Notes: I've been lurking and reading so much
great fanfic, and am now taking the plunge on my own. Thanks to all the
authors out there for being such an inspiration.
Tuesday. 11:40 pm.
The moon is a curve of bone in the sky, hung up slender and white and catching wisps of cloud. Oddly, it reminds her of Logan's metal claws. She can't fathom why -- it's been months since he's crossed her mind, despite the dogtags still hanging from her neck. But then she thinks maybe it's because she's returning to a place for once, instead of leaving it. An act of homecoming. Her first.
She leans the side of her forehead against the window of Scott's car and shuts her eyes, letting the cold from the glass seep beneath her skin. She imagines her fever taking a breath of night, exhaling heat in return.
The window rumbles as Scott zips the car down the road toward the mansion, and she has to sit up straight again and lean her back against her headrest.
The world tilts gently and doesn't bother to warn her of the movement. Suddenly she is falling. She is sitting in the car with her seatbelt still fastened but she feels -- she knows -- her body surrendering to gravity and open space.
<*maybe I'm falling from the moon*>
For a moment all she can hear is a roaring wind and beneath that, the open-shut shudder of her heart.
"You okay, Marie?" Scott's voice cuts through the noise.
She collapses back into herself at the sound of the question, opening her eyes. Her reply echoes back at her inner ear like she's shouting down a corridor: "I think...I don't feel so good, Scott."
When she was little and said those words, her mother would press a cool hand to her head. Nine times out of ten she could guess Marie's temperature to the degree, and the family thermometer would always prove her correct. Marie had once believed her mother had one built into her palm.
Of course, things are different now.
"You think it's a fever?" Scott asks.
"Uh huh. I felt bad this morning but I had to go to classes. It's worse now."
"All right," he says. "When we get back I'll ask Jean to check you out. You've probably just been running yourself ragged at school. Lucky you're home for Thanksgiving." He pats her hand. She wonders if he can feel the fever through her gloves.
The campus in Anchorage was covered with snow when she left, and will be for the duration of the academic year. The world up there was a wilderness of white, the sky bending over the mountain ranges as if nailed down and trying to escape.
At Westchester she'd been thinking it was impossible to plan for the future. It was always something unexpected, something you had to cope with as it came. She hadn't planned to put David into a coma, she hadn't planned to get stabbed in the chest, she hadn't planned to be at the top of the Statue of Liberty while Magneto stared through her with steel-gray eyes.
Life couldn't be steered in pre-determined directions, Marie had concluded. Especially not hers. Better to stop trying to change things and just take what was dealt, minute by minute.
But last spring the pressure on her lungs became so heavy she had found it impossible to breathe. The world pushed against her from all sides -- Westchester, the X-men, the clothes that covered her skin. Every day she walked around the mansion with wide, staring eyes. She began to whisper when she spoke, to hug walls when people talked to her.
Finally, Professor Xavier took her aside and said, "Marie, what do you *want*?"
She had to find her breath before she could answer him. "I...I think I need to get away from here."
Being a teacher, he advised her to apply to college. It was the farthest ahead she had planned since she'd dreamed of going to Alaska. Her natural choice of school was, appropriately, the University of Alaska campus at Anchorage.
Even with months of the semester behind her already, she was still unsure if college itself was the right choice. The mansion might have left her constantly feeling like the end of a marathon, but it was at least familiar. People there at least understood why they couldn't touch her.
In Anchorage she had a daily routine of classes, a room of her own, beauty surrounding her every time she stepped outside. She managed to make a few friends, hallmates who knocked on her door to borrow things and stayed to talk. But outside of her time in Canada, it was also the farthest she had ever gone from anyone who knew her, from anywhere she might consider home.
Home. Whenever people from the Xavier Institute called her at school, it always brought that constricting feeling back. Her chest would get a little smaller, a little tighter. Each voice taking a turn at the phone seemed to head straight for her lungs, pushing all the air out of her chest.
Catching sight of Scott in the airport as she came out of the terminal, she had to stop and count to ten before she could breathe again. She knew it wasn't just the fever.
Wednesday. 12:20 am.
"One hundred and one degrees," Jean says cheerfully. "Looks like the flu. You're actually our first case of the winter. And not the last, most likely."
"But I got my flu shot," Marie mumbles.
"Well, we know mutant physiology is a bit different from humans. Sometimes our bodies react in unpredictable ways to things like medicine or vaccinations."
"Great. So now I'm gonna be sick?"
Jean smiles in sympathy. "Don't worry. I'm sure it's just a twenty- four hour bug. You'll be up and cramming yourself full of turkey on Thursday."
That thought makes Marie want to lose her dinner, but she just gives Jean a feeble nod.
Jean hands her a couple of pills and some water. The liquid does not help the passage of the medicine down her throat, which feels like it has grown ten times smaller.
"Go to the kitchen and drink something more," Jean instructs. "Fluids are a must."
"Then go straight to bed. I don't know what kind of hours you've been keeping at college, but vacations are for *rest*." Jean winks, softening her words. "We missed you, by the way."
Marie manages a smile. "Thanks, doc." She gets down from the examining table, moving slowly. Her body feels breakable, hyper- sensitive.
"Do you want me to come with you?" Jean asks, watching her.
"Nah, I'm okay."
She's not, of course. The elevator up to the ground floor makes it seem like the earth has lost all control of itself. The car jerks to a stop and tosses her into the empty hall, the smooth wood of the floor still rising and falling beneath her feet.
She removes her glove and presses the tips of her fingers to the wall. The painted surface is slick to the touch, sliding beneath her as she follows it down to the main living area. Turning a corner her feet encounter a rug, and the brushing sound of it seems to scratch against all the nerves of her skin. She stands there and toes off her shoes, her socks. The rug greets the bottoms of her bare feet silently, but the touch goes all the way to the top of her head.
In the kitchen she shoves her head under the faucet. Water spills from the spigot and into her mouth, sliding down the parched cavern of her throat. She barely needs to swallow for it to hit her stomach. When she straightens again, drops fall from her chin to her shirt and her head feels like someone has introduced it to the business end of a hammer.
Shit, Marie, she thinks. This isn't too good.
At the bottom of the staircase she has to sit down. It looks like Jacob's ladder reaching for the heavens, too steep and far for a mere mutant to climb.
Marie thinks of her mother for the second time tonight, how the sounds of her piano playing would trickle up the stairs each afternoon. For a moment she imagines herself simply floating to the second floor, like one of those sun-tinged notes.
If only I could fly up these damn stairs. She gives herself a mental shake and pulls herself to stand. Come on, girl. Move.
One foot in front of the other, toes curling a bit at the cold wood of the steps. Her muscles feel like jelly. Like someone could dig a spoon into them and lift out a quivering chunk.
Halfway up, the house begins to spin and she has to sit down again.
Erik whispers, the sound of it like metal grating on metal. <*Look at this. And you call yourself *Homo superior*.*>
<*Get up, mutant.*>Bored now, as if inspecting fingernails or the shine of shoes.
She is suddenly angry, ready to tear into him with a set of claws or a pair of fists. <*Leave me alone! I thought I got rid of you! You fucking psycho!*>
<*Rogue.*>He clucks his teeth. <*You know as well as I do who the real psychos are.*>
She does. His voice brings it all back, even years after she thought he'd faded out of her head for good. She knows the stench of human bodies piled on top of one another in train cars, roasting in gas chambers. She knows doctors with pale, cold eyes and their poking hands, their needles and scalpels before she -- before Erik - - knew enough to work the metal to her -- his -- own will.
She knows the screams of his mother. Of both their mothers.
Erik shifts, moving as far as possible from the memories. But he says,
She thinks of Professor Xavier, of Charles at age twenty looking up earnestly from his wheelchair. <*This is not a war, Erik.*>
His voice turns cold. <*Don't be naive. You will always be one of us. You will never be one of them.*>
Marie stops trying to argue. Iron does not bend for anything weaker than itself. Such work requires harder elements, or the fury of fire.
<*Go away,*>she sighs. <*Go back to your plastic box.*>
Wednesday. 12:36 am.
It is Xavier who finds her. Her body is an unconscious lump on the stairs, not even noticeable from his path through the foyer below. But something tickles at the back of his brain, something faint and familiar. It makes him stop and look around, trying to locate the source of the sensation.
What he sees is Rogue.
<*Jean,*>he calls, and sends an image of the contorted angles, the hair obscuring the face. <*Hurry.*>
She and Scott arrive together, their faces dismayed. But Jean calms her expression quickly and her movements are sure. She crouches next to Rogue, examining the still form. "Let's get her down to the medlab. It looks like her fever has escalated."
Scott moves to hoist Rogue into his arms, but Jean interrupts him.
"Wait. She's not wearing any gloves or shoes. It'll be safer if I move her telekinetically."
Xavier keeps silent, both on the astral plane and off. He watches Rogue's body lift from the stairs and straighten out as it descends. Her hands and feet are stark white against her dark clothes. White like perpetual winter, skin that can't remember sun.
Jean holds a hand to her temple, gaze locked on the younger woman's frame as she guides her to the elevator. Inside, Rogue floats just beneath the Professor's line of sight. He can see the purple shading around her eyes, the chapped skin of her lips.
Only when she is finally settled into a bed, and Jean is busy taking temperatures and pulse measurements, does Xavier speak. He pitches his voice low, though Scott towers above him.
"You brought her home tonight?"
Scott nods. "She said she felt sick this morning. But she seemed fine at the airport. Maybe a little pale, but I thought she was just tired. Jean was telling me five minutes ago she thought it was the flu."
Xavier nods. "It could be that. Possibly just a hard-hitting strain." But he can still feel that tickle in his head. A voice that resonates in memory, the curl of a tongue around foreign vowels.
He watches Jean as she works. Her face is set, concentrating. He can tell she hears nothing untoward, but her telepathic powers are not as strong as his.
Finally, Jean straightens and looks back over to them. "She's sleeping now. The fever is still very high though -- 103 degrees, fluctuating in tenths. I'm going to stay and watch her for a while."
"No," Xavier says. "I'll stay."
Jean tilts her head. "Professor?"
"It's all right. I'll watch her." He gives her a small smile. "You can relieve me of duty in the morning."
Her eyes flicker to Scott, then back at Xavier. "Well, if you're sure.... Just call me if her temperature goes above 104. The thermometer will beep."
"Or if she wakes up. Give her some water. If she's delirious, call."
"I've nursed the ill before," he says, thinking of Erik.
There is that tickle in his head again, and he glances sharply at Rogue. But she lies still on the bed, unmoving except for the even rhythm of her breathing.
Jean and Scott are watching him. Carefully, he raises his eyes to meet theirs. "We'll be fine," he assures them. "I'll see you in the morning."
<*You still there?*>Marie calls.
A minute shift. She hears nothing in words, but that tiny movement betrays his presence. His silence is a thousand times more welcome than his voice, yet the idea of him hiding and watching makes her skin crawl.
She does not call him again, not wanting to provoke a response. But this means she has only the hot, pulsing darkness to concentrate on now.
Wednesday. 1:44 am.
Xavier rests his hands on the arms of the hoverchair, but his back is ramrod straight. He does not move his gaze from the girl on the bed.
It is against his moral code to probe Marie telepathically, but like any set of laws there are loopholes. He is not opposed to exploiting them. If she were to project emotions or thoughts on her own, and if he happened to be in such proximity that he could have no choice but to hear her....
But if pressed he would be forced to acknowledge that he is not listening only for Marie.
He watches the rise and fall of her breathing and shakes his head. Even if that brief tickle did remind him of Erik's mental voice, it does not obscure the fact that she is ill. Twenty-four hour flu or no, he berates himself, when did you become so single-minded, Charles?
He wonders if she is happy in Alaska. He has spoken to her only briefly on the phone since she has been away, but Marie is not one to communicate her feelings readily.
"Education is a valuable commodity," he had told her. "I think you should seriously consider your options in that respect."
Xavier does not give orders. He practices the art of suggestive counsel, of pointing and standing back. He is an expert at standing back, so to speak. Wielding all of one's power from a seated position has taught him that influence is not always located in force.
From the beginning, his policy for the mutant children at the Institute has been relatively relaxed. There is the responsibility to keep them safe, of course, and to educate them. But beyond that, it is impossible to manufacture happiness or contentment. These must come from the children themselves, once their basic needs have been satisfied.
He admits he does not understand Marie. There is an emptiness inside her that runs deeper than anything the other students might lack. Sometimes, just looking into her huge eyes reminds Xavier abruptly of her mutation, as if she were simply a black hole covered over with skin.
He had tried several times to help Marie control her power. But he was always acutely aware that he knew very little about it, and that she herself didn't have much faith in success. Her attempts at the exercises he suggested were always half-efforts. The few times he brought up Erik, Logan, or the boy from her hometown, she had closed down and refused to talk. Eventually, she stopped coming to their sessions altogether.
There were no more incidents with her power -- she kept herself tightly wrapped in gloves and long sleeves, and everyone treated her as normally as possible.
As far as Xavier could tell, she seemed to adjust to life at the Institute. Her grades were fine. Socially, everyone had considered Marie an integral part of the mansion, and believed she felt the same. Yet when the others her age went on to college, she elected not to go with them.
Perhaps her fall into depression was no one's fault. But Xavier couldn't help but wonder. Had he let her slip through the cracks? If he had made one exception for her -- if he had realized that she was one who would not find happiness so easily -- might he have been able to help her earlier?
The best thing he could suggest to her was college, and she had gone to the farthest one imaginable. The problem now is that he still doesn't know how to give her what she needs. And Marie herself doesn't know how to ask.
He thinks of that psychic tickle again, and wonders if this has been something ongoing. If she has been hearing Magneto in her head for the past several years. Erik. For all his power, he is yet another walking vacuum, always leaving places when his needs begin to suffocate him. The thought of Marie confronting all the horror in that mind, alone on the other side of the continent, makes Xavier want to lose his rigid posture and slump defeated in his chair.
He listens carefully to the quiet body. The seconds pass in silence. There is no sign of Erik anymore.
The voice is gruff, reminding her of muscles tense and waiting. She recognizes the timbre, though, and the wintry cold she associates with it. <*Logan.*>
She can feel him move in the darkness, circling her like a hunter with prey. Cool wind follows him, a breath of snow chasing the fever. <*You runnin' again?*>
She starts to shiver. <*What makes you think I'm runnin' anywhere?*>
He pauses. <*What are you doin', lyin' here like this?*>
<*The flu, huh?*>He starts circling again.
She whirls around to track his movements. <*What?*>
<*Nothin'. It's just funny how people's heads work. What they tell themselves.*>
<*You sayin' I'm just foolin' myself?*>
He stops again, this time speaking behind her. <*What do you think?*>
<*How would you know?*>Her words are thin and brittle in the cold. <*You left. You've been gone for years.*>
<*You know why I left.*>His voice is closer now, floating from a point just above and behind her shoulder.
<*Why don't you try explainin' it to me?*>
He starts pacing again, making her shiver in his backdraft. <*Why did you leave Mississippi?*>
<*Because of my power.*>
<*Your power. Yeah, your power is scary shit. I probably understand that more than anyone.*>He stops beside her. <*But there's somethin' you don't realize.*>
More shivers. <*What?*>
He speaks slowly, tempering his tone with patience. <*The whole goddamn world is full of scary shit.*>
<*And there are right and wrong ways of dealin' with it all.*>
She stays silent, listening to him.
<*You saw my way. Yeah, I left Xavier's, but only because I knew I was comin' back. But I ain't so sure you've got that figured out yet for yourself.*>
She sighs. <*You act like it's so easy, Logan. But it's not.*>
<*Who said it was? All I'm sayin' is, runnin' just makes it harder.*>
<*How am I supposed to stop, then?*>
A puff of cigar smoke, the familiar burnt smell. She feels like she's breaking in half with it, like an ice crystal parting before a chisel in one clean stroke.
<*Well,*>he says. <*You can try wakin' up.*>
Wednesday. 8:57 am.
She opens her eyes, then has to close them again immediately because of the sun slanting straight into her face. The morning is a burst of fire between her lashes.
"You're awake." Charles Xavier's unmistakable cultured tones.
Marie swallows. "Professor?"
"Do you need some water?"
She hears the sound of his hoverchair moving, liquid spilling into a glass. She shifts a bit higher until the sun is no longer in her eyes, and opens them again in time to see the proffered water in his hand. "Thanks."
Xavier's expression is set in its usual grave lines, gaze blue and serious. "How do you feel?"
She takes a gulp of the water. It eases its way down her parched throat and she takes quick stock of the rest of her body. "I guess I feel okay. My head's kinda...I dunno...cloudy."
"I'm not surprised. You were running a high temperature last night."
Marie looks around, recognizing the medical equipment and the slick lines of the medlab. "Must've been bad, if I'm in here."
"Jean was in to check on you earlier and she said you were through the worst of it. Your temperature seems to have dropped back to normal." He studies her. "Too many late nights at school?"
She shakes her head. "I...I probably just caught somethin' from somebody else."
Xavier nods. "It's a good thing you're back home, then."
She meets his eyes. There are questions waiting there, but after her time in the mansion she knows the Professor will not ask them. Not until she is ready to volunteer answers.
So she simply nods in return and says, "Yes, it's good to be back."
Xavier hesitates. "Jean thinks maybe you should stay a bit longer than Sunday, just in case."
Marie drops her gaze to the glass of water in her hands. "Maybe...maybe that's a good idea." And she thinks she might even mean it.
Thursday. 5:13 pm.
There are enough people in the mansion that there are two turkeys to carve. Scott and Ororo do the honors. "No powers," Jean teases him. "Even if laser surgery is better than scalpels."
His eyes are hidden behind the red of his shades, but the love in his face is still clear enough to make Marie's throat ache. She has to turn away and look at her plate.
"Who wants to bet Bobby eats an entire bird by himself?" Kitty's voice floats down the table towards her.
Bobby winks at Marie across the expanse of food and silver. "She's still in denial about me being a vegetarian. Guess I'll have to slip you all the turkey under the table."
The smile spreads on her face before she can help it. "A whole bird piece by piece?"
He grins back. "What? You don't think I can do it?"
"I'm just not sure I can finish it."
Jubilee leans over the person between herself and Marie, yet another new face added during her time away. "Just pass some of it over here. I'm starving." Her eyes twinkle.
It's been like this all Wednesday and today. Bantering, joking, flirting. Even with the months and distance between them this autumn, they act as if she's been gone only a weekend. Sometimes she has to check herself in the middle of laughing, to make sure it is not suddenly difficult to breathe.
So far, she's been fine.
"Have you met Remy yet, Marie?" Jubilee asks. She motions to the guy between them.
"Chere be studyin' her plate so long, Gambit can' introduce himself. Don' know what's so interesting 'bout flower patte'ns." The guy's accent is deep Cajun, a twang Marie recognizes from a few childhood trips to New Orleans. He smiles at her to soften his words, and she notices the deep red-on-black of his eyes.
"I'm sorry," she apologizes, trying not to stare. "I'm Marie. Rogue," she amends.
"Pleased t' make y' acquaintance, Marie-Rogue." He offers her his hand, still smiling.
"Remy joined us in September," Jubilee explains. "He's from Louisiana."
Marie watches his bare hand for a second, before bringing hers up to shake it. His grip is warm and strong through her glove.
"I know," she says. "I'm from right near there."
That night she dreams of the bar in Loughlin City, Canada. The lights are out, but somewhere there must be windows open to the day. The wooden floor is dappled with sunlight. She remembers how dark and hazy with smoke it was the night she met Logan, the last time she was ever really alone.
<*Alone?*>Someone speaks behind her, the voice achingly familiar. <*Did you think you were alone with us?*>
She turns, searching. A shadowy form sits on the other side of the combat ring, partially obscured. Marie steps carefully between the empty chairs and tables. Moving into a puddle of sun, she can suddenly see the face of the speaker.
She breathes in, once. Exhales the word. <*Mom.*>
Marie is running, three bounding steps forward and she has her arms spread wide and ready to wrap around her mother's shoulders. And then she stops. Remembers.
<*Mom, I'm so sorry.*>
Her mother only looks puzzled. <*Why did you run away, Marie?*>
<*Because I...because I had to.*>
<*Because I couldn't touch anyone! I'd just hurt them.*>
Her mother shakes her head. <*You think it's touching people that makes them your family?*>
<*Mom, I couldn't stay at home. It couldn't even *be* home anymore, not after what happened.*>
Her mother holds up a hand in the sunlight. Long fingers that would play the piano every golden afternoon. <*Touch me now.*>
Marie takes a step back. <*You know I can't.*>
<*Marie.*>One word, one tiny word swollen with memory, with nearly a lifetime of drying tears and checking temperatures.
Marie starts forward, raising her own trembling hand, and presses their palms together.
Nothing happens. Absolute, blessed nothing.
Finally, her mother curls her fingers over so that they are clasping hands. <*Home is the place where you make it, Marie.*>
And she has trouble breathing then, but it's not like before. This time, it's because she's crying, and it's hard to take in steady breaths through hitching lungs. The air shudders through her and can't form itself into words.
<*Oh, Marie,*>her mother says, and the sunlight catches tear tracks on her cheeks. <*You have everything you need already, honey. You always have.*>
More notes: Beta thanks go to three ladies brand new to xmenfic: Diana, for the genuine interest; Maren, for invaluable frankness; and April, for clarity of vision. And a quiet little *boo* to wen, my partner in crime -- I hope you find your disk. ;-)
[email protected] october 2000
eXtolations: a fanfic archive of exemplary