Wed, 24 Feb 1999
Alykat alykat@subreality.com
Self Seeking

DISCLAIMER: All characters belong to Marvel, and no $$ is being made off of this.

CONTINUITY: Takes place between X-Men (2nd series) #42 and X-Men #45. Lots of angst to choose from!

REQUISITE DEIFICATION: Thanks to Mitai for beta reading and to Tilman Stieve for back-issue hunting.

FEEDBACK: Yes, please ' and lots of it ' to alykat@subreality.com


Self Seeking

Alykat

 

*June 20*

What am I doing here?

It would be the understatement of the year to say it's been a pretty...interesting...month. With the lives we live, you could say it's been a pretty 'interesting' life, too.

But putting it all in perspective, I think it's pretty safe to say that this past month has just sucked.

Losing your mind ' in more ways than one ' can do that to you, I guess.

I'm better now. Better than I was before, at least. I have to be the strong one, the *responsible* one right now. Wouldn't do either of us any good if we *both* cracked, now, would it?

I can't really picture myself as the strong, authoritative type. Maybe I got that from Emma. Everyone knows that 'Bobbo the clown' is incapable of being serious.

Yeah.

So why am I here in Key West, tagging along with Rogue? She seems fine ' now ' dancing her heart out and looking like she's having a blast out on the dance floor. Maybe *I'm* the headcase here. They say it's always the quiet ones, and it's not like I'm saying much of anything to anyone, babbling to myself while I nurse a beer at the bar.

Well, *trying* to nurse it. This is pretty rancid swill. Then again, in a place like this, maybe I shouldn't expect too much from the bar. From the looks of the drunks at the tables, the emphasis here is quantity, not quality.

I'm becoming quite the purist in my old age, aren't I? Wonder if that's because of Emma, too.

Uh, oh. Looks like trouble on the dance floor.

Rogue, do you *want* to get yourself in trouble? When we started out on this trip, you made it flat-out clear: no powers. The way you're dancing so close to that guy, the way you're dressed (or not dressed), the way that dance floor is so crowded ' Someone's going to touch your skin at some point, whether by accident or on purpose. The way your dance partner's looking at you right now...He's probably going to try to cop a feel or something any minute now. Some of the other locals are looking at you, too.

Time to put on the kid gloves and intervene. I know you're going to shoot me for this. You're going to say that you're perfectly capable of taking care of yourself and that I should just stay out of your business. Stay out of your way. And I should.

But then again I know that if something *does* happen tonight, you're going to be all over me later, yelling at me for not stopping you. Dealing with whatever you absorbed from Gambit is bad enough. God knows what absorbing someone else will do to you right now.

Yes, I know you're strong. Yes, I know you're perfectly capable. But...

Mr. Friendly looks like he's about to pounce. He's only an arm's length away ' too late to back out now, Bobster. A twist of the wrist, flash of the ice, and the guy's down on the ground. 20 points for the Iceman!

I grab Rogue's wrist and pull her out of the crowd, out of the bar. She's mad at me. Looking back, I see that Mr. Friendly and his buddies don't look too happy, either. Believe me, guys, you wouldn't want to touch her; she'll only hurt you.

Why did I just think that?

The anger in her eyes, brightly glowing red, catches my eye. Even a couple days after her kiss with Gambit, she still has his eyes, and it really startles me when she looks at me without glasses. Too used to those deep green eyes. Now, her fury, combined with those devil eyes, manages to scare the crap out of me. She yanks her hand out of mine and stalks off, shooting me a poisonous look before she turns the corner out of sight.

Let her go. Don't let the frustration get the better of you, Bobby. Don't want to make things worse for this trip by snapping at her. She's probably going back to the hotel. Going to tear up a pillow or something and pretend it's my face. Love you, too, Rogue.

I turn my head for a moment before I round the corner. Looks like the party' s started back up at the bar. Kinda funny ' this doesn't seem like Rogue's kind of nightspot. Seems like the kind of place we'd find Logan. Or Gambit.


*June 22*

She's gone.

It's like 3 in the morning. Where could she be? My eyes scan the room. Her stuff's still here. Looking...Looking... The newspaper's sitting open on the table. I don't remember buying a newspaper.

Lessee...local drowning...Jimmy Buffett concert...highway renovations...new exhibit at the art museum. Something tells me that *that's* the one. Reading further... 16th-century Spanish artifacts, valued at quite a bit... Shit.

Rogue, what have you gotten yourself into?


She hasn't said a word since I picked her up at the museum two hours ago. The past few days together, I've gotten used to her moodiness. Gotten used to the manic swings between hyperactive mischiefmaker and sullen depressive. But this is seriously starting to get to me.

I can see her through the sliding glass door, sitting out on the balcony. She's perched on the railing, with her legs dangling out over the concrete sidewalk 10 stories down. Anyone else sitting out there like that and I'd be worried about them jumping. Rogue's invulnerable, though. Even if she did jump, the fall wouldn't do hardly anything to her.

Still, the idea of her jumping is...unsettling. If she wasn't invulnerable, would she do it? I'm halfway frightened that, with everything that's been going on lately, she might.

A knock on the door. Room service brings in an early breakfast. I'd ordered Rogue's favorites ' scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, sausage, orange juice. She doesn't even turn around.

I wait five minutes, then join her out on the balcony. I nearly gag on the smell of cigarette smoke.

'Rogue?'

'What is it, Bobby?'

'Umm...Breakfast is here. Room service just brought it up.'

'No offense, but Ah'm not really hungry right now.'

'Okay. I guess I'll just give your breakfast the special Bobby Drake freeze-dry treatment. It'll be...um...oh, nevermind...' Yeah, Bobby. Nevermind. Can't even crack a decent joke these days.

I see her take a long drag from the cigarette, then slowly exhale the smoke through her nostrils. 'Bobby, what's happening to me?'

You're going crazy. Losing it. You're losing yourself, and it's scaring me. After losing myself to Emma, I can't understand how you can use your powers at all. I guess you're comfortable knowing that whoever you touch will be gone, out of your head soon enough. Something must have gone wrong when you kissed Gambit.

I warned you.

Why did I just think that?

I can't bring myself to answer her, and her question just hangs there in the uneasy silence between us. She takes a few more puffs from her cigarette, then pauses to light a new cigarette. I have to resist the urge to grab the pack and lighter out of her shaking hands.

It's hard to see her like this. Then again, what can I do to make things better? Zippo. The Prof might have been able to do something, but she skipped out of the mansion so fast that I could barely catch up to her and convince her to let *me* come along.

I look back inside the room for a moment. Breakfast is getting cold. Oh well. I've kind of lost my appetite anyway. I turn my head back to the balcony ledge.

Emma?

I rub my eyes and shake my head. No, it's Rogue. But with her head silhouetted behind the moon, I could have sworn...

Nevermind. We don't need two headcases on this trip.

She's looking at me. With her sunglasses on, I can't see her eyes, so I can' t really make out the expression on her face. She stares at me for what seems like hours. Then she pushes herself off the railing.

'Rogue?!'

I ice up in the half-second it takes to get to the railing, ready to...do something...to save her from falling. I breathe a sigh of relief when I see her, just floating there about five stories down. Watching the sunrise. She seems fine.

Of course she's fine, idiot. She's invulnerable, and she can fly. If she wasn't, it's not like *you* could have done anything to save her. Emma probably could have. Not Bobby.

Jean would have caught her in a TK bubble. Warren ' jumped off the balcony and flown down to catch her. Hank...Hank probably would have devised some ingenious thing to catch her, or to save her from dying after she landed. With his powers, Scott wouldn't have been able to do anything but watch her fall or give the others orders. I guess that makes me feel a little better.

Well, not really.

I keep watching Rogue, watching the sunrise. She seems a lot calmer, a lot more together. Probably doing some kind of meditation to get herself back under control. I see her glance up at me, and I step back from the railing. She doesn't want me watching her. Well, that's perfectly understandable.

I go back inside the room. Breakfast is still there, sitting on the pushcart. I help myself to some cold scrambled eggs.


*June 30*

Austin's been a lot of fun. Well, flat tire on MoPac aside...

*She* says we'll be fine, that we've used up all our bad karma and that we' ll probably get...wherever it is we're going...just fine without buying another spare tire. Besides, she said, there's also the issue of the expense. And she's right ' I've nearly maxed out my Visa on this road trip. But I still don't like the idea of driving without a spare. It's too unpredictable.

Then again, look at who I'm travelling with.

She's gotten a lot better lately, though. We left Key West the day after the museum incident. The further we got into Florida, the more like her normal self she became, chatting, joking, even playing little games with other drivers on the interstate. By the time we got to Mobile, Alabama, her eyes had returned to their normal color, and it seemed like she was truly back to 'normal.'

She really tensed up when we got to the Mississippi state border, and she had me drive through Mississippi and Louisiana. She made me take the long way, through country backroads and all, to get through Louisiana because I-10 ran through New Orleans. Going through Louisiana especially, she really worried me, looking over her shoulder whenever something 'unusual' caught her eye. She kept pushing me to drive faster. If it had occurred to her, I think she may have just picked up the car and flown us out of the state.

Once New Orleans and the whole of Louisiana were far behind us, though, she visibly relaxed and became more like herself again. We checked out a baseball game in Houston. Danced and barhopped along the Riverwalk in San Antonio.

We came to Austin on a lark, deciding to check out the city just for the heck of it. I've never figured Rogue for much of a country music person, but she's had a lot of fun at some of the bars and stuff around here. I even got into the act and bought a cowboy hat. She'll give me that goofy, 'Ah can't beLIEVE you're wearin' that' look when we leave the motel in the morning, and sometimes when we're just driving down the road someplace. Then I'll chide her about being a traitor to her punk rock roots. Her usual response is to pull my hat down over my eyes so I can't see, then give me a punch on the shoulder.

Right now we're at Zilker Park, sitting on the grass in the middle of a crowd of sunbathers. There's a rock band playing over on the stage. A bunch of kids are splashing it up down in the creek. It's hot and god-awfully humid. If the devil wanted tips on how to make Hell more unbearable, he'd add humidity like this. Maybe I'll mention that to Magik the next time she comes back from the dead.

That was bad of me.

Rogue's sitting next to me, just basking in the sun. I can't believe she looks like she's actually *enjoying* this weather. Grew up with it, I guess. But, geez...it's just inhumanly hot.

She notices the look on my face and laughs, squirting me with water from her water bottle. 'Doesn't take a telepath to know you're just dyin' here in this heat.' She gets up and, barefoot, heads over to the concession stand, carefully stepping over the sunbathers in her path. She seems a lot happier, a lot more stable now. Her insistence on keeping this a 'power-free' trip aside, I'd say she's been back to her normal self for the past few days. Maybe she's off that manic roller coaster now.

Maybe she'll actually talk to me now about what's been going on. Why she had to go on this trip and run away from everyone. I have an idea, of course, but it'll do her ' and maybe me, too ' some good just to talk it out.

And maybe it'll be okay for me to talk to her, too, about Emma.

Nah...That can wait.

An unexpected tap on my shoulder interrupts my thoughts. Turning around, I see...Emma?

'Hi, stranger,' she says.

'Umm...Hi.'

She crouches down on the grass next to me and looks out at the bright water of the creek in front of us. 'Beautiful day today. It's always fun to people watch on days like this. All kinds of folks come to cool off and relax by the springs.'

I look back at her. She's not Emma, but she bears a striking resemblance to her. Tall, slender, straight blonde hair. Something of a permanent smirk on her face.

'Name's Laura. Student at UT. You?' She sticks out her hand, and I shake it.

'Bobby. I'm just on a...road trip with a friend of mine.'

'Ah. Didn't seem like y'all were from around here.'

'Nah. We're from New York. Well...*I* am. She's originally from Mississippi, but she kinda lives in New York now, too.'

'What part of New York?'

'Westchester. We've got a place kind of out in the country.'

'So you guys live together?'

'Yes. I mean, no. I mean, yes, but not like that.' I feel my face begin to grow hot. 'We live in a big house with some friends. We're students.'

I look over Laura's shoulder and see Rogue over at the concession stand. She 's just standing there, smiling at me. She winks.

'Sounds like fun.' She smiles. 'Me and some of *my* friends are having a party tonight. You're welcome to come, if you like. Your 'friend' can come, too.'

'Umm...sure.' I smile gamely as she scribbles down the address and a small map. 'Thanks.'

She stands up and walks off. 'See ya tonight!'

I look at the map. I don't know the city very well yet, but I think the address is somewhere near the university. I'm still trying to mentally work out how to get there when Rogue sits down next to me, a hot dog in each hand.

'She seemed nice,' she says, offering me a hot dog.

'You set me up, didn't you?'

'Who, me?'

'Yes, *you.*'

'Well, Ah may have *suggested* that she come over and talk to you. What's the harm in that?'

I hand her the piece of paper. 'She invited us to a party.'

'Oh, darn. A party. We just can't have strange girls inviting you to parties, can we?' The sarcasm in her voice is almost palpable, going well with the self-satisfied smirk on her face.

'Is there a *reason* why you're trying to get me dates?'

'Just thought you might like to have a little fun on this trip. Anythin' wrong with that?'

'Guess not,' I mumble. 'Just...she looked a lot like Emma.'

'Huh?' Rogue looks at me, confused. 'What do you mean?'

'Tall, thin, straight blonde hair. Sounds like Emma to me.'

'Um...Bobby? Laura had curly black hair and dark skin.'

'Oh.'

I feel my face redden with embarrassment and confusion. She puts her gloved palm against my forehead. 'You okay, hon?'

'Just...fine.'


I so *don't* want to go to this party. After what happened this afternoon... I don't want to think about what'll happen if she comes up to me and I don't recognize her. Or, worse, if she looks like Emma again.

What's going on these days? I don't get why I keep seeing Emma everywhere. Is she consciously trying to mess with my head, or is there some kind of residue of her still left? I know for sure that Emma Frost is *not* someone I want messing with my head. Don't want to get on that woman's bad side.

There's a knock on the door and I answer it. Rogue walks right past me, grabs my duffel bag off the bed and practically drags me to the car.

'We've got to leave. Now.'

There's a dangerous edge to her voice, and I don't want to argue with her.

'Okay.' I slide uneasily into the passenger seat.

She backs out of the parking space and speeds through the city streets to the highway. 'Um...Rogue? What's going on?'

'Nothing. Nothing. Ah...just have a bad feeling, okay?'

'Okay.'

We ride in silence as she races out of the city, heading north towards Oklahoma.


*July 3*

Told you so.

God forbid I actually say that aloud, though. Nah. I'll say it anyway. She's ignoring me, focusing on her Clearly Canadian instead of the flat tire on our rental car.

"'Maybe we should have replaced that spare tire we used in Austin, Rogue.' 'Who knows if we'll get another flat, Rogue?' 'It's not wise to tour the country on four tires, Rogue.' Does *any* of this ring a bell -- Rogue?"

"Every word, sugah. And do *you* remember *me* sayin' 'Ya gotta learn to relax, Bobby?' After all, is it really all that bad, Mister Drake? There are probably plenty o' fellas who could think of a worser fate than bein' trapped in the middle o' absolutely nowhere with me."

She's being patronizing, but I don't want to argue. Time to problem-solve... 'Yeah, well, when you put it like that... I guess it wouldn't be a problem for me to use my mutant ice powers to whip up a temporary tire to get us to the nearest gas--"

"Two words: 'No' and 'way'." A smirk on her face, she pours some of her water on my shoulder. It's ice-cold, and with all the sugar in that stuff, I know it's going to be sticky later.

"Hey! what gives?"

"When ya begged to join me on this road trip, ya agreed to one rule. 'No powers.'"

A rule that you've broken a number of times yourself, Rogue. "True. But I assumed you were talking about no 'in costume let's go out and save the world' X-Men powers. What's wrong with using our mutant abilities to get us from point A to point B?"

"No dice, Ice." She grabs her bag out of the car and starts walking away from me. "Ah wanted ' ah *needed* some time away from bein' a mutant in general and an X-Man in particular. Ah thought you understood that."

"Sure, but --"

"If we need a spare tire, we'll get it the normal way."

"We walk?"

"We walk."

Rogue, Rogue, Rogue... you haven't been the same since you kissed Gambit. I don't mind reaching out to you... to be a friend when you need one. Here's hoping I don't evaporate in the process.

I grab a map out of the glove box before I run to catch up with her. Just think of it as an adventure, Bobby...

It's too hot to be adventuring.


We walk for like three hours before finally stopping. Rogue spies a trail leading to a nice, big rock overlooking a series of mesas. Thankful for the break, I climb up on the rock next to her to watch the sunset.

All the colors and shadows are really hypnotizing. Sunsets out west really are like no others. It's so easy to lose yourself in them.

I glance at Rogue; she seems focused on watching the scene, too. She's trying to control her breathing, almost like a meditative exercise. It doesn 't look like it's working. I've noticed she's been less and less successful with her 'cool-down' exercises lately. She's definitely been a lot more irritable.

She looks like she's fighting something mentally, like she's pondering something that's bothering her.

"So. What are you thinking?"

She shakes her head playfully, but a hint of annoyance crosses her face. "Who says ah'm thinkin' anything? Why can't ah just be enjoyin' the view?"

"Rogue, please. This is the Bobster you're talking to. As Iceman, I've made a career of denial. Or so I recently discovered.' This may be a good time to talk to her, maybe try to get her to talk out what's been bothering her. I test out my 'theory' about her problems. 'Downtime is one thing, Rogue, but it's pretty obvious you saw something in Remy's mind -- when you kissed him. Something that scared you."

"Even *if* ah remembered -- and ah ain't sayin' ah do -- maybe ah ain't ready to talk about it."

"Yet?"

"Yet." She seems to float down off the rock and heads back toward the road.

'Yet' is good, I guess. Means maybe there's some hope she'll talk it out. Sooner rather than later, I hope. The longer she keeps this in, the more irritable she gets. I'd still like to know what happened in Austin. Everything seemed to go downhill after we left there.

"Nice move, Drake."

Her voice sounds like ice. It's unmistakable. Figures that she'd show up sometime and actually talk to me.

"Wha-- The White Queen?!"

"Please, Bobby, it's 'Emma' to everyone I've been intimate with. And it doesn't get much more intimate than two minds sharing the same body, does it?"

Gee, Emma, you put it so genteel. Make it sound like it was all quite the pleasant experience, instead of you invading my mind and using my powers better than I've ever been able to do. She's got a lot of brass just sitting as-you-please there on the rock next to me. I feel the anger begin to build. Doesn't take very long; it's been there for quite a while and is just waiting to be released. "Knock it off, Frost! What are you doing here?"

"Who says I'm even 'here' at all? Maybe I'm just in your head."

The anger, the remembered sense of violation ' it all comes boiling back to the surface, and I feel almost violent. "Don't play games with me, you --!!"

I hear Rogue's voice from around the bend. "Bobby? Who ya talkin' to, sugah?"

My head spins in the direction of the sound to make sure Rogue didn't see me. She's out of sight, though, and I allow myself a brief sigh of relief. Then I turn back to Emma. She's gone. Figures.

"Who says I was talking to someone? We ready to go?"

"*Ah* am."


Where's Hank when I need him? Rogue's 'relapsing,' so to speak, and Emma's haunting me more than ever. Hank would know what to do. Hank *always* knows what to do.

At the very least, I'd be able to talk to him. I don't want to bother Rogue right now with my problems. She's got enough of her own.

Nah...He's so busy searching for a cure to the Legacy Virus right now. Probably doesn't have time to talk. Besides, he's got problems of his own, what with Trish selling him out on national TV. We'll talk when I get back. Whenever that is.

It's probably stupid of me, but I'm going to call Emma Frost. Rogue's in there paying the check. I've already picked up the car from the repair shop. What harm could it be?

Plenty.

What if she *is* somehow playing with my mind from this far away? She was able to activate my powers from 10 feet away, just by plugging into my head with her telepathy. She possessed my body and was able to use my powers in ways I'd never dreamed, when she'd had my body for just hours and I'd had it for my entire life.

She scares me.

Is it because she could kick my ass whenever she wanted to with just a thought? Or is it because she's a living, breathing reminder of what a slacker I am? Because while Scott, Jean, Warren and Hank have gone on to do great things with their powers and their lives, I've always played it safe as the class clown and the team accountant?

Makes a guy feel like such a success story to be reminded of all his past failures like this.

Rogue'll be a few minutes more. She said she had to hit the restroom, too, before we leave. Should I call?

Dammit.

I pick up the phone. The mouthpiece smells like cigarette smoke, and I take care to hold it as far away from my mouth as possible while I punch in my calling card number and the number to the Massachusetts Academy. It's late in Massachusetts right now, but everyone lives in the building. Someone has to answer.

Although I'm dreading that she might be the one who picks up.

Instead the phone rings. And rings. Six rings. Seven rings. Instead of call waiting, the Academy has voice mail, so if someone's on the main line and someone calls, the caller goes straight to the answering system. And if the phone's been ringing this long, someone had to have turned off the answering machine function, then.

That means someone's there. My bet's that it's Emma.

I feel a faint tickling in my brain. I don't know if I'm imagining it or if it's actually there, but it's mocking me. The ringing of the phone is mocking me. 'Emma,' I yell into the phone, 'I know you're there. Pick up the phone!'

I try to project my thoughts toward her, like the Prof taught us back when the Institute was still a real school. *Stop messing with my head!* I scream. *Pick up the damn phone! I *know* you're there!*

My only answer is the faint sound of mocking laughter in my head.


*July 8*

Bobby Drake, you've been possessed by a former villainess, been sent to the past and had your memory erased, been dragged along on the road trip from hell and completely maxed out your credit card. What are you going to do now?

I'm going to...Seattle?

Well, on this trip, Rogue's wish is her command, I suppose. And I get the feeling that we're not going there to relive early 90s grunge and make a pilgrimage to Kurt Cobain's grave.

She's beyond worrying me. At some points she downright frightens me. She'll get angry at the slightest provocation ' sometimes *violently* angry. She threw a huge boulder at me and the car for asking where we were going.

It's not just the quick-to-violent-anger stuff that's bothering me. It's the quick drop from angry high to sobbing despair in less than 30 seconds that worries me.

And it's been getting worse the closer we get to Seattle.

I *know* it has everything to do with Gambit. Her skittishness, her roller coaster mood swings, her admission that even she doesn't know exactly what's going on ' It's just like back in Key West, when this all started. When she had Gambit's eyes and tried to steal from that museum. She's even taken up smoking again, although I think she's trying to hide it from me.

We're in southern Oregon now. If things are this bad now, God help us when we get to Seattle.


*July 10*

Well...we're here. To borrow from Han Solo, I've got a bad feeling about this. It's a dark and stormy night, and while that's not all that unusual for Seattle, it's only adding to my feeling of dread about being here.

If I thought Rogue was tense before... She has me drive down to the University of Washington and park in one of the more commercial areas. She jumps out of the car at her first opportunity and is out of sight before I can catch her. I don't have time to suggest she wear a jacket, either.

Given the way she's been acting lately, I figure this is *not* a good time to just let her run off like that. I follow after her. This seems like a bar district. Lots of college students, either summer school kids or ones who live in the neighborhood already. Rogue and I blend right in, I guess.

I peek into bar after bar, looking for her. I finally find her at one near the end of the road. Not much of a surprise that she's already surrounded by college boys offering her drinks. This crowd doesn't look nearly as menacing as the one in Key West, but considering that this is a group of college-age, at-least-slightly-drunk guys...

Time to put on the kid gloves again.

Just like in Key West, she's *not* happy that I'm there to spoil her fun again. But just look at you, Rogue: the gloves are *off.* I've got a feeling that you're not about to be pulling any punches today, and you can do some serious damage.

Yes, I know you're strong. Yes, I know you're perfectly capable. But...

She doesn't even give me the chance to talk to her this time, flying through the roof before I can really catch her.

So much for that 'no powers' rule.

Her 'spectacular' exit broke some of the roof supports. I use my ice powers to shore up the roof and keep it from caving in. And this crowd is starting to look dangerous. I've spoiled their good time, and as far as they're concerned, I've also spoiled their hangout. Blame it all on the mutie scum, folks.

And here's the spectacular entrance by the enigmatic Gambit, to the rescue once again.

I could've handled it myself ' without destroying the bar any more than it was already. But that's not the way of the modern X-Man, is it?

All he asks is where Rogue's gone. I tell him I don't know, and he tells me to follow him.

'How do you know where she is?' I ask as we ride my ice slide through downtown Seattle.

'Just a stab in the dark.'

That's the way it always is with you, isn't it Gambit? Shadows and mirrors. You're scared to death that something's gonna come back and bite you in the butt, aren't you? Something you did a long time ago, or maybe even something you're involved with now.

I truly hope it does. Whatever she absorbed from you is eating her alive. Whatever you did, you don't deserve her.

Woah ' Rein in the hostility, Bobby. It's not going to help you get to Rogue any faster.


We find her at an abandoned theater in a run-down side of town. Well, to be more accurate, Gambit brings me to an abandoned theater in a run-down side of town and tells me that Rogue's inside. He dives in through the skylight, leaving me on the roof. I want to follow, but get the hint that he wants to talk to Rogue alone.

And he should. He should tell her what's going on, explain why she's been falling apart.

It's really a matter between the two of them, and it's best that I stay out of it. It's none of my business. But after spending the past three weeks with Rogue, I feel...responsible, I guess, for her.

Rogue bursts through the roof of the theater ' gee, is that like a recurring theme tonight or what ' and starts to fly away. I hear Gambit calling after her. Should I follow her? It's her life, but...

Yes, Rogue, I know you're strong. Yes, I know you're perfectly capable. But...

You have to stop running away like this.

I follow her on my ice slide. She slows down to let me catch up, and we both stop mid-air to talk. I tell her she needs to stop running away from her problems and herself. She tells me to listen to my own advice.

Her comment stings, as if she's slapped me across the face. I try to push it aside, telling myself that she's not herself now, that she doesn't really know what she's talking about. But it still nags at me, like a needle pricking me on the back of the neck.

But I don't get a chance, really, to respond to her. Gambit decides to play hero and uses a charged-up sandbag to pull her back down to the ground before she can get away again. Takes down most of the building in the process. He didn't need to intervene. I could've handled it myself ' without destroying the building any more than it was already.

The blast shatters my ice slide, too, and I have to get inventive to get back down to the ground without killing myself. One twisty-twirly ice slide to the rescue. If I wasn't so annoyed about being knocked down in the first place, I might actually enjoy the ride.

I'm not incompetent. I could have dealt with Rogue, maybe gotten her to calm down, if you'd given me the chance, Gambit. But no ' not only do you have to interrupt, but you have to make a fool of me in the process.

Okay... deep breath... Calm down...

I skid to a stop and finally get back on my feet, briefly glancing around to make sure no one saw my less-than-spectacular nosedive. I'm almost... disappointed?... when I realize no one did.

I jog over to the front of the building to make sure Rogue's okay. What am I thinking? Of course she's okay, physically at least. A building could fall on her and she'd walk right out from under it without a scratch.

I see Gambit help Rogue out of the rubble, and they start to talk. I think they've forgotten I'm even there, and I'm starting to feel like the third wheel here. Always in the way.

But in spite of myself, I stay and watch. Gambit is standoffish as ever about talking about his past, trying to talk his way out of the situation. And Rogue keeps switching between pushing him away and begging him to tell her the truth.

But then Gambit does something that surprises me. He offers to let her absorb him again, so that maybe this time she'll be able to see his memories and unlock whatever's stuck up in her mind. I worry about what it'll do to her, absorbing him and maybe losing herself again to him and his memories. But at least then the cards will be on the table, so to speak.

She turns him down. I'm not surprised.

'Ah'm sorry, Remy,' she says.

'Me too, Chere. What now?'

'I don't know. I want some time to myself.'

'You're leaving the X-Men?' I ask. I start feeling almost...panicked?...at the idea.

'For a bit.'

Great. 'Bobby the Failure' yet again. 'Rogue, I--wanted to-'

'Be good, Bobby. Be strong ' in control. You can be if you just try.' She acts like she's saying her last good-byes. She's planning to be gone for a *long* time.

Gambit interrupts. 'And what about us? I love you, Rogue.'

'Ah love you too, Remy. From the first time ah laid eyes on ya. Ah thought, 'Honey, this snake charmer is as close ta Prince Charming as you're evah gonna get.''

'Girl, I'm sorry that I couldn' live up to ya expectations.'

'No, that's the saddest part of all, Remy--you did. You were exactly what I expected.'

Ouch.

He's on his knees as she flies away. I look at Gambit as he watches Rogue disappear from sight. He's visibly upset by it all. Anger and disappointment flash across his face. I can't decide if I hate him for driving Rogue away or if I feel bad for him.

'Look...I know we're not best buds or anything, but if you want to talk...'

He brushes me off. What did I expect? Instant friendship? Right.


*July 11*

Gambit's going to take a few days off. Probably mope a little. Do that brooding hero thing. Rogue's gone, for who knows how long. Me? My job's to take the Blackbird back home.

It's been a while since I had so much time to myself. I guess I can use the solo flight time to think. About what happened these past three weeks. About what happened to Rogue. About what a loser I am.

What Rogue said to me before she left ' about being in control and all ' stays in my mind. Thinking about it, I don't really get why she said that. I guess she meant me trying to work on my powers and all that, but control has never really been my problem, just living up to my potential, I guess.

Control is really *her* issue. She was in control for most of this trip, yet she had trouble controlling herself. She can't control her powers. 'Be good, Bobby. Be strong ' in control. You can be if you just try.' Maybe you can, too, Rogue.

I didn't have any real goal when I started on this trip, but I was hoping that I'd be able to...I don't know...*help* her somehow. Be there for her like she was there for me with my father. Pasts aside, Rogue and I have a lot of similar issues: power problems, insecurities, parents. I'd hoped she' d learn that she didn't really have to run away.

Did really well with that one. You'd make a great shrink. 'Road trip therapy,' you could call it. Make a mint, too.

Right.

I admit it: I was running away, too. Running away from Emma. Running away from the friends who'd tell me, 'Of course you're not a failure. You're just a late bloomer.' Running away from having to use my powers at all.

'You've been doing that all your life, you know.'

'Wha--?' I spin around. Emma's sitting next to me in the co-pilot's seat.

I'm tired. Not just lack-of-sleep tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of running. 'What do you want, Emma?' I ask, my voice low as I look back at the Blackbird controls.

'I want you to get a spine.'

I look back at her, confused. 'Huh?'

'Stop being the doormat.'

'You've lost me.'

'You're the happy one. The friendly one. The practical joker. You keep trying to make everyone else happy, so you do nothing for yourself. Get a spine.'

Friendly. Happy. Doormat. Lovely. 'Out of curiosity, just what makes you such an authority on my life, Emma?' I ask through gritted teeth.

'Because I *had* your life, idiot. I experienced your memories. You have no idea of your potential, and because you don't recognize it, you're simply a waste of space.'

My hands clench around the controls. 'So if I'm such a waste of space, why are you so interested in me?'

'Because of your potential. You could do amazing things with your powers, things I did when I was in your body, things people probably haven't even thought of yet. And after spending all that time in your head, I guess you could say I have something of a soft spot for you.'

'So you're tormenting me like this because you want to *help* me?'

'Something like that, yes.'

'You've got a pretty messed-up way of showing you care, Emma.'

'Well, like you've said yourself, I'm a 'living, breathing reminder of what a failure you are' ' was that how it went? I had *hoped* you might get angry enough that you'd drop those inhibitions of yours and start actually *doing* something.'

'I don't need your kind of help, Emma.'

'Well, you certainly haven't been trying to meet your potential on your own, have you? I'm just trying to be the proverbial 'kick in the ass.' Seems like all I've done is hit you with a sledgehammer of angst. Pity.'

'Will you just leave me the hell alone?'

'If that's what you want, Drake. If that's what you want.'

I turn back to the co-pilot's seat. She's gone. I breathe a small sigh of relief. But something keeps nagging me, tugging at my brain.

Doormat. Inhibitions. Control.

Potential.

It's plain as day to Emma. To Rogue. Probably to everyone else. There's more to my powers than anyone ever thought, and I'm the one standing in the way of them becoming what they can be.

But I'm not my powers. They're a part of me, but they don't define who I am. But it's always 'my powers, my powers, my powers.' Especially lately.

I'm not Iceman. I'm just Bobby Drake, a practical joking slacker from New York.

Slacker.

Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Be the best mutant you can be. But what about being *human*?

Part of the goal of the X-Men is to 'foster better relations between humans and mutants.' I think that's how Scott put it in one of his briefings. Humans. Mutants. The dividing line is that one damned gene.

Wow. I'm getting profound in my old age.

I hear Emma's voice again, echoing in my head.

Slacker.

Doormat.

Waste of space.

The mansion is just ahead. I park the Blackbird in the hangar and head inside. I need a shower.

But I think I'll go talk to Hank first.


Notes:

Emma Frost possessed Bobby's body in Uncanny X-Men #314. Bobby confronted her later in UXM 318, and she 'activated' his powers, so to speak, to show him his potential. Bobby 'warned' Rogue about Gambit in UXM #319. Rogue kissed Gambit in X-Men #41 and presumably began her road trip soon after the team returned to Westchester.

Rogue and Bobby were at the Key West bar in X-Men Prime. Rogue tried to steal a Spanish helmet from a Key West museum in XM #42. There is a one-line reference to their stop in Austin in UXM #323, which is also the issue where they get a flat tire somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Arizona, on Route 66. This is also the issue where Gambit awakens from his kiss-induced coma. (Some of the July 3 dialogue was borrowed from this issue, written by Scott Lobdell.) The infamous 'Grey Crow' diner incident was in UXM #324. Rogue called up Gambit in UXM #325 to tell him that she and Bobby were going to Seattle.

And, of course, the big break-up was in XM #45. Much of Fabian Nicieza's dialogue stolen from this book was taken from memory, so my apologies if any of it is incorrect.


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