Warnings: Rated T™© for violence, for more detailed warnings which may contain spoilers, click here.
Categories: Movieverse, Ship, Het, Est Rel, Drama, Action
Pairings: Iceman/Rogue (implied Shadowcat/Colossus)
Characters: Rogue (primary), Iceman, Shadowcat, Wolverine, Storm, Beast, Colossus, and Angel.
Spoilers: X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand
A/N: Written for Random00b, for Sweet Charity. Movieverse, set immediately after The Last Stand.
Credits: Betaed by Risti and Anne Rose. Research credits include The Science of the X-Men by Link Yaco and Karen Haber, Body Trauma: A Writer's Guide to Wounds and Injuries by David W. Page, M.D., and Casebook in Abnormal Psychology by Lauren B. Alloy, Neil S. Jacobson, and Joan Acocella.
Disclaimer: The Marvel Universe is of course owned by Marvel Comics.
Rogue -- no, Marie -- kept her head down, and ignored the jeering crowd. What did they know? They could touch their boyfriends without killing them. Not that she was doing this because of Bobby. Or at least not for Bobby. She had to admit that he was the person she had the most interest in touching, but this was about her whole life.
"I'll be normal," a girl further ahead in line said to her companion. "I can go back to school."
Clearly that girl hadn't put anyone in a coma with her powers, or been turned out of her home as a result. For Rogue, normalcy was not an option. Her old life was gone, and all things considered, she really didn't care to have it back. Her family's love was conditional -- better to know that and move on without it, than to live the lie in blissful ignorance. For Rogue, this cure meant giving up being normal, at least among her friends. She was probably the only student from Xavier's in this line.
She spared a glance for the protestors across the street. They were right, in a way, but nobody was being forced into this line. At least not yet. That lingering trace of Magneto in the back of her mind warned that they would. First would come the social pressure to conform, and then more overt force supported by buzzwords like security. Why would a mutant choose to remain different unless they harbored malicious intent, they'd say.
Rogue shook off the thoughts that weren't entirely her own. This cure meant holding a friend's hand when they needed it, kissing her boyfriend, and not keeping her skin sheathed like a weapon. It meant freedom. She might only have one chance at this, and she refused to give it up just to take an imagined stand against something that might happen.
Let the mutants with useful powers worry about saving the world. Bobby, Logan, Kitty, Pete -- they all had something to offer in a fight. She was just the one who got rescued, and worse yet, who might kill her rescuer if they had the misfortune to touch her skin.
She needed the cure.
Three hours later, when she pulled off her gloves and stuffed them into her bag, she knew she'd made the right choice. Her skin was no longer a dangerous thing.
He knew she'd done it as soon as he saw her face. Her need for him to accept her decision was written all over her face, and of course he'd be supportive. He just hoped she hadn't done it for him. He never wanted her to change. Even as the worry crossed his mind, though, she was saying it was what she wanted, and reaching for his hand.
The difference between a bare hand and a gloved one was subtle for Bobby, but he could see the distinction shining in Rogue's eyes. Her joy went a long way towards making his mind up about the positive side of this, and he let his fingers rise to touch her cheek.
He grinned and trailed his fingertips across her cheek to her ear, and then down along her throat.
Her soft gasp filled the room, and she swallowed. "Kiss me, Bobby."
He did, softly at first, and then with more urgency as she pressed up against him and dug her fingers into the back of his neck. It felt great, and he made very little effort to think about anything else until he felt her tug his shirt out of his pants.
"It's Marie," she said. "Call me Marie." Then she slid her hand up under his shirt and rested her palm over his pounding heart.
Bobby would call her anything she wanted if she kept brushing her fingernails against his chest that way. "Marie," he agreed, and forgot why he'd said her name in the first place. Then she pushed him towards the bed and he remembered. "Hey, what's the rush?"
"Do you have to ask?" Her smile looked a little wild. "Bobby, I've made you wait -- "
"You haven't made me." He tried to figure out what to say without admitting he'd thought about it as much as he had. "I mean, yeah, the kissing, I've wanted to do that . . . and wow. But the other stuff, well, we could have, you know, figured something out. Eventually. When the time came."
"Well now there's nothing to figure out." Rogue went back to tracing circles on his chest.
Thinking was starting to be less of a priority again. What kind of an idiot would stop his girlfriend from doing that anyway? He kissed her, and let his hands conduct their own search for exposed skin.
Rogue stopped him, only to yank her top off completely and stand there in a little lacy thing that he'd remember for the rest of his life.
He stared, and tried to get the tiny portion of his brain still functioning to make sure his mouth was closed, and that drooling wasn't an issue.
"Touch me, Bobby."
He obeyed, but things were moving just a little too fast. "Someone could -- "
"Shh." She kissed him again.
Okay, actually he didn't care about the door and whether someone might open it, because his hands were on Rogue's waist, and her pale skin felt soft and smooth beneath his fingertips. People would knock. It was fine.
Rogue fidgeted with the edge of her skirt as Storm continued to explain why James Joyce was interesting. Apparently it had something to do with symbolism. Her eyes wandered from the board, and she watched Bobby's hand as he took notes. Later, that hand would trace patterns on her skin as they sprawled across the floor in one of the study rooms, because they could do that now.
She wished she could see his lips from this angle. She'd always loved Bobby's smile, but now that she had the option she had other reasons to --
"Rogue." Storm's voice included a hint of impatience, and Rogue cringed. "How does Joyce use color to illuminate Stephen's mental state?"
Maybe she should have finished the book instead of cataloguing Bobby's ticklish spots. "Color? It was sort of . . . " She remembered fog, but not much else. She needed to say something, though. "Grey?" she tried. "You know, like the fog . . . "
Yellow was apparently the right answer, or the start of it anyway, and Rogue resented Kitty for knowing it, but the sting of embarrassment faded as her mind returned to Bobby, and her new reality where she could be a real girlfriend. Sure, the sex was a little awkward, but they were getting better at it, and she just felt so alive when he touched her. She missed him when they sat this far apart, and the remaining minutes of class dragged all the more slowly for her frequent glances at the clock.
When Storm finally dismissed the class, Rogue knocked her book on the floor in her hurry. She dropped down to retrieve it just as Bobby did the same, and of course she couldn't pass up the chance to catch his hand. "Let's take a walk."
"I have a session in the Danger Room," he said. "But after that?"
She nodded quickly, and tried to hide her disappointment as he promised to meet her by the tennis courts later. Then he gave her a quick kiss and left, calling out to Pete to wait up.
"Rogue." Storm stopped her at the door. "May I speak with you for a moment?"
Perfect. Like she really wanted more flak for not doing the homework.
"You've always been an excellent student, Rogue, but for the last few days you've been distracted. If something is bothering you -- "
"No," Rogue said. "I'm fine. Everything's fine."
"If you're having second thoughts about your recent change, or if you just want to talk about it, I want you to know that I'm always here to listen."
Rogue nodded, because rolling her eyes at Storm would just prolong the conversation. The last thing on her mind was second thoughts about the cure -- she'd never been this happy. Storm would never understand it, but taking the cure was the best decision she'd ever made.
The smoke hung thick in the air, making it hard to see from one pile of burning rubble to the next. Explosions shook the ground, and the thing causing them grew steadily closer.
Bobby stood his ground. The sentinel moved fast for a machine of its size, and Bobby needed to time his counterattack with precision. The thing's empty eyes fixed on him, and remembering Logan's success against it a few weeks ago, he aimed the full force of his icy blast at its neck joint.
He dodged a giant metal fist, skating on a sheet of ice of his own creation. This thing could be destroyed. Maybe if he --
The robot fired at him, and he deflected the blast with an ice shield. "Thanks, Kitty!"
She dashed around to his left, drawing fire and letting the balls of flame phase harmlessly through her. "I can dodge this thing all day, but how do we beat it?"
"Its neck. That's where it's weakest." He circled and threw up another shield. "Metal will crumble in extreme cold. Think you could phase some of my ice into it?"
"We'd need to be closer. How do we get up there?"
"Leave that to me." He reached one icy hand out to Kitty and created an ice slide with the other. It grew rapidly upward, and Kitty wrapped an arm around his waist for balance as Bobby slid them both along the path stretching before them. The robot fired, but Kitty used her powers to make them both intangible.
Bobby found the feeling just as disconcerting as he usually did. For his plan to work, he needed his molecules in their customary places, rather than spread out into a state of intangibility that took away not only his mutant powers, but more ordinary skills as well, like talking. Then the blasts passed through them, Kitty did her thing, and he could speak again. "Can you phase just my blast, and then make it solid when it's inside the sentinel?"
"I'll try," she said, her mouth right next to his ear as she reached forward to slide her hand over his.
Bobby aimed the full force of his power at their adversary's metal neck, blasting it with a solid column of the coldest ice he'd ever created. For several moments, the ice passed through the robot, Kitty's powers temporarily protecting it from the blast. Then she moved her hand away from Bobby's, and a loud crack echoed through the danger room as the metal snapped like kindling.
The giant head crashed to the ground, and Bobby skated them to safety on a swell of ice.
"Wow!" Kitty grinned at him as they slid to the ground. "That was really cool. Literally."
He grinned back. "There's still one left. Let's go help Pete and Warren."
"Help?" She laughed. "Show off, you mean."
"Well yeah. Come on."
They varied the strategy against the second sentinel. Regardless of whether real giant robots could learn from each other's mistakes, Bobby knew that the Danger Room's programming could adapt. For this attack, Bobby switched off to team with Pete, and while they kept it occupied with a frontal assault, Warren flew Kitty around behind it.
At least that was the plan.
Bobby grew an ice platform straight up in front of the robot, and they reached the necessary height faster than he'd anticipated. No matter. Pete slammed a hard metal fist into the thing's eye, and Bobby followed that with an attack of his own.
The robot swatted at them with one massive hand, and Bobby dodged upward, building layers of ice beneath himself as rapidly as he could manage. He avoided the direct blow, but the column of ice shattered beneath them, and Bobby had only moments to break their fall.
Pete reached the bottom of the hastily-constructed ice slide first, and Bobby followed him in a shower of ice crystals. The sentinel's other fist slammed into the ground, the force of the impact knocking them both off their feet. They scrambled backwards as the thing prepared to finish them off.
"Hey trash can head!" Kitty shouted from behind the sentinel. "Look up here!"
It whirled around to swipe at her instead, and gave chase as Warren flapped his wings, lifting her out of its reach. The robot had them on the defensive again, and it could chase them for days without needing a rest, but with its attention diverted, at least Bobby and Pete could regroup.
That's when they realized that this version of their theoretical foe could fly.
The sentinel lifted off after Warren and Kitty, and Bobby acted on instinct. He demanded the attention of every bit of moisture in the room, and rose off the ground on a column of ice. He went colder still, his whole body transforming, and he fired a blast at the robot.
Not the brute strength of a solid wall of ice, not this time. The ice he used passed unnoticed, a fine mist of crystals, but dangerously cold. The robot's jets sputtered out, and then its leg shattered as it struck the ground.
Bobby circled, leaving the cleanup to Pete and the others. His whole body felt cold and alive, his ice slide forming with less concentration than before, coming now almost as easily as running. He slowed and joined the others as Logan stepped from the shadows to congratulate them on the fight. Or grunt at them noncommittally, but Bobby took that as high praise.
"You were really great, Bobby." Kitty smiled at him. "For a minute, I thought we were toast."
"Yelling at it was pretty brave," Bobby said. "I'm glad it listened."
"Not that brave," Kitty said. "I could have just phased out of its way."
They headed out of the danger room. Pete and Warren split off in another direction, both absorbed in their plans for the evening, but all Bobby could think about was the fight. Kitty was right there with him, too, he could see the lingering adrenaline-high in her slightly manic smile.
"My powers have been growing lately," he said. "But they've never felt like that. It was like everything was sharper and brighter somehow -- that probably doesn't make any sense."
"No, it does. I know exactly how you feel."
He grinned at her, because she got it. "I'm not sure I can wait a whole day to get back in there and do it again. I mean, I'm a little tired, but in a good way."
"Does it feel like your skin is vibrating? I get that sometimes, but I'm not sure if that's just part of how my powers work, or if everyone feels like that after a fight. It's like this rush, and it's more than just feeling shaky from adrenaline -- I'm not even sure I'm explaining it right."
"No, that's a great way to describe it. Only with me, it's like my skin is warm and cold at the same time, or it can't make up its mind between the two." He held out his hand, showing Kitty the goose bumps he had despite the warm weather. "This way. I told Rogue I'd meet her at the tennis courts."
"It got pretty intense today," Kitty said. "I've never used my powers quite like that before. They're great for defense -- or sneaking around -- but it would be nice to play offense more often. I wonder if I could phase something as I threw it?"
"Think you could control when it turned solid?" They'd reached the tennis courts, and Bobby claimed an empty bench.
Kitty sat down beside him. "I don't know, it's never worked on anything I wasn't directly touching before today, and really, I was touching the ice, just . . . maybe if I really concentrated as I let go, I could get a delayed reaction."
"Let's try something." Bobby let his hand ice over, and then held it out.
Kitty laid her hand over his. "I can phase a steady stream, but what about a burst?"
"Yeah, I was thinking -- "
"Trying to steal my boyfriend?" Rogue glowered at Kitty. "Because I might have something to say about that."
Kitty yanked her hand away from Bobby. "What? I would never -- "
"I'm not stupid Kitty. I see the way you look at him."
"Rogue, we were just -- "
"Shut up, Bobby. Kitty and I need to get some things straight."
To his credit, Bobby took the hint, but Rogue was focused on the tramp trying to steal her man. Kitty looked frightened. Good.
"Bobby and I are together, and I'm not going to let you wreck it just because he's too nice to see what you're doing. Capiche?"
"Rogue, I -- "
"I'm talking, you're listening." Rogue emphasized her point by poking Kitty's shoulder with each word. "I'm not untouchable any more. Whatever chance you had with him, it's over, if you think you even had one, which by the way you did not. So back off!"
"Rogue, you need to chill." Bobby grabbed for her arm.
"Don't touch me!" She brushed him off angrily, and turned back towards Kitty, swearing as her knee banged into the bench.
Kitty phased backwards through the bench and landed on her butt.
Rogue laughed. "Yeah, that's right, run away! I always knew you were a coward, Pryde."
"Rogue, that's enough." Bobby moved between them as Rogue circled the bench. "You've made your point." His eyes darted towards her hand.
"You don't have to protect her, Bobby, it's not like I can drain her life force. Not any more."
His eyes stayed on her hand, and she followed his gaze. Her fist was . . . not exactly a fist. She had her hand clenched, but her thumb was moving, compulsively flicking a lighter that she did not possess. She snapped her hand shut, and slammed it into her other palm for emphasis.
"Kitty? Stay away from my boyfriend." Then she turned and fled back to the mansion.
Bobby helped Kitty to her feet. "She didn't mean that."
"No." Kitty brushed the dirt from her pants. "She meant it."
He stood there awkwardly and tried to figure out what to say to Kitty, and whether following his instinct to chase after Rogue was actually the best option.
"You'd better go after her."
"Yeah, you're probably right. I'm sorry, you know, about . . . " He shrugged, tried to take Kitty at face value when she shrugged off what had happened, and headed towards the mansion. He found Rogue in her room, staring out the window at the fountain.
"I suppose you're going to try to tell me that she means nothing to you?"
"Of course I'm not," Bobby said. "Kitty's a teammate, and a good friend."
Rogue snorted. "She aims to be more."
"I don't think so, but even if she does, it doesn't matter."
She whirled around to face him. "How can you say that, Bobby? Every time I look, she's all over you."
"Rogue -- "
"Don't deny it. I have eyes you know."
"We were just trying something with her powers," Bobby said. "That's all."
Rogue turned back to the window.
"See, when we were in the Danger Room, I had this idea to take out the sentinel by -- "
"Great," Rogue said. "The Danger Room. Can we talk about something else?"
"You're the one who . . . " He thought better of that when Rogue's hand clenched around the non-existent lighter.
"What?" She glared at him. "I'm the one who what? Waited around all afternoon while everyone else went to the Danger Room?"
"Are you sorry you gave up your powers?" Yikes. He wondered what had made him crazy enough to bring that up.
"No," she said. "I'm glad I did, because this is better." She shoved him up against the wall and crashed her lips into his. Her fingers searched for the zipper on the battle suit he still wore. "Get this thing off, and I'll make you forget all about Kitty Pryde."
"I thought we were fighting."
"I'm over it."
Bobby doubted that, but he was having a little trouble reading her at the moment, and even more trouble knowing what to say to her. Fleeing seemed like a sensible option, at least temporarily. "Then I should probably take a shower. Do you want to go into Salem Center and get a pizza?"
"Later." She tugged at the zipper. "Right now I have plans."
Things like thinking and talking just caused problems anyway.
Rogue sat on her bed with a psychology textbook in her lap and ran her finger along the page as she scanned the index. She'd never owned a lighter in her life, but maybe she'd just gotten used to John's habit, and made it her own. She'd spent weeks flicking the damn thing after taking his powers, after all.
The lingering imprints of the people she'd touched had gone with her powers. She knew what Magneto thought about politics and how it felt to control fire not because she still had traces of Magneto and John in her head, but because she remembered what it felt like to have Magneto and John in her head. Memory felt different than imprints, just like imprints felt different than fresh absorptions.
Someone knocked at the door. Probably Kitty, sniffing around for an apology which she was not getting. Kitty deserved to have someone get in her face, and maybe now she'd leave Bobby alone, so Rogue was glad she'd made a scene. "It's open."
"Hey, kid." Logan stood in the doorway. "Thought you could use an ear."
She closed the book and shrugged.
"Storm said you've been blowing off your homework."
Oh, that. "I didn't mean to. It was just so dull that my mind wandered and I forgot half of what I read."
"I'm not getting on your case, but I'm guessing there's a lot on your mind right now." He sat down on the foot of the bed. "I'm willing to listen if you need a friend."
"I'm adjusting. It's not like my powers were really useful anyway, so I don't miss them, and now I don't have to worry about touching anyone."
He nodded, and Rogue realized that he probably knew exactly how much touching she'd been doing lately. She tried not to let the thought embarrass her. Logan was a friend, not her dad or something, but it still wasn't a topic she wanted to discuss with him.
Of course that meant her subconscious would bring up the subject every three minutes.
"So you're not feeling left out when everyone else is in the Danger Room?"
That she could discuss. "Maybe a little," she admitted. "But it's no big deal. Really. It's not like people are treating me differently or anything, I just don't have anything to do after classes." And it makes waiting for Bobby seem endless, because all I really want to do . . .
"You can do anything you want. Homework, maybe." He nudged her shoulder and she rolled her eyes. "Or head into town and go shopping. I bet it's been a while since you did anything like that."
"Maybe I will." She smiled. "Thanks, Logan."
When sleep eluded him, Bobby decided to head down to the kitchen and raid the fridge. He discovered that Dr. McCoy had pretty much the same idea.
"Something troubling you, lad?"
"Not really." Bobby shrugged. "Just thinking."
"Ah," Dr. McCoy said. "Girl problems."
"I guess you could say that." Bobby took a seat at the counter. "I'm worried about my girlfriend. The way she lost her temper earlier -- that's just not like Rogue."
"Rogue? The girl who took the cure?"
Bobby nodded. "I'm afraid she did it for me, and that she regrets it."
"Do you regret it?"
"It's not what I wanted." He fiddled with his soda, building minute layers of frost along the rim of the can. "It's not that I'm unhappy with her -- it was her choice to make -- but I was fine with the obstacles. She didn't need to do something so drastic to overcome them."
"Her powers came with a high price," Dr. McCoy said. "I doubt that, in her position, many of us would have the strength to deny ourselves a cure." He studied the drink in his hand for a long moment before looking at Bobby again. "Now that she's made this decision, do you find yourself remaining in this relationship only out of a sense of obligation?"
"No, of course not, I love her. But I'm worried about her."
"You said she lost her temper?"
"She laid into Kitty over nothing." He explained what had happened by the tennis courts. "Then once we were alone, she got over it in a couple of minutes and -- well, she was over it."
"Might I assume she's heavily indulging in certain appetites, now that she has that freedom?"
"Perfectly natural, given the circumstances. Have you ever heard of skin hunger?" He took a sip of his drink, and continued when Bobby shook his head. "A deprivation of routine dermal contact negatively impacts the psychological state of an individual."
"Human beings have a deep-seated craving for touch. Your Rogue must have felt that keenly."
"And now she's making up for lost time." Bobby nodded.
"Yes, I suppose that's true," Dr. McCoy said. "But you need to realize what touch means to Rogue. For the past several years, everyone around her has casually enjoyed the one thing she misses the most. Simply put, touching means more to Rogue than it does to the rest of us. What we take for granted is special to her."
Rogue studied her reflection in the dressing room mirror and smoothed down the short skirt. She almost felt naked in this dress. Of course that was the point -- she didn't need to hide her skin any more. A glance at her watch told her that the Danger Room session would end soon, so she hurried to change back into her old clothes before paying for the new ones.
As she pulled the top over her head, her fingernail snagged on the fabric, and for a moment she missed her gloves. Now the jagged nail would bother her all the way back to the mansion. Maybe she should buy some nail polish, now that people could actually see her hands.
Before her mutant powers had kicked in, she and her friends had always painted each other's fingernails while gathered around the picnic table under the old magnolia tree with tall glasses of sweet tea, or while sitting in a circle on her bed making plans for the future. The girls had talked about glamorous careers in politics or show business, about marriage and children, or about how much better everything would be once they finally started high school. Or college.
Rogue always said she wanted an adventure before she worried about careers and children. Now she knew better. The normal stuff was what really mattered.
Her fingers brushed the cashier's palm as she paid, and she smiled when nothing happened. She liked being a part of the world again. "Thanks," she said when the cashier wished her a nice day. "You too."
She turned to go, and froze in her tracks as another mutant entered the store. That she was a mutant was obvious not from any physical features, but from the way she hung in the air, about three feet from the floor. Even so, Rogue might not have looked twice, but she held a wicked-looking knife.
The cashier reached for the phone.
"Wrong answer." In a split second, the mutant was across the room, the phone was ripped out of the wall, and the knife was at the cashier's throat. "The cash, sweetie."
"No," the cashier said, her voice shaking. "I can't -- "
"What did you say to me, homo sapien?"
Rogue started to edge her way around the counter, although she had no idea what she planned to do. It wasn't like she still had her powers, but she couldn't just leave this girl alone, struggling futilely against an armed criminal.
The woman used one hand to lift the cashier by the throat and shove her against the wall. Then she used the knife to draw a crimson line along the cashier's jaw. "Ready to do as you're told?"
The girl kicked frantically and struggled for breath. "I can't."
Rogue had the opportunity, now that the woman's back was turned, but the opportunity to do what? She scanned under the counter for something to use as a weapon, and spotted a cell phone. She flipped it open and dialed 911, hoping someone at the mansion was monitoring the police scanner, only to immediately drop the phone into a trash can as the woman noticed her.
"You, girl! Open the cash register or I snap your friend's neck."
"She doesn't -- "
"Shut up, I'm done talking to you."
The cash register needed a key, but Rogue failed to find one. She grabbed a chap stick out of the bowl on the counter and started to key in the product number.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"Opening the drawer," she said, and hoped it was true. She hit total, and a red error message popped up on the screen. Insert register key.
"Time's up." The woman slammed the cashier's head against the wall, and the girl slumped to the ground. Then she shoved Rogue out of the way and tried to open the drawer herself.
Rogue ran to the cashier's side and felt for a pulse. That she could touch her safely was pretty hollow comfort, but at least the poor girl had a pulse. The bump on her head looked serious, and Rogue had no idea what to do for her.
"Freeze! Hands up."
"You think you can scare me with a gun?"
The cop fired, and Rogue flattened herself against the unconscious cashier, thinking absurdly about how guns sounded different on television.
The woman laughed.
"Filthy mutie!" The cop fired again, and Rogue was pretty sure that at least one bullet came pretty close to where she cowered on the floor. More voices, claiming the store was surrounded, echoed through the room.
"Idiot humans." The woman laughed and flew straight out the window in a shower of glass.
"That poor girl's in a coma, Bobby, and it's my fault." Rogue stared down at her hands and picked at the ragged fingernail she still needed to fix. Like that mattered. "What if she dies?"
"It's not your fault, Rogue, you were just shopping."
"Marie," she corrected. "I was so useless in there. If I still had my powers, I could have helped her."
"If you still had your powers, you probably would have been in the Danger Room, not in town." He wrapped his arm around her. "You called 911, and you tried to help her. It's not like you just ran away or something."
"I suppose. It's just, the woman had her back to me for several minutes, and she wasn't exactly wearing a lot of clothing. I could have touched her easily." The events flashed through her mind again. "The cop shot her at least three times, and the bullets just bounced. One almost hit us."
"Thank God it didn't, Marie, I don't want to lose you."
"I just hope the cashier pulls through."
"I bet she'll be fine," Bobby said. "Storm and Wolverine will track down this mutant, and it'll all work out for the best. You'll see."
Rogue wanted to believe his platitudes, but she knew better. "I was selfish."
Bobby squeezed her shoulder. "No -- "
"I was selfish. I gave up my powers because they were dangerous, and I didn't want the responsibility. But what if I was supposed to have them, so I could help people? I had plenty of opportunity to touch that woman, and that's all it would have taken."
"I don't know," he admitted. "But people help each other all of the time, and they don't all have special powers."
She nodded, and let him kiss her softly on the forehead.
"I'll let you get some sleep -- "
"No," she said. "Stay. Please?"
"You mean, like all night?"
She nodded, and felt a little better once they settled under the covers together.
Rogue woke up feeling cold, and reached to pull the blankets higher. She froze, and her eyes snapped open to stare at her hand. Her icy hand. She sat bolt upright, and saw Bobby beside her. Still asleep, or . . . no. God no.
"Bobby!" She grabbed a sheet and wrapped it around her hand so she could touch his shoulder to shake him.
No, no, no.
She scrambled backwards off the bed, stumbled against the wall, and flung the door open. "Someone help me!"
Kitty arrived first. "Rogue, what's -- "
"Don't touch me." She stepped back rapidly, bumping into a chair. "Help him." She watched numbly as Kitty checked Bobby's pulse, and tried to wake him.
Others followed, a constant blurry stream of people hustling around, just like before when this had happened to David. At some point, Dr. McCoy laid a hand on her shoulder, and tried to assure her that Bobby's vitals were stable, and that there was cause for an optimistic outlook.
She flinched away from his touch. Too much of her skin was exposed in this nightgown, and someone else would get hurt. She needed to get dressed. She needed to get out of here. When they carried Bobby off to the infirmary, and everyone finally left her alone, she retrieved her gloves from the bottom of her travel bag, got dressed, and headed into town to catch a train.
It had started to drizzle by the time Rogue reached Salem Center, which would have been fine -- it suited Rogue's mood nicely -- except she still had Bobby's powers, and she didn't quite have a grasp on how to control them. So while everyone else on the streets enjoyed a warm, misty rain, Rogue found herself the center of her very own cloud of sleet.
She tried to concentrate. She'd used other mutants' powers before. Well, John's anyway. She'd never had any control over Magneto's, and when she'd touched Logan, the healing had just happened. She focused on the way it had felt to quell the fire that day on the Drake's porch, but the moisture in the air continued to gravitate towards her and freeze.
At least it would stop once she got on the train.
Across the street, bright yellow police tape flickered in the wind, drawing her attention to the store where she'd missed her powers so keenly only the day before. They'd boarded up the window, and taped a note to the door that she couldn't quite read from where she stood.
She did catch a flicker of movement behind the glass door, and she crossed the street to investigate. Maybe someone could tell her if the cashier was still in the hospital, or --
Or throw a brick at her head.
"Oh, look who's back." The woman -- the same one who had attacked the cashier -- aimed a predatory grin at Rogue.
Rogue clenched her fists at her side, and focused on the moisture in the air around her, rather than on the terrified face of the man tied to the chair in the corner.
The woman floated towards her. "It's Helpless Girl."
"Not so helpless." Rogue dodged, tore off a glove, and aimed an icy blast straight at her adversary's face. She took advantage of the woman's temporary blindness and darted back the other direction. If she could just free the hostage --
"Oh no you don't."
Rogue cried out with pain as the woman slammed her into a wall.
"Filthy little human sympathizer."
"Your insults need work." Rogue bit back the pain and concentrated on getting colder. She wished she'd paid more attention when Bobby had talked about his powers, because she knew he could take this woman down, but she lacked experience. She managed to block a punch with an ice shield, but a second blow slammed into her jaw and made her ears ring.
She ducked a third blow and tried coasting across the room on an ice slide, which half-worked, but left her with a bruised knee. The woman grabbed her hair and spun her back into the wall.
"Now, Helpless Girl, where is it?"
Rogue had no idea, of course -- she didn't even know what 'it' might be -- but she seized hold of the opportunity to stall. "Why would I tell you?"
"Because if you don't, I'll snap your neck."
"I don't think you will," Rogue bluffed. Her heart pounded and her throat went dry, but she knew what she had to do. She twisted her head, trying to bring the bare skin of her neck into contact with the hand currently pulling her hair.
"I won't?" The woman's other hand closed on her throat.
It started with a tangle of violient images, flashing randomly through Rogue's mind, and she learned how it felt to choke the life out of another human being, even as she struggled for her own breath, coughing as the hand clenched tighter against her windpipe.
Was that her own dizziness she felt?
Rogue scrambled desperately at the hand on her throat, trying to pry the fingers away. Blackness flickered behind her eyelids, and then she could breath again. She dropped to her knees, coughing as she sucked air into her lungs once again. Several minutes passed before she opened her eyes and saw what she'd done.
The woman -- Rogue now knew her name was Karen -- lay on the floor, her skin a sickly gray. She was dead, and Rogue had killed her.
She slumped back against the wall, staring at the body, not knowing what else to do. She'd killed someone. She hadn't meant to -- she'd only wanted to stop her. Her victim screamed in her head, full of anger and hate, and the power of the emotions turned her stomach.
Karen liked to take a life. She liked the power of it, and in some twisted way, her echo seemed to find a special thrill in the ability to kill with a touch. It's not me, Rogue reminded herself as a shiver of euphoria ran up her spine.
It was just an imprint. The wicked, gleeful voice wasn't her own. Nor was it a real person, and it would fade into the background like the others. She focused on the guilt, because she knew that was hers, and tried to block the laughter from her mind.
Someone was talking to her, she realized, and she tried to make sense of the words. The man tied to the chair probably wanted her to call the police or something. She swallowed against the nausea and looked up.
"Logan?" Her voice sounded rough, and her throat hurt.
"Time to go home."
The trip back to the mansion, Dr. McCoy fussing over her in the infirmary, Storm insisting that she eat this sandwich she'd barely touched -- it all passed in a blur. All she could see was the cold gray body laying on the floor, mirrored by the image of Bobby, comatose in her bed. Her subconscious wasn't even subtle about it, and she didn't try to push the images away.
She'd come within a hair's breadth of killing the man she loved, and he could be in a coma for weeks.
"Are you okay?" Kitty sat down across from her.
Rogue quelled the desire for violence that every simple exchange inspired thanks to her new imprint, and went with rudeness instead.
"Okay, stupid question."
They sat in silence for a while.
"Have you been down to see Bobby?" Kitty asked.
"Have you?" It came out as more of an accusation than a question, and Rogue tried again, softer this time. "Have you seen him?"
Kitty shook her head. "Pete and I went down there earlier, but Storm said we'd have to wait. I'm sure they'd let you see him, though."
"I doubt that," Rogue said. "I'm the one who put him there."
"Nobody blames you."
"Rogue -- "
"My skin is poison. I'm poison."
"You're hardly the only one here to have an accident with their powers." Kitty watched her for just long enough to give her the creeps. "They say that the best medicine for a coma is a friend's voice."
The new imprint fantasized about strangling Kitty to death with a dishtowel. Of course that wouldn't exactly work on a person who could become intangible at will. "Fine," she said, if only to stop the violent images. "I'll see him. I suppose I owe him that much."
She owed him a goodbye.
Bobby noticed the cold, and it surprised him. Years had passed since he'd last felt chilled. Had he pushed his powers too far? He tried to remember, and then decided that opening his eyes might help with the information gathering process. He blinked against the light. The infirmary. "Rogue?"
"Bobby!" She leaned closer, and as soon as her gloved hand touched his arm, he knew what must have happened.
He caught her hand in his, and held it tighter when she tried to snatch it away. "I missed you."
"You were unconscious."
"Well I'm fine now," he lied. "You up for -- "
"I'm so sorry, Bobby. I've done something terrible." She failed to meet his eye, and his heart started to pound just a little faster, because he still felt chilled, and Rogue's gloved fingers felt cold against his palm.
He pushed his fear aside, because whatever had happened, adding to Rogue's guilt was not the solution. "Whatever it is, we can face it together."
She shook her head and tried to stand up. "I should call -- "
"That can wait." He tightened his grip on her hand. "Tell me what happened."
"I killed someone," she said. "First I put you in a coma, and then -- well I went into town, and there was a fight."
Relief was probably not the appropriate emotion to feel at that moment, but as Rogue told him what had happened in Salem Center -- over a week ago, apparently -- he found himself more than a little distracted by the need to constantly feel for his powers, which did seem to slowly return as she talked.
"She had some guy tied to a chair," Rogue said. "Else I could have just run." She turned away from him, and her voice shook. "But, well, maybe I wanted to fight her."
"That's not the same as wanting to kill her."
"I should tell Dr. McCoy that you're awake."
This time he let her get up. "Rogue?"
She turned back to him.
"About your powers," he said carefully. "It's good that they're back."
After a bit of uncomfortable prodding, Dr. McCoy declared Bobby well on the road to recovery, and even authorized a pizza delivery.
Rogue took off her gloves to eat a slice. "Kitty and I tried that trick with her powers."
"Did it work?"
"Eventually." She grinned. "She said it was probably ten times harder my way, since she didn't dare touch me at all. And that gave me another idea, for when you're back to your old self again."
Bobby hoped this meant that the jealousy thing was resolved, but his survival instinct kept him from commenting on the issue. Then he noticed the gleam in her eyes.
"It's a really interesting idea," she said softly.
"So, are you going to tell me about it?"
"Nope." She licked a bit of cheese off of her fingertip, and smirked at him. "You'll just have to wait."
His thoughts, despite his best efforts, returned to the obstacle created by her powers. Hopefully the time they'd spent together wouldn't make things harder. "Did I sleep through anything else?"
"What?" She looked disappointed. "No wheedling?"
"I thought you said I had to wait."
Rogue smiled, glanced around to make sure they were alone, and then put into words the very thing he'd thought about so very many times before. Every time he'd considered suggesting it, he'd felt like a pervert, but hearing it from Rogue was just hot.
Rogue felt like celebrating when she turned in her paper on James Joyce, relieved to have closed that chapter in her life. She'd found A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man hard enough to slog through, but reading Ulysses while fighting to quiet her new imprint had proved an epic feat.
All of the things Professor Xavier had said to her after the incident with Magneto still applied, but Magneto had faded, while Karen seemed just as loud now as she had the day it had happened. Rogue still needed to consciously push her into the background.
"Dr. McCoy gave me a clean bill of health," Bobby said. "I guess he finally believed me when I told him I felt fine."
"That's great, Bobby." Rogue smiled at him. "That means you can join us in the Danger Room, right? Logan promised us something new today."
Once they'd changed into battle suits, they gathered for the mission briefing, and Logan pointed at the smoldering ruins of New York City. "There's a mutant out there. Find her before the sentinels do. Go."
"That's the whole briefing?" Bobby asked.
"It's more than he said yesterday," Pete answered as they took the field. "Let's start with a traffic report."
Warren took flight, and quickly reported back with the locations of two sentinels, one of which was on the move.
"It could be tracking her," Rogue said. "We'd better take it out."
They set off, not bothering to use the burning rubble for cover. Better to draw the robot to them, and away from the girl they intended to rescue. When the thing spotted them and changed its course, Rogue took note of its position. Now they had a starting point for their search.
It reached them quickly, shaking the ground with each massive step. It belched fire at them, which Bobby deflected with a wall of ice, and just as Rogue prepared to attack, it stopped moving. The cold robotic eyes seemed to study them as they stood behind the dripping ice shield.
"Okay," Bobby said. "That's just eerie."
"Kitty," Rogue whispered. "See what it does if you head off to the left."
They all watched the robot as Kitty slipped out from behind the ice and moved cautiously in the alleged direction of the mutant they'd been sent to find. It ignored her.
"I don't like this," Bobby said. "It must have a plan."
Rogue exchanged a glance with Pete, and he followed Kitty. "Get ready," she said to Bobby and Warren.
The robot turned its head and fired.
Twin bolts of energy slammed into the ground just as Kitty grabbed Pete's hand and turned them both intangible.
"That must be what's new," Warren said. "We need a plan."
"Distract it from them." Rogue nodded towards Kitty and Pete.
Rogue let Bobby grab her hand as Warren took flight, and they skated to the right in a shower of ice crystals. Bobby aimed a blast at the sentinel's legs, clogging its jets and neutralizing its ability to fly. Then he built his ice bridge higher as the thing swung around to face them.
Its eyes glowed red again, and Bobby threw the full force of his blast at it, but the lasers cut straight through the ice. Rogue threw herself over Bobby, flattening him against the ice platform. She felt the heat of the laser blasts as they bounced off her back, and then the ice platform shattered.
She took a split second to make sure Bobby had a handle on catching himself with an ice slide, and then flew straight at the robot's face. Its fire scorched the leather of her suit, but she didn't let that stop her. She punched her way straight through the thing's eye and yanked out a fistful of wires.
The robot froze, then toppled over backwards as she gave it a shove. In the distance, Rogue could see Kitty and Pete walking hand in hand, the rescued mutant beside them, and a second incapacitated sentinel sunk chin-deep into the pavement.
"Holy crap, Marie!" Bobby stared up at her. His mouth even hung open just the slightest bit.
She grinned and landed softly beside him. "It's Rogue."
This transformative work constitutes a fair use of any copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. X-Men™© and related properties exist as Registered Trademarks of Marvel Comics. No copyright infringement intended. No profits made here. © Spiletta42, September 2008.