I used some things from continuity, but ignored most of them. Rogue does, after all, deserve a break after her terrible fate at the hands of later writers. For me, this is all audiences material, but children of all ages may want to beware. Rogue, Kitty, and the rest belong to Marvel. I'm only borrowing them.

This story is archived on Luba's homepage at http://home.att.net/~lubakmetyk/

Many thanks to Luba Kmetyk and Suzie Campos for their proof-reading efforts.

This story takes place not long after the return of the X- Men from the Secret Wars. I would like to apologize for mentioning this silly story, but it is necessary in order to position this one in time. Rogue has been with the X-men for several months, having renounced her previous relationship to Mystique. Since then, she has saved Mariko and Piotr from unpleasant fates, and generally shown herself to be someone who can be trusted. Scott has married Madelyne, Logan has been dumped by Mariko, Kitty is just back from having been nabbed by the White Queen and from almost being made to live in the Morlock tunnels forever. All of the X-men are just back from the Secret Wars, where good old Peter has been, er, involved, with a very cute female humanoid healer.


Tag

D_Benway

 

The chair cradled her, as she sat in it with her legs curled up beneath her. It was a large chair, but at her size, all chairs were large, comforting things to curl up in. She had a circuit board balanced on her knee. In her hands, the probes on a voltmeter. She was careful not to get the gluey, chewing-gum-like Shi'ar interface material on her jeans. She finished checking for the third time all of the solder joins, and not a single one showed any sign of being wrong.

She put the card down carefully, resisting the urge to hurl it across the room. Somewhere on the fucking thing, there was a cold solder join. When that card was plugged into her computer, it should have connected her into the Danger Room systems. Instead, it gave her a blank screen, and occasionally a completely uninformative error message. Somewhere, on that board, she had done something wrong. She didn't like doing things wrong.

She picked the board up again, because if she didn't keep checking, she might have to think about some other things that had gone wrong, and she didn't want to start into that again. She had checked six joins when there came a knock at the door.

"Yeah?"

"Hi. Can I come in?"

Shit. Rogue. Last person she wanted to see now. Anyone would have been the last person she wanted to see, except maybe Illyana. She shrugged, then went back to the board. She heard Rogue come in anyway and sit down on Illyana's bed.

"You don't want to sit there."

"Why not?"

"That's Yana's bed. She doesn't like people sitting on her bed."

Rogue stood up, satisfyingly quickly.

"Sorry, I didn't know. I thought it was yours, it was so neat and all."

"Yeah. Well, Yana's pretty neat."

Whenever Illyana had a bad night, she would make the bed very carefully the next morning. Logan had seen it, and told her that it reminded him of beds that he had seen made in barracks. To make the point, he had dropped a quarter on it and watched it bounce. Illyana had come in an hour later and had been very, very upset. Someone had been messing with the bed. She'd asked why, if it was some magic thing, but Yana had said it was something from Russia, about making the bed tight so the nightmares couldn't get in and hide until nightfall. She couldn't argue with that.

Rogue cleared a spot in the chaotic mass of books, papers and stuffed animals and sat on the edge of her mattress. She continued checking the joins. She could hear the creaking of Rogue's leather outfit as she shifted.

"I guess you're real busy, huh?"

Of course. What does it look like? She nodded, and checked another join.

"What's his name?"

She was pointing to Thing.

"Thing."

She had Thing for a very long time. Her mother had been given it at a craft sale and had brought it home for her. She was annoyed when her mother couldn't tell her what it was. It had roughly an egg shape, with two huge eyes and a fringe of what might have been tentacles or hair at the bottom. She had fallen in love with it almost at once. She wanted Rogue to put it down. Now.

"What is he?"

"Don't know."

Rogue put Thing down. Rogue had put almost all of them down, at some point. Ororo and Kurt both had the scars to show it.

"Is it me, or do you just want to be left alone?"

She grunted.

"The prof wanted me to come and talk to you."

She sighed, audibly, theatrically. She very carefully put the circuit board and the tester back on the desk, then slowly and deliberately turned her chair to face the source of her annoyance.

"The prof, huh?"

"Yeah. He wanted me to get to know you better."

Rogue wore an expression that she had seen on people who worked for her Dad. I am doing this because I have to.

"So?"

"Where do you come from?"

"Deerfield."

"Where's that?"

"Illinois."

"Dani said you were from Chicago."

"Suburb."

Rouge's smile was looking just a little pained. Good. She wasn't completely invulnerable.

"Nice place?"

"Yeah."

"I don't know where I'm from."

"Huh."

Rogue wasn't smiling now. If anything, she looked a bit pensive.

"Something's bugging you, hon."

"Nothing's bugging me."

"Helps to talk to a friend."

"I've got friends."

Ororo, who always saw what she wanted to see. Kurt, who might go and talk to his friend Peter right after. Logan, who had seen it all, and wouldn't hesitate to be honest with her about it. The prof wasn't really a friend, more like a dad, with lots of fatherly advice based on no experience at all. Lockheed, who was avoiding her as he often did when she was in a mood like this. Illyana, who was somewhere else, and who was Peter's sister. Peter.

"I'm just kinda preoccupied, you know?"

"Boy trouble?"

"No."

Who else was there to talk to? Rogue had beaten the shit out of half of them, but she had gone after the Viper when that bitch had poisoned them all. That had not been pleasant. She had earned Logan's trust, and she had saved Peter's life, or so Ororo had said. She had renounced Mystique, but then let her escape. There was always Carol Danvers.

"Well, what, then?"

"Look, I'm sorry if I'm being a crab. I've just been through a lot of shit lately, you know. All that stuff with Caliban, and Frost. Thought I'd lost all of you. Twice."

"I always used to worry about losing my Momma. When she and my Nana went out, I never knew if they were coming back. I'd stay up all night waiting for them to come back. Stayed up for two straight days once."

"Your real mom?"

"Don't know her. Raven."

"So your Nana is Destiny?"

"Irenie. Yeah. She always used to pretend to be my grandma when we went out, so I called her my Nana. So what does your Dad do?"

Redirection. Still thinks of that blue psycho as her mother? The genetic tests had come back without a match, but could Mystique manipulate her structure on that level?

"Runs a bank."

"Was he always a banker? He do other things?"

Did Rogue know something about her Dad?

"Real estate. Sold cars. Made deals. That sort of thing."

"What about your momma?"

"Social worker, until she got fired for screwing up. Sent some little kid home from a foster home, and he got killed. Probably saved dozens of kids' lives, having her out of there.."

"You don't like her."

No shit. If she hadn't been in such a pissy mood, she might have been able to do the usual spiel about how her mother helped the little children. Everyone except the Prof and Logan had heard that version.

"Why should I? She always got in my way. Tried to stop me from going to the gifted classes so I could socialize with kids my age. Always got in my way. I could never do anything right for her."

"Oh."

Rogue's face held a pained look. She was leaning forward, holding her arms tightly around her.

"You got Peter, though."

"Yeah. Kinda."

"What do you mean, 'kinda'? He's a hunk, girl."

And he's been looking at you in the danger room, at dinner, on missions, especially since you came back from wherever it was that you went to. That place where Ben Grimm had been cured of his problem with the rocks. It was impossible not to notice. Once, Peter had had eyes only for her. Not any more. Then again, how could she compete? Rogue was taller. Rogue had tits. Rogue had long legs, and was put together like every ad said you should be. Rogue didn't have short arms and a flat chest and hairy legs that had to be shaved every two days.

"Suppose."

"He's not my type, though."

"No?"

"No. I like dancers. Like that Russian guy, up there on the wall. I always get hot and bothered when I see that picture."

"Baryshnikov."

"Yeah."

Rogue was grinning, more relaxed. She wondered if Rogue would have liked Elton John, if his poster had been on her wall.

"Seen him dance?"

"Once. Momma and I went to the Kennedy Centre to see him. Saw the Turning Point, about 50 times. After that, I wanted to fly, like he did."

"Now you can."

"Yeah. It's great."

And until a year ago, the woman that you stole it from was glued to the ground like the rest of us. At least Carol could fly again.

"What's it like?"

"What's what like?"

Rogue was looking pained again.

"Kissing him. Peter. Is he a good kisser?"

"I suppose. I mean, it's not like when my Mom and Dad kissed me."

"He's your only one?"

"Dammit, I'm only 14. I'm not some white trash kid-"

Shit. Rogue froze up, completely.

"I didn't-"

"You should use words like that very carefully, Kitty."

Rogue's voice was distinctly less Southern. There was a hint of the clipped vowels of New England in there somewhere. She had noticed that before, in fights, when Rogue got in a tight spot.

"I'm sorry. That was wrong."

"My Momma found me in the trash."

"What?"

She hadn't heard this. The Prof hadn't said much about Rogue's background, and neither had Rogue.

"I was in this trash can, trying to find food. She thinks I might have been eight then. No-one really knows."

"In a dumpster."

"She'd just done this job in Hattiesburg. I was down the bottom of the can, and I'd just found a taco in good shape, when this big nigger comes down the alley and sees me and stops. Then he pulls this huge gun on me. The someone yells out, No, and the next thing I know I'm waking up in this big old bed with a blue woman staring at me."

"So the nig-, the black guy was Mystique?"

"Yeah. My Nana had a precog fit and saw that we had a life together."

Rogue looked vaguely ashamed. No sign of New England, now.

"You fainted?"

"No. Nana told me that Momma picked me out of the can and I struggled, so she clobbered me with the pistol."

"Shit."

"You've got some mouth."

"Well, that's a pretty crappy thing to do."

"Four DIA agents were shooting up the alley at the time. Most likely would've ended up dead."

"Did she hit you a lot?"

Rogue looked hurt, and very young. Perhaps there was something else here.

"She never hit me. Not never."

"Never?"

"Did your Dad hit you?"

"No. My Mom did, once or twice. For mouthing off."

"My Momma never hit me. My Nana, neither."

"What about your real mom?"

"My Momma is my real mom."

"Don't you remember anything from before?"

"No. Nothing."

"Did they take your memories away?"

Rogue glared at her, furious. She phased partially, defensively. She hoped that Rogue didn't notice.

"I have no idea how I got in that goddamn dumpster. I don't remember anything before that. I don't think I want to remember. I didn't then. I can't now. And it wasn't anything Momma or Nana did, neither."

"How do you know?"

"Because they loved me," Rogue shouted, turning a nasty shade of red. "They loved me, dammit, and they wouldn't have done that to me. Momma found some things out. My real name, where I came from. She told me when I was old enough, she would tell me."

Protesting too much? Possibly. This was almost fun, except that it wasn't. Peter would never go for anyone as unstable as this. Peter would almost certainly never go for anyone as unstable as this.

"So did she tell you?"

"She told me when I was old enough, what I was called. I didn't want to know any more. She told me that there was some bad things in my past. I didn't want to know any more."

She decided that she didn't want to play games any more. She wondered if Rogue had ever told any of this to the Prof.

"Talking can help. Maybe it's got something to do with your control."

"I can't remember. They're gone. My memory's all messed up."

"The prof-"

"-explained it all to me. The mind has only so much room for memories, so when I Touch someone, some of mine have to go. I've Touched a lot of people. Some of mine go, some of theirs stay."

Carol Danvers.

"Carol Danvers especially. Ever seen my room? Nice, isn't it? Her taste. I never could have picked all that out. I remember it's my birthday five, ten times a year when I don't even know when I was born."

Rogue looked close to tears, staring at a distant point on the floor, leaning forward again, arms tightly held in. She reached out to touch Rogue's gloved hand, a small human gesture. Her hands were stiff from fucking about with the circuit board, and Rogue moved her arm forward just an inch, and so-


She woke up lying on her bed, staring at Baryshnikov. A million synapses flared, and she was in a crouch, brandishing a pen out in front of her, phased. Rogue was sitting on the end of the bed, startled. If she phased the pen into Rogue and let go, she could disable Rogue before she went after anyone else, and let them touch her wrist by accident. If it was an accident. She put the pen down and unphased.

"Don't trust me, do you?"

"How could you let me do that?"

"I didn't see you coming, until you fell on me. I put you in bed, after I unphased. Quite a trick."

"You've been in my mind. Guess I should be lucky I'm still here at all."

"Carol Danvers. Carol Danvers. Carol Danvers. I'm sorry, OK? Haven't you ever done anything rash that you later wished you hadn't?"

"No."

And then it occurred to her. Rogue had just been her for perhaps the last three minutes. She wasn't too clear on how much Rogue picked up after a Touch, but it was more than she had wanted to give. Rogue was starting to pace, in a very military fashion. Almost like she did, when she was upset.

"Liar. None of you ever talk to me about Danvers, since you decided I wasn't going to kill you all. You never ask me why I did it."

"So what very good reason did you have to cut her heart out?"

Rogue stopped in mid-pace, then laughed, a hollow, scared, little laugh.

"When I was with Momma at first, I wouldn't let no one touch me, never. It wasn't my power or nothing, just couldn't bear being touched. My Momma got all upset about it, but my Nana helped me. She held my hand when we crossed the street, and then we kind of worked our way up. I hugged my Momma for her birthday present. Only time I ever saw her cry."

Rogue sat down on the bed again, then looked at her with little girl eyes. Good strategy.

"I just had the worst luck in the world. I started becoming a woman, after that. I hugged my Momma one day, and she passed out, and she was in my head. I was never so scared in my life. She was so angry at me, and I was just sitting there going mad. I couldn't figure it out, all that stuff in my head. She wouldn't let me hug her after that. Wouldn't let me near her."

Rogue was weeping now. She was not feeling at all sympathetic. She wondered how much of it was invention and how much of it was real.

"My Nana would hug me, but they always made me wear clothes that covered me all over, and made me wear gloves. No-one ever kissed me after that, except through a cloth or latex. I still remember Momma's kisses."

Rogue stood up and started pacing again, wiping a tear away on her sleeve. She kept her own features neutral, wondering how much info Rogue might have gotten out of her. But then, Rogue could have gotten it out of Logan, unless it was computer security info she was after.

"So, I got in a fight with Danvers. She didn't know about me. I Touched her, and it was like nothing I ever felt before. It was such a rush! I felt invincible, like nothing could stop me. Then she woke up, and she did stop me. Nearly killed me. Couldn't walk without limping for almost a year. All that time, I knew that if I could get her again, be invulnerable, I could touch like other people do. I just knew it."

She didn't take her eyes off of her adversary, who had now stopped pacing and seated herself on the edge of the bed again. She drew her knees up in front of her, back against the wall. If Rogue came after her, she could phase and roll backwards through the wall.

"So I went after her, and I Touched her again. Hard. When I'd taken it all in, I was so out of my mind that I just dropped her in the river like some piece of garbage. I flew around Manhattan ten times, then I landed in Times Square and kissed this bum and he keeled over and I found out that he just killed his best friend in a fight over a cigarette lighter. After that I just flew out of there, I just flew out over the ocean. I would just keep flying until she woke up, and then I would get what was coming to me. I think it was one of Danvers' ideas."

The New England was there again. Rogue's features were sad, but composed. Not nervous at all.

"But she never woke up."

"No. Not there."

"So you just kept flying."

"All night. Then, all of a sudden, there's all this land in front of me, and so I fly up, and I'm over Africa somewhere. I threw myself at the ground and made a big hole. Tore all my clothes to pieces, too. Climbed out of it next to this big beautiful old castle, and some woman with a veil on a camel gave me some water and a blanket to cover up and said something to me in some weird language. Then she takes off. I sat there, and I knew I was stuck like that, maybe forever. Maybe I could finish myself but then I'd leave Momma and Nana behind, and I'd never know where that castle had come from. Maybe there was a bit of Danvers in that last one."

Rogue smiled, and shrugged. Too good to be true? Just the sort of story that might make you feel sorry for someone who had stolen your boyfriend.

"So now I've half killed someone, and I still can't touch anyone. Even worse, I can't feel things properly."

"What do you mean?"

"Being invulnerable, or the next best thing to it. The heavier the touch, the less I feel. It's like a defence. If I'm squeezing too hard, I lose feeling. It's the only way I don't end up crushing everything I grab hold of."

"Had no idea."

"I can only feel the gentlest touch, when I feel anything at all. If my Momma did hug me like she used to, I wouldn't feel it at all."

"Maybe it's justice."

"That's stupid. It's fate. Stupid, ugly fate. What have you really got against me? You only met Danvers once, after. You didn't even like her very much. You thought she was a whiner."

She had never told anyone that. Ever. Not even Illyana. It was not the part she let anyone see. Ever.

"You have no right to say that."

"You just borrowed all the hate from the others. I'm not your enemy."

"You-"

"I've been in your head. It's a real mess."

Rogue was only physically invulnerable.

"That's rich, coming from someone who just wanted to lose her power so her 'Momma' could abuse her some more."

Rogue moved faster than she could see. Her arms were held in an iron grip, and Rogue's face stopped an inch in front of her own. She was so surprised that she didn't phase immediately. When she did, Rogue's fingers came together with a sharp crack.

"Don't you _ever_ talk shit about my Momma again. I don't care what you say or think about me, but you understand _this_. My Momma and Nana never did nothing like that to me, ever. They loved each other, like man and woman, like woman and woman, and like some other things beside, but they loved me as a daughter, not that way."

She backed away, through her mattress and towards the door. She thought of running. Rogue burned with anger, not like she had ever seen her before. Instinctively, she knew two things. First, it was true. Second, Rogue had not have told all of this to anyone before. Certainly not the prof, maybe not even her precious mother. She stepped forward again, and unphased. Her arms hurt. She would probably bruise. It would mess up her routines in the danger room for a while.

"I'm sorry. That last thing I said was out of line. I was mad-"

"-about Peter. I'm not the one you have to worry about, there. I'm sorry I lost my temper and all, but I can't abide people who talk trash about my Momma."

Don't think about it. Press the advantage.

"We don't know much about your mom, except as an enemy. Or about your Gran."

"Nana met Momma when she was your age. Walked out of this convent school in Belgium, gets into Momma's car and tells her that they have a future together."

"But then, when did your Mom-"

"Much, much later. Nana used to know her as a man. She was almost 16, then. She was ready for it. Or she thought she was. Doesn't have no regrets."

"How old is she?"

"About 60. Looks younger, though."

"No, your Mom."

"Don't know. Says she remembers when they started farming. Thought it would never work."

"Her parents were farmers?"

"Doesn't remember her parents. She was talking about the first farmers. Back in Asia somewhere."

"Shit."

"She has trouble remembering things, just like me, now. She taught me how to keep a book with special memories, so we can have them with us forever. Momma's got some on clay. She thinks writing's the best thing humanity's ever come up with."

"Is she human?"

"In every way that counts. As an animal, don't know. Don't really care. But enough about me. What about you?"

"What about me?"

Rogue was sitting on her bed with her back against the wall, giving her a calculated look.

"I've spilled my guts about my Mom. I want to hear why you hate yours so much."

"I do not hate my mother."

"You would be happy to see her dead. You fantasize about it. You were fantasizing about it this afternoon."

"You lie."

"I was in your head, kid. I know."

"You had no right."

"No, but it wasn't my fault, was it?"

"You could have been more careful."

"The girl in the plastic bubble? No risk of being touched. They could make a movie out of it. I could play myself. I'm so much cuter than John Travolta. Spill."

"Why should I?"

"Because I have to trust you to watch my back, too. And if you don't, I'll tell everyone what your Dad's up to."

She flushed. Something deep inside was thinking of ways to kill the bitch. Only, instead, she had to blink the tears away.

"You-"

Rogue was sitting there, with arms crossed. What did she expect? Some part of her was still in there, with Carol and whatever bits of Logan or anyone else Rogue had stolen from.

"Spill."

"I don't know. Nothing for sure."

"You know he's spending a lot of money."

"Yeah."

"You don't know how much that vacation on the cruise ship cost? And the four cars? And the new house? And how much it cost to eat out all the time? He's living like a lobbyist."

"I never totaled it up. I'm good at math, not arithmetic."

Feeble.

"That bank's very small. He's getting depositors by offering very high rates."

"It isn't that small."

"He spends it on alcohol, and on things that don't keep their value."

"He spends it on me."

"He's going to get caught."

"FUCK YOU! He supports me! He let me go to gifted school! He stood by me when my Mom wanted to send me to school with the stupid kids! He's my Dad, and I love him, and I won't let you-"

"Talk trash about him? You've been thinking about this a lot."

"I'm thinking of going to visit him soon."

"You're gonna look into it."

She shrugged. She felt very, very small.

"Maybe. My Dad could be getting used by someone. I'll get it straightened out. He'd never hurt anyone. You'll see."

"What about your Momma?"

"My Mom. She divorced him. Abandoned him."

"She wanted you to come back and live with her."

"Yeah. I'd have to give up all this."

"You'd have your-"

"Enough with the mothers, OK? She didn't kill anyone, she isn't even a mutant, and I hate her guts. She's always against me, always trying to control me, make me stupid like the others. She wants me to stay there so she can use me to impress her weird friends who are into all this new age shit and marry me off to some kid who'll go off to work at the Board of Trade or some shit like that. She doesn't have a life and she wants mine. Fucking ironic, cause she didn't want me."

"She told you that in a moment of rage. When you were siding with your father."

"No. It's true. He told me that too. Only he wanted me once I was here."

She didn't feel like talking any more. She wanted to call her Dad and ask if everything was OK, but it was Sunday. He was rarely up before noon on a Sunday. And what had Rogue meant about-

"No more Mothers then. I had to give mine up to be with you. It still rankles. Just couldn't see how you could feel good about hating yours."

"Anything else you want to ask about? Why even bother? Don't you know it all now?"

"For a few minutes, you were in here, now it's all fading. Just have bits and fragments now, like dreams. Soon as you think about them, you can't recall them. Except the ones that stick."

"Like what?"

"Don't know. Won't know until one catches me by surprise. I didn't ask for this. I wish I'd gotten what you got."

"Divorced parents who fought all the time? A power that might let me be safe while I watch my friends get slaughtered around me?"

"Your mind."

"What about it?"

"You were thinking of how the generators worked this morning. I caught some of that. It's,-"

Rogue was looking at the ceiling, transfixed, wordless.

"I'm going to lose it, and not be able to see that way again. It was beautiful."

"I suppose."

"Professor Xavier says that not too many people can think like that."

"Not many people try. They just give up."

"Or they're stupid."

"Sometimes."

"You think the kids are stupid. You think anyone who doesn't understand math is stupid."

"I've _never_ said that."

"No, because you love Kurt and Illyana. Did you know that Rahne cries sometimes after she gets math homework back from you?"

She hadn't known that. Then again, it wasn't the sort of thing Illyana would mention.

"I-"

It took every bit of strength she had to stop from crying. How could she do something like that? Rogue had to be lying. She knew that Rogue was not lying.

"You don't like me very much. Do you think I'm stupid?"

"No."

That was the truth. Whoever was in there, Carol Danvers, Logan, herself, a little girl found in a dumpster, had turned her own little game against her.

"I don't know much about math or physics. I couldn't read when they found me. They taught me. I never went to school, cause I didn't even legally exist. I just learned things here and there. I wish I could learn what you know."

"Why?"

"Because I like gadgets. I like to see how things work. I want to learn how to fly the Blackbird."

"You can fly."

"Maybe not forever. What if the prof cures me and this all goes away? Besides, I just want to get at that plane. Take it apart, and know how to put it back together. I took my Momma's motorcycle apart once, but I couldn't figure out how to put it back together. Took all five of us to do that. Momma was angry."

"Didn't figure you'd be interested."

"Because I'm cute and sexy and I read Cosmo? Ever read Cosmo?"

"It's not something that I'm all that interested in."

Rougue fished beneath the covers and retrieved the October edition. She flushed.

"I wonder how this got here, then? I keep leaving them on the recycling pile, and I kept noticing they vanish within an hour. Now I know where the missing one went."

"Missing one?"

"I put 6 out. Two ended up with Ro, one each with the Prof, Dani and Peter. One just vanished, and now I know where it went."

"I-"

"Any of you could have just asked me. I think it's a scream. So what did you read?"

"I wanted to find out how to look better. For Peter."

Her voice was very small. The pitying look on Rogue's face was not what she expected at all. Not from a victor.

"I mean, maybe if I changed my clothes, and started getting nicer things, he would look at me more."

"It's not, uh, where do you buy your clothes?"

"Sears. Ames. Woolworth. I like practical things."

"Hon, it's not the clothes."

"What about the hair, then? I have to shave all the time. You're not supposed to be hairy."

Rogue pulled up her pant leg, which was difficult, as it was stiff leather. A tiny triangle of hairy skin was exposed. Definitely more hair than Peter, not as much as Logan.

"I know. Ever tried to shave off indestructible hairs?"

She almost laughed, but it was just so obvious that Rogue was trying to avoid saying something.

"What happened? What do you know about Peter and me?"

"Kitty-"

"You know what's gotten into him. You know why he's been avoiding me, why all his paintings are dark and scary since he came back."

"Have you had a good talk about what happened when we were away?"

"No. Not since the big briefing you had. He's been avoiding me since then. Did you and him-"

Rogue laughed. Almost lost it, in fact. Nervous laughter? Maybe the game wasn't over yet.

"Oh hon, he just isn't my type. No, I never did nothing with him. I was just as messed up there as here. You need to have a talk with him, though."

"He wants to meet me by the lake tomorrow."

"Then you talk to him about it then."

"About what?"

"About what happened when we were away."

"What happened?"

"It's for you and him to discuss. It's not my place."

New England again. Rogue was standing up.

"Look, I've got-"

"Why did Rahne get upset with me?"

Rogue sat down again.

"I can only tell you what Dani and Bobby were saying. I mean, it was kinda clear they wanted someone to talk to you."

"So?"

"Rahne didn't understand something on the last thing she did for you, and she wrote a note to you, saying that she didn't understand, and you just wrote mean value something."

"That's the answer."

"She wanted help. They said she's all but given up on it now."

"Look, it's not my fault that she's got all this trouble learning it. Some people never learn this stuff."

"You're supposed to be helping her, aren't you?"

"I-"

She _was_ supposed to be helping her learn. Why had she written that? Because it was simple, or because she found Rahne insufferable?

"I don't know how to."

"Did you talk to her about it?"

"I asked her what was wrong a few times, and she never answered me."

Rahne had just stared at her, like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck.

"I had a problem like this once. With Fred. Turned out he couldn't read."

"The Blob couldn't read? Some surprise."

"_Fred_ had that thing where the letters all turn out backwards and in the wrong order. Never mentioned it to Momma, got caught out, almost ruined a job. Momma was really upset."

"Did it work?"

"No. I tried to teach him what Nana taught me, and he just got all sad and confused. St John made fun of him."

"Sinjin?"

"Australian pronounciation. Pyro. He could write, sort of. The prof had you read one of his novels."

"It was terrible. Real bodice-ripper."

"So terrible you read the other three."

"Did not. Shit, yeah, I did. But they were terrible."

"What I was trying to say, is that I didn't get anywhere with reading, but I read to him, what I was learning to read with Nana. I read all the Oz books to him, and all of the Lord of the Rings. He loved it, and he started buying those books on tape. I think it really helped him."

"It couldn't have helped that much. He damn near fucking killed Peter just 3 months ago and gloated about it."

The image of the Blob being read to by a little girl with a white stripe in her hair took some of the hatred out of her voice.

"I said it helped. Man has a whole lot of hurt inside him. Couldn't fix it all. They all do. That's why I knew I would never get help there. They were always so angry. They never took it out on me, but it was always there. Lots of things got broken in our house."

"So you think, what are you trying to say I should do?"

"Ask her what's wrong. Make her tell you. Nicely. Ask Dani or Sam what's up. Just talk her through the easy stuff. Find out what she can do, build on that. You can practice on me, if you like. I don't know nothing about math."

"What about-"

She almost asked about Danvers again. Rogue looked almost absurdly hopeful.

"I can't get to that part of Carol's mind. It was tied to her body. I got some of the ideas, but they don't fit together properly. Can you help me?"

"Maybe. Talk to me about it next week. I've got a lot of stuff to do right now, and my mind's all kinda cluttered up."

"Thanks, hon. Look, it's almost lunch time-"

"One more thing."

It had to be asked.

"If it came down to a fight, to one of our lives or your Mom's, who would you choose?"

Rogue looked stricken.

"I don't know. I only hope I'd do the right thing."

Rogue got to her feet and made for the door.

"Wait."

She stood up. Rogue turned around. She spread her arms.

"Hug."

Rogue froze.

"Are you sure?"

She nodded.

Rogue approached carefully, pulling her gloves on tight, making sure that her sleeves covered her wrists, checking the area around her neck, making sure the turtleneck was fully rolled up. She closed her arms around Rogue's waist very carefully, touching her as lightly as possible. For a moment, Rogue was rigid, but then relaxed into a gentle embrace. She held the hug for a long time, in the arms of a woman who could break her in half before she could phase.

"Thanks, sugar. Look, what I said about my Momma and the rest, it's not something you'll go spreading around?"

"Unless it's important in a fight."

"Fair enough. And I'll give you some time to sort out this stuff with your Dad."

"Deal. I'll be along. I've got some things to do."

"See ya."

Rogue gave her a pleasant smile and vanished down the hall. She collapsed into her chair and let out a long breath. She had felt more energetic after a level 8 danger room simulation with Wolvie. She made a mental list of every name and place and time that Rogue had mentioned, determined to check them thoroughly. She got to her feet and spent 10 minutes re-making Illyana's bed. It took three tries to get it right, and if Yana didn't believe her, she thought of a plausible story to explain it. She checked the clock and found that she still had 20 minutes until lunch.

She lay down on her bed and pushed the Cosmo back under the covers, then curled up holding Thing very close to her. It had been cruel to attack Rogue like that, and stupid. She needed to be able to trust her in a fight, but then Rogue probably wouldn't hold a grudge. She wouldn't have been able to survive living with those five psychos if she kept grudges.

Peter was another matter. She hadn't pressed Rogue on that one, but it was plain that Peter had done something while he was away. Maybe he just couldn't wait. It was fifteen very long months until her 16th, and she often wondered if she should just throw herself at him anyways. She had been thinking of that on and off all morning, but Rogue had been diplomatic enough not to mention it. No. That wasn't the answer. At least not right away. Go with him tomorrow, give him a hug as big as Rogue's had been gentle, then get ready for what came next. It would probably be something that she could forgive him for. Probably.

She put Thing down and got off the bed. As she left the room, it occurred that she had forgotten to ask Rogue what her real name was. She decided not to ask. Rogue would tell her in her own time.


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