Falling In Love For the First Time
She was laid out as carefully as a corpse, her head on a small, flat pillow, her arms by her sides, dozens of electrodes stuck to her skin. She'd been like this for hours, helpless, immobile, being poked and prodded like a lab-rat.
Rogue sighed quietly.
"I am sorry, Marie," Hank said, giving her socked foot a little pat without looking up from his computer monitor. Like Logan, he always used her real name except in battle situations. "I know you must be terribly bored."
"Can't you rig up a tv-screen on the ceiling or something?" she asked hopefully. "I mean, if I have to keep doing this..."
"I'll try." He poked a button on his keyboard and made a dissatisfied noise. "However, I believe we have gone as far as is possible as regards testing your body's natural electrical field under laboratory conditions. Tomorrow we will try something else."
Rogue sighed again, careful not to move. "Like what?"
"Crystals," Hank said solemnly. "I plan to hang a rose quartz around your neck, insert amethysts into both your ears, and chant over you until you are spiritually healed."
Rogue giggled. "Aww, Hank..."
He grinned, and patted her foot again, then started carefully unsticking the little sensors from her arms and legs. "Well, technically I HAVE spent the last two days studying your aura," he pointed out. "But no, actually, tomorrow you're going to be back to your favourite, the treadmill."
"Aww, not again!" she complained. "Why?"
"So the nice sensors can examine your aura while you're exerting yourself," Hank explained, carefully peeling the little white things off her palms. He was wearing gloves, but even so, his hands were warm, and he didn't flinch when he touched her. Still, the idea of going back to the treadmill made her wrinkle her nose, and he gave her another big, humourous, fangy grin. "Now, now, I know it's dull. But you know why we're doing this." He paused, and when she didn't speak he fixed her with a patient look. "Becauuuse..."
"Because if I want to get my powers under control, it's no good sitting around waiting for it to happen by magic,"she said in a patient sing-song. "Almost all mutant powers can be scientifically measured, and in defining the nature of my powers we might find out how to control them."
He pulled off the last sensor. "There. I know you're tired of hearing this, Marie, but I know you want control of your powers. Sometimes the best approach is the methodical one. We've already established that you have higher than usual levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in your brain. Serotonin and norepinephrine-" He paused, and she could almost hear him editing all the long words out of the immanent explanation. "Those are chemicals that help information of various kinds to be transmitted in your brain. That's probably an important part of *how* you absorb people's thoughts and memories. With more study, I hope that we will learn why, as well."
"I know." She smiled lopsidedly at him and stretched, enjoying the feel of air instead of fabric on her skin. "I just get tired and bored, you know?"
"I know." He perched on the examination bed beside her, patting her back gently. "As I know that three years without real human contact is a long time. You have born up well, Marie, and I'm glad that you have not given up hope."
"I did for a while," she reminded him, looking down at her hands.
It had taken less than a year for Xavier to be sure that there was no telepathic way to force her powers under control. By the one and a half year mark, Jean had used her own basic training in psychology and the expertise of a psychologist friend of hers to determine that there was no underlying trauma or childhood fear behind the fact that her powers couldn't be turned off. And then...
Then it seemed that everyone had just given up. She'd finished high-school, become a full-fledged X-Man, and no more had been said about her powers. She'd gotten used to wearing gloves, and most of her teammates got used to being careful around her. She'd shrouded herself in an isolated sort of normality, where she couldn't touch anyone, but she wasn't especially freakish because of it.
And then Hank had turned up, six months ago. Apparently he'd once been an X-Man, but had left to work in the private sector researching the nature and effects of mutation. He was the one who'd given Jean most of the soothing facts she used in her lectures to counteract the sensationalist fictions of the anti-mutant factions.
After three days, he'd given her a puzzled look and asked her why she always wore gloves. She'd told him. He'd asked her who was in charge of studying her mutation. She'd said no-one.
Ten minutes after that, she'd been in the medlab, in her underwear, being enthusiastically poked and prodded by a giant blue teddybear. Ever since then, except when out on missions, she'd spent a couple of hours every day being carefully and exhaustively studied.
Careful not to touch anything but fur, she turned and gave him a quick, fierce hug. "Thanks."
He returned the hug, looping one big arm around her and engulfing her in soft fur. "You are welcome," he said gravely. "I only hope that we find the answer to your difficulty soon."
"We might not find it anytime soon," Rogue said softly, letting her head rest on his shoulder for a minute. "But we will find it. You will. I know you will."
"I am touched," he said softly, giving her another little squeeze. "Your faith in me is humbling, my dear. I hope I am worthy of it."
"You are." Rogue snuggled into the hug with a little sigh. Hank was the only person besides Logan who ever really hugged her, and they both did it often because they knew that she liked the tactile reassurance of it. Skin to skin wasn't the part of touch that really mattered, it was feeling someone's arms around you, the pressure of their flesh against yours, even through clothes or fur. As long as she had that, she thought she could be fairly happy even without control of her powers.
Being held by Hank was subtly different to being hugged by Logan, though. Logan's feelings for her were paternal, and she liked it that way. Liked the fond, awkward way he fussed over her, as if she was still a little girl. He was her family, and even though he headed off into the wild blue yonder now and then, it didn't matter too much. He'd always come back.
Hank... well, he was a good friend. And she liked him. A lot. A really lot. He was kind and funny and patient and devoted hours of his time to her every single day just because he knew she was unhappy. Men like that were rare creatures.
And there was nothing really passionate or crush-like about it, which somehow made it worse. He was sweet, and gentle, and she loved just being with him, even if all he did was pat her socks. She kept finding herself wandering around the mansion when they weren't together, feeling lost and lonely and hoping to 'accidentally' run into him.
Because no, her life just wasn't complicated enough.
* * *
Two days later, they were in the Danger Room. For once, she only had a couple of sensors on her - one under each shoulderblade, one just above each breast. Hank was up in the control booth, peering down at her with a reassuring smile. "Remember, Marie, we can stop at any time," he told her through the intercom. "I don't want you to feel pressured on our first day, all right?"
"I know." She waved at him. He'd told her yesterday that her body's electrical field hadn't done anything strange at all while she was on the treadmill or the rowing machine... right up until a spider had dropped onto her arm and skittered up into her hair. It had moved fast enough that she hadn't drained its life-force, and it didn't have enough mind for her to take thoughts from it, but while Hank calmed her down and carefully picked the bug out of her hair he'd told her that in the moment of panic when those nasty legs had been running over her, the sensors had all gone bananas.
So today they were going to try triggering an assortment of emotions in her, to see what happened.
"Starting now," Hank said, voice tinny but encouraging through the intercom. "If it gets too much for you, Marie, just tell me to stop." He waved at her, then blanked out the windows of the booth so as not to interrupt the projection.
"I will." She closed her eyes for a moment, bracing herself. When she opened them again, she was in a pretty, sunshiny meadow. "What the... you know, Hank, maybe fuzzy bunnies and dandelions scare YOU, but-"
"I just thought we should start slow," Hank chuckled. "I want you to take a few deep breaths, enjoy the ambiance, and get nice and calm. You're a little nervous right now, and I want to start from a base state of nil agitation, okay?"
"Okay." That made sense, and Rogue took a couple of minutes to enjoy the pretty afternoon. Hank had included several cartoonish pink bunnies and blue songbirds, and sent them to bob around her feet and flutter around her head, making her giggle.
Slowly, the afternoon became overcast. The birds and bunnies flew or hopped away, and it started to get colder. There was a faint hint of ominous music in the air, and Rogue grinned a little. She *was* feeling a little apprehensive now, but it was somehow less scary for knowing that it was being artificially induced.
As the 'afternoon' dimmed as clouds piled up in the air, Hank ran her through a gamut of apprehension-inducing events - spiders running over her arms, sudden cracks of thunder, Ororo appearing waving a report card with big red F's all over it, Scott telling her that she'd let the team down, and several other things. Eventually, she found herself at the end of the meadow, and standing on an impossibly high, rocky cliff. She gulped.
"I know you're afraid of heights," Hank's disembodied voice said comfortingly. "But I'm right here, remember that."
"I know." She gulped again, and started walking along the narrow path that ran along the top of the cliff. She had to keep reminding herself that it wasn't real, but it wasn't too bad. Cliffs she could more or less cope with. It was high buildings - or statues - that really freaked her out.
But none of this was real. It was okay. She could handle it. She was in control of what was going on, and she could make it stop any time she wanted to. That felt kind of good, despite the way her heart was pounding and her palms were sweating. Most of her fear-things - like heights, or when the team had battles, or the nightmares borrowed from Logan and Magneto - involved being helpless, out of control. Here, even though it was scary, she wasn't helpless. It was a good feeling.
Then the simulation disappeared, and she was standing in the Danger Room again. Rogue blinked. "That's it? Are we done?"
"I don't think so. We have some unfinished business, child."
It was Magneto. It was Magneto, hovering slightly above the floor and coming slowly towards her, that Mournful Martyr expression on his face. "No..." Marie whispered, backing away, starting to shake in earnest. "No, you can't be here... it's not possible..."
"All things are possible to our kind, Rogue. You should know that by now." He was coming inexorably closer, raising those wrinkled, harmless looking hands towards her face. "You will know that, soon enough, when we are one again..."
Marie shook her head helplessly, still trying to back away. "No," she whimpered. "No, please, don't, not again..."
"It is for the greater good, child," Magneto said implacably. "You will understand, once it's all over, how much I regret having to do this-"
"No," Marie wailed, backed up against a wall now. He was getting so close, reaching out towards her face, preparing to take her mind again, to rape her thoughts with his own... "No... no no no no no no no..." She was so scared, she couldn't move, he was going to hurt her...
And then sudden, violent fury shot up her spine, grabbing her and flinging her off the wall and at Magneto, who looked considerably startled. "No!" she shrieked. "You are NOT going to do that to me again!" A good solid kick to the stomach doubled him over and then she was on him, knocking him down and pinning him under her. He was an old man, for all his power, and she had super-strength, and it wasn't hard to get his arms pinned under her knees, hold him down, punch his sanctimonious old face again and again and again until her knuckles split but she didn't care he would not control her he would not violate her nobody was going to do that EVER AGAIN!!
"Marie. Marie!" Then Hank was there, grabbing for her arms, and she realized that Magneto had disappeared and she was punching the floor. "Marie, calm down-"
She stared at him, then made a dive for him in turn. "How could you DO that!?" she shrieked. "How could you put Magneto in the simulation!?"
Hank fended her off easily, ducking a few punches then just grabbing her arms in his big hands and holding her immobile. Which he couldn't normally do, what with the whole tank-juggling-strength thing she'd gotten from Carol Danvers, but right now she was too weak and shaky with reaction to hit very hard. "Marie, I didn't put anyone in the simulation," he gritted out while she yelled and struggled. "I planned to do so tomorrow, but there was nothing today. When I turned off the simulation, you said "That's it? Are we done?" and then you turned around and started talking to someone who wasn't there." Her struggles trailed off, and he wrapped her in his arms, holding her close and stroking her back soothingly. "Magneto, I assume."
"Yeah," she whispered, starting to shake in reaction. "I... he was here, he was going to use my powers again, enter my mind...I was so scared, I couldn't move, I couldn't fight him..."
"But you did fight him," Hank pointed out, still stroking her back soothingly. "At least, I assume you were aiming for Magneto when you started punching the floor."
She rested her head on a broad, furry shoulder. "Yeah," she whispered slowly. "I just... I was just suddenly so ANGRY, he thought he could just do anything he wanted to me, that I was helpless, and I wasn't ever going to let anyone use me that way again, not ever. And I started hitting him, with my bare hands, and it didn't even occur to me that I should have been absorbing his powers while I was touching him..."
"Not, I suspect, because he was a hallucination." Hank smoothed her hair gently. "If you were hallucinating Magneto, I assume you could have imagined your powers working. But you didn't... perhaps because you didn't want to."
"I didn't," she said softly. "I felt... there was just this big angry NO-feeling inside me, and everything else just sorta bounced off it." She leaned back a bit, looking up at him inquiringly.
"Then I suggest that a small experiment is in order," he suggested, stepping back just a little, then leaning forward. "You should try to conjure the... no-feeling... within yourself again, then attempt a small skin-to-skin contact. If you object to taking the risk with me, we can find Logan, but I promise you, I do not mind." He smiled reassuringly at her. "You can pull away at once if you feel anything."
Marie nodded. She was still fizzing with righteous anger, and anything was worth a try. Before she could change her mind and get frightened again, she reached out and very carefully touched his lower lip with one fingertip. Nothing happened right away, but it always took a second to work, she had a grace period of at least a second and a half, maybe two...
Okay, three seconds, nothing was happening, but maybe it was just... just because he was furry or something, or he resisted it somehow, or...
Five seconds, six, seven, nothing was happening...
Nothing happened. She took her finger back eventually, and they both stood there grinning like loons.
"See?" Hank said, looking rather smug. "In exploring the nature of your powers, methodically and scientifically, a solution was found." He smiled at her. "Your powers are triggered by fear. They are, I believe, a form of self-defense mechanism. I understand that the first time it happened was during your first kiss?" Marie nodded. "And I expect you were very, very nervous at that moment?"
Marie nodded again. "I was," she said softly.
"And your powers kicked in along with the adrenaline." He peeled off his heavy rubber gloves, pontificating happily. "I believe that now that you understand the nature of your powers, you will be able to learn to control them at will. The reason you could not do so before was that you were afraid of them, and afraid of using them, and that fear exacerbated the problem. Then, of course, any form of physical contact became frightening to you, so your powers just kept working all the time. With practice and the maintenance of emotional self-control I believe you will in time mmmph!"
Marie blushed, breaking the kiss after a long, sweet moment. "Sorry. I just... uh... got a little carried away. It won't happen again."
Hank was gasping for breath, a rather glazed expression in his eyes. "Did I object?" he said weakly. "I didn't hear me objecting."
Marie grinned slowly. "No, I didn't hear you objecting either." She peeked a little shyly at him from under her lashes. "Does that mean you liked it?"
"No. Definitely not. Hated it. When my knees go all shaky and my heart pounds and my ears blush like that? That means I'm not having fun," Hank said, lips curling up at the corners. "Of course, it's not any fun spending many, many hours stretching out each test as long as I possibly can in order to spend more time with you, either. Because spending most of my time with charming, sweet-natured, brave, intelligent, attractive young women such as yourself is a terrible trial to me. I'm just incredibly brave about it and mmmph..."
The kiss lasted longer this time, and Marie didn't even try to move out of the big arms that wrapped tightly around her. "You talk too much," she breathed when they finally came up for air.
"I know. It's a terrible failing," Hank said meekly, gazing down at her with a wonderfully soft, loving, proprietary look. "I must be punished with more kisses."
"Maybe," Marie purred teasingly, enjoying the smitten expression on his face. "If you're good."
"If? IF?" He laughed softly, and pulled her in for a long, expert kiss that left her limp and whimpering happily. "I'll have you know, madam, that I am ALWAYS good."
"That I believe." Marie snuggled some more. He smelled nice. And felt nice. And she was feeling very warm and mellow all of a sudden.
"I just hope Logan doesn't kill me," Hank said with a resigned sigh. "Still, I shall simply have to point out to him that I am fine boyfriend material. I'm sober, responsible, I have a job and my own car, I have good personal hygeine and he knows where I live."
"He'll say you're too old," Marie pointed out.
Hank gave her an adorably anxious look. "You don't think so, do you?"
Marie smiled. "Nope. Just right." Hank was nearly thirty to her twenty-one. A bit of an age-gap, but not too much. Besides, she liked more mature, settled guys. She had Logan for adolescent rampageousness.
"Then I do not care what Logan thinks," Hank murmured happily, giving her a delicate little kiss on the nose. "I am quite on the top of the world just now."
"Oh, me too," Marie assured him, standing on tiptoe to return the favour. "I liked you before, you know. I mean, before I got the powers under control. I just couldn't do anything about it."
"Oh, and dear girl, I liked you very much too," he said with a rather silly grin. "Would you care to have dinner with me this evening, my lady?"
"I'd love to." She grinned bashfully. "You know, the gym-class is gonna be in here any second..."
"Yes. Right. Absolutely." He reluctantly broke the hug, but took her hand tenderly in his. "We will go tell the Professor that we have made a breakthrough." He stroked her hand gently with one broad thumb. "You realise, dear heart, that this is going to take time. You will still experience periods of loss of control, and there will be accidents. You *will* have perfect control eventually, but it's going to take time."
"I know." And she did. She also knew that Hank would continue to care for her even if she never did get full control, and that if she ever accidentally absorbed him, he would forgive her. For once, the thought of having someone else's mind within hers wasn't frightening, and she understood at last why Scott liked being linked to Jean. "But we'll do it eventually, right? Together?"
"Most assuredly together," he said softly, kissing her hand as he led her out of the Danger Room. "I hope for a long time to come."
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