescending tone, explaining simply, “I have been trying. Magneto has a way of shielding himself from it. He was among those who helped me build it.”

“Is there no way of advancing cerebro to counter his attempts to block you?” Kayla asked curiously.

“Perhaps. If I knew how Magneto was blocking me. But even then, perhaps not.”

Logan shared a glance with Kayla, not particularly amused by how vague the older man could be when he tried. He refrained from remarking, however, when Kayla just grinned cheekily at him.

There was one more room in the confusion of corridors below Xavier’s mansion, and it was vast and empty.

“We haven’t got it up and running yet,” Professor Xavier told them, almost boyishly enthusiastic about it, “But we hope to turn this room into a ‘danger room’. There are various projectiles and platforms that can be utilised, as well as a holographic layer that will add to the effect, once we’ve ironed out the last few glitches.”

“What’s it do?” Logan asked.

“It’s a practice room, essentially. We can set up a series of parameters depending on whether an individual or a group is entering, and what sort of skill level they’re at, and then put them in an appropriate scenario that will test their abilities.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?” Kayla questioned, frowning.

Professor inclined his head, but did not agree outright. “It is not designed to kill,” he told her. “The universal parameters are such that, if anyone within the danger room is critically hurt, the program would power down and an alarm triggered. However, the chances of minor wounds are high.”

“And you want students to use this?” Kayla demanded, outraged.

“Good heavens, no!” Xavier hastened to reassure her. “It is for the X-Men only. If one of my students was also a member of the X-Men, then they would certainly allowed to use it, but the students of my institute are here to learn. For a lot of them that learning involves learning to trust that they are safe and aren’t about to be prosecuted for an integral part of their being that it is impossible for them to change. Putting them in a danger room scenario would have the opposite effect, I’m sure.”

Logan held up a hand to halt the flow of words, and asked when the Professor finally came to a stop. “You’re going to have to explain ‘X-Men’, bub, cause that means nothing to me.”

The Professor hesitated, glancing between Kayla and Logan, before nodding firmly, probably more to himself than them. “The X-Men are a group of… vigilantes, I suppose we must be called. Mutants, who are fighting for a better world. A world where humans and mutants can live side by side without the fear and anger we see today. It is a pipe dream, more likely than not, but if that dream inspires us to stop one more mutant from being shunned, or experimented on, or killed, then it must be something to aim for.

“Practically speaking, what this means is that we are acting as defence between humans and mutants. We’re trying to stop both humans attacking mutants, and mutants attacking humans. Magneto and his brotherhood are just some of the mutants that we help defend humans from, just as Friends of Humanity are just one group that we are trying to protect mutant kind from.”

“Sounds like a tireless job,” Kayla remarked softly, in a tone that fell just short of respect. She wanted to get behind Xavier’s ideal - a world where man and mutant could live in harmony - but she had seen too much to believe it possible. She could still admire what they were trying to do, of course.

“Sometimes,” Professor Xavier agreed. “It has its awards too, though,” he added with a smile. Neither Kayla nor Logan could interpret exactly what he meant by that, but neither of them tried too hard either. Xavier was a different kind of man from them. What he fought for were not the same things they fought for, even if there were many similarities.

Kayla regarded the ‘danger room’ for a moment or two longer, before shaking her head. World peace or not, there was no way that she could really agree the idea behind that design. Training was one thing, but what they were proposing to do with the danger room was scary on several levels. It would clearly have the capacity to kill those in it, and Kayla would hate to see the day its protocols broke down and it wasn’t forced to stop.

When she glanced up to catch Professor Xavier’s gaze, there was knowledge in his eyes, and Kayla knew that he was aware of what she was thinking. Whether it was because of his psychic powers, or simply his ability to read people’s expressions and body language was impossible to say. It was enough to know that he knew she disapproved of the danger room. It would probably have no effect whatsoever on whether or not they finished building the room, but perhaps it would make them a little more cautious in its design.

“I have kept you quite long enough, I’m sure,” Xavier told them with that curious, not-quite-bland smile he had that was all courtesy and politeness, and might be saying a million more things at once if one knew how to read it. “Allow me to show you your rooms.”

They caught the lift up to the second floor, and bumped into Jean on their way to Kayla and Logan’s rooms. The red head had a message about the running of the school for Professor Xavier, and offered to continue showing Kayla and Logan around in his stead.

Before the Professor left them, Logan extracted one last promise from him.

“Whatever it is Magneto wants with you or your family, Logan, I will find it out.”

Logan shook his head at that, not entirely satisfied. He wanted answers, now, but he knew that there were no answers to be had at that point in time. He only hoped that the Professor would find out what they were looking for before Magneto found them.

“What do you think of the Institute?” Jean asked them, walking them down the corridor.

“It’s very impressive,” Kayla replied. “You have to admire what Charles is trying to do here.”

Jean paused at their door, tilting her head at them in a strange, almost bird-like fashion. There was no subtlety in her, when she stretched out her power to see what others were thinking. “Trying?” she asked, when she didn’t find the answers she was looking for, and was reluctant to probe deeper.

Kayla smiled at her, though it was some degrees cooler than she normally gave to strangers. “A high school for mutants? Merely starting a new high school is ambitious enough, but add mutant powers to the vortex of hormones and high emotions? On top of  that, Charles seems to think he’s trying to save the world in secret at the same time… yes, I think ‘trying’ is an apt description.”

“Your rooms,” Jean said, briefly pointing out where the bathroom was, the door connecting to Rogue’s room, and the fact that Scott and Ororo had brought as much luggage as they thought the Vadases might need. Once she had done so, she returned to her previous line of questioning. “You don’t think that the Professor will succeed?”

“In running a high school for mutants? Perhaps? I hope so,” Kayla added with a slightly wistful smile. “But as I understand it, the number of students increases each year. At the moment, the Institute seems to be working splendidly. I’m just worried that as more and more students join, and the faculty has to be extended, that something is going to go wrong. It would only take one nasty idea whispered in enough impressionable minds to begin a riot. Add to that the school is on top of a secret base, and run by a group that I’m sure has any number of enemies wanting its destruction… I just don’t want to know what kind of collateral damage might occur.”

“You’re awfully pessimistic,” Jean remarked quietly. There was an undertone of disapproval, and Kayla remembered what the Professor had said about Jean, Scott, and the other faculty members. They were among the first that he had taken in and trained. That they had spent the last five years, probably closer to ten, in the man’s company, working for and with him to help him accomplish a dream that had not originally been their own showed an extraordinary amount of loyalty.

Kayla sighed and tried to think a way of rephrasing it so as to not offend Jean any further. “If anyone could do it, I’m sure it would be the Professor,” she said. “I don’t doubt that he is the best of men, and that he has the intelligence and enthusiasm to succeed where others would fail. I just think that there is almost too much good in him. That he expects the best from everyone, and doesn’t always factor in how petty and cruel humans can be, without the intention of being mean.”

“He has seen worse things than you or I,” Jean replied. “He’s not naïve, no matter what you might think.”

Kayla sighed again, and didn’t try and explain. She didn’t think that Charles was naïve. She just… thought he was too good. There was no other way that she could think of to phrase it. Just that sometimes you need someone who is rough around the edges, who is practical and perhaps a bit too pessimistic, just to balance out the optimism.

Realising that she had just been thinking a description of Logan, Kayla smiled to herself, reaching out a hand to Logan, who took it and squeezed it in his own without question.

“What’s your power?” Logan asked.

Jean raised an eyebrow at him. “I’m telekinetic. I can move things with my mind.”

Logan raised an eyebrow right back, the hand that had been holding Kayla’s now going around her waist to pull her against his side. “Oh yeah?” he challenged.

The bird-like tilt of her head was back again, their bags chasing themselves into the closet, before the door banged shut. “Yeah,” Jean agreed with a smug smile. “I also have some telepathic ability.”

Kayla kept her expression as neutral as possible as that. She didn’t like the fact that there were so many psychic mutants wandering around. Emma had taught her as well as she could how to keep others out of her mind, but while Kayla trusted her sister unquestioningly, and the Professor to some degree as well, she did not trust Jean. There was nothing wrong with the other woman, but Kayla felt uneasy around her. As though her shadow might come to life and attack.

“I’m nowhere near as powerful as the Professor, but he’s teaching me to develop it,” Jean continued.

“Is that part of the high school curriculum?” Kayla asked, suddenly curious. “Learning how to control and develop your powers?”

There was a moment that was probably only a second or two, but seemed to stretch on for some minutes where Jean struggled to decide whether she was offended by the question, before thankfully deciding on not offended. Whatever else Kayla might be, she was a teacher and eager to learn about different methods of transferring knowledge.

“Not officially,” Jean told her. “Most students can choose whether or not they do so, although there are some where extra lessons are necessary in order for them not to be a danger to themselves and others.”

“And how do you do that?” Kayla questioned. “Are they one-on-one tutorials, are they part of the lesson plan, or are they considered extracurricular?”

“Darlin’,” Logan interrupted, squeezing her briefly to remind her of where they were. Kayla didn’t need to look at him to know that he was hiding his amusement in her hair. She pinched him playfully in the side, biting back her own grin when his muscles tensed to stop him from squirming. Logan was not particularly ticklish, and could fight the reflex for as long as he put his mind to it, but Kayla knew his soft spots.

Jean’s smile morphed into something softer, kinder, as she watched their interaction. “I don’t mind the questions,” she assured them. “Although I can’t really adequately answer them. Scott and the Professor are the ones who go through the rosters and do the entrance interviews.”

“There are entrance interviews?”

“Not as a means of sorting through who can attend or not - it’s an open application - but to get a better idea of what each individual student needs, an interview is vital. How many subjects that student takes, and what they need in terms of personal training is determined from the interview, as well as dietary requirements and medication. We try and keep people in the same tutor groups, but we are a specialist school designed to cope with all sorts of special needs,” Jean explained.

“It’s fascinating,” Kayla murmured. “But you must see why I have some reservations about its success?”

Jean reluctantly agreed. “But the potential for success -”

“Jean?” a voice interrupted from the door. Both Jean and Kayla were quickly distracted from their conversation by the newcomer, but Logan had noticed his arrival before them and had already moved slightly so that he stood between the doorway and Kayla.

“Scott,” Jean greeted cheerfully, then bid her farewell to Kayla and Logan, and informed them that she and Scott were just down the hallway if they ever needed them.

Once the other couple were gone, Logan growled once, low in his throat, and stepped around Kayla to hug her tight to his chest. “Your sister has a terrible taste in men,” he grumbled.

“I know,” Kayla breathed. “She always has.”

“Scott and Jean are sleeping together,” he added, superfluously. Kayla hadn’t missed the way Jean had reacted to Scott’s presence.

“Scott isn’t a bad guy,” Kayla tried to argue.

Logan grinned wolfishly at her, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear and kissing her tenderly. He teased, “Darlin’, you are allowed to dislike people without a real reason.”

-xXx-

Rogue woke early the following morning, no longer exhausted, and not yet used to her new environment enough to sleep soundly. Unlike at home, Emma’s, or at Remy’s, she wasn’t comfortable enough with her surroundings to sleep well. Perhaps it was partly Logan’s paranoia and distrust of anyone he hadn’t already proven trustworthy, but even knowing that he and Kayla were just the other side of the door did nothing to sooth Rogue’s nerves.

It didn’t help that, on top of being in a strange place, surrounded by people she didn’t know, she still hadn’t heard back from Eliza. It hadn’t even been a full day yet, but that did nothing to ease her fears. At any other time, Rogue might have been able to brush it off without too much concern, but given Sabretooth’s attack on them, her concern made it seem more than just coincidence.

Unable to lie still for a moment longer, Rogue rolled out of bed and paced back and forth across her room. It was larger than her room at home, although the double bed made it seem about the same size, but her perception was warped by the excess energy she was now fighting off, and it felt as though the walls were closing in on her. She was unwilling to brave the corridors of the Xavier Institute in just her pyjamas, however, and she didn’t want to wake up her parents whilst they were still recovering from their injuries the previous day.

On the brink of deciding just to get washed and dressed for the day, the door connecting her room to Kayla and Logan’s opened, and she ducked down into a protective stance, before she recognised Logan’s silhouette in the doorway.

“Come on through, kid. You’d wake the dead with your stomping about,” he grumbled, affecting a yawn. Rogue wasn’t fooled. Recovering or not, it was unlikely that Logan had still been asleep. He only needed about four hours sleep a night, and was normally up at the crack of dawn as a consequence. The only times he didn’t were the days when Kayla requested that he stay, and those were few and far between because she too, was also an early riser.

Rogue rolled her shoulders in a faux-reluctant manner to match his teasing, and grabbed a pair of gloves on the way through. She didn’t wear gloves to bed, but if she was going to be in Kayla and Logan’s presence, it was always best to be safe than sorry.

“You alright, honey?” Kayla asked softly. She was sitting up in bed, still blinking a little heavily as though she’d only just woken up.

“Yeah, sorry. Just restless,” Rogue apologised. “Strange, unfamiliar place. My bed doesn’t smell right.”

Logan chuckled a little at the last, but he didn’t contest it.

“How are you?” Rogue asked. She had seen Kayla and Logan again after she’d started lessons, but only briefly. Kayla had been tired after her day, her arm almost entirely healed, but the constant drain of her power had left her feeling run down. Dr McCoy had given her another thorough check up, both to check the rate of progress on her arm, and her burns, and also to check on the health of the baby again, this time with Logan present. He’d declared it too early for the cast to come off, but that their baby was perfectly healthy.

Kayla had explained this to Rogue over dinner, while Logan had remained mostly wordless by her side, refusing to move any further than a couple of feet away at any point, and preferring to be touching her at all times. Rogue had giggled a bit at his protectiveness, but hadn’t teased him too much for it. She knew enough about Logan’s past to know that he had lost too much in his life to ever be certain of something so unpredictable as his own wife’s pregnancy ever again.

Either way, the pair of them had retired to their room early, and Rogue had been encouraged to get to know her new friends better by joining them in the various communal areas. It had been an enjoyable evening, the end of lessons making everyone a little freer with the use of their mutant abilities, and a newcomer in their midst making everyone a little more daring, a little more willing to show off than they would have been like normally.

Mutant skills aside, it was very much like any other group of teenagers treating a stranger. Rogue was thrilled to find that although everyone grouped together depending on personalities and tutor groups, there was a range of ages just as Professor Xavier had told her. There were a number of much younger students, as well as some several years older, although the majority were still within a few years of the normal high school ages.

“I’m itching to get this cast off,” Kayla said, drawing Rogue back to the present.

“Not before the doctor says,” Logan scolded, sitting back down on the bed next to Kayla.

Rogue grinned at that. Because of his healing ability, Logan hated it whenever anyone fussed over him even in the slightest. “You like Hank,” she told him.

“Dr McCoy? Yeah, he’s good,” Logan agreed. “How come he’s ‘Hank’ now?”

“We had breakfast together yesterday. He’s cool. Kind of forgetful and very geeky, but I like him.”

“How were your lessons yesterday?” Kayla prodded.

Rogue shrugged. “They were like lessons. The other students showed off a bit. It’s weird how everyone just shares with everyone what their mutation is. I’m used to keeping it a secret.”

“I don’t like it,” Logan growled lowly.

Kayla glanced at him with fond irritation. “Look at both of you, full of nervous energy. We’re safe here. We’re not going to get attacked by very hairy versions of demons from our past.”

“You don’t know that,” Rogue asserted. “There are so many people coming and going, how do we know that any of them are who they say they are?”

“I trust the Professor,” Kayla said, then shook her head. “I don’t like all this uncertainty anymore than you do.”

Rogue shrugged, and moved to sit cross-legged at the end of their bed. It was strangely intimate, sitting at the foot of her parents’ bed while everyone was in their pyjamas, and Rogue felt a pang of sadness as she realised that she’d been missing out on all these weird, sweet moments with her foster parents. It was a funny thing to regret not having, but there was no explaining what the heart felt fondest for.

“How about the pair of you have one of your training sessions?” Kayla suggested.

Logan shot her a funny look, and Rogue just felt confused. They weren’t in Canada. There was no forest for them to train in.

“You don’t need to hide around the school,” Kayla explained. “Everyone here is a mutant, and the mansion is far enough out of the way that no one’s going to notice daggers sticking out of knuckles or a flying person. And there’s plenty of open space around the back behind the garage. I say, before you start classes Rogue, the pair of you should head out, and train, and take advantage of the fact that you don’t need to try and hide.”

Logan and Rogue exchanged a long look, that ended with him shrugging and her nodding.

“OK,” Logan agreed, leaning over to kiss Kayla.

“Thanks,” Rogue agreed, hopping up from the bed. “I’ll be ready in ten,” she called as she went into her room, pulling the door shut behind her and raced to change into exercise clothes.

Ten minutes later, Logan knocked on her door and she pulled it open to see much the same scene as she’d seen before. Kayla was still curled up in bed, but she had a mug of tea in one hand and a book in the other, and Logan was dressed in preparation for a training session. He grinned excitedly at Rogue, a grin that might have terrified anyone who knew him any less than she did, but Rogue could only respond with her own excited grin.

Both of them had come to enjoy their training sessions, and always looked forward to them. However, whilst they stayed with Remy in New Orleans, it was impractical to continue. Although the swamp was on the LeBeau’s doorstep, the area was still too well populated to get any real privacy, and neither Logan nor Rogue knew it well enough to avoid civilians. So it had been over a month since their last training sessions.

It had been much longer than that since they’d had a truly satisfying training session. With Carol in her head, and Rogue’s new found abilities destabilising her, she had taken a long time trying to gain full control over herself again, and it was only once she’d managed to get rid of Carol’s psyche that Rogue had really managed to achieve that. So that day’s training session promised to be a good one.

As Kayla had said, there was an expanse of rolling green lawn behind the garage, and a wooded area beyond it. Although there was something pleasing about not having to hide, Rogue did have to confess that the empty lawn was a little disappointing. She was used to working around trees, using them as places to hide behind, or climb up, or spring from. It just wasn’t the same with all the fun obstacles in their path.

“Changing your mind?” Logan suggested with a hint of a sneer.

“You wish, old man,” Rogue shot back.

And that was all the prompting they needed. They started simply, warming themselves up more than actually fighting. A lot of their lunges towards one another were to stretch muscles rather than try and attack, and the quick-paced circling one another were to increase their heart rates instead of measuring each other up. Half an hour in, however, and they were really starting to fight. Logan still threw in suggestions now and then, as he was still the better fighter, but mostly it was about keeping each other on their toes.

Neither of them was aiming to hurt the other, and most of the time their fighting involved more imaginative ways of winning. This was easier to do when they had the forest around them, as it was easier to set up traps of leaves and twigs. There was no sneaking up on one another out in the open though, and neither one of them were beginning to tire, so they started throwing insults back and forth more frequently than they normally did.

Their banter during training sessions was normal. It was a way of releasing some of their irritation at each other, at other people, at life in general, without it actually being insulting. It was just part of the exercise. Occasionally the banter did go too far, but more often than not the pair of them thrived off that as much as the exercise itself. This time, both of them were anxious and irritated by their current position and lack of knowledge, so it was easy to throw insults back and forth without any real venom behind them.

As wrapped up in their training as they were, it took a while for either of them to notice they were being watched. It started off with pale faces in windows, twitching curtains aside and staring down at them, but as the students became bolder, they started opening windows to shout out their own cheers of encouragement, before some of them started trailing out of the house to sit along the low stone wall along the back of the garage and house.

Logan and Rogue had paused briefly, when that first happened, to warn the students not to come any closer, and to pass the message on to anyone else who came out.

“Seriously weird not to hide it,” Rogue had muttered as they’d walked away.

Logan had grunted in agreement, but not offered his own opinion before throwing himself at her, and Rogue only just realising in time that they’d started again, dropping and rolling to spring away from him and launch her own attack. By the time their fight reached a crescendo, all of the teachers had also emerged from the house, and most of the school seemed to be peering out of windows and lined along the edge of the grass to watch them.

Something had to give eventually though, they had been pushing too hard for too long by then, and had gathered too much of an audience to just call the training session to a halt. So, instead, Rogue caught Logan’s eye, sharing a moment of information sent, received and understood, before she upped the ante one more notch and added her flying to the fight.

It went from a skilled training session to a ridiculous tussle within moments, and they were soon both laughing at the ridiculousness of Logan essentially having Rogue pinned down, but with her flight introduced, there wasn’t much ‘down’ to it.

Kayla had emerged towards the end, to watch them fondly and cradle another cup of tea whilst she narrated some of the fight to Ororo and Hank, who were watching with detached sort of interest. It was she who finally stepped forward and broke up the play fight their training had dissolved into, and so it was Kayla who first noticed something rather significant that had happened and no one had noticed.

“Rogue, Logan, I don’t want to alarm you,” she said, once their chuckles had died down somewhat and they were both now back on solid ground. Of course, her words did the opposite of what she’d intended, and had both of them starting to worry.

“What is it?” Logan demanded, “Are you alright?” he added shortly, looking over her quickly and tugging her into a hug.

Kayla protested and pulled away from him. “I’m fine,” she insisted. “But you kind of stink,” she added with an exaggerated wince, explaining why she hadn’t let herself fall into his embrace as she usually did.

“What is it?” Rogue asked quietly.

Kayla walked away from them, ducked down to pick something off the ground, then turned back to face them, dangling the object from her fingers. “Rogue, honey, you lost one of your gloves more than ten minutes ago.”

There was a long pause as Rogue and Logan took in what that meant, and they stared blankly at the glove for a moment, before turning to gaze just as blankly at each other.

“But-” Rogue started, and cut herself off. She glanced at the glove again, then back to Logan. Then, without warning, she pulled off her other glove and ran at Logan, wrapping her arms and legs around him like a monkey and hugging tightly. His arms came around her automatically, still looking a little dazed. Rogue laughed delightedly when - in spite of her bare hands, and his bare shoulders - she didn’t absorb Logan’s powers.

Chapter Text

The rest of that morning passed in a blur for Rogue. After discovering that she could touch Logan without hurting him, she found it nearly impossible not to cling to his arm or wrist. Although she and Remy had been able to touch each other, there had always been the knowledge in the back of her mind that if Rogue wanted to, she could fry him, just as she had the others before. There was a possibility, of course, that Rogue could use her powers against Logan, too, but until she did, she was happy to live in a bubble of denial and trust that her touch wouldn’t hurt him.

Logan only put up with her clinginess for so long. As happy as he was for her, and as much as he loved Rogue like a daughter, he still had a larger personal space than most people did, and it was only Kayla who he allowed to regularly and frequently invade it. When he did shake Rogue away though, she couldn’t be offended by it - she knew him too well by then. Rogue had put her gloves back on without complaint, and the smile on her face didn’t disappear.

After the fight ended, the rest of the student body were hurried back inside to finish getting ready for the day, eat breakfast, and prepare for their first lessons. Professor Xavier and Dr McCoy stayed behind however, and the Professor explained patiently his theory for what had happened.

“Your power, Rogue, is a defence mechanism. You absorb people’s psyches to put you on the same level on them. You know what they know, you can do what they can do, so if someone was trying to attack you, you have the advantage. As I understand it, for a long time after you first learnt of your power you were scared, afraid of everything, and with no one you trusted enough to turn to. I think this triggered your power into a semi-permanent state of activation. If you were always afraid, your defences would always be up.

“But Kayla and Logan have taken you in. More than that, they have become your parents. It is not difficult to see that you would do anything for them, just as they would for you. And you trust them implicitly. I believe that is the reason why you can now touch Logan without fear. Even when you are - play fighting, training - you trust that he would never hurt you, that he would always protect you. And why would your defences have to be raised towards a man you trust so much?”

Rogue had considered this, then glanced across at Kayla. “Do you think then, that if I touched Kayla-”

“Yes,” Professor Xavier answered simply. “I do not think any harm would befall her.”

Kayla shifted so she was angled towards Rogue, and nodded with a soft smile, gently encouraging Rogue to do whatever she felt she should.

“No,” Rogue said. “Even if - even if what you say is true, Professor, I’m not going to risk it.” She reached for Kayla with a gloved hand, squeezing her fingers and telling her softly, sincerely, “Not while you’re pregnant, Mama. I’m not doing anything that might hurt the both of you.”

Kayla stepped forward and, careful not to let her cheek touch Rogue’s, wrapped the younger woman in a tight hug. “Whatever you think is best,” Kayla murmured back.

Once the excitement of the revelation had died down, Rogue had returned to her rooms for a quick shower before she joined Bobby, John, Kitty and Jubilee in their first lesson of the day. She entered late, and when she did a hush fell across the class and everyone stared at her for a moment, before Bobby and John started cheering and clapping, prompting everyone else to do the same.

Unfortunately, it was Scott leading the class - or rather, Mr Summers, as Rogue was sure she was supposed to call him - and he did not look at all pleased at having his lecture interrupted.

“Miss Vadas,” he greeted, once everyone had quieted down a little. “Do try your best not to be late for any lessons in the future.”

“Sorry, Prof X wanted to have a chat with me and my parents,” Rogue told him cheerfully, not feeling in the least bit sorry, in spite of the receding blush she’d gained from her classmates’ approval.

Scott looked dearly as though he wished to contest that, but without derailing the process of the lesson any further, or undermining Professor Xavier’s authority, there was little he could say or do to reprimand her.

“It’s ‘Professor Xavier’, not ‘Prof X’,” he settled for saying, before shooing her to the empty desk next to Kitty.

The rest of the lesson passed relatively quickly, with Scott keeping a closer eye on Rogue than any of the other students. Kitty wrote a note for Rogue part way through the lesson, but Scott was watching them all closely enough that she didn’t get a chance to pass it across, and in the end Rogue saw her crumple it up and settle for tapping her fingers impatiently on the table for the lesson to end.

Once the bell finally rang signalling the end of that lesson, Kitty was far from the only student who crowded forward eagerly with questions. The most prominent of which were ‘where did you learn to fight like that?’ and ‘who was the guy you were fighting?’ Rogue attempted, without much luck, to get them to refer to that morning’s exercise as ‘sparring’ or ‘training’, and answered all of their questions as vaguely as possible.

Amongst strangers whom she did not trust, Rogue only realised some time later that she had not hesitated in referring to Logan as her father. She had not even paused to consider whether she would share the detail of her being a foster child. Once Rogue figured that out, it felt almost as though one last piece of the puzzle fell into place. Kayla and Logan would remain ‘Kayla’ and ‘Logan’, but they were the parents of her heart now, too.

The joy of her self-discoveries tided her over until lunch time, when the constant press of strangers and questions became too much and Rogue ducked away from the rest of the students and made her way across the area where she and Logan had trained, to a bench that was positioned along the tree line. She collapsed down onto the bench, and tilted her head back to stare blindly at the sky for a moment, before she refocused her attention on the Xavier Institute.

There were a few students scattered about on the steps, and sat down on the picnic benches. There was even a small group who appeared to be re-enacting what they’d seen that morning. Rogue pulled at the edge of her gloves, rolling the material down from elbow to wrist, then back up again. It was something that she didn’t think she’d get used to any time soon, the openness here, the willingness to share with others what special power people had. Rogue’s power had only ever hurt people.

Unlike when she had first settled in with her parents in Canada, there was nothing about Professor Xavier’s house that made her comfortable. The drafty, ill-constructed rooms of their little house in the middle of nowhere were ten times more welcome than the beautiful warmth of the mansion, and Rogue couldn’t for the life of her say why. It was not just because of the people, because she hadn’t trusted Kayla or Logan by then either. And it wasn’t that she didn’t trust Xavier himself.

Rogue’s cell phone rang, surprising her out of her thoughts. She rolled her glove back up so that it was on properly, and grinned to herself when she saw the caller ID.

“Hey, swamp rat,” she greeted.

“Chére, it’s good to hear your voice again. Remy was starting to get worried,” the caller replied.

Rogue tried to convince herself that she didn’t just melt inside at hearing Remy’s deep, New Orleans accent.

“Why were you worried?” she asked casually. The only people who knew of the attack on their car were either at the mansion, or working for Magneto, so far as Rogue knew.

“You should’ve got home two days ago, and you normally text Remy, let him know you’re home alright.”

Rogue smiled and scolded herself inwardly for being so paranoid. Besides, even if the rumour about a mutant attack had got out, Remy would be amongst the first to know anyway. He kept his ear to the ground about all sorts of mutant activity. “We’re alright. But we bumped into some old friends on the way home, ended up deciding to stay with them for a bit.”

“I thought school was starting back up, wasn’t that your reason for leaving when you did?” Remy asked, a teasing lilt in his voice now.

“That and Kayla’s appointment with the doctor,” Rogue agreed. “You’ve heard of Professor Xavier, right?” she asked him, knowing that Remy would have. “Well, he offered me a place at his school last year. I said no at the time, because I’d just started trusting Logan and Kayla. But he’s got reason to believe that we might be in danger from some guy called Magneto. Anyway, he’s got a school and a medical facility, so we’re bunking at his for a while.”

“Any idea how long?”

“Couple of weeks maybe?” Rogue suggested. “We don’t really know. We want to go home, obviously, but there are worries that our house might be being watched. And Logan’s not going to do anything that’ll put Kayla at risk.”

“Xavier’s institute is in New York, isn’t it?”

“Westchester, yeah,” Rogue confirmed.

There was a pause, during which Rogue could almost hear the grin she was sure was forming on Remy’s face.

“Guess where yours truly is, right now?”

“If you say Westchester, I’m going to assume that you are lying,” Rogue told him frankly.

“You wound me, Chére! I’ve just finished a job in the Bronx. Maybe I can steal you away from Logan and school for a couple of hours, no?”

“I shouldn’t miss anymore school than  I have to Remy. If I ever want to actually graduate, I need to do the work.”

“Awh, come on, Rogue. It won’t be for long. Just you, me, maybe a candlelit dinner somewhere? I’ll come to you, rather than you trying to find me, if you want?”

Rogue laughed. “A candlelit dinner, Remy? You? I think the classiest food you’ve bought me has been at IHOP.”

“Remy can be a romantic if he tries.”

Rogue bit her lip and considered. On the one hand, she probably shouldn’t leave the mansion. Magneto wanted one of them for something, and there was no way of knowing who, or what for. However, everyone’s thoughts so far were that it was Logan Magneto had been after, in which case Rogue was at no personal risk. Besides, she was going to be with Remy, and she already knew he’d do whatever he could to protect her.

“Ok,” Rogue agreed eventually. The temptation of a proper meal out, just the two of them, was too much. Besides, it wasn’t as though she was going to be skipping much that afternoon. She only had Phys Ed scheduled, and she’d already done more exercise that morning than most of the students in the class were likely to do in a week. “But we can’t be gone long. Kayla and Logan are both too anxious at the moment for me to try and push them too much.”

“No problem, Chére.”

They quickly organised a time and place to meet, before Remy rang off. Rogue had some time still before she had to head out, as it would take Remy significantly longer to get there, and she wanted to spend as little time away from the mansion on her own as possible. Luckily, that wait did give her time to track down Kitty, Bobby and the others and provide an excuse as to why she wasn’t going to be around that afternoon. It would give her and Remy a little bit longer before people started noticing she was gone.

Bobby and John were playing a furious game of foosball when Rogue found them, Jubilee commentating excitedly from one end of the table, and Kitty ignoring the three of them in favour of a tall, handsome Russian who Rogue vaguely recognised from the day before.

“My, uh, boyfriend’s in town,” Rogue told them hesitantly, feeling a little awkward about describing Remy as her ‘boyfriend’. Nothing she could think of quite fit, just that Remy was hers, in some form. “I’m going to duck out of sports this afternoon. Can you tell our teacher I’ve got a migraine, or something?”

John wolf whistled loudly, Bobby joining in once he’d chased the last of the disappointment from his face. Kitty only glanced up long enough to wink and nod, before turning back to the guy she clearly fancied. Jubilee was the only one who looked a little worried.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” she asked.

“Skipping school? It’s only Phys Ed,” Rogue reassured her.

“No, I mean, meeting your boyfriend. Doesn’t Professor Xavier think you might be in danger?” Jubilee corrected.

Rogue smiled softly. “I’m in no danger from Remy,” she said. “I’ll only be gone a couple of hours, and besides, I’m probably safer with him than I am with you guys - no offence.”

Jubilee nodded, but she still looked uneasy.

Once the others had agreed to corroborate the story that Rogue had a headache, and would make sure no one sounded the alarm at least for a couple of hours, Rogue headed up to her room to touch up her make up and grab her purse. Then, once she had everything, and was sure the coast was clear, she snuck down to the garage and wheeled out the motorbike she’d seen when Professor Xavier had shown them around. Rogue didn’t technically have a license, but she’d had enough practice in New Orleans with Remy to know what she was doing.

It was with a fiendish type of glee that Rogue rolled the bike out of the garage and stole it from under Scott’s nose, in broad daylight. She was only making an enemy of him, she knew, and probably pissing off both of her parents in the process, but Rogue was going to enjoy it while she could. She arrived at the station a little earlier than she and Remy had agreed, but he was already there waiting for her.

Rogue saw him, mere seconds before he saw her, but it was long enough to realise that something was wrong. Although he looked almost exactly as he usually did, there was something missing. Something that wasn’t noticeable until it wasn’t there anymore. His tricks, Rogue realised. Whenever Remy had a spare moment to himself, he would fiddle with something. Either shuffling cards, or flicking coins back and forth across his fingers, or juggling whatever small trinkets he had in his pockets. But here, now, he was waiting without movement.

He turned and saw her, and Rogue caught a glimpse of gold. The person she was meeting looked like Remy, sounded like Remy, maybe even mostly acted like Remy. But he was not. Rogue greeted him with a smile and a hug anyway.

“Let me just text my friends, so they know I got here ok,” she lied once she’d stepped back.

“Certainly, Chére. There isn’t any rush.”

Rogue smiled a little blandly at him, mind racing.

Not Remy. Impostor. Sorry. Xx

She typed and sent to Kayla, knowing it would be a little while before she checked her messages, but that she would take it better than Logan would. Then Rogue tucked her phone away, and put her hand in the crook of not-Remy’s elbow wondering what she could do to get out of this.

-xXx-

Kayla had spent most of the day in the library, losing herself amongst the many books Xavier had to offer. It had been a pleasure to watch Logan and Rogue spar that morning, and it sort of made her wish she’d watched more of their sessions when they were in Canada. Kayla had always known how much they had both come to enjoy their training sessions, and she had chosen to leave them to it, so that they could enjoy that time together. The look of realisation on Rogue’s face had been beautiful, and it had been difficult not to laugh at Logan when he’d suddenly found himself with an armful of overjoyed daughter.

It had been a tricky couple of years - a tricky decade, even - but even with the unknown threat of Magneto looming, they’d begun to find some sort of balance now. Kayla rested a hand on her stomach, and tapped her fingers gently on the soft skin of her belly, smiling to herself. She wasn’t showing yet - probably wouldn’t for another few weeks yet - but one advantage of being picked up by Professor Xavier’s men and women was that the medical facility at the mansion was a lot better stocked than the one in their home town. There were several images of stunning quality of the tiny foetus growing inside her.

Logan had accompanied her, after their brief talk with Xavier about Rogue’s powers, to the scan. He’d said very little when Dr McCoy had pointed out the cursive white shape that would grow to become their baby, but Logan had never been a talkative man. Kayla knew him well enough to hear a soliloquy in his silence, and had clutched his hand tightly throughout. When Dr McCoy had left, and Logan had crouched down beside her to kiss the skin above where their baby was resting, she had run her fingers through his hair without comment.

After the medical, Kayla had returned to the kitchen for another slice of toast and glass of milk - “You should probably limit your caffeine intake.” - before heading to the library. She’d caught a glimpse of it the day before, just as she’d caught glimpses of everywhere else, but this was one place in particular that she was eager to revisit. As a child Kayla had loved the freedom of books - the ability they provided of escaping the real world for some hours. Sometimes she’d found a sort of humour in reading books with female characters rescuing themselves from tyrannical fathers, but mostly she read for the joy of doing so. It had been a long time since she’d had that opportunity.

Logan had been reluctant to leave her side, hovering over her as she ate what amounted to second breakfast, and lurking about the bookshelves, eyeing everything suspiciously when she settled down to read. It was, to be honest, very distracting. And Kayla knew without being told that the longer Logan was cooped up in a small place with nothing to do other than prowl around and look disgruntled, the more irritable and likely to anger he was.

After half an hour and only managing a couple of page of the book she was reading, Kayla eventually managed to convince Logan to leave.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she told him. “How about you go and do a thorough sweep of the grounds, or whatever it is that will make you feel more comfortable about this place, then come back here in an hour or so with lunch?” Kayla suggested.

Logan had been unhappy to agree, but he was unhappy staying, too, and Kayla managed to persuade him. Logan did return with lunch, and he even left again once they were done, but the promise of returning every few hours to check in on her remained constant, even if he didn’t speak it out loud. Kayla fell happily into the book she was reading, and was only drawn out of the fantasy world when her cell phone announced the arrival of a text message. Puzzled, since very few people had her number, and few still chosen to text her, Kayla opened up the message promptly.

She stared at the text from Rogue blankly for some long moments, trying to figure out what it meant.

Not Remy. Impostor. Sorry. Xx

The word ‘impostor’ was setting off all sorts of alarm bells, but Kayla wasn’t certain what Remy had to do with anything. She also couldn’t tell what it was Rogue was apologising for. Still, Rogue should still be in her afternoon class, so it wouldn’t take a genius to start working out what was wrong.

It was as Kayla was standing to check on Rogue that Logan entered the room again for another check that she was alright.

“What’s wrong?” he asked immediately, taking note of the way that she had paled and the concern on her face. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Kayla reassured him, before offering him the phone. “But I think Rogue might not be,” she added.

“What does that mean?” Logan asked, scowling down at the words.

“I don’t know,” Kayla replied honestly. “I thought Rogue was still in lessons, we should go and find out where she’s supposed to be, to see if she’s there.”

Logan glanced up at her, shaking his head. “From this,” he said, waving the phone, “I’m guessing probably not.”

“Maybe the kids in her class know something?” Kayla suggested as the hurried towards Professor Xavier’s office.

“Why would she tell them something, but not us?”

“Because we’re her parents?” Kayla said. “Everyone tells their friends things that they wouldn’t tell their parents. And a lot of people find it easier to confide in strangers than people they know and care about.”

“I don’t like it,” Logan remarked. “And what does the Cajun have to do with any of this?”

Kayla shrugged. “We can phone him and find out.”

The door to Professor Xavier’s office opened just as they arrived.

“She isn’t here,” the Professor said, staring at nothing, before he blinked back to the present and smiled a little thinly at them. “And I’m afraid the children in her class know very little beyond what could already be supposed from the message she sent. Rogue told them that she would be missing her final class in order to meet up with her boyfriend, who had phoned her and told her he was in town.”

“But it wasn’t him?” Kayla interrupted, as she understood what the ‘not Remy’ part of the message had meant.

Professor Xavier looked up at her and shook his head. “I’m afraid I don’t know, my dear,” he told her quietly. “I am not familiar with the gentleman in question, and I don’t know where they decided to meet.”

Logan growled lowly in the back of his throat, and Kayla placed a placating hand on his arm without thinking about it.

“The text message said ‘Not Remy. Impostor. Sorry.’ I think it’s probably safe to assume from that, that someone pretending to be Remy tricked Rogue into leaving the mansion somehow,” Kayla said

“Why’s she apologising? How did she have time to text us?” Logan demanded to know, fists clenching and unclenching as he attempted to reign in his anger.

“She either knew it was a trap before she left, and she’s apologising for going off on her own,” Professor Xavier said. “Or she thought it was genuine, but realised it wasn’t Remy quickly enough to send a warning text.” There was a heavy pause, before Xavier sighed and shook his head. “Either way, I think it’s safe to assume that it was Rogue whom Magneto was after, not either one of you.”

“What are we going to do?” Kayla asked the Professor.

“We?” Logan asked furiously. “I don’t give a damn what baldy here’s going to do, I’m tracking Rogue down right now.”

“Logan-” Kayla protested, at the same time as Professor Xavier spoke up.

“I can use Cerebro,” he announced. “I showed it to you briefly before. Although Magneto has found a way of blocking off his mind, I doubt that he has included Rogue in that. I’m even familiar enough with her mind that tracking her down should take very little effort.”

“Then what are you waiting for?” Logan growled. Kayla squeezed his elbow, leaning against his side thankfully when he held his arm out for her, but this time she didn’t try and persuade him to be politer. She was as anxious as he was to have Rogue back into their protection, and could live without Xavier’s explanations as to what he was doing.

Professor Xavier regarded the pair of them for a moment, a strange sort of fondness flickering across his expression before it closed off again and he started wheeling his way towards the elevator. Kayla and Logan followed closely on his heels, once again standing closer together than they might normally do. The agitation that the pair of them were feeling was palpable. They had hoped they were safe here, yet there was now a whole new set of unknowns as to what had happened.

The Professor left the pair of them at the door to Cerebro, hands still clutched tightly together, and the worry of the last few days starting to show once more on their faces. He rolled down the gangway, hearing the quite hiss of the door closing behind him, and regarded the console with sad familiarity. Cerebro was one of his greatest accomplishments, all said and done, but it allowed him to see the darkest thoughts and fears in any mind. It revealed the parts of people that they kept buried away from the world and the light of day. It might be clichéd, but the power Cerebro represented was both beautiful and terrible.

It also brought to mind personal memories that Professor Xavier would have preferred could stay slotted away in his mind where they belonged. But there was no time for this reminiscing now. He had a young woman to find, and an old friend to confront about his life choices - yet again.

The Professor pulled on the head set, and rested his hands loosely on the console in front of him. Then he closed his eyes and reached.

Blinding, overwhelming pain ripped through his mind. Seven billion voices crowding forward, insisting on being heard all at once. There was too much noise, too many feelings, it was as though his mind might dribble out of his ears and his heart explode in his chest. It was all that Professor Xavier could do to pull the headset off, and attempt to make his way back out of the room.

He knew as soon as he started moving, however, that he wouldn’t make it. His balance was off, and the world was spinning and lurching around him, attempting to tip him right off the gangway and into that open, spherical space. And the voices were still there, the voices of the whole world, whispers now, but persistent and reluctant to fade. It took him a long time to realise that he had tipped forward out of his chair, that the cool weight across his face and chest was where he was pressed against the cold metal floor.

The Professor tried to take stock of where he was, of whether he was injured or not. He’d been trying to do something, what had he been trying to do? There was girl. Pretty girl with blonde hair and brown eyes, who was blue when she stopped pretending. But he wasn’t looking for her. He was. He’d always been looking, ever since she left. But he hadn’t followed. He needed to follow the other girl. She’d been kidnapped. He wondered why he couldn’t move, and hoped that there wasn’t a bullet in his spine. It wasn’t Eric’s fault. It wasn’t.

There were so many voices in his head, telling him so many things at once, and he really really wished that they would all SHUT UP. But that wasn’t polite. They were hurting him, making him feel as though his skull was caving in. So many voices, and why couldn’t he move? Where was Eric? Why had he walked away?

He wondered if this was what dying felt like.

-xXx-

After half an hour had passed, and the doors to Cerebro still hadn’t opened, the worry that had been not so gradually growing, reached the point where either Kayla or Logan had to do something about it.

“We can’t get in,” Kayla reminded gently. “Neither of us are programmed in. And we don’t want to upset whatever it is Charles is doing in there, if everything is alright.”

“I suppose that means just breaking the damn door down is out of the question,” Logan grumbled.

“I’ll go and get one of the others,” Kayla said, leaning up to kiss his cheek before walking down the corridor back towards the elevator. “And babe,” she added, “Don’t break the door down.” It was partly teasing, but also partly serious. There was no telling what Logan might do if left to his own devices for too long.

Kayla didn’t know enough about how Cerebro worked, or indeed how Professor Xavier’s mutation worked, to be able to say whether or not half an hour was a long time for him to track someone down. It seemed like a long time, but it seemed a lot longer than half an hour, and that had less to do with the actual length of time, and more how worried she was. It could be that it was perfectly normal for the Professor to take this long trying to find someone, that she was worrying over nothing. But at the same time, it was her daughter who had been tricked and kidnapped. There was little else to do but worry.

Most of the staff were still in lessons, but Dr McCoy was free and hunched over some more of Logan’s X-rays.

“Oh hello, Kayla,” he greeted cheerfully. “I was just taking another look at your husband’s fascinating skeletal structure. It’s horrific, of course, the extent of what they did to him, but fascinating at the same time.”

Kayla couldn’t allow herself to be amused by the man’s quiet enthusiasm. She’d come to find his unique view of things refreshing - he didn’t quite understand where the social boundaries of what not to say really lay, but he never meant to cause offence which had led to a wonderful conversation the previous day when he’d checked over her arm. At that moment in time however, she was more worried about Rogue.

“How long does Professor Xavier normally take in Cerebro?”

“Excuse me?” Dr McCoy asked, startled away from his inspection of the X-rays. He blinked across at her through wire framed glasses that seemed almost absurdly funny in his large blue face.

“Rogue was probably kidnapped earlier today. The Professor said that he could search for her using his Cerebro machine, but he’s been inside it for over thirty minutes now. I just wanted to find out whether him being in there for that long is unusual, and if it is, if there’s any way of getting him out without Logan shredding the door.”

Dr McCoy folded his glasses carefully, and slid them into the front pocket of his lab coat. Then he turned his full attention to Kayla and asked politely, “What do you mean, ‘Rogue was probably kidnapped’?”

Kayla held her breath to keep from making any more obvious sign of her annoyance, and explained yet again about the text and what they had supposed had happened.

“And the Professor’s been in Cerebro for half an hour now, you say?” Dr McCoy asked for clarification, frowning to himself when Kayla agreed. “Well, he has certainly spent much longer periods of time in there before, but it does seem a bit unusual for him to take so long trying to find one person in particular. There’s no surveillance inside Cerebro, however the door is programmed not to allow access if Cerebro is actively being used, as sudden extraction from the process causes a certain amount of mental distress-”

“Dr McCoy,” Kayla interrupted, then corrected, “Hank, please. My daughter is missing, and Charles is taking longer than expected trying to find her. Can you please just come with me and see if you can open the door?”

There was a beat of silence, that seemed amplified by her worry, before Dr McCoy nodded. He peeled the lab coat from his shoulders, and hung it up by the door before following Kayla back down the corridor towards the room in question. Whilst normally Kayla would appreciate the man’s meticulous nature, now it just seemed to slow them down unnecessarily, and it took all her effort not to tap her foot impatiently. As they walked, she apologised quietly for snapping at him before.

“It’s quite alright, my dear,” Dr McCoy soothed her. “I can hardly judge you for being anxious about Rogue.”

Kayla shrugged uncomfortably, and smiled weakly at Logan when they turned the corner. He opened one arm to her, and Kayla tucked herself back against his side, as Dr McCoy knelt before the door and held his eyes open for the retinal scan.

Just as everything seemed to be taking twice the amount of time it usually did, the door opening was no exception. When it was finally open, the gasp of shocked surprise that Dr McCoy gave was far from comforting.

“Oh my,” he said, and ignored both Kayla and Logan’s exclamations of worry to rush forward down the gangway towards the central control panel.

Once McCoy was through the door, Kayla and Logan moved forward to see whatever it was that had alarmed him so much. The Professor’s wheelchair was half turned towards the exit, and was empty of the man himself. Professor Xavier himself lay collapsed forward on the gangway, entirely still and not responding at all to Dr McCoy as he talked to the Professor, and shifted him up in his arms to carry him from the room. As if all that weren’t worry enough, the Professor’s eyes were wide open, staring blankly at nothing, as unresponsive as the rest of him.

“Is he-” Kayla started to ask, before cutting herself off.

“He’s alive,” Dr McCoy said, cradling the Professors body carefully as he rushed down the corridors towards the medical centre. “He’s - I’m not even sure how to explain it…” he trailed off.

“His presence isn’t there,” Logan said. “His mind fills the room, normally. Now, it isn’t.”

Kayla brought a hand up to her mouth, blinking sharply to keep back the tears and almost feeling the rush of blood as it drained from her face. A hundred questions thundered forward across her mind, but there was nothing she could ask now that wouldn’t slow Dr McCoy down, or sound completely inane. Instead, she said, “I’ll go and get Jean, Scott and Ororo.”

“Jean first, if you don’t mind,” Dr McCoy murmured, lowering Professor Xavier onto a bed and beginning a series of medical checks.

Not sure if it was because Jean was a telepath, or that she had more medical training, Kayla just nodded and left. Logan stopped her briefly to press a hard kiss to her forehead, before he returned to skulking about the medical centre doorway, glaring at whatever took his fancy. To anyone else it might look as though he were simply making nuisance of himself, but Kayla knew better. So many people had underestimated Logan in the past; all brawn and no brains, one might assume. But Logan had hardly been stupid in the first place, and he had fought, and ran, and searched for long enough that he had years of experience to back up his natural inclinations.

Comforted by the thought that Logan was forming some sort of plan of action, Kayla wasted no time in searching out first Jean, then Ororo, then Scott. Jean had dismissed her class calmly, but as soon as the last student had filtered from the room she had seemed to crumple against her desk. Kayla hesitated between offering verbal of physical comfort, and had settled for squeezing her shoulder silently. Jean accepted the gesture with a twitch of her lips that might have been an attempt at a smile. She had remained still for a moment longer, closing her eyes and drawing a deep, shuddering breath, before she pulled herself together and stood straight once more, shaking off Kayla’s hand as she did so.

“Thank you,” Jean murmured quietly as she brushed past Kayla.

Kayla watched her go with a furrowed brow, uncertain as to what she was being thanked for. Her mutation was an influence on actions, not on emotions. And besides which, she hadn’t even used her mutant power.

Ororo took the news with a little more composure than Jean. She had accepted the news silently, eyes going distant for a moment, before she nodded once.

“I will join you once my lesson is finished,” she told Kayla, before she returned to her class with enough evenness of temper that there was no way of knowing that she’d received any type of news at all, let alone that her friend and mentor had fallen - perhaps fatally - ill.

Finally, Kayla told Scott. He was not holding a class, and since his reaction was much more sudden than either of the ladies’, Kayla considered this a good thing. From before she had even finished speaking, he was already moving towards the doorway. If he had been watched by students, she doubted he’d have waited to dismiss them and the rumour mill - which was probably already running at fever pace due to the early ending of Jean’s class - would be an explosion of wild speculation. Best to keep the students as calm as possible, and in this case that meant keeping them ignorant of what was going on.

Scott confused Kayla, she decided, as she followed his route back down to medical at a far more sedate pace. He was obviously a good man, he seemed to want what was best for everyone, and was willing to fight for what he believed in. He clearly loved those close to him very much, if the way he cared about Jean, and reacted to the news about Professor Xavier was any indication. And yet Scott seemed so very short sighted about certain things. There was a rigidity to his character that did not allow him faults which, paradoxically, was a fault in itself.

Kayla felt as though he must be very adaptable, but only within a certain set of parameters. She could trust Scott, she knew, but she felt as though she might not want to. The whole thing was baffling, and not really relevant to the current crisis. But worrying about whether she was able to trust the people around her at least kept Kayla from worrying about what might be happening to Rogue.

By the time Kayla reached the medical room in which the Professor was now being treated, Dr McCoy and Jean were still fussing over him, but their ministrations seemed to be coming to an end. They had attached a multitude of sensors to Professor Xavier’s head, that was supplying some sort of information to a computer screen that Kayla couldn’t understand, but that Dr McCoy kept looking at and shaking his head. Xavier’s heart rate and breathing seemed normal, and both functions were working independently without being medically assisted.

Professor Xavier’s eyes were still wide open, however, and he seemed just as unresponsive as he had been before. Kayla did not ask for a medical diagnosis that she doubted McCoy would be able to give, and no one tried to provide any kind of explanation either.

Logan was still prowling up and down the edge of the room like a caged animal, darting the occasional scowl at the goings on, and moving instantly to Kayla’s side when she arrived. Scott was stood at the end of Professor Xavier’s bed, hands curled into tight fists and pushing one of them tight against his top lip. Even behind his red lenses the deep furrow of his brows was obvious.

“I’m sorry,” Kayla offered all of them quietly, before she let Logan tug her gently from the room.

“We can’t mope around here and not do anything,” Logan told her in a low rumble as soon as the door had slid shut behind them.

“I know,” Kayla agreed. “I have a bad feeling about all of this. Charles’ dispute with Magneto seems so personal, and I’m worried that clouded his judgement.”

“You think that the reason for Chuck’s injury is sabotage as well, then?” Logan asked.

“Without a doubt. On one hand it means that Charles probably isn’t going to die from whatever’s afflicting him. On the other, it means that this Magneto character knows exactly how best to stall his X-Men for long enough to pull off this plot of his.”

Logan’s gaze became sharper, and he seemed to be searching for something in her gaze. “When you said personal -”

“When Charles was talking about Magneto, he could have been talking about a past lover,” Kayla explained. “He’s morally opposed to Magneto’s actions, but I think that these men used to be the very best of friends. Don’t you find it curious that the Xavier Mansion is not at all hidden, that there is little security beyond what might be expected at any private school - X-Men aside - and yet Magneto has made no move to attack it?”

“That means I’m probably not going to get away with slicing this bastard to pieces, doesn’t it?” Logan grumbled.

“You’re worried about what Charles might think of you?” Kayla asked curiously. Normally Logan did whatever he felt like doing, only stopping to think of the consequences of his actions if they might hurt an innocent bystander - Kayla and Rogue in particular.

Logan rolled his shoulders awkwardly, and glared at a spot just over her shoulder. “I don’t care what he thinks, but having some place safe if we need it is always a good thing.” Then he added, “If we don’t go racing off to meet random people,” growling threateningly.

Kayla put a hand on Logan’s cheek, brushing her thumb across the soft skin under his eye. “She’s going to be alright, baby.”

Logan sighed and closed his eyes, allowing himself a brief moment of vulnerability before he straightened once more and was all business again. “I’m going looking for her,” he told Kayla.

“You think you can find her?”

“I don’t know, but I’ve got to try, don’t I? See if you can call up that fool boy of hers too.”

“Remy? You think he’s got something to do with this?”

Logan shook his head. “No,” he denied. “I don’t think he’s got a clue. But he should know.”

Kayla raised a shrewd eyebrow. “And he’d do anything for her, so he might be able to help you find her?”

Logan didn’t reply to that, just pulled Kayla in for a hug and a brief kiss, before he turned on his tail and headed back towards the public areas of the mansion, and the exit. “Tell McCoy I’ll skin him if anything happens to you or our kid,” he called over his shoulder.

“Love you too, and good luck,” Kayla replied softly, knowing that Logan would hear her. When she turned back to the door, she saw Scott leaning in the doorway watching her intently. Kayla had been totally unaware of his arrival, and therefore didn’t know how much of her and Logan’s interaction he’d heard.

“He loves you and Rogue,” Scott stated.

There wasn’t much that Kayla could say to that, so she waited in silence for him to continue.

“I don’t like the man, but I have to respect that.”

“He feels pretty much the same about you, but with more disdain,” Kayla replied.

Scott chuckled lightly, and ran a hand through his hair. “Fair enough. Rogue doesn’t like me much either.”

Kayla watched him for a moment, and found a slice of amusement in how awkward he looked stood there, perfect posture and anxious hands. “You are a good man,” she told him, echoing her thoughts from before. “Too good, in some ways. Rogue and Logan are beautiful, flawed, imperfect creatures. They’re good people too, but they see the world in an entirely different way from you - no pun intended - and it’s difficult to get on with people with such fundamental differences from yourself.”

Scott nodded thoughtfully. “Logan’s gone in search of Rogue?”

“There seems to be little else to do at this juncture,” she confirmed.

“I feel useless,” Scott admitted. “I should be leading in the Professor’s absence, but I don’t know what I can do.”

Kayla frowned a little at him. Why was he telling her this? Kayla did not know Scott, Jean, and Ororo well enough to know what they individually needed, and she certainly didn’t know them well enough as a group to know what the team dynamic was like. “If Charles was awake, what would you be doing now?”

“Forming a plan to stop Magneto, I suppose,” Scott replied.

“Then why don’t you do so now?” Kayla suggested. “You know that it was Rogue Magneto wanted, and you know what her mutation is. You can’t know what it is exactly that Magneto has planned, but surely you can think of some basic counter-measures? What kind of assets does Magneto have at his disposal? What has he been known to do in the past? If nothing else, you can prep the blackbird for flight.”

“I… yes, of course. I’m not - this attack on Professor Xavier’s thrown me,” Scott explained hesitatingly.

“Perfectly understandable,” Kayla told him calmly. “But the news has had a little time to sink in now. You need to pull yourself together and form your own plan of attack.”

Scott stared at her for a moment longer, before he smiled and nodded. “Thank you,” he said.

He turned away to re-enter the medical centre and, presumably, talk the others into trying to figure out what was going on, when the lift doors opened again.

Ororo’s class would have finished by now, so Kayla wasn’t surprised to see her there. What she was surprised to see, however, were the two other people with her.

“He fell on me when I opened the door to leave,” Logan explained gruffly, walking forward slowly, half carrying, half dragging the man who was leaning heavily against him.

“Is that Senator Kelly?” Kayla asked, scowling at them.

Kayla and Logan only vaguely kept up with current news, and even then they were only really interested in news that pertained to mutants and, specifically, mutant rights. The only reason Kayla knew the name of the politician in question, was because he was leading the rally towards forcing mutant registration. She had become entirely too familiar with his face in recent weeks, as his motion gained popularity, and the very idea that such a person might come to a school for mutants was so atypical behaviour, Kayla had to ask the question.

“I didn’t know where else to go,” the man told them, then coughed violently. He was soaking wet from head to foot, although the outside of his clothes appeared dry, and Kayla couldn’t remember seeing any rain when she’d gone up to fetch Jean, Ororo and Scott. 

“Well, bub, what do you want me to do with him?” Logan barked at Scott.

Scott hesitated another moment, and glanced at the room behind him, in which the comatose Professor currently lay. “Medical room,” he said, with an indicative nod to the next door down. Whilst all the rooms down that particular corridor were all technically part of the medical centre, then one with the Professor in it held the majority of the equipment. However, no one felt comfortable putting an anti-mutant activist in the same room as Professor Charles Xavier.

“I can’t decide,” Ororo confided in Kayla, as Logan and Scott helped the Senator towards the room, “whether I want him to know something about Magneto or not.”

Chapter Text

Jean placed a seat at the head of Senator Kelly’s bed, and lowered herself slowly into it. She glanced up at the others. Scott was standing by her shoulder, his hand kept making abortive movements as though he wanted to place a hand on her shoulder or back, but didn’t want to distract her either. Ororo was stood at Senator Kelly’s side, his hand clasped in both of hers. Logan and Kayla waited at the other end of the bed, his arm around her shoulders, and the hand of her healthy arm tucked into one of his back pockets.

Outside the door, Jean knew Hank was waiting. He was the best doctor they had, but no one had wanted to push their luck by presenting Senator Kelly with a large, blue, furry beast. Hank was the kindest person Jean knew, after Professor Xavier himself, but it took some time for strangers to become accustomed to his ferocious appearance.

She was procrastinating. Jean took a deep breath, and put her hands on either side of the Senator’s head, not touching him or the bed itself. Then she closed her eyes and pushed.

Jean was not yet used to searching for specific memories in another person’s mind, and she was thrown for some moments by the barrage of thoughts and feelings and images strewn across Kelly’s mind. There was a sharp undercurrent of intelligence, cutting close to genius, but his mind was too disorganised to touch upon it. There was no order to his memories, nothing to associate with them and make recollection clearer, and it was tricky for Jean to navigate the chaotic swirl.

Luckily, the memory she was looking for was a strong one. It was recent, and it was traumatic. It was like a sore upon Senator Kelly’s mind, that he was drawn back to time and time again, even though it hurt each time to remember. It hurt anyway. Everything hurt, everything was murky.

Jean let out the breath she had forgotten that she was holding. It was difficult, sometimes, to remember that she could be one thing whilst her mind was something else.

The memory was dark. Not just because of bad lighting, but also because of the emotions associated with it. Most prominently there was fear, a deep, wrenching fear that clawed up his throat and attempted to strangle him, yet still words poured forth. There was vindication. I was doing the right thing. And there was a morbid sense of humour. They always said I’d say something that would get me killed.

But Magneto did not want to kill Senator Kelly. He wanted to watch and laugh while he became something he hated. Magneto had built a machine, a dynamo of some sort, that glowed an eerie blue that swirled out from the centre to enclose them all. As it spread across Kelly’s skin he screamed, because it should have hurt. It didn’t. It was like being lightly scratched all over, almost a tickle, although it wasn’t just skin deep, his entire body was aching with it, before -

The blue energy seeped away, collapsing in on itself as the man powering it collapsed, too. Magneto was normally so strong, so sure of himself, had such presence, it was difficult to remember that he was on old man. Now, however, he looked every one of his years. A woman covered entirely in blue skin, with red hair slicked back over the curve of her skull and to the top of her neck, stepped forward to help him.

“Welcome to the future. Brother.”

Senator Kelly was left sitting, staring, aching, as Magneto limped from the room. The impact of his words hadn’t sunk in yet. They wouldn’t for another number of hours. Until then, he was being moved, and left to wait in cage, bars looking out across a vast, empty ocean with nothing to see. The fear stayed, but it was accompanied now with a devastating grief.

Jean extracted herself slowly, pulling out of the memory and taking care to leave the emotions where they belonged, and not pull them out with her. She opened her eyes in time to see Senator Kelly’s roll back in his skull as he fainted. Jean leant back and away from him, feeling vaguely dirty from enveloping herself in a mind so full of hate, and collided with Scott’s hand that was still hovering behind her, unsure whether to touch or not.

Jean stood sharply, wavering a little when she reached her feet, and turning towards Scott as he moved to steady her. She fell against him, curling into his chest for a far too brief moment, before straightening and turning to face the others.

“Magneto has created a machine that… that turns humans into mutants,” Jean stuttered. She glanced at Senator Kelly, before turning her eyes away from him and closing them. She was finding it difficult to look at him. Kelly was abundant with irrational hatred that he had justified to himself and turned into a political campaign. He was making thousands of people’s lives so much more complicated than they had to be, simply because he had no reasonable explanation for why something existed, and therefore hated it.

“I’ll get Hank,” Ororo said, hurrying from the room and looking happy to be able to let go of Senator Kelly’s hand.

“Why does he need Rogue?” Logan asked.

“Magneto uses his powers to make the machine work,” Jean explained. “And after he had done his little demonstration - he was exhausted. I don’t doubt that if he did it for long enough, the machine would kill him.”

Kayla gasped, the hand she’d had on Logan, moving up to cover her mouth. “No,” she denied, sounding desperate. “No, please.”

“What, darlin’?” Logan asked her gruffly, his voice low and comforting. Then he turned to the rest of the room and barked harshly, “What?”

“Rogue touches someone and absorbs their powers,” Jean said softly, as though her words were what was dooming Rogue, rather than Magneto’s actions. “If she absorbs Magneto’s power, and they put her in the machine-”

“Then she dies instead,” Scott finished. “Damn it!” he burst out with a moment later. “And we have no idea when or where Magneto’s attack is going to take place.”

“Magneto - he’s looking for political reinforcement of mutant rights? He wants us to rule the rest of humankind?” Kayla asked.

“He says we’re at war with the rest of humanity,” Jean agreed, stepping away from Senator Kelly so that Hank could start taking care of him.

“He’s not wrong about that,” Logan said.

Kayla pulled away and glared darkly at him. “That is the man who’s going to kill our daughter,” she hissed furiously.

Jean watched their interaction curiously, the couple were openly affectionate with each other, the love they shared something that they were both obviously very proud of. But they appeared to have such differing personalities. Logan was a blunt force, and ripped his way through any given situation, whether it was battle or conversation, leaving everything behind him in tatters. Kayla was much more subtle, a calming force that promised a trustworthy confidant, who soothed over the hurts as easily as Logan created them. They shouldn’t work and yet, somehow, they did. Flawlessly.

She had worried at first, when Jean had first been introduced to Kayla and Logan, that the power in the relationship lay too heavily in Logan’s hands. Kayla seemed to do as he said, think as he wanted, providing a support for him that he didn’t necessarily return. Not that Logan didn’t appreciate Kayla, he clearly adored her. Jean had just worried that the relationship wasn’t as fulfilling for Kayla as it was for Logan.

Now, however, she could see that she was wrong in her assessment. They thought alike because there were as many similarities in their ideals as there were differences in their personalities. The support they provided for one another was a mutual thing that benefited both of them, and if Kayla did as Logan said it was because they were so familiar with one another that it was akin to finishing one another’s sentences.

Seeing Kayla stand before Logan and argue against him so plainly, in front of people who were practically strangers, proved to Jean that the power in the relationship was not unbalanced. It was just so well known and practiced as to be misinterpreted by the casual observer.

“I ain’t saying he’s right about that,” Logan replied to Kayla. “I’m just saying that mutants aren’t understood, that things not understood are fought against. You know what Rogue was like.”

It was difficult, at that ambiguous statement, not to delve a little into Logan or Kayla’s thoughts to find out what Rogue had been like.

“It’s not a war,” Scott protested. “We’re all human. We just need to teach people to understand.”

Logan snorted derisively. “Good luck trying, bub. We’re less human than minorities in a whole lot of wars fought before.”

“What do you mean?” Jean asked.

“Fight for equal rights for women,” Logan replied. “Fight for equal rights for blacks. Fucking wars, and death, and lives destroyed. Every time those in power see a group of people who might start thinking for themselves, they panic. Skin colour, sex, religion, sexual orientation, wealth, even the place where you’re fucking born - like any of us can help any of that - and every time there’s a war, or two, or three. These are all people who look human. But us? Us mutants? We’ve got claws, and wings, and fur, and laser beam eyes, we can creep inside minds and change thoughts, we can move things without touching them, we can walk through walls. No wonder the other humans are fucking terrified.”

“What are you saying?” Jean prompted, before Scott could say anything that might start a fight.

“I’m saying,” Logan growled. “That of course there’s a fucking war. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight for what’s right.”

“You sound like Captain America,” Kayla teased gently, breaking up the tension as she tucked herself back up under Logan’s arm.

“Screw you,” Logan grumbled, but there must have been something fond about the way he said it, because Kayla just laughed.

Scott looked disgruntled by the way the conversation had gone, but when he spoke up it was with something productive rather than inflammatory. Jean felt a burst of pleased surprise in her chest. “What are we going to do to stop this particular battle then?”

“There’s a World Summit this evening,” Kayla said quietly. “If I had a machine that turned people into mutants, and I wanted political support, I know what I’d do.”

“I would have to second that,” Hank spoke up, effectively cutting into their conversation. “There is one major flaw in Magneto’s plan, however.”

“Yes?”

“Whatever radiation it was that Senator Kelly was exposed to, it has not produced stable effects.”

“What do you mean?” Jean asked, forcing herself to look at Kelly again.

Hank hunched his shoulders before he replied, “He has been successfully turned into a mutant, that’s true, but it was a forced transformation. It’s like a child has taken a string of his DNA, taken it apart, then tried to fit it back together through the wrong shaped holes. His body is beginning to disintegrate as we speak - he was simply not designed to withstand the interior changes he’s going through.”

“Is there any way to reverse engineer it?” Scott asked. “Can we save him?”

“I can try, but it does not look hopeful,” Hank said apologetically.

Jean saw Kayla’s hesitation, before the dark haired woman asked, “Is there any chance that this effect is particular for Senator Kelly, or will it happen to everyone exposed to the radiation?”

“I’m afraid not. The radiation won’t affect humans who are already mutants, so far as I can tell, but for those who are not - I imagine they will begin to, quite literally, fall apart. I’m afraid our friend here is unlikely to hold himself together for the whole night.”

“When you say ‘fall apart’…” Jean said, unable to contain her curiosity, but not entirely happy with fully vocalising the question either.

“His cells are starting to dissolve,” Hank replied bluntly. “His internal organs are starting to lose integrity. It is my belief that before tomorrow morning Senator Kelly is likely to be nothing more than a puddle.”

“That’s horrible,” Kayla remarked, though she stated it as a fact and did not apply much feeling to the words.

“Yes,” Hank agreed just as simply.

“And this is likely to happen to everyone who’s touched by the radiation?” Scott asked.

“Everyone who is not a mutant,” Hank confirmed again.

There was a long pause whilst everyone in the room absorbed what that would mean.

“We need to stop Magneto,” Scott said.

“Because saving Rogue’s life wasn’t important enough,” Logan muttered angrily, quieting when Kayla nudged his side.

Struck by a sudden idea, Jean marched away from them and through the door. Scott wouldn’t like it, but then he didn’t like anything that put Jean at risk. She went down on one knee so that the entrance to Cerebro could scan her iris, before she marched through the doorway to take a look at the control panel. Lifting the cover to one of the panels, Jean immediately saw what the problem was. Someone had added an extra element to the controls that added a new component to the gel that helped enhance a telepath’s abilities. It was easy to put in, and easy to take out.

Jean watched with morbid fascination as the gel changed from a dark, sickly green, back to the pale blue it was supposed to be. She pulled open the other panels too, to check that none of them had been tampered with either, but since it was clearly an attack to delay Professor Xavier for a couple of days, and not an attempt at his life, Jean didn’t think that there would be anything else wrong.

In spite of how terrifying it was to see Professor Xavier unreasoning with open eyes, it was perhaps the most humane way of taking the Professor out of the picture. If the intruder had managed to get to Cerebro without setting off any alarms, they could have put some much more toxic chemicals into the control panel that would have done a lot more damage. As it was, the Professor had just been temporarily over sensitised towards the thoughts of others until the chemical had passed through his system. Painful, certainly, but it wouldn’t last for too long, and the pain was easily dulled by the various medicines Hank could prescribe.

Jean glanced once more towards the door, but the others hadn’t followed her. They were probably still arguing over what the next step should be. Without Professor Xavier to guide them, it was as though they were teenagers again, the ability to think rationally became something they had to fight towards rather than coming naturally.

Taking the head set for Cerebro between trembling fingers, Jean closed her eyes, and lifted it over her head, sliding it carefully into place. It took a moment to centre herself, because unlike when there was one person she was ‘reading’, and she could push in their direction, this was a search. There was no push. Instead, she had to reach, and suddenly she was sweeping down the corridor, across the mansion, exploding over the grounds, feeling a little tattered and frayed at the edges as she expanded far beyond her normal limits.

She had touched Rogue’s mind before. She hadn’t looked, just seen, like the face of a stranger you saw on the bus every day. Still a stranger, but still familiar. Jean reached, pushing her mind faster and faster, wondering absently whether her skull was actually cracking, or if her head just felt like that. Absently, she heard someone call her name. She thought it might have been Scott.

But there, there was the mind she was looking for. A little scared, but so much angrier. Worry - for her parents. Disappointment - at herself for being so stupid. Hope - the text, the text! And then a glimmer, the faintest light of maybe that exploded across her mind until she was pushing information towards Jean. Somehow, marvellously, Rogue had sensed Jean was looking, reaching.

Magneto, Mystique, Toad, Sabretooth-Creed, Magneto, Magnus, Eric. Wants her, not Logan, claws useless, machine. Machine! Mutant maker. Politicians? World Summit? Pretending to be unconscious. Boat, river, Liberty Island, Statue of Liberty, fucking poser, transfer of skills, get this fucker away from me. No, no, DON’TFUCKINGTOUCHME. Dead coastguard, just lying there. Didn’t have to kill him. They’re going to make me do Magneto’s dirty work. Bastard.

Then Jean fell out of Cerebro, tearing the headset off and collapsing against Scott, who had forced himself into the room. Her head still felt a little as though it were trying to split into two, but already the pain was fading.

“They’re going to Liberty Island,” Jean gasped, before she let Scott pull her face to his chest and she could pretend that she wasn’t getting the front of his shirt wet with tears.

-xXx-

When Rogue woke up it was in bits and pieces. She caught snatches of voices, and the flicker of dull light from behind closed eyelids. Her left side felt like one big bruise and her ribcage felt as though she might have been kicked at some point; painful, annoying, but no worse than a particularly difficult work out session. She could already feel the ache begin to recede.

It took her some time to be able to claim to be fully conscious once more and when she was, there was very little that helped explain the situation she was in. There was a bag over her head that was thick enough that she could just about make out changes in light, but little more than that. A small amount of inconspicuous wriggling soon revealed that her legs were tied together at both the ankle and the knee, and her wrists were similarly tied behind her back. She could hear voices nearby, but they were too quiet for her to make out what they were saying.

For a long moment Rogue felt panic bubble up inside her, clawing up through her chest and throat and forcing her to swallow. She directed herself to take a few long, deep breaths and to think rationally about the situation. She had been kidnapped by someone who looked like Remy, but was not. She knew that Magneto had been looking to kidnap or kill one of her family. Apparently, it was her that he was after.

The person who was not Remy must be the Mystique that Professor Xavier had mentioned, and it must have been her who managed to kidnap Rogue. That was the part that rankled – that she had allowed herself to get kidnapped. She had no memory of the event and, with more shifting, she realised that there was a sizable lump on her head. It didn’t hurt much, but it would explain why she had no clear memories after sending that text to Kayla.

Rogue took another deep breath and rolled her shoulders, carefully testing the strength of whatever was tying her hands together. It seemed to be a set of zip-ties. That gave her something of an advantage, then. Clearly these people weren’t aware of the extent of her strength if they thought a zip-tie could keep her incapacitated for long. She considered breaking it now and making a break for it, before deciding against it.

Whatever it was that Magneto needed her for, he obviously needed her alive, otherwise she rather suspected that she’d never have woken up. But if she escaped now they would be none the wiser about what, exactly, he needed her for. She still had the element of surprise – it would take less than a second to snap the ties – and now that the initial panic had faded and she’d time to reassure herself that she had all the strength and training she needed to get out of this, strategically it would make sense to gather as much information as she could.

“I know that you’re awake,” a male voice said, startling her. She hadn’t heard any footsteps.

“Happy days!” Rogue murmured sarcastically, rolling to a close approximation to a sitting position.

“An attitude like that won’t win you any favours,” the man remarked, before continuing a shade quieter, “Not that it matters anymore.”

“So you plan to kill me,” Rogue said, turning her head towards his voice, though she couldn’t hope to see him through the thick material. “Well that’s good to know. I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me why?”

The voice didn’t reply for a long moment, and there were sounds of movement disconcertingly close. The next thing Rogue knew, the bag was being pulled roughly off her head.

She was in a small room, with windows along both sides and a door at the far end opening to some kind of control board. A woman covered entirely in blue with slicked back red her was stood over the body of a dead man, still dressed in a security guard uniform. It was late evening, the sky outside the semi-dark of night time in an area of high light-pollution. Rogue had been out for several hours at least then, and had been transported to a city. It also didn’t take a lot of consideration to figure out that she must be on a boat, which was a small comfort. At least the rocking motion she was feeling wasn’t just in her head.

“America was supposed to be the land of tolerance. And peace,” the voice continued, and Rogue got a good look at its owner. An old man, about the same age as the Professor, perhaps a little older, he was dressed in a plain black suit, the jacket done up to the neck so that he seemed like just another shadow in the dark. “But there is no tolerance. There is no peace.”

Behind him, held in sharp contrast to the night and his words, the Statue of Liberty stood tall and proud under the gleaming floodlights that kept it constantly illuminated.

“Families torn apart, because they were born different from those in power,” he continued. He must be Magneto, Rogue thought. “After tonight, those in power will be just like us. They will return home as brothers. As mutants. Our cause will be theirs. Your sacrifice will mean our survival. I’ll understand if that counts as small consolation.”

Rogue eyed him sceptically. “So... what you’re saying is that you’re making a child sacrifice to turn Hitler into a gay, black, Jewish man?”

Magneto, who had been crouched next to her, straightened sharply, fierce anger flickering across his face before he got his expression under control again and it became a blank mask once more. He opened his mouth, probably to make some reply, but Rogue had no interest in hearing it, and cut him off.

“I’ve gotta ask you, though, and this is a question that’s been bugging me since Remy first told me about your little boy band. Why ‘brotherhood’? I figured it was because you were all men, but I’m guessing that although Mystique has the ability to turn into a guy at will she identifies as female, so shouldn’t your group name include her? Seems a bit sexist.”

“Says the girl who sided with the X-Men,” Magneto replied smoothly, heading towards the door.

“Well that was obviously Scott’s input,” Rogue muttered, mostly to herself since he had shut the door behind him before she’d finished speaking. “He was charming,” she added sarcastically. She stretched her legs out in front of her, tilting her head to get a better look at how well they were tied. Unfortunately someone had wrapped duct tape several times around both her knees and ankles, so getting out of them would be more difficult than snapping her wrists free.

“You said ‘identifies as female’,” a different voice interrupted her thought process, and Rogue looked up to see Mystique eyeing her curiously.

Rogue tried not to squirm under the eerie yellow gaze and nodded dumbly a couple of times before gathering her wits. “You can turn into any human form you want, right? Whether they’re male or female. So you can be literally whoever you want to be. Therefore, when people refer to you as female, it’s because that’s how you identify, that’s how you chose to let them see you.”

“I was born female,” Mystique replied.

“So?” Rogue shot back. “I was born to people who abandoned me, raised by people who threw me out, and now have parents who would do anything to keep hold of me. Circumstances change. I’ve got to say, though, the fact that you can be male or female? Tell me you’ve had some fun experimenting in bed with that?”

Mystique glowered at her. “That is inappropriate.”

Rogue snorted. “Apparently I’m going to die in the next couple of hours or so, I’m not sure I’m too worried about what’s ‘appropriate’ right now.”

“Apparently?”

“Well, you know, I’m not too keen on the idea, and I imagine my parents aren’t either... not to mention my boyfriend, who you impersonated earlier.”

Mystique looked at her sharply. “You knew that was me?”

“You’re good, but you’re not that good. Besides, Remy knows better than to kidnap me. Logan’s going to fucking kill you.”

Rogue rolled her shoulders again, easing them further up the wall she was leaning against so she was just a little bit more upright. She flexed her legs together carefully, wiggling her toes and wincing at the pins and needles that shot through them

“You look familiar,” Mystique murmured, gazing intently at Rogue. Her words were so quiet, she had to assume that the woman was talking to herself.

“You want a life story to compare notes?” Rogue hissed at her, turning her face away from that penetrating gaze.

Mystique shook herself and stood gracefully from where she had leant down to get a closer look. She pressed her ear piece lightly for a moment, then nodded and knelt and cut through the tape holding Rogue’s legs together and pulled her roughly to standing. Rogue staggered for a moment as the blood rushed back into her limbs and used the movement to check if her knife was still in her boot. Unfortunately it wasn’t. Too bad, she’d liked that knife.

“Careful!” she hissed at her captor, as Mystique pushed her harshly on to the deck of the boat just in time to see Magneto moving some kind of machine high up into the air and bending the metal of the Statue’s flame to conceal it.

That was when she felt a familiar psyche reaching out to hers. It was spread thinly, reaching blindly across open space, too stretched out to have any real strength. If Rogue had not had the mental wherewithal to recognise it and reach out for it she wasn’t certain that Jean would have been able to find her at all. As it was, however, Jean did manage to ‘see’ her and Rogue tried to broadcast as much information as she could, as quickly as she could.

It was as she was doing so that Rogue realised what Magneto needed from her. Why he had chosen her, specifically, from all the thousands of mutants in the states, not to mention the rest of the world, who did not have morally ambiguous parents and boyfriends who not only had the willingness but also the ability to render limb-from-limb anyone who harmed her. The machine that he had just lifted into the statue’s flame was, presumably, the device that would change non-mutants into mutants. She could also assume that one of Magneto’s band of merry men was the mutant with the ability to power the machine.

They needed Rogue because she ‘stole’ people’s powers. They were going to put her up there instead of them. They were going to stand and watch as she burnt through her abilities, returning her to a baseline human if not killing her. Just as she was beginning to understand and truly control her powers, they would be taken away from her for a cause she didn’t even believe in.

With a roar she slammed her head forward, cracking it sharply against Mystique’s. Using the shapeshifter’s momentary daze she snapped the zip-tie around her wrists with ease and swiftly pulled off one of her gloves. Mystique had recovered enough by now to lunge towards her and Rogue pushed off the ground, placing both hands firmly on her shoulders and flipping herself over Mystique, spinning to face her as soon as her feet touched the ground.

There was a brief moment where Mystique remained standing, before her eyes rolled up into her skull, her knees gave way beneath her, and she crumpled to the ground. Rogue stooped to retrieve her glove and replaced it on her exposed hand. She let the wave of Mystique’s psyche crash over her, and felt her skin ripple uncomfortably, staring in fascination as her skin turned blue before her eyes. She grasped at the thing that was this new power, tried to tug it to her, manipulate it to her own desires.

But it was strong – not more powerful than her, it was only an echo of its true self – but strong in the way a five-foot-nothing mother can glower a six-foot-four son into submission. It was strange and familial, as though Rogue knew this power intimately, though she was certain that she had never met Mystique before. But was she certain? The older woman was a shapeshifter, after all, she could be anyone from Rogue’s past.

Still struggling with her newly acquired ability and the odd revelations it had brought with it, Rogue clambered unsteadily to her feet – when had she fallen? – and decided to smother the ability for now. Her best bet was to concentrate on what she knew she could do and escape as quickly and efficiently as she could, and try and make her way back to the Xavier Institute. She wasn’t entirely sure how to get back there, but Jean surely would have alerted the rest of the x-Men by now, and the further Rogue was from Magneto’s device, the more time she gave them to get here and put a stop to his plans.

Rogue turned in time to see Sabretooth’s fist coming straight towards her before the blow landed and her world faded to black.

-xXx-

The danger was immediate, but it still took a little bit of time to prep the jet and to make sure that the emergency support structure for the students would work as needed whilst all of the teachers were absent. Logan spent that time changing into his ridiculously tight uniform and then curled around Kayla on the sofa in their room as she called Gambit to let him know what was happening.

Merde,” Gambit murmured more to himself than them once they finished their retelling. “This bastard posed as Remy to trick his Chére?

“If it’s any consolation, she knew that it wasn’t you as soon as she got there, from what I can tell,” Kayla replied soothingly.

How is this ‘consolation’?

“One of the people who have her is a shapeshifter. The current theory is that the shapeshifter posed as you to gain Rogue’s confidence.”

Merde,” Gambit cursed again.

“They’re taking her to Liberty Island, how quickly do you think you can get there? Where are you now?” Logan butted into the telephone conversation gruffly, increasingly aware of how little time they had.

A teleporter owes my family a favour, if he is available, I will be there very shortly. If not, Remy fears he will be too late to help.

There was genuine fear and regret in Gambit’s voice as he confessed this, and Logan felt a twinge of pity for the man. As much as he disliked him being involved with Rogue, Gambit was a more honest man than most people who weren't thieves, and his genuine affection for Rogue was clear as day. He was of the same ilk as Logan, and he knew that he did not react well to the news of being possibly incapable of helping the people he loved.

There was no time left, however, and Logan had to leave.

“I hope to see you and your fucking stick soon,” Logan told him.

“Good luck,” Kayla wished.

You too, my friends,” Remy returned before they hung up.

Logan pressed a hot kiss to Kayla’s forehead, his hands squeezing her shoulders tightly before he took a step back.

“You bring yourself and our girl back,” Kayla told him softly.

“Yes ma’am,” he agreed with a tight smile. “Keep yourself safe.” Then Logan turned away from her and raced through the mansion and down into the now familiar passages beneath the building. He boarded the jet just as Scott was finishing the pre-flight checks and the others were taking their seats. Logan settled into one of the seats and tried to concentrate on anything other than the fact that he was in a small enclosed space hurtling at supersonic speeds through the atmosphere.

In the short time between taking off and when they would arrive, Logan concentrated on the uniform he had been given. It was tight and a little uncomfortable in areas – particularly across his shoulders, and around his thighs and shins – but it had obviously been designed for someone of a more slender build than Logan. The collar dug awkwardly into his neck and there were no spaces for his claws. The last was easily resolved however.

The blades shot out of his knuckles with the same snickt sound they always did, pain flaring briefly across each hand as they cut through his flesh. But it wasn’t a bad pain, not anymore. It was something familiar, that indicated his ability to not only fight off any potential threat that came his way, but also the ability to heal from every wound he’d ever suffered so far. And that was nothing to be sniffed at, considering the great many wounds he had suffered, and that he would have been dead a hundred times over without his healing ability. The pain of his claws coming out was something to center himself around, something that reminded him of what he was truly capable of.

He caught Jean looking at his hands curiously and smirked at her, drawing the blades back in slowly and flexing his hands in the gloves. For all that the uniform looked ridiculous, it was actually very well designed. There had been more resistance than he’d expected when he’d punched the holes in the knuckles, and the fabric was surprisingly breathable. Fighting in it was going to be easy than he had at first anticipated.

They reached Liberty Island in record time and between the jet’s cloaking devices, Storm’s helpfully provided fog cover, and the general obliviousness of your average New Yorker, no one noticed there somewhat bumpy arrival. The rough landing had caused Logan’s belly to clench anxiously but other than growling an insult at Scott who was piloting, he kept his reaction to himself.

“That was the boat they used,” Logan told them quietly once they were on solid ground, and indicating one of the coast guard vessels. “The stench of Sabretooth is all over it.”

“And this explains how they avoided raising an alarm,” Storm added, leading them to the body of a crumpled guard. He was oddly positioned and seemed strangely… flat.

Jean gasped, “did they squash him to death?”

“Priorities,” Logan growled, heading towards the foot of the statue. “Rogue’s still alive. That guy isn’t.”

Scott huffed and waved all of them to be quiet before once more taking the lead. They passed silently through the customer entrance, until they all winced as Logan’s unique skeleton set off the metal detector alarms.

“Why the fuck are they even still on at this time of night?” Logan grouched as hot sparks from the detector he’d just shredded spat out around him.

“Way to announce our presence to the entire building,” Scott complained with a tight jerk of his head that Logan was beginning to understand was Cyclops’ equivalent of an eye roll.

Logan opened his mouth to snap a reply when he caught the smell of someone very close by, someone who was not a member of their little hero-squad.

“What is it?” Jean asked.

“There’s someone here.”

“Where?” Scott prompted.

“I don’t know,” Logan said, crouching down to see if he could catch a better sniff of whatever it was. “Keep your eye open,” he taunted casually before slinking out of the room, ignoring Scott’s cry of protest.

When he rounded the corner he was faced with a wholly unusual sight. A blonde woman lay naked and collapsed on the floor, her breath coming in the same wheezy gasps that Logan recognised from whenever Rogue touched anyone with her bare skin. As he watched, the woman’s skin changed, rippling out from the centre of her chest and turning her blue and slightly scaled. She remained unconscious, however, and Logan realised that for her to still be feeling a power drainage from Rogue’s abilities, the altercation that had left her blacked out on the floor must have happened very recently.

Logan hesitated, and sniffed the air again. There was the all-too-familiar stink of Sabretooth, and underneath that the faint rose of Rogue’s favoured hand cream. There was a hint of blood in the air too, but there were no obvious signs of it anywhere, so Logan forced himself not to worry too much – yet. There were other unfamiliar smells in the room too, but it was impossible what was from the people they were looking for, and what was left over from the tourists during the day.

He called out to the others, who made their way rapidly to his side.

“Mystique,” Jean remarked. “The shapeshifter.”

“She was still in her – ah – pre-mutant form when I found her, so Rogue probably got the better of her,” Logan informed them, no small amount of pride in his voice.

“Do you think Rogue is no longer being held captive by them then?” Scott asked him, knowing that Logan had the best understanding of Rogue’s skills, and therefore the situation at hand.

Logan shook his head. “Sabretooth, at least, was also here. I think Rogue fought back, probably escaped them for just long enough to take off a glove and get to Mystique, before getting captured again. I think there must be at least one other mutant here – whatever happened to that guard outside didn’t look like it was done by either of the two we know of – but probably not any more than that. They wouldn’t have left their ally like this unless they had to.”

They didn’t have time to transport Mystique back to the Quinjet, so they quickly tied her up and left her as she was, before continuing into the building, and heading towards the stairs up to the top of the statue. When they reached the crown, Logan held out his arm to stop the others from bursting straight through.

“There’s something – someone – waiting for us,” he warned.

Scott nodded in understanding, his hand raised to his glasses and taking the lead out into the main viewing floor. Jean and Storm followed, spreading out around him, with Logan bringing up the rear. There was no immediate threat, and Logan felt his chest vibrate with a low, uneasy growl.

“Logan?” Scott questioned quietly.

Jean cut in before he had a chance to reply – “Wait for it,” she advised. “He needs the element of surprise. There’s only-”

From somewhere in the shadows a green blob of something shot out at surprising speed and landed with a disgusting squelch on Jean’s face. It covered her nose, mouth and one of her eyes completely and hardened instantly. Logan’s hackles rose with the wave of surprised fear that Jean broadcast touched each of them, her control over her ability obviously not yet as good as she would have liked him to believe.

Scott went instantly to her side as Jean scrabbled at whatever it was that was stopping her from breathing, and with all of their attentions sufficiently distracted their as yet unseen assailant took the chance to strike. He swung through the air towards Storm, planting two heavily booted feet firmly on her chest and bouncing off. Her body arched through the air and slammed back into the still open elevator. She slid down the wall and slumped to the floor, the doors closing slowly after her.

The stranger wasted no time on her, turning his attention immediately to Logan. He was a pasty green colour, his hair a brighter green and held in spikes with too much gel. He smelt of damp and leather, decay and that goddamned hair gel. Then his tongue whipped out, grabbing Logan by the ankle and dragging his feet out from under him.

“What the hell kinda freak are you?” Logan growled, rolling onto his front and out of the space the stranger stamped heavily down on. The stranger’s tongue was ridiculously long, and strong too, and he had a preternatural ability to jump, successfully leaping several times his own height without seeming to break a sweat. From the dent his boots left in the ground where Logan had been lying, he would hazard a guess that this was the mutant responsible for the human pancake they’d seen outside.

Logan managed to get a few good swipes in, oddly coloured blood starting to spatter his claws, before the stranger spat out another mouthful of whatever it was that had slowed Jean down, and Logan had to lurch out of the way to avoid it. The other mutant sprang at him again, this time landing a solid steel-capped kick to Logan’s ribs. Winded, Logan rolled away and gasped for breath that suddenly escaped him, but managed to sink his claws into the mutant’s shins.

Howling furiously, the attacker didn’t notice the elevator as quickly as Logan did. The entire frame of the doors was shaking, electricity crackling up and down and the doors opened to reveal Storm floating in the small space, her eyes glowing and the tips of her hair sparking violently.

The unknown mutant balanced his weight awkwardly on the leg that hadn’t been hit by Logan and stalked towards her, an ugly snarl curling his lips.

“Hold on to something,” Storm warned the room in general. Logan barely had time to grab at one of the columns before the wind picked up drastically and the dynamic between Storm and the stranger switched. Now he was the one fighting to stay standing as she stalked towards him.

The wind increased again, impossibly, and the mutant started sliding backwards along the floor with the force of it until one particularly strong gust lifted him off his feet and smashed him against the doors to the balcony, that opened under his weight and he only just had time to grab the railing before he feel out into open space.

“The thunder of the gods is at my command!” Storm cried, feet barely touching the ground as she followed him out onto the balcony. “And do you know what happens when a toad is struck by lightning?” A cold calm settled across her face as the mutant stared perplexedly at her. “The same thing that happens to everything else,” she finished ominously, before she called down the lightning and the mutant lost his grip and fell into the Hudson far below.

The wind died almost instantly, and Logan pulled his claws from where he’d dug them into the column and sheathed them. A flash of red over to one side, followed by choked coughing reminded him and Storm that Jean had been attacked earlier, and they walked over to see how she was doing. Scott had managed to fire away most of the sticky green stuff, although a little still clung to Jean’s eyelashes and hair, and she looked pretty miserable about the entire predicament.

“Are you alright to carry on?” Scott asked her.

Jean pushed herself up, using his arm as support until she got to standing, before gently pushing him away. “I’m fine,” she insisted. “We came here to rescue Rogue, so let’s do that.”

The escalator didn’t go any further up so they turned to the stairwell and raced the rest of the way up to the top of the statue’s head. Someone had created a great hole in the dome, through which they had a perfect view of the hand that held the raised flame. There was no sign of Rogue, Sabretooth or Magneto, or even the device that Jean had described. Logan cursed under his breath and made to turn to face the others to start making a plan B when he found he was incapable of doing so.

“Everybody get out of here,” he warned.

“What is it?” asked Storm.

“I can’t move.”

It was a very strange feeling, to not be able to control his own body. Logan became suddenly very aware of his breathing, now that his ribcage wasn’t expanding and contracting with his lungs, and he could hear his heartbeat ringing in his ears as he was forced to turn to face these people who he was now working with. He didn’t know them well enough to call them friends, and he wasn’t sure that he ever wanted to, but he couldn’t help but hope that he was not about to be made to hurt them.

In the next second he was flying across the room and pinned against one of the walls. The metal supports for the dome twisted out like snakes and wrapped firmly around each of the other X-Men, trapping them against the wall as well before they could do much more than shoot a few lasers. But then Scott’s head was twisted to face Jean and there was nothing more he could do without shooting her through the head first. Logan growled and struggled fruitlessly against bonds that were strapped into his very skeleton.

“Welcome, my brothers,” a new voice introduced itself as a rather nondescript old man floated through the hole and landed casually before them. He glanced at Logan and smiled in a way that should have been caring, which made it all the creepier when followed by the words, “Let’s point those claws of yours in a safer direction.”

With a twitch of the man’s hands, Logan’s closed fists were pressed to his chest. If he were to unsheathe his claws now they would pierce his heart and both of his lungs. He growled again, and struggled a bit more, mostly for Magneto’s sake. Logan was suddenly glad the man wasn’t a mind reader. Stabbing himself in the chest was going to hurt like a son of a bitch, but it wouldn’t kill him. And if Magneto didn’t know that, then maybe there was still a chance.

Sabretooth landed with a thud behind Magneto. With a word of warning to Scott, he stalked across the room and pulled the protective eyewear away from his face. Scott scrunched his face automatically, and Jean flinched away. Everyone knew that if Scott were to so much as open an eye Jean would quite literally lose her head.

Magneto sighed and shook his head. “Why do none of you understand what I’m trying to do? Those people down there, they control our fate, and the fate of every other mutant!” He released a breath, and with it much of the anger that had started to rise in his words. “Well,” he said, “ Soon our fate will be theirs.”

“You are so full of shit,” Logan hissed at him. “If you were really so righteous, it would be you in that thing.”

Magneto stared at him solemnly for a long moment, but didn’t seem to have any words to defend against this accusation. Then he rose back up through the hole, the same way that he had come in.

From above their heads came a hoarse cry and a sudden crashing as chunks of plaster and stone came crumbling down, revealing the strange spinning device that apparently turned baseline humans into mutants. And it was not Magneto at the heart of the advice, but Rogue. Even from this distance they could see her twisting and pulling against it, but there was apparently nothing she could do to stop it. The device began to spin faster and faster, and at its apex a spot of light appeared and began to grow.

Chapter Text

Logan closed his eyes for a long moment and listened. If he concentrated hard enough he could hear Rogue’s breathing. It was faster than normal, and there was a small, panicky hiccough at the end of her exhale, but that was not the breathing of someone who was scared out of their wits. That was the breathing of Rogue preparing to fight. She was trapped in a corner, and forced to use desperate measures, but she was getting ready to fight.

Logan opened his eyes and met those of Sabretooth. “You really shouldn’t have sided with him, bub,” he told him. “Because that’s my daughter he has trapped up there, and you know better than I do what I’d do for family.”

Sabretooth grunted but otherwise didn’t reply.

Logan smiled grimly in preparation, then unsheathed his claws. They stabbed through blood and flesh like it was soft butter, and distantly he heard the tips clang against the wall where they punctured his back. He thought someone might have called his name, but his vision was tunnelling and all he could hear was his own heartbeat slowing down.

He was dead before he hit the ground, and did not feel his nose break against the metal floor. His claws had retracted as unconsciousness had swept through him, and one of his fingers would have broken were it not for the metal protecting the bone.

Adrenaline had been sweeping though his body before he had stabbed himself, however, and Logan’s body healed itself faster than usual as a result. Within seconds his heart had started up again, his wounds healed over and his nose straight once more. His eyes snapped open just before Sabretooth grabbed him by the collar and pulled him to standing. Logan used the motion to swing his fist forward and stab the other man in the gut. Sabretooth let out a roar to put lions to shame before grabbing Logan and throwing him bodily out of the hole in the Statue of Liberty’s head.

Logan came to a slumped halt at the edge of the statue’s crown and instantly pushed to his feet, claws at the ready. Sabretooth jumped swiftly after him, landing with a clang next to the hole and baring his teeth at Logan and growling angrily. There was a moment when they simply assessed one another and just watched. Then the moment was broken and they both lunged, claws outstretched and prepared to do as much damage as possible for their respective causes.

He did not remember fighting Sabretooth before. Not properly, anyway. There was the brief spat they’d had a few days before, but that had lasted barely long enough to be called a proper fight. Logan had been driving for two days straight and his attention had been much more on Kayla and Rogue’s attempt to get to safety and the fact that their car had exploded than the fight itself. But fighting this man was – not easy, that was the wrong word describe something this challenging.

But it was familiar. The duck, swing, lunge was a routine that felt as though it was engraved into his very bones and it was only now that Logan was beginning to truly acknowledge that this was someone he had once known better than the back of his own hand. His method of fighting was a mirror image of Logan’s own, his ability to recover and to heal just the same. It felt like being stabbed in the gut to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was related to this man. And this one blood relation he had left was determined to kill him.

As the realisation struck, so too did Sabretooth, and Logan once again went flying, this time right off the edge of the statue. He only managed to save himself at the last minute by digging his claws into the side of the monument and clinging on for dear life.

He swung for a moment in the cold air and wondered how, exactly his life had come to this, but his thought process was cut off by an enraged shout from far above. Rogue. Family. That’s how. Struggling against gravity that seemed determined to send him plummeting the 93 meters to the ground, Logan clawed his way back up to the crown, and dragged himself back through the hole.

He landed with a thump at the same time a flash of blue smoke announced the arrival of Gambit and a strange, blue mutant with a spiked tail. The stranger gave the room a panicked glance before disappearing with the same puff of smoke, leaving Gambit standing alone, looking somewhat dazed by the whole experience.

There was a moment of confusion as they all took in exactly what had just happened (with the exception of Scott, who was looking as confused as anyone unable to see anything could be). Then Sabretooth threw himself once more at Logan, who met him, again, claw for claw.

It took less than a second for Gambit to recognise Sabretooth as the enemy, and he too joined the fray. Neither Logan nor Sabretooth could be said to be the better fighter; they were too evenly matched, but with Gambit introduced into the equation, the fight soon turned in their favour.

Spotting Scott’s visor, Logan grabbed it and chucked it across the room to Jean, who caught it unsteadily with her telekentic abilities.

“Scott,” Jean murmured quietly, in order not to be heard over the sound of the fight. “When I say so, open your eyes.”

“But-” Scott started to protest.

“Trust me,” she hissed, interrupting him.

Her eyes darted over to Logan and Gambit who, upon seeing what she was about to do, immediately threw themselves back out of the way.

“NOW!” Jean cried, and Scott opened his eyes.

The bright light of his eyes refracted in the visor and hit Sabretooth square on the chest, sending him crashing through the wall and off the statue. Jean quickly moved the visor to its proper position on Scott’s face, and Logan and Gambit went about freeing the others from their metal bonds.

“Rogue?” Remy asked.

Another shout from above, this one sounding more pained than the previous ones answered Gambit’s question before Logan could.

“There’s only Magneto left,” Logan said. “We’ve taken care of the others.”

The pair turned to contemplate the gap between the statue’s head and it’s raised hand, but any further conversation was cut off by Scott roughly demanding, “Who the hell is this guy?”

“Gambit,” Remy replied shortly, without his usual flair for the dramatic or even offering his full name.

“You’re one of the Thieves Guild,” Jean said accusingly, but was ignored when Storm’s revelation drew everyone’s attention.

Remy?” she gasped.

Gambit turned to look at her properly for the first time since he’d arrived, and his eyes went wide with shock. “Ororo?” he asked, equally surprised.

Next thing anyone knew, Storm had thrown herself into Gambit’s arms and he was hugging her tightly and spinning her around. He set her gently on the ground and they pressed their foreheads together, taking one another in in astonishment.

A hot burning sensation started in Logan’s gut and he felt a growl be ripped from his throat before he could even acknowledge its existence.

“Hey bub,” he growled menacingly, pacing towards Gambit. “You better have a damn good explanation for groping another lady while your girl’s – my daughter’s – life is at stake.”

Gambit immediately let go of Storm, putting his hands in the air in a sign of defeat and innocence. “Logan, no! Remy would – I would never cheat on Rogue! She is my heart! Ororo is an old friend, one I haven’t seen in a long time.”

There was nothing but truth and regret in his voice, and Logan believed him as soon as the words were out of his mouth, but that didn’t stop him from taking another few threatening steps towards Gambit, and baring his teeth at the soothing hand Storm placed on his shoulder. He didn’t like Remy dating his daughter, full stop, he figured he was allowed to lose control every now and then in her defence.

“It’s spinning too fast for me to hit it without killing Rogue,” Scott remarked, glaring up at the device above them that was now entirely developed in the blue light. This remark caught both Gambit and Logan’s attentions completely, and they both scowled up at the device.

Before anyone could begin to articulate a plan of action, however, the rings miraculously started to slow down.

-xXx-

When Rogue came to, for the second time in what was very likely to be the same number of hours, it was with her hands cuffed to two metal rods in the centre of a strange, spherical metal device. Magneto stood nearby, peering down at her.

“You don’t have to do this,” Rogue attempted to reason, flicking her hair back over her shoulder and blinking up at him in a way she hoped was pathetic and pleading.

He held his hands out towards her and raised them, dragging her wrists up first and forcing her into standing.

“I’m so sorry my dear,” Magneto apologised, gracefully tugging his gloves off and stepping into her space to cradle her bare cheeks with his hands.

Rogue closed her eyes, not even trying to lean away from the touch – he would only follow – and concentrated on the sensation itself. It was a gentle touch, not at all threatening, the same kind of touch a mother might bestow on a child, or two lovers might share. The comparisons made her feel sick, but she tried to cling to the pretence of safety and security. If she could trick herself into thinking this was not a life-threatening situation then maybe, just maybe, her stupid mutation wouldn’t activate.

For the briefest of moments she succeeded. There was no flash of sensation, of a psyche and skillset entirely unlike her own flooding through her system. But then the all too familiar feeling of not-quite pins and needles flooded across her face and she opened her eyes in time to catch Magneto’s gaze, before he collapsed down and back away from her.

A lifetime flashed across her mind in a heartbeat, too fast for her to get any real sense of, but leaving the cloying taste of desperation and grief and anger behind it. Even as her hands clamped down on the two metal rods like magnets too strong to tug away, Rogue wept and it was not for herself. What was a life worth when filled with so much regret and anger? God, how she wished she might have been able to persevere and stop Magneto’s mind sweeping through hers.

Far below she could make out the distant sounds of a battle, and she cried out wordlessly, knowing that Logan would hear her, even if the others couldn’t.

Around her the metal device started groaning into movement, the rings gradually spinning faster and faster. Magneto’s abilities were so grand, so huge and magnificent there was no way she could control them, not yet, not whilst being bowled over by them. Even though what she was sensing was only a shadow of the original, it felt beyond her comprehension. It was like being told hundreds of thousands of people might die, and then being forced to see every single face and told every name – it was too large for her brain to cope with.

And yet, cope with it her brain must. There was electricity roaring through her veins, squeezing tears out of the corners of her eyes and making her whole head feel as though it were on fire. She could feel every single nerve ending tingle and it hurt beyond anything she’d felt before. Was this how Magneto felt all the time, she wondered. Was this how it felt to have the ability to shape metal to your will surging through your veins, or was this just one mind and body trying to cope with something too great?

Her hands clenched down on the two rods and the metal groaned in protest beneath her grip. She could feel wind whipping around her and she tilted her head back, gasping for breath as though she had forgotten how to. Her lungs were on fire, her heart about to burst through her chest and she summoned everything she had ever learnt about mental control to the forefront of her mind and Rogue opened her eyes again, unaware that they had fallen shut.

The first lesson she had learnt was scream. Scream so loudly that everything else falls away, so that the only thing that you and they can hear is your voice. So Rogue screamed. She screamed with the four year old who had been sent away from yet another foster home. She screamed with all of the fears and insecurities and injustices that had plagued her childhood. She screamed from her heart and her soul and somewhere, hidden behind their doors in her mind, the psyches she had imprinted lent their voices to hers and started screaming too.

The hardest lesson she had learnt was how to distinguish herself from everything other, and to exclude that other. The centre of Magneto’s skills was easily perceived as not hers, but the edges were blurry, melding into her and harder to determine. So she grasped at these edges and she pushed and pulled and screamed at them until she could peel them away from herself.

Hunching forward she gathered everything other of Magneto’s and she hurled it into another empty room and slammed the door behind it. For a long, fraught couple of minutes, the door would not shut and Rogue had to pull a few more tendrils of not hers away and squeeze them into the room. Then she screamed again, long and loud until the corners of Magneto were forced away and she could lock them into their box.

When Rogue became gradually aware of the world around her once more, it was to see that the rings of the device were still spinning at full speed, a curious blue light spreading out at unnerving speed, emanating from the centre – from her. Her skin was rippling between her own pale skin tone and the dangerous blue of Mystique’s. Her feet weren’t touching the ground and she could feel the heat of the sun flickering at the tips of her fingers. If she were to glance in a mirror, Rogue felt certain that it would be Remy’s black and red eyes peering back at her.

It hurt to be using all these powers at once, but it had taken all of them to lock Magneto’s psyche away, she realised. For as grand as his power might be, it would be no more or less than any other mutant’s ability without the mind behind it. The sheer strength of character and stubbornness of nature had only been overwhelmed by the culmination of several other minds, echoes though they all were.

Rogue took a deep breath and lowered herself to the ground, letting the sunlight fade and her skin to settle. She tugged on Magento’s ability and felt it fall in line as easily as the others, now that it was just one more flavour in the pallet of her mind. The rings slowed to a stop and the blue light imploded with no fuss. A few of the guards in the statue of Liberty itself might have been affected, but the world leaders were safe.

She tugged her hand away from the rods they’d been attached to, and the handcuffs snapped with ease, the bracelets melting away without a second thought. God, she felt high on the power running through her veins, the electricity that had been burning her up from the inside before was now fuelling her.

“You shouldn’t have used me, Magneto,” Rogue told him with preternatural calm. “You slowed me for a while, and I’ll admit it wasn’t easy to overpower you, to add an echo of you to who I am, but now I’ve done it once, it’ll be easy to do a second time. And a third. And a fourth. One day I’ll be able to touch your bare skin and instead of debilitating me all that will happen will you will knock yourself out and you will fuel my rage.”

She gazed down at him and sneered at the way he was crumpled on the floor. “Stand up, you whimpering quim!”

When Magneto could only stagger to his feet, Rogue wrapped a hand around his throat and held him up by that, pinning him back against one of the rings that had now stopped spinning entirely.

“You have given me a dangerous advantage,” she whispered into his ear, voice dangerous and low. “I am not some inexperienced teenager to be overwhelmed by you. It is not merely your mutant ability that I copy into my mind. No, there is a shadow of your mind in mine. Your entire life spread out at my feet to peruse at my leisure. And do not doubt that I will. I can taste the depths of your secrets already, and know that I will plunder them and use them against you.”

Magneto coughed around her grip, shuddering from the effort of it and he grinned nastily at her. “Are you sure you haven’t bitten off more than you can chew?”

In his eyes there was the grief of decades of self-denial and rejection, the self-righteousness of a man who has only ever had to worry about himself because all of those whom he loves were torn away from him.

Rogue shook her head sadly, taking a step back and loosening her hold on this throat. “You have no idea how self-centred you are, do you? You think that what you’re doing is for some greater good, but you haven’t stopped to work out what it is people actually need, rather than what you think they need.”

“People rarely know what it is they truly need,” Magneto spat back.

“True,” Rogue agreed easily. “But newsflash, idiot. You’re included in that too!” Then she drew back the hand that wasn’t holding him in place, balled it into a fist and slammed it into his face.

He crumpled instantly, and Rogue moved quickly to catch him before he collapsed to the ground. “More than you bothered to do for me,” she muttered angrily, lowering him to the ground. Then she turned around to face the device that she had so briefly been trapped in. Raising her hands as she had seen Magneto do before, she felt for the metal in the open air before her. She flicked her wrist and saw one of the rings stretch and bend out of shape with a dramatic screeching sound.

After a short period of playing with the ability, Rogue crushed the device into a great ball of unrecognisable metal. There was no finesse to her actions, but there was no need for any when all she wanted to do was to destroy the device that could well have destroyed the world as they knew it. Once it was as small as she could make it, Rogue split it into several smaller lumps and scattered them in different directions, launching them into the Hudson.

Rogue threw Magneto over one shoulder and launched herself off the raised platform, smirking at the cries of alarm from Scott, Jean, and Ororo. She circled once around the statue’s head, before flying through the hole and landing gracefully before them. She handed Magneto off to Scott with no ceremony and threw herself into Logan’s arms.

“Hell, that was exhausting,” she muttered into his shoulder, hiding her grin at the silent laugh that shook through him.

“Kayla would want me to remind you to watch your language,” he said, making her chuckle too. Kayla had long since given up trying to get either of them to keep their cusses to themselves.

Rogue clung to him for long moments, pretending that her eyes weren’t prickling with unshed tears, that she wasn’t shaking with exhaustion that was as much emotional as it was physical.

Logan squeezed her a little tighter, before loosening his hold and indicating to someone behind her with his free hand. “There, girl, you’re safe now. But you’ve gotta reassure Cajun, here, that you’re alright.”

“Remy?” Rogue exclaimed, spinning around out of Logan’s hold and stumbling forward into the warm haven of Gambit’s embrace.

“Chére! Try not to scare me like that again, no?”

“No promises, hon, but I’ll do my best,” Rogue muttered, clinging to his shoulders, desperately reassuring herself that this was her Remy, and not a pretender. She leant back a little to meet his eyes, and tilted her head questioningly.

Gambit smirked a little and closed the gap between them, sealing his lips over hers in a brief, fierce kiss. His power sizzled across their lips and causing her hands to clench into fists for the duration, before they broke apart and Rogue tucked herself up under his chin. Her hands slid down his chest and curled around his waist, tugging them impossibly closer.

“Not to interrupt,” Logan growled, his grumble having far less effect than he might’ve liked. “But we’ve got to clear out of here.”

Rogue nodded, but didn’t move. “Gimme a second,” she begged, drawing strength from the presence of her two favourite men.

Eventually she stood straight, stepping back and out of Remy’s arms. She wobbled a little, unsteady on her feet.

“The adrenaline is wearing off,” Jean suggested as Logan stepped forward to support Rogue by the elbow.

“Come on then, Chére, I’m sure your grumpy father and Gambit can work together long enough to get you out of here,” Gambit suggested, taking her other arm.

With Gambit and Logan flanking her, Rogue stumbled her way down and out of the statue, followed by Ororo, Jean and Scott. With the relative privacy of the other three dealing with Magneto, and the extra security forces who were just now joining the party, Rogue took the opportunity to apologise.

“Remy should have told you as soon as he lost his phone,” Remy cut in, shaking his head.

“Yes, Remy should have,” Logan added with a glare over Rogue’s shoulder.

“It was only gone a day! I thought it was down the back of the sofa!”

“Well you should’ve known better!”

“Enough,” Rogue cut in to the rapidly heating argument. “I’d rather they use Remy as bait than more forceful methods. Given the circumstances I escaped pretty much unharmed. And we all know that they wouldn’t have stopped until there had been some kind of fight.”

Remy and Logan turned their scowls to her.

“‘Pretty much unharmed’?” Logan asked.

“I got into a fight with the bitch who pretended to be Remy, got a whack to the back of my head for my troubles, and fighting off a psyche as strong as Magneto’s causes a bit of muscle strain and mental exhaustion. But I’m fine, nothing a good night’s sleep won’t resolve.”

Logan grunted wordlessly, but something approaching a smile was hiding in the corners of his mouth and eyes. None of the others caught it, but Remy and Rogue shared a knowing smile. Logan’s family was safe. Stryker was still out there, probably, but he was only the same background threat he had been for the past five years.  No one was specifically after Logan, Kayla, or Rogue either now. When they all climbed aboard the Blackbird Remy settled into the seat next Logan, and Rogue curled up in her father’s lap, holding on tight to Remy’s hand.

She was perfectly fine – or would be, after a night’s rest – in fact, she was possibly better than she had been in months. Years, maybe. But still, Rogue clung to the two men who meant the most to her, knowing that neither would judge her for her clinginess. Her seat on Logan’s lap raised a few eyebrows from the other X-men, but Rogue found she didn’t really care. She didn’t owe them anything and, after all this time, she owed herself quite a lot.

-xXx-

The trip back to the Xavier Institute was unremarkable, and Rogue wasted no time heading up to her own room once they got there. Logan left her with a kiss to the top of her head before disappearing off to check on Kayla, and Remy followed Rogue silently to her room.

“Are you staying here?” Rogue asked him from the bathroom.

Remy sat on the bed and glanced around the room, taking in Rogue’s still mostly packed bag and nondescript decor. “Are you?” he asked.

Rogue hummed quietly and didn’t speak anymore until she emerged from the shower, letting out a cloud of steam and leaning against the door way in only the towel. “It’s not home,” she explained, “But I think we’ll be staying at least until Kayla has the baby.” She looked around the room, wincing at the anonymous hotel style of the room. “I’ve never been very good at making a space mine. It always felt like an imposition.”

“Chére,” Remy said softly, looking up at her with a tender smile. “You should never feel like an imposition, you are amazing and beautiful and everyone should feel honoured to be in your presence.”

Rogue watched him quietly for a moment, allowing the sincerity sweep through her before switching to teasing. “Careful, swamp rat, I might start expecting compliments all the time if it’s such an honour for you to be in my presence.”

Remy grinned fiercely, brightly back at her and stood swiftly, shaking off his coat and throwing it over the chair. He prowled towards her, pushing her against the door frame and caging her in with one hand by her head and the other on her hip. “You always call me such sweet endearments,” he purred into her ear.

Rogue shivered and arched towards him again. “You stayin’ Remy?”

He did not answer immediately, for which she was grateful. Rogue knew that to him, everything in regards to her was carefully considered. There was nothing purely impulsive other than the desire to be with her, any way he could be. It made her feel powerful and adored.

“You want me to?” he checked.

She looked up into his strange eyes and thought that, maybe, he was just as nervous as she was. Any joking reply died on the tip of her tongue and she licked her lips, leaning up into his space and kissing him tenderly.

“Yes,” Rogue breathed into him.

There was no prickle of power – hers or his. There was only his lips against hers, his tongue licking out and curling into her mouth. There was his hand cradling her face and carding through her hair, there was the feel of his body pressing her against the door frame, the feel of her towel coming undone and falling to the floor. His hands cupped her ass and he pulled her upwards, her legs wrapping automatically around his waist.

Remy turned and walked back towards the bed, falling on top of her when his shins hit the frame unexpectedly. Rogue huffed a quiet laugh, tugging at his hair to pull him down for more kisses.

Merde, chére, the things you do to me,” he groaned against her throat, licking at her pulse impulsively.

He leant back, pulling off his top and undoing the utility belt, throwing both in the direction of his coat. Rogue shimmied back on the bed to watch him peel off an outfit that already didn’t leave much to the imagination and enjoyed every inch of skin that was revealed. When he went for his pants, however, she leant forward and placed a hand over his, shaking his head.

Remy didn’t say anything, just looked at her questioningly and Rogue shrugged in reply.

“I don’t mind you taking it off, I just-”

He stopped her with a sweet kiss. “You don’t have to explain,” he told her. “Just tell me what you’re comfortable with. Or not.”

Rogue leant further forward and hid her face in his shoulder, shaking her head again even as she watched herself skate fingers over his abdomen and the goosebumps the action raised. “I thought, until a few days ago, I might never be able to touch anyone ever again. I had hoped, but not enough to tempt myself.”

He placed gentle hands on her shoulders and pulled her back so that he could look her straight in the eye. “Whatever it is you’re trying to say, just tell me.”

“I have no idea what I’m comfortable with or not,” Rogue replied with a frustrated huff, self-consciousness suddenly flooding through her as it hadn’t when her towel had first fallen off. She folded her arms across her chest and avoided his gaze. There was a shift inside her, and Rogue could feel her power itching forward once more. She reigned it back as much as she could; she trusted Remy, dammit! But it inched towards the grip he had on her shoulders nonetheless.

But then he shifted his weight off her and to the side so that he was next to her on the bed. Remy let go of her shoulders, but seemed incapable of stopping touching her completely and laced their fingers together. “Let’s just sleep,” he suggested, and pressed a kiss to the nearest patch of her skin. “We should talk first, and I don’t think either of us have the energy to do that at the moment.” He paused. “I’m sorry if I moved too fast,” he added in a whisper against her skin.

“No, I... I’m just a bit fucked up,” Rogue replied softly.

“We’re all a bit fucked up,” Remy corrected. “Just in different ways.”

They sat side by side on the bed for a moment, just leaning against one another and soaking up the silent comfort the presence of a loved one can provide, until the atmosphere was comfortable and warm once again. Only then did Remy take the rest of his clothes off, taking the time to tidy his things away to a pile on the chair rather than a mess on the floor before curling back around Rogue, pulling the duvet over them.

Although it was dark outside, it was still relatively early in the evening. Rogue dozed off pretty quickly, the events of the day catching up to her and lulling her into slumber, but Remy stayed awake a little longer. She was curled up to his chest, her arms tucked between them and her legs tangled with his. Remy couldn’t help but stare at her in the dark, stroking her hair away from her face and kissing the tip of her nose. He was being a sap and he knew, but he had to wonder what he’d done to deserve her trust. He was ugly and scarred underneath in more ways than even Logan knew, and Remy did not deserve her.

But she had made her choice. For some, unfathomable reason, she had chosen him, and he would endeavour to be worthy of that choice and her trust.

-xXx-

Remy left early the next morning, lingering long enough to press lazy, sleepy kisses to Rogue’s lips and receive a glare and an overly enthusiastic slap on the back from Logan. Then he was gone, leaving only the Queen of Hearts tucked into Rogue’s breast pocket in his wake. Logan wrapped an arm around Rogue’s shoulders and she leant her head against his shoulder as they watched Remy zoom off down the driveway on Scott’s bike. Scott would complain about it later, and probably force one or both of them to go and get it back from the train station, but it had seemed like the best idea at the time.

“How’s Mama?” Rogue asked softly as the last of Remy’s dust trail faded into early morning light.

“She’s alright. Her arm’s totally fixed now,” Logan replied in a low tone that rumbled through both of them. “How’re you?”

“I’m good. Actually, I’m pretty amazing right now,” Rogue admitted, a slow smile creeping across her face. It was strange and wonderful to actually be able to say that honestly.

Logan’s arm tightened around her briefly in an affectionate squeeze. “I noticed Cajun stayed with you last night.” It wasn’t a question, he wasn’t pushing her to explain, and that was another thing that was odd and wonderful.

“Yeah.” Rogue paused and stared hard at the driveway, as though if she tried hard enough she’d still be able to make out Remy. “He’s really good to me, you know. I know you don’t like it, but it’s gotta mean something that in spite of everything, he’s someone I trust to touch me.”

Logan sighed and turned back toward the mansion. “It’s not that I don’t like it, kid, I’m happy you’re happy. But that doesn’t mean I don’t worry.”

Rogue caught up with him and looped her arm through his, leaning up to kiss him on the cheek. “I appreciate it,” she said, then laughed. “It’s gonna take me a while to get used to touching people.”

“Kayla’s going to want you to try on her,” Logan said, leading them towards the doors that lead to the kitchen. If there were faces in the windows above them, looking disappointed that there wouldn’t be another training session for them to watch, neither of them said anything.

“Not until after the birth,” Rogue said quickly. “Chances are she’d be just fine, but I’m not risking it.”

“Thank you.”

“Nothing to thank me for,” Rogue corrected. “I love her too.”

Logan grinned, then, something bright and brief and far too uncommon. “You girls are the best things to happen to me,” he admitted carefully, keeping his voice down in case anyone was listening in. “I’m so glad that this crap with Magneto is over and that you’re both safe.”

Rogue smiled back. “You’re the best thing to happen to either of us, too. You know that, right?”

“I’m getting the impression,” Logan grumbled back, moment passed and his blank faced stoicism crowding back onto his features. Rogue just carried on grinning at him.

Kayla was awake and waiting for them when they got to the kitchen, wrinkling her nose at the cup of tea that had replaced her usual morning coffee. Hank was also sat at the table, his human-sized glasses looking tiny perched on the end of his nose as he read a book and kept half an eye on Kayla and the coffee pot she was eyeing up.

Rogue slouched into a chair and sprawled across one corner of the table. “I feel like I could have slept another ten hours, easy,” she remarked, wondering if having her own coffee would be too cruel in front of Kayla.

“You were the one who wanted to get up to say goodbye to Gumbo,” Logan grouched, automatically moving to stand as close to Kayla as he could, looking grumpily pleased when Kayla wrapped an arm around his waist and leant against his side.

“Since you did exactly the same thing, you really can’t complain,” Kayla remarked teasingly. “In all seriousness, are you alright Rogue? You can return to your room if you need to.”

“Nah,” Rogue said, tilting her head awkwardly to try and see the title of the book Hank was reading and sticking her tongue out at him when he looked at her oddly. “I’m ok,” she added, sitting up straight finally. “I’m probably going to take it easy today though. I want to miss as little school as possible, obviously, but I’m not sure my head can take too much today.”

“If you have a headache I have some ibuprofen you can use,” Hank offered.

“It’s not really a headache, it’s more...” Rogue trailed off, trying to find the right words to describe how she was feeling. “You know when you go for a long run and the following day your legs feel lazy? Not sore, just... well exercised? That’s how my mind feels right now. Magneto had one hell of a personality.”

Logan snorted and shook his head. “That’s one way to describe the egotistical maniac who tried to kill you less than a day ago.”

“Enough about me,” Rogue said. “What did I miss whilst in the ‘egotistical maniac’s’ oh-so-tender care?”

The way everybody’s faces fell in synch would have been funny if it weren’t so worrying.

“What?” Rogue demanded.

Kayla sighed and stirred her tea morosely. “The shape-shifter that tricked you into leaving apparently visited the school first. They put something in Charles’ Cerebro mechanism.”

Rogue’s eyes widened. “Is he OK?”

“Not yet.” It was Hank that answered this time. He closed his book and took off his glasses, folding them into his shirt pocket. “I’m still not entirely certain what the serum was, but the effect was like that of having all of his mental shields stripped bare. For anyone else this would have little effect, but I’m afraid Charles is a very powerful telepath whose mind automatically reads those around him. With his mental shields gone, everyone’s mental voices were suddenly forcing themselves into his head.”

“Is he going to be alright?”

Hank’s head did a strange wobble that was somewhere between a nod and a shake. “The effects of the drug will wear off,” he explained. “He woke up briefly earlier this morning, but whether Charles’ shields will automatically be back in place or whether he has to work to rebuild them from scratch was unclear. He will recover, eventually, I just don’t know how long it will take at this point.”

Rogue nodded in understanding and for a long while nothing more was said as everyone went about serving themselves breakfast. Eventually, though, Rogue felt as though she had to ask, “What else is there? I feel like you’re not saying something.”

Kayla glanced across at Logan who shrugged unhelpfully.

“Senator Kelly absorbed the radiation from Magneto’s machine during a test run,” Kayla began hesitantly. “He came here last night and, well-”

“The radiation made his DNA unstable,” Hank provided.

“-he turned into a puddle,” Kayla finished.

“A what now?” Rogue exclaimed. “He turned into a puddle of goop? How is that even possible?”

Hank shook his head. “Not human goop,” he corrected. “Just a straight forward, run of the mill, puddle. Although, interestingly, it was salt water that he turned into rather than fresh water. I’ve been trying to work out why, exactly, and although water is understandable due to the amount found in human bodies, the levels of sodium I found were incongruous with-”

“Hank,” Rogue interrupted. “Dr McCoy!” She grinned apologetically when he finally stopped midsentence to stare questioningly at him. “I’m sorry, Doc, but I don’t have near enough understanding of human anatomy or chemistry to actually understand the ‘how’.”

“Oh. I apologise. I myself do not know how it’s possible yet, but the concept is intriguing, if a little morbid.”

“Well if you ever do work it out, keep the secret to yourself, bub,” Logan added in to the conversation. “Probably be best if no evil masterminds got their hands on that particular secret.”

Rogue and Kayla hid their grins behind the rims of their cups of tea, but Hank nodded seriously. “Naturally,” he told Logan. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a class to prepare for.”

“Would it be possible for me to see the Professor?” Rogue asked before he left.

Hank considered her seriously for a moment, both he and Rogue ignoring the concerned look her parents exchanged. “I would ask that you refrain until this afternoon, at least. If you would like, you can come and find me after lessons. I will need to assess Charles’ mental state before I agree without reservation, of course.”

“Of course. Thank you,” Rogue said, happy enough with that answer. It wasn’t urgent that she speak to him, after all.

“Everything all right, honey?” Kayla asked softly after Hank had left.

“Yeah, Mama,” Rogue reassured her instantly, before expanding; “It’s just something odd about last night that I didn’t notice until this morning.”

Logan scowled, hands clenching in a way that Rogue had come to associate with him unsheathing his claws- or wanting to, anyway – but neither of the adults said anything, giving her the chance to explain in her own time.

“Before you arrived I managed to get my hands loose briefly, and almost escaped before Sabretooth whacked me. But before that, I touched Mystique, the shapeshifter who tricked me, and she passed out.”

“The only person passed out that we saw was a security guard,” Logan said, struck with understanding.

“A security guard was passed out?” Rogue asked. “That doesn’t make any sense.” She scowled deeply at her toast, unaware of how similar to Logan she looked at that moment. “They didn’t knock out any of the security guards that I saw, they were all dead.”

“So she escaped ,” Kayla murmured slowly.

Rogue nodded absently, before shaking her head. “No… It doesn’t make sense.”

“Makes perfect sense to me,” Logan contradicted. “She’s a shapeshifter, she escaped by using her power.”

“Yes, but, when I touched her and she passed out, she was in her natural state. So far as I could tell, anyway. She didn’t change, and you know that my power knocks people out cold.”

“Maybe she came too long enough to change?” Kayla suggested.

“Then why didn’t she join the fight?” Rogue asked. “Or, if she woke up too late for that, why didn’t she just leave? Surely it would have been easier for her to get out pretending to be one of the cops who arrived on scene than a security guard in the thick of it? And when I touched her, it was strange, like her power was familiar to me. I’ve never met her before, so far as I know, but it was like something in me recognised something in her.

“That is strange, but do you think it matters? Do you think Charles will be able to shed any light on the subject?” Kayla replied, her concern writ clearly across her features.

Rogue shrugged. “I don’t know, but it feels like something I should tell him, just in case. And even if the Professor doesn’t have any straight answers for me, I’m sure he’ll have a riddle or to,” she joked.

Tense moment passed, it was easy for the three of them to slip back into their usual morning routine. They had all agreed that it would be wise to stay at the Xavier Institute until the baby was born, regardless of threats to their life or not, and so there were various tasks that they each needed to do to ensure that no one in their town in Canada was left wondering where they were.

Kayla still had already applied for extended maternity leave at the school, citing a dangerous pregnancy as the reason. Although mutants tended to come into their powers when they hit puberty, babies born to two people with very prominent powers sometimes had their abilities from birth. Kayla’s powers weren’t particularly powerful, her healing ability almost entirely from the experimentation Stryker did with Logan’s DNA rather than her own innate gifts, and her persuasion only working with skin contact. Logan’s, however, were very strong, and the bone claws, if passed down to their child, could have detrimental effects on Kayla.

The probability of the foetus hurting Kayla any more than what would be considered usual at a birth was low, but it wasn’t a risk any of them were willing to take. They would stay with Hank and Jean nearby just in case. The email Dr McCoy sent to back up Kayla’s ‘dangerous pregnancy’ story was composed mostly of half-truths rather than out and out lies.

Similarly, Rogue had to put in for an official exchange to get all of her educational files forwarded to the Institute. She couldn’t imagine the school would put up much resistance, considering how reluctant they’d been to take her in the first place. She emailed Eliza with parts of the story to explain why she was getting a new phone and number, although she still hadn’t heard back from the other girl. She also sent Yoshida a brief message, although she really didn’t expect anything in return from him. Rogue didn’t bother to contact the rest of her acquaintances from that school. They’d been nice enough people, but she wasn’t interested in staying in contact.

There was very little for Logan to do. He didn’t have any permanent work, as he’d continued working as a general handyman, and gradually putting the local mechanic out of business. He would be missed by those suddenly back to dealing with subpar handiwork, but he wasn’t employed by anyone, so there was nothing they could do. He did, however, want his motorcycle back. Which was something he could argue about with Scott.

-xXx-

By late afternoon Charles was up and about again, his mental shields still a little shaky, but otherwise he was none the worse for wear. When Rogue went to talk to him and she asked if she could speak to him alone, this meant that he was in good enough condition for Hank to clear him for a private meeting in the Professor’s office.

“What is it that you are so anxious for no one to overhear?” the Professor asked when they were finally alone.

Rogue hesitated and bit her lip – a habit that she almost entirely grown out of – “There were a few questions that I wanted to ask you and, well, they’re quite personal. I understand if you can’t answer them, but I thought you probably didn’t want anyone to hear the asking either.”

Professor Xavier sighed and steepled his fingers together, looking deeply weary.

“If you’re too tired we can do this another time,” Rogue suggested.

“No, no, now is as good a time as any, I suppose,” he said. “Hank mentioned the plot you were involved in, and I have had time to prepare myself for the questions I knew a youthful, curious mind like your own was sure to have.”

“It wasn’t just Magneto who touched me,” Rogue replied quietly, wanting him to understand the breadth of the personal questions she had. “It was Mystique, too.”

Judging from Xavier’s sharp inhale, that was a surprise to him. Rogue was knocked a little off centre by that, previously certain that the Professor was aware of every thought in the room he as in, and simply polite enough to pretend not to know. Apparently the drug had caused a greater effect on his mutant abilities than Rogue had been aware of.

“I’m curious about Magneto, obviously, but his personality was so… big, present in a way that threatened my psyche in a way not unlike Carol’s had. And that was her entire self, not just a copy of it. So you… you don’t need to tell me much about him,” Rogue blushed as she said it.

The Professor sighed, looking somehow simultaneously more and less weary than he had before. “Then you will pardon me if we don’t go into the details of our relationship. Just know that I loved – still love, for all our sins – him very deeply.”

“He knows,” Rogue whispered. “He never doubted. The break in your friendship, this rift between you, it causes him so much pain. But he uses it as another reason for his cause.”

Xavier nodded. “I feared he might.” They sat in silence for a long moment, Rogue allowing the Professor to remember whatever long-passed memories floated across his mind. Eventually he shook himself free and said, “But enough about these old men, you wanted to ask me about Mystique?”

“Yeah. Um,” Rogue paused, searching for the right way to start. “When I touch people I don’t… it’s not mind reading, I don’t see their lives flash before my eyes or anything, I just get impressions.” When Xavier nodded his understanding, Rogue continued. “And Mystique’s was… not strange, as such. No more than getting an impression of anyone else has been, anyway, but it was oddly familiar. And there was a brotherly connection to you, so I thought you might have an explanation.”

The Professor nodded again, but when Rogue said nothing further, he turned it over in his mind for a little while longer before answering her. “Mystique was my adoptive sister. My parents were rarely around, I was an only child, and we got along exceedingly well. For the longest time, she was the person in the world I loved above all others. Even now, I find it difficult to fault her for her decisions, and love her dearly. Although she can shapeshift, she can only relax in her natural form, a form that she knew would make her a pariah in society if she ever revealed it.

“I’m afraid I encouraged her to adopt the appearance of a baseline human whenever possible, certain that for her to do so was much like the way I constantly had to keep my mental barriers up. But, as we matured, my shields became such a part of my mind that it took effort to take them down, t was effortless to keep them up. For Mystique, however, her power never changed. She was never truly comfortable looking ‘normal’. So when Erik came along with his theories and ideals – his world seemed much more attractive to her than mine did.

“I do not blame her for making the decision she did. I know she felt like a prisoner in her own skin most of them time, and Erik was able to release her somewhat. And once a person is given a taste of freedom, they seldom settle for just that.”

The Professor paused again, staring at Rogue intensely. Although she felt no mental pushes, she did feel as though he was assessing her and her ability to cope with whatever truth he was about to share.

“This is just a theory,” Xavier began with a warning. “So I shall tell you first the things I know. Given freedom to explore, she did. Mystique pushed all the boundaries of her power, a power she’d been too scared to properly explore before. She became men, and women, wearing extravagant things, plain things, and nothing at all. She gave herself feathers and scales, and every colour skin she could think of. She became very old and very young, and she explored. And that exploration involved sexual exploration.” Here, the Professor paused again, turning a little pink. “I admit there are times that I regret watching her so closely.”

Rogue chuckled, but waved her hand, eager to get to the truth of the matter. There was nothing he was saying that she could not have guessed for herself.

“She became pregnant twice,” the Professor finally revealed. “The first time she gave birth to a boy, who was born with her blue skin, but without her ability to change its colour. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I know Mystique had little interest in raising a child at that time, especially one so obviously like the part of herself she’d hated for so long. I believe he is still alive, but she had left him behind before I got enough of a taste of his mind to be able to reliably track him.

“Then, some years later, Mystique became pregnant for the second time, this time with a girl. Again, I don’t know what happened to the baby, as I was no longer watching Mystique nearly as closely as I once used to. But I do know that the minds of people who are related are often similar to one another, like two brothers might share characteristics, but still be uniquely themselves. Again, this is just a theory, but Mystique’s daughter would have been born at around the same time as you.”

Rogue sat in stunned silence for some long minutes, before forcing herself back to the present. “You think… you think Mystique might be my mother?” she asked disbelievingly.

2It’s a possibility,” Professor Xavier replied. “Like I said, I could be wrong. But what you said about the familiarity you felt, and the fact that you would have been born at roughly the right time… it could well be a coincidence, but I think it is the most likely explanation for the facts as you have explained them.”

Rogue continued to sit in silence for a while, trying to process the massive amount of information the Professor had provided. “She did say I looked familiar,” she mused quietly.

“You do not look unlike her,” Xavier agreed. “Does it matter?” he asked finally.

Rogue thought about her foster parents, their stiff routines and unwieldy expectations. She thought about Mack and the estranged children he never saw. And she thought about Kayla and Logan. She thought about Logan’s gruff demeanour, the way he loved like it was the most precious thing in the world, like it was a secret he wanted to keep just to themselves. She thought about Kayla’s casual acceptance, her insistence on doing the right thing, and loving more freely than someone who had been hurt as much as her should be able to.

Rogue thought about the family they had forged together, the three of them, and how each of their pasts were puzzle pieces that made them who they were, but did not define them. She thought about Logan’s words that morning – You girls are the best things to happen to me – and she smiled.

“No,” Rogue told Professor Xavier with a beaming smile. “No, it doesn’t matter at all who my birth parents are. It didn’t matter yesterday, why should it matter today? I have parents. Real parents, who I love and who love me.”

“The family we choose is infinitely stronger than the family we are given,” he agreed, and appeared proud of her.

So Rogue thanked him, and left his office, returning to the family of her own making.

Chapter Text

After the dust settles and things get back into a regular routine again, Tony finds a letter that Pepper had left in the shop at some point during his kamikaze-I’m-going-to-die-soon-anyway-so-who-cares-downward-spiral. As soon as he’s worked out what it’s about he wishes he’d found it earlier, although to be fair to him it was hidden underneath a pile of very boring reports that needed his signature.

It takes him about five seconds to work out what it’s about, and as soon as he does he folds it back up again to save for later. He knows that it’s a valid excuse to abandon the Boring Reports for another week or so, but he’s nervous about what the letter might actually say, so instead he uses the reports as an excuse not to read it.

Later, when he’s finished the paperwork, and he can’t think of any crazy schemes to pull off, or new toys to build, Tony finds himself pacing - actually pacing! - back and forth across the living room in an attempt to work himself up to reading the damn thing. He still hasn’t succeeded by the time Pepper gets home.

Dear Pepper, who looks as though her day’s been just as long as his, though no doubt twice as productive. It takes her one glance to know something’s up, so she kisses his cheek and asks Jarvis to order in pizzas for them before she goes to their bedroom to change into more comfortable clothing. Tony follows her, partly so he can watch her get changed, but mostly because he’s been around robots all day and, for once, he really wants human company.

“Are you going to tell me what’s wrong, or am I going to have to get you drunk first?” Pepper asks as she unzips her skirt and hangs it up carefully with the matching jacket so that neither will crease.

“I got a letter today,” Tony says, by way of answer. “Well, quite a while ago, actually, but I didn’t notice it until today.”

Pepper murmurs encouragingly for him to continue, when he stops and stares for a while when she takes off her blouse and bra. He still can’t believe that she’s his now. She’s something he’s dreamed about for a long time, but hasn’t dared to touch because she is so much better than him in so many ways.

“I was doing paperwork - I know, actual paperwork! Because you just keep piling stuff up on my desk, and I do actually need that space for important things, and you keep bugging me about it, so I thought ‘what the hell?’ and was going through all the shit you left there and, God, Pepper, if that’s just the absolutely-necessary-you-must-personally-sign-this stuff, I have no idea how you cope with all the other rubbish!”

“Paperwork’s my calling,” she interrupts him dryly, in a way that he knows means she’s amused, and not necessarily telling the truth, and could he please get to the point. She pulls one of his t-shirts on, as well the denim shorts that she knows Tony loves seeing her bend over in. He’s simultaneously disappointed that she’s no longer mostly naked, and pleased by what she chose to wear.

“It’s a letter from Emma Frost’s niece,” he says bluntly, and hopes that that will be enough of an explanation for Pepper to realise what kind of emotional frenzy he’s in.

“Oh,” Pepper says. She’s calm, because the only time she isn’t is when he might die, but there’s worried understanding there, too. And since when has he been able to tell so much about her from a word that isn’t really a word at all? “I’ll get some beers from the fridge,” she adds, which just goes to show exactly how well she understands, because Pepper doesn’t normally drink beer.

Stark Industries has quite a strong link to Frost International, and not just because they’re big businesses in relatively close quarters (although, technically, Frost International is a conglomeration now, rather than a single business). But also because they’d been in business together for almost eighteen years, and the contract had been set up so that it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to take apart. And the reason behind this had been two very stubborn, somewhat emotionally neglected teenagers taking an immediate liking to one another and plotting to dissolve the contract before it had even formed.

Kayla Frost had, in all actuality, probably been the first female who Tony had been capable of calling his friend. She was the eldest daughter of the Frost patriarch, and had seemed painfully young when they’d first been introduced. He’d been nineteen, with two degrees and several billion dollars and too much time on his hands. She’d been sixteen, still in high school, and desperately trying to be sister, mother and father all at once to her little sister.

So Tony, naturally, had taken her out and got her very, very drunk. And he’d found out more about her than was probably good for his emotional well-being. She was him, really. Except, she was a couple of years younger and female and didn’t have his technical genius (although he never doubted for a second that she wasn’t a different kind of genius) and she had two little siblings.

But the thing that probably sealed the deal on their friendships was the shared dislike of their fathers. They’d both spent their childhoods trying to impress them and, having failed in that, were now determined to hate them. Which is when they’d decided to try and spoil the Stark-Frost contract. Their first attempt, whilst still drunk and giggling happily over the fact that there was someone else like them, had not gone very well. They’d got steadily better and better at it over the course of a few months, before Howard and Maria Stark had died and Tony had taken over the company. Well. Obadiah had taken over. The point was, a truce was called and the contract left alone.

They hadn’t seen so much of each other after that, only talking maybe once a month, but when they did talk it was for hours on end about anything and everything. Kayla and Rhodey had been his best friends.

Until Kayla dropped off the map. She stopped returning his messages and his calls, didn’t even send him an email to explain what had happened. And as public as the Starks were, the Frosts were private. There was not a word to be breathed on the subject and Tony had convinced himself that Kayla had woken up to his antics and had decided to move on.

Which, in hindsight, made him feel like a terrible person. Because dropping someone and moving on was not in Kayla’s personality. The only person he’d ever known her to be the remotest bit mean about in anything more than a tease, was her father. And most of the time that had been in defence of her siblings, not herself.

Six and a half, almost seven years after Kayla disappeared, Emma Frost made herself known to the business world. Not just as heir apparent to the Frost empire, but as a business woman in her own right. She had taken the world by storm, and Tony had watched with trepidation and delight as she rose like a comet, all pale beauty and cold determination. She, too, was a genius, and in yet another way entirely. She also, inexplicably, liked Tony. He couldn’t stand her.

Emma was the polar opposite of her sister, in everything from temperament to looks, but there was enough that was hauntingly the same that it was difficult to look at her for any length of time. And her presence reminded him, inescapably, of his own faults.

Because he should have known that Kayla wouldn’t abandon him like that. He should have known that it was suspicious that both she and her sister had disappeared so suddenly and so totally. It was only when Emma returned, alone, and with a terrible story of kidnapping, blackmail and extortion that Tony realised how very badly he’d failed his friend. So he had watched Ms Frost, the business woman, with awe and excitement, but had been unable to look at Emma, Kayla’s little sister.

“It’s a letter from Emma’s niece, you said?” Pepper asks, passing him one of the beers she’d opened and sitting sideways on the couch. He slumps down next to her and takes a gulp.

“Yeah. Her niece. Well. Adopted niece.”

“I didn’t think Mr Frost was well enough to adopt anyone,” Pepper says, delicately side stepping the fact that ‘Mr Frost’, the only son, was a lifelong stoner who had since been committed to a loony bin where he apparently spent his days literally bashing his head against a wall.

“Mr Frost isn’t her new parent,” Tony confirms her suspicions. “I didn’t - I haven’t read it yet. But I think Kayla’s daughter has sent me a letter.” He feels more like a coward saying that out loud than he had the entire time he’d been trying to convince himself to read the damn thing.

Pepper doesn’t know the specifics about Kayla. The only person who does is Rhodey, and that’s only because he’d had to talk Tony down out of a panic that he wasn’t going to leave, too. Except now, maybe, Kayla’s alive. And might have told her adopted daughter about Tony-fucking-Stark.

“Were you in love with Kayla?” Pepper asks. Because, bless her, she knows better than anyone, probably better than Tony himself, what kind of track record he has. He has been in love twice before her, and both times he had his heart broken. It’s why he’d sleep with anyone who offered herself - even men, occasionally - and buried himself in the appearance of a heartless playboy. He belongs to Pepper now though, and she knows that, but she’s also very good at contingency plans.

“The idea of her,” is what Tony admits to. “I was never in love with her in a kind of marry-me-and-have-lot’s-of-my-babies way, but she was - is - was the best person I’ve ever known. She was the type of person I wanted to love, but I was never in love with her. She was my best friend.”

Pepper nods, and there’s a flicker of a smile on her face. It’s only brief, but it’s relieved and possessive and it causes Tony’s breath to catch. He knows that he will beat to death with a stick anyone who even looks at Pepper funny, and it took him ages to get over the ‘Happy and I were together for a while’ thing (although Happy being married now and possibly the best chauffeur-slash-bodybguard ever probably helped speed things up a bit). But Pepper being possessive of him is something new. He likes it.

“So you’re worried that she might have been alive all this time, and that you never did anything to help her?” Pepper questions.

“Pretty much,” he replies. Maybe he should be worried about how well Pepper knows him.

Pepper drinks some of the beer, holding the bottle as carefully as she might a champagne flute and winces at the taste. “From what I know of the Frosts, I suspect that Kayla has done fine on her own. They are worth a fortune themselves, you know.” She pauses for a moment, leaning forward and kissing him chastely. It catches him by surprise. Not because Pepper kissing him is a strange thing, just because it doesn’t normally happen so unannounced. Pepper likes to start by flirting a bit, and holding his hand or touching his arm, before she works up to a kiss.

Then again, they’ve only been dating for a month now, so what does Tony know?

“You should read the letter,” Pepper continues, although there’s a smile on her lips as though she knows perfectly well how much her kiss distracted him.

And, of course, if it is a cunning plan on her part to get Tony to get over himself and read it already, it works perfectly. He’s already halfway through the first paragraph when he realises how well he’s just been played. And Tony’s reading it aloud to her too, so he can’t even stop and glare at her for it.

“Dear Mr Stark,

“You don’t know me, but I hope that you’ll read this anyway, because it’s about something that’s very important to someone who’s become quite important to me. Plus, Auntie Emma’s the one passing this on and I know she can be very persuasive if she needs to be. It’s about my mother, Kayla Vadas - Kayla Frost as she used to be.

“I only met Kayla a year ago, but as well as adopting me she’s also become my best friend. She ended up telling me a bit about her childhood, and one thing that really struck me was how lonely she was. Apart from her brother and sister there didn’t seem to be anyone that she cared about. But then she told me about Tony Stark, about you. The person she described was exactly how the papers and society pages describe you too - and exactly not, as well. If I didn’t know her brother’s name, I would assume it was Tony.

“Anyway, she got kidnapped and blackmailed, and then she was on the run from the man who’d done that in the first place, and you know I don’t think she ever stopped running? Not until the beginning of this year anyway. But she said that you only ever stopped talking to each other because she got kidnapped. So I was hoping that, even if you don’t particularly care at all, you might send back a message? Just a quick hello would be fine.

“Kayla’s married now, in case you didn’t know. To a man called Logan Vadas. Although, Vadas isn’t his real surname either. And technically they never actually got married. But they were in a relationship and on the run and it was just easier, or something. I don’t rightly know. They are in love and very happy though. It’s sort of disgusting, actually, how much in love they still are considering they met almost twelve years ago now.

“I would like to give you our address, or exchange email addresses or something, but Logan was very specific about not giving out any information apart from our names. He thinks that the man who kidnapped Kayla and Auntie Emma is still after him, you see. And there was something about a brother or half-brother who might also want to kill both of them. They haven’t told me the whole story. Anyway, if you just want to give Auntie Emma  - Emma Frost, that is - a brief message for Kayla I’d really appreciate it. She has our email addresses, too, if you’re interested.

“Sincerely,

“Anna Marie ‘Rogue’ Vadas”

As soon as Tony finishes reading it out loud, he reads it twice more in the privacy of his own head. Kayla. Kayla’s alive and happy and not-married. He laughs over that. It makes him wonder what her father had to say about it, although if they’re on the run maybe the man thinks his eldest daughter is dead. Maybe he doesn’t care. He didn’t care when they first disappeared.

“Oh,” Pepper says, although this ‘oh’ says a lot of very different things to the last one.

“What?” he has to ask. Because if Pepper knows something, anything, then she needs to tell him.

Pepper moves away from where she’s been curled against his side, and flicks the StarkPad on the coffee table on, rapidly flitting through various webpages and news articles, before she reaches the link she wants. Then Pepper connects it to the main screen, and it flickers on to reveal what claims itself to be a ‘mutant fan blog’. She scrolls down through the various entries, before she find the one she’s looking for.

“It’s probably not the same person, but the fact that she calls herself ‘Rogue’ and her adopted father is called ‘Logan’ just rang a few bells,” she explains hastily. The majority of the screen is taken up by a grainy picture of two men holding a barely conscious young woman up between them. She has a shock of white hair amongst her brown, but that doesn’t compare to the three sharp blades one of the men has coming out of his fist, warning off any danger that might come near. There is something strange about the other man, too, but the picture is of too poor quality for Tony to be able to tell what, exactly.

Beneath the picture is an article about the recent occurrences at a world summit. Apparently someone called Magneto had tried to turn all of the world leaders into mutants with some sort of machine. ‘The Rogue’ (centre, picture) had apparently saved the day, with the help of ‘Wolverine’ (left, picture) and the rest of the X-Men. Although no one knew what The Rogue’s name was, she was apparently Wolverine aka Logan’s daughter.

“Well,” Tony says, after considering this for a little while. “That’s definitely Wolverine.” Howard Stark had been too much a fan of Captain America to not tell his son about every adventure he’d ever had. And one of them had involved a man called Wolverine, or Logan (or James, but only to his brother) fighting by his side before disappearing again.

Tony glances at the letter again. Not that he doesn’t already have it memorised, but that was besides the point. “And there was something about a brother or half-brother who might also want to kill both of them,” Anna Marie had written. That certainly fit well enough with what little Tony had been told about the Wolverine’s brother. Even then, the pair of them had had a relationship that was as much built on mutual hatred as it was on love.

“Jarvis?” he asks the air, knowing his AI will respond.

“Yes, sir,” the cool English tones reply.

“How long ago did this letter arrive on my desk?”

There’s a beat of silence, before sure enough; “The letter was placed on your desk approximately nine months ago, sir. I’m afraid I can’t be any more specific than that without knowing which pile of reports it came in.”

Pepper looks as though the only thing stopping her from glaring at him about leaving the paperwork untouched for so long is the fact that the amount of time lost already hurts him more than her.

“Nine months,” Tony echoes blankly. Nine months ago must have been… after he’d got back from being kidnapped. About the same time he found out about Obie then. He wonders if Rogue wrote the letter some time before she sent it, having heard that he’d been kidnapped, only passing it to her ‘Auntie Emma’ when she knew he was back. He wonders if she still wants him to get in touch with Kayla, or whether she’s given up hope.

He looks up at the screen, at the tired, battered face of the young woman who is probably the one who wrote to him. As exhausted as she looks, she’s still smiling. He doesn’t think she’d give up hope that easily. He hopes not, anyway.

“What do you say, Pep,” he asks, “to a field trip tomorrow? I’m thinking Westchester? Then maybe somewhere further afield.”

Pepper leans over and gives him another one of those unexpected kisses again. She better be careful, or he’ll start to expect them, and then he’ll start taking them for himself.

“Sounds lovely,” she says. “Do you want to put on a movie?” she asks, just as Jarvis announces the arrival of their pizzas. One day, Tony will work out how she does that. For now, he dithers over whether he should put on a chick flick, for her, or an action film, for himself, and ponders whether she remembered not to get mushrooms.

(she doesn’t forget)