Diversions & Digressions | fanfiction by mara

Point of Departure

Point of Departure

by Mara

Summary: “An involuntary return to the point of departure is, without doubt, the
most disturbing of all journeys.”

Author’s Chapter Notes:

This story is for Tommygirl (storydivagirl) for the 2006 XMM Ficathon.
Thanks to Lilacsigil for research assistance. And my undying gratitude goes to
Seema and Blue Braces for their betas, which pointed out all the bits where the
reader would have needed to be psychic to figure out what I meant. I managed to
answer Seema’s comments, but most of Blue Braces’ suggestions will have to wait
for the day that I can tell the *whole* story of Rogue’s return to the mansion.

Continuity: This story begins after X3. However, be aware that in my version of the movie, the Phoenix storyline DID NOT happen.

“An involuntary return to the point of departure is, without doubt, the most
disturbing of all journeys.”
— Iain Sinclair, “Riverside Opportunities”

Marie decided that snuggling on the couch was the best thing *ever*. Not that
she’d say that to anyone, because it’d probably get turned into a dirty joke or
something. But in the privacy of her own mind, she relished the ability to rub
her cheek against Bobby’s neck and tuck his arm more firmly around her.

Well, there was also the little matter of the voices in her head fading quickly
until all she retained was an odd fondness for Canadian beer. And that was no
small matter most of the time, but just now, it was subsumed by the pleasures of
touch.

Bobby absently stroked the palm of her hand with his thumb as he debated some
arcane sports question with Angelo. Marie was content to rest there and let them
argue while the words washed over her.

A couple of the younger kids were playing a board game and Kitty and Jubes were
watching TV, so apparently they’d finally found something they could agree on.
Marie heard a laugh track and spared a moment to be glad the sound was on low,
because she loathed sitcoms.

Eyes drifting shut, she let everything wash over her, glad to be home, glad to
have everyone friendly again. The few days she’d been gone getting the cure had
been hell, and the reaction when she got back…well, that was better forgotten.

Her peaceful half-sleep was disturbed by some hubbub on the other side of the
room. If she had to get up to referee the younger kids’ game, she thought with a
mental growl, somebody was going to hear about it.

“Rogue! Rogue!” That was Kitty, and she sounded *panicked*.

Marie sat up abruptly, ready to launch herself at whatever supervillain was
threatening her friends. Bobby turned, face scrunched adorably in confusion.
“What the–” he began.

Kitty and Jubes were staring at the TV, jaws hanging down and so still they
looked like they were watching the apocalypse. “Get over here!” Kitty yelled,
not turning her head.

Shaking off the last of her sleepiness, Marie grabbed Bobby’s hand and dragged
him over to see what had them so het up. Around them, everyone else in earshot
followed, several students even leaning in through the doorway.

The phrase ‘Special Report’ scrolled across the screen and a grim blond
newscaster read his teleprompter in a voice of doom.

“–our top story: Reports are trickling in from all over the country of mutant
powers returning to those who received the Worthington Industries cure. In
Denver…”

Marie didn’t hear anything else over the roaring in her ears. The newscasters’
mouth continued to move and Bobby’s hand closed over hers, but her vision
narrowed in on the television like a tunnel, closing in.

Mouth opening a closing a few times, Marie couldn’t find any words. She snatched
her hand out of Bobby’s and backed toward the door, still staring at the
television.

She ran into someone coming in the door and leapt away as if she’d touched a hot
stove.

“Rogue,” Ms. Munroe said softly, brow furrowed, “perhaps you should come speak
to the Professor.”

* * * * *

Bobby tried to take her hand and follow, but Marie shook him off, holding her
chin up through force of will. “I’m fine,” she said, marching after Ms. Munroe.
“I’ll talk to you later.”

Professor Xavier switched off the small radio on a bookshelf as she came in and
rolled his wheelchair around the desk toward her. She took an involuntary step
back.

“I won’t touch you if you don’t wish it,” he said, the mild reproof making her
face flush.

“I know, it’s just…”

He compressed his lips. “Yes, I know. I’m sorry, this is a shock to all of us.
Please sit down.”

Marie perched on the edge of a chair, hands twisting in her lap. “Professor, I
need to go. I need to get to my room.” Ms. Munroe reached out to pat her hand
and Marie drew back. “Don’t…don’t touch me.”

Ms. Munroe’s face fell. “Honey, it’s all right–”

“It’s not!” Marie drew back in her chair. “Everything I went through was for
nothing, because it’s all coming back. All the fighting with my friends, the
arguments, were a waste, because I’m going to be a mutant again whether I like
it or not.” Tears dripped down her nose and she dashed them away.

“We don’t know that for certain,” Professor Xavier said, leaning forward.
“Perhaps certain mutations are rejecting the cure, or some batches may have been
faulty.” She knew he was trying to help, but she couldn’t help wondering if he
was pleased by this turn of events.

“Or…” Marie took a deep breath, “the cure is going to fail and we could give
me another dose. Leech is here.”

Professor Xavier gave her a look of such utter disappointment that she had to
turn away. “Yes, James is here. But for you to suggest that we use him in the
same way that Worthington Industries did…He is not a machine or a cow to be
milked.”

“But what if he volunteers?” She worked up the courage to look the Professor in
the eyes.

He exchanged a look with Ms. Munroe that Marie couldn’t read. “We need to think
about this–” Ms. Munroe said.

Professor Xavier held up a hand to stop her. “Dr. McCoy is on his way,” he said.
“I received a call from him just a few moments ago, and he’s arranged to conduct
research here to determine what is happening. We will not make any rash
decisions until he has studied the situation.”

Marie hugged her stomach and tried to remember how to pray.

* * * * *

Bobby found her in her room an hour later, where she was trying very hard not to
cry. “Rogue,” he called, knocking on the door, “are you there?”

“Where do you think I’d be?” she asked, clutching her pillow tighter to her
chest. “Maybe I went dancing?”

“Rogue?” Bobby sounded confused, and she could hear Jubes and someone else
whispering behind him.

Pushing her hands against her eyes, she took a shaky breath. “I’m sorry, Bobby.
I kind of want to be alone.”

“You said you’d talk to me later. It’s later.” She could imagine him, scowling
at the door in that way that made him look *just* like Mr. Summers, although he
didn’t realize it. More whispers, probably him telling the others to go away.
“C’mon, please?”

She’d have to face him eventually. Moving slowly, she bent to remove a cardboard
box tucked under the dresser. Peeking out of the half-closed lid, there was the
corner of a black scarf. The tears tried to come out again, and she grabbed the
box and ripped it open like pulling off a bandage, grabbing the first scarf and
gloves she found.

“Come in,” she said, her voice shakier than she’d have liked as she put the
gloves and scarf on.

When she turned, Bobby was watching her, looking like a kicked puppy, and she
wanted to throw herself against him and hug him until he stopped looking like
that. Instead she crossed her arms and swallowed her tears.

“It’s go–”

“If you say ‘It’s going to be okay,’ then I won’t be responsible for my
actions,” she said.

He shut his mouth.

Closing her eyes, she took several deep breaths before reopening them. “I’m
sorry, Bobby, I’m a little upset.”

“I…” He looked like he’d been about to say ‘I understand,’ before realizing
that was even more dangerous. “I know,” he said finally.

“I don’t think you do, Bobby.” She sank down on the bed, her anger deflating as
reality set in. “I got a look at what it’s like to be normal and I liked it.”

“Rogue,” he stepped forward and grabbed her chin before she could move away, “I
don’t care if you’re normal or not.”

“I know, Bobby. But I do.” She took his hand off her chin and held it in her
gloved hand. “I’d forgotten what it’s like to be able to bump into someone in
the hallway and not worry. To touch you without *killing* you.”

“I’m willing to take that risk.”

“And maybe it’s not all about you.” She let go of his hand. “I don’t need any
more voices in my head, thank you very much. I don’t need to acquire new powers
and possibly kill someone in the process. I know my powers can be useful, but
they’re too much for me.”

“I’m sorry.” Eyes soulful, he looked down at her. “What can I do to help?”

She started to say ‘Nothing,’ but changed her mind. “Well, it’d help if you’d
come with me. There’s something I’ve gotta do.”

“This isn’t going to get me in trouble with the Professor, is it?”

“Probably not,” she said. “C’mon.”

*****

Bobby followed Marie down the hall, down one set of steps, across the hall past
the dining room, up two flights, and around several corners. She knew he figured
out where they were going early on, but at least he chose to say nothing, just
hovering by her side as they walked, obviously resisting the urge to hold her
hand or put his arm around her shoulders.

As she neared her destination, her steps slowed. There, ahead of her, was a
nondescript wood-paneled door, next to a painting of two ships on the ocean that
she suspected was worth more than her parents’ house.

“Rogue…”

“Here we are,” she said to stop him from talking. She was fairly sure she
wouldn’t be turned down, but…Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the door.

“Come in!”

Marie opened the door slowly, mock-scowling at Leech–at Jimmy–as he looked up
from his computer. “Playing that game again?”

“Doing my homework this time, I swear,” he with that sweet smile that briefly
made her forget her worries.

“But you’re still hiding from everyone.” She pointedly looked around the room.
“Classes will start again soon and you’re going to have to face the students
soon.”

“I know.” He shrugged as if it didn’t matter. “I’ll deal with it then.”

Marie sighed and motioned to Bobby to come in from where he hovered just outside
the door. “Well, I’ve brought someone with me and I promise he won’t bite.
Jimmy, this is Bobby.”

Bobby stood just inside the door, blinking rather stupidly at her and the larger
than normal student bedroom. “Uh, hi, Jimmy,” he said.

“Hi, Bobby. You can come in. You won’t lose your powers if you don’t get too
close.” Jimmy turned and drew his legs up under him in the chair.

“Come in and sit down, Bobby. It’s okay.”

“I know!” He seemed annoyed at their reassurance. “I just didn’t know that you
knew each other.”

Marie looked at Jimmy, who shrugged. “We had a lot to talk about,” he said.

Marie sank down in the worn leather chair across from Jimmy. “Have you heard?”
she asked.

He nodded. “Mm-hmm. Ms. Munroe told me. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s not your fault.”

“You’re here to ask if they can make the cure again for you.”

His smile hadn’t dimmed a whit and she relaxed. At least he wasn’t angry with
her for asking. She couldn’t take it if this kid who’d become like a little
brother hated her.

“Yeah.” Marie took a deep breath. “I don’t *want* my powers and I can’t spend
the rest of my life sitting in the chair next to you so I don’t hurt someone.”

Bobby stuck his hands in his pockets and gave her a disappointed look, which she
ignored. He’d said his piece and she’d said hers.

Jimmy leaned forward and looked her in the eyes. “Are you sure?”

It felt like a punch to the stomach, and she leaned back. “Not you too! I
thought you, of all people, got it. I thought you understood, I mean, with how
other people have treated *you*.”

“Are you sure?” he asked again, looking at her intently. “Because I won’t let
them take my blood if I don’t think you’re sure.”

“Rogue, maybe we should–”

“I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life.” She bit her lip. “I don’t want
to kill someone by accident.”

“So you’re afraid.”

“No!” She breathed in a laugh. “Well, yes, but that’s not all of it. I’m like a
land mine sitting in a field, dangerous but not useful.”

“Rogue, that’s not true. If you’d been there at Alcatraz–”

“Bobby.” Beginning to regret bringing him, Marie turned. “Please…don’t. I
want…I just want to never kill someone.”

Bobby bowed his head and she turned back to Jimmy, who nodded once. “Okay.”

She let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. “Thank you.”

The door opened and Bobby jumped like he’d been hit by a cattle prod. The
Professor rolled in, followed by Dr. McCoy, neither of them looking terribly
surprised to see her.

“Rogue, Bobby,” Professor Xavier said, “if we might have some time to speak to
Jimmy…”

“Oh, right.” Marie jumped up. “You’ll let me know…”

“As soon as we know something,” Dr. McCoy said, “I can assure you that you will
be the first to be informed.”

“Thank you, sir,” she said, evading Bobby’s hand as they ducked out of the room.

* * * * *

Someone had cleaned out Dr. Grey’s office, Marie noticed as she fidgeted in her
seat. All the little touches that had made it not quite so scary–the photo of
her and Dr. Summers in the woods, the drawing of the mansion Artie made her when
he first arrived–were gone. Now there were just reference books and a computer
and an empty desk chair. And her own thoughts, which weren’t much better.

She crossed her legs, then uncrossed them, picked up the textbook she’d been
carrying when she received the summons, put it down.

There were footsteps in the hall and the doorknob turned in what couldn’t
possibly be slow motion. Marie swallowed as Dr. McCoy came into the room.

She knew instantly what he was going to say–for a guy working as a diplomat, he
was remarkably bad at hiding his emotions. His entire body drooped, even the
fur.

“I’m sorry, Ms. D’Ancanto,” he said with a frown, “but if the cure fails, we
cannot give you another dose.”

Her fingers dug into the seat cushion until she could feel the staples holding
it down, and her breathing was sharp and shallow. “Why not?”

Dr. Grey’s decrepit desk chair creaked as Dr. McCoy sank into it, clutching a
fistful of printouts. He stared at them for a long moment before meeting her
eyes. “It would most likely kill you.”

“Most likely?”

He shook his head. “Don’t even consider it, young lady. I would give you a 3
percent chance of survival, perhaps even as much as 4 or 5 percent if you are in
incredibly good health, but no more.”

Closing her eyes, Marie concentrated on her breathing. When she opened her eyes
again, she asked, “Why?”

He understood. “Although I believe we could synthesize the cure here from the
young man upstairs, your body would react to it as if to a deadly disease. In
essence, if the medical reports I’ve received are correct, the bodies of those
whose mutations have returned have rejected the foreign elements of the cure,
destroyed them like an invader. Their bodies have been primed to fight the
cure.”

Marie thought about this for a moment, before something occurred to her. She put
a hand to her mouth. “Somebody’s already tried it, haven’t they?”

Dr. McCoy sighed heavily. “I’m afraid so. Several people around the country
managed to procure a second dose of the cure from the limited stocks still
available. All developed immediate and devastating reactions, so fast and
unpredictable that medical treatment was inefficacious.”

“They died.”

“Yes. All of them.” One of his fists clenched. “I believe that a few people
might survive, if their symptomatic treatment was prompt and aggressive. But
that’s only a theory at this point. I’m very sorry. And I am afraid that these
deaths are only the beginning.”

Marie nodded.

“But there is still no guarantee that your powers will return,” he said,
obviously trying to look hopeful.

“What do you think, Dr. McCoy?” She held her breath one more time.

He held her gaze, lips compressed. “I think that they will return. But we cannot
predict when, as the timeline appears complicated by numerous factors.”

“That’s what I figured.” She plucked at the scarf that hung across her shoulder.
“Guess I’d better get used to these again.”

“I am sorry. I wish…well, there’s no point in that. But know that I and others
continue to conduct research. I will keep you informed if we make any progress
in understanding what has happened.”

“Thank you.” She stood, swallowing hard.

“Rogue…”

Halfway to the door, she turned.

Sighing, Dr. McCoy shook his head. “Although I chose not to take the cure
myself, I understand your decision. And I would not have wished this for you or
the others under any circumstances.”

Marie gave him a sharp nod, unable to speak. She could feel Dr. McCoy watching
her as she left the room, and as the door shut behind her, she saw him put his
head in his hands.

* * * * *

Marie walked back to her room, feeling like she was walking through a fog. A few
people tried to speak to her, but she just shook her head and kept moving.

She stumbled through the door, nearly tripping over outstretched feet. “Wha–?”

Logan, arms crossed and scowling from his position in her desk chair, said,
“Sorry, I didn’t know when you’d be back.”

“What are you doing here?” She sat on the bed, hoping he’d go away soon so she
could cry in peace.

“I…” He fidgeted. “I heard the news from the Professor. And, uh…”

“Logan?”

“I understand what you’re feeling,” he said in a rush. “Kind of.”

That wasn’t anything like what she’d been expecting and she blinked a few times.

Having gotten that out, Logan relaxed fractionally. “Everybody keeps talking
about gifts, but they don’t get what it’s like for some of us.”

She nodded. “It’s not like I’ve got a receipt and I can return this.” She
plucked at a glove.

“Neither can I.” Logan shrugged. “I was experimented on and I have to live with
that.”

She scooted back against the headboard, drawing her knees to her chest. “Does it
help to know why you have the claws?”

“Not really.”

“Oh.” Marie sniffed once or twice. “I like my life here, but I, I don’t want to
think that it’s only a matter of time before I kill someone.” The tears she’d
been trying to ignore started to leak out. “Fiddlesticks,” she said, wiping them
away.

“Fiddlesticks?” Logan stared at her.

“My momma would be shocked if she knew how much cursing I did,” Marie said
absently, “so I’m trying to cut back.”

“Okay, but fiddlesticks?” Shaking his head, Logan looked her over. “I dunno,
maybe that shot did something to your brain.”

That made her chuckle even through the tears. “My brain is fine, Logan.
Unfortunately. I *wish* there was something we could fix.”

“If you say so.” He leaned back in the chair and waited for her to get control.

Having him there helped a little. He was pretty much the only mansion resident
who’d never judged her because of her choice to get the cure. That was restful
right now.

“Thank you,” she said eventually.

“Any time, kid.”

*****

In the subsequent days, Marie avoided the evening news and the company of most
of her peers, although Bobby and Kitty and a few others insisted she at least
come out of her room for meals. She couldn’t take the sad looks, the constant
reminders, the daily special bulletins, and the ignorant television commentary.

Dr. McCoy commuted between the UN in Manhattan and Westchester, looking grimmer
with each trip. From the short conversations she had with him, she learned that,
despite warnings, mutants were trying to take the cure again. And he seemed to
take each death personally.

Professor Xavier did his best to look optimistic, but even he could be seen
frowning into his soup upon occasion after looking at her. He and Dr. McCoy both
reminded her regularly that not every mutant was getting their powers back, so
she still had a chance. But neither sounded like they completely believed it,
and she knew they were worried about her, even if Professor Xavier seemed rather
pleased that the cure hadn’t worked for most people.

People kept asking Marie how she felt. They thought she was pushing them away
when she said “Okay,” but she didn’t really have another answer. She didn’t have
the words to describe the mixture of fear and resignation and worry and…so she
told everyone she was okay. It was a good a description as anything.

Classes went on as usual, and eventually people stopped giving Marie funny looks
when she walked down the hall, as if she’d either suck their life or their
mutation out from across the room. (She found it ironic that people were either
afraid of her for *having* her mutation or mad at her for trying to get rid of
it. It just proved that her daddy had been right when he said that sometimes you
just couldn’t win for losing.)

One or two of the younger students could be heard to say that it served her
right for trying to be a flatscan, but after they were assigned to extra self-
defense classes with Logan, that stopped as well.

Warren Worthington came to teach a business class for upper-level students, and
a woman named Elizabeth Braddock arrived from England to teach the classes in
controlling powers. Marie hoped she never had to take that class, as the woman
gave her the willies, studying her like a particularly fascinating bug.

Three weeks after the first news reports, Marie snuggled into her favorite chair
in the mansion’s library, which she liked because it was big enough for her to
draw her legs up under her, with leather arms wide enough she could rest a book
and notebook on them to take notes. It was also in the farthest corner, under a
tiny window most people didn’t realize was there, hidden well enough that nobody
would bother her.

Absently she tugged at her silk gloves, making sure they reached up under her
sleeves, and opened “To Kill a Mockingbird,” looking for the paragraph she
remembered that she was sure would prove her essay’s thesis.

Pen held in her mouth so it wouldn’t roll onto the floor, she flipped through
the book, past the scene where they go to the church, past the fire…

Before she could react, Bobby did exactly what she’d told him not to do just
last week: He swooped in around the pen and kissed her on the cheek.

Like a tractor trailer slamming into her, she was hit by a wave of cold, as her
whole body became attuned to the moisture in the air and instinctively tried to
put up a wall between her and Bobby.

MarieshowyouIloveyou/Nononono/dinnercalculuskiss/pushnopleasedont/cold/pain/fear
/pain/love/hate/sorry/love

It took all her strength, but she pushed Bobby off her and flung herself off the
chair in the other direction, skidding across the ice that now coated the floor
around them. Bobby lay still, but his chest rose once while she was watching, so
he was still alive.

Her breath was caught in her throat, she wanted to scream, but it wouldn’t come,
there was too much, Bobby was there, still there, memories of his classes of the
day, his brother, his elementary school playground, his–

“What–” someone hollered nearby.

“Help,” Marie croaked out.

“Rogue?” Kitty skidded around the corner and nearly fell on the ice. Her eyes
looked like they were going to bug out, but she didn’t pause to ask any stupid
questions, just sank through the floor. “I’ll bring help,” she said as she
disappeared.

Gasping for breath, Marie pulled herself to her knees, desperate to check if
Bobby was okay, but unwilling to get any closer. She pulled her scarf closer
around herself, whimpering once as chunks of ice flaked off it and clattered to
the ground.

Footsteps pounded down the corridor and through the shelves. “Mind the ice,”
Marie heard Kitty holler.

Within moments, a knot of people surrounded Bobby, led by Ms. Munroe.

“Is he okay?” Marie whispered.

Kitty–at the back of the group–turned, nodding slowly. “Yeah, I think so. Dr.
McCoy’s on his way, in any case.” She focused on Marie, face scrunching in
concern. “How are *you*?” she asked, stepping forward.

Marie fell on her ass trying to push away. “Stay back.”

“Rogue, it’s okay.”

“No. It’s not. I told him not to. I told him–” That was when it hit her: This
was really it. That last bit of hope that she’d be one of the lucky ones whose
powers didn’t return…gone.

Stumbling to her feet, she said, “I’ve got to get out of here.”

And she ran, as she’d always run from her power. Blindly, she ran through the
halls, automatically avoiding everyone, slamming through the nearest door and
into the woods surrounding the school. Tears blurred her vision as she tripped
and scraped her way deeper and further. Branches and thorns tore at her hated
skin, but she didn’t care, hoping it would all be ripped off.

Her breath was ragged from crying when she finally tripped over a log and was
flung to the ground. Curling into a ball, she rolled against the nearest tree
and cried and cried until she had no more tears left.

Eyes closed, she lay on the ground, wrung out and empty.

It took a long moment before she realized she wasn’t alone. Her eyes flew open,
expecting Bobby or Logan.

“Feeling better?” Mr. Summers asked, handing her a wad of tissues without rising
from his seat on the log she’d tripped over.

Speechless and still numb, she automatically took the tissues, wiping her face
and blowing her nose.

He hadn’t shaved and looked like he hadn’t slept or eaten in a week. He also
didn’t look like he was going to try and lecture her about the wonders of her
gifts, so she relaxed.

Mr. Summers wasn’t even looking at her, instead he stared down at his hands and
occasionally up at the trees, apparently content to sit there silently.

“How’d you find me?” she asked when the silence grew oppressive.

“Professor Xavier,” he said with a lopsided shrug. “His wheelchair doesn’t mix
well with oak trees.”

She almost smiled, distracted by the image of the Professor trying to follow her
through the woods.

He finally looked at her, the vague look he’d had since Alkali Lake replaced
with the teacher she remembered. “I promise,” he said, “that I will never ever
say ‘It’s not that bad’ or ‘You’ll be fine’ or any similar platitude. I may be
the only person here who has a chance of understanding.”

Marie drew her knees up and rested her forehead on them. Mr. Summers couldn’t
ever take off his glasses or he might kill someone. “It’s not the same,” she
argued feebly.

“No, it’s not. And I’m not saying it is.” He sounded stern, like when Bobby and
John had screwed around in class one too many times for his temper. “Pain can’t
be measured and compared in a test tube. Suffering can’t be weighed on a scale.
They…” his voice broke, “just are.”

Rubbing her eyes, Marie remembered her last glimpse of Dr. Grey, just before
she’d left the plane. Face grim and set, she still hadn’t looked like a woman
about to die, nobody had thought…until it was too late.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mr. Summers, who looked like he was
remembering the same thing. His jaw was clenched so hard, she expected his teeth
to break.

“I miss her too,” Marie found herself saying, and she winced.

But Mr. Summers didn’t glare. Instead he sighed, rubbing his temples. “We all
do,” he said. After a pause, he turned to look at her. “She was afraid of her
powers, you know.”

“She was?”

He nodded. “She could tell they were growing, and she didn’t know what would
happen. She had the potential, well, you saw her potential. And she was
frightened of what she might do.”

Marie watched an ant crawl around her foot as she digested that, trying to
imagine the cool and collected teacher she remembered afraid of anything. Then
she thought about having enough power in her body to hold back all the water
from a broken dam, while repairing and lifting a jet full of people. She
shuddered.

“Believe me, Rogue, we will never stop trying to find a way for you to control
your powers. Without Jean,” his voice held, barely, “it will be more difficult,
but we will try.”

Marie felt the tears trying to flow again and she swallowed a few times,
scrubbing at her eyes. “It’s just so hard, I have to worry all the time about
touching someone, hurting someone. Knowing it might never go away.”

“I know.”

Two birds dove through the trees, chirruping madly as they chased each other
around and around. Marie took a deep breath. “What do I do now?”

“Go on.” Mr. Summers shrugged. “What else can you do? Other than run away
again?”

“You did.” She turned an accusing glare on him. “Logan told me you left just
before Magneto showed up and attacked Alcatraz.”

He smiled slightly, a twitch of the lips. “I never said I was perfect. And I did
come back. If I promise to stay this time, will you stay?”

She studied him. “Only if you promise to shave. And eat dinner.”

Mr. Summers choked on a real laugh. “I promise.”

Marie nodded. “Then I’ll stay.”

“It’s a deal?” He held out his hand, the set of his jaw saying he knew exactly
what that meant to her.

She hesitated, tugging at her glove several times to make sure the palm hadn’t
gotten ripped in her run before she slowly took his hand. “It’s a deal.”

* * * * *

The TV was blaring American Idol when Marie leaned her head in, and a dozen of
the older students sprawled across the floor heckling. Nobody noticed her, which
gave her a chance to scope things out and tuck her scarf more firmly around her
neck.

Bobby was on the floor, leaning against the corner of the couch, pelting Peter
with popcorn. Although she couldn’t see his face, his laughter was obvious as
Peter tried and tried to ignore him.

She took a deep breath, stilled her hands, and walked rather unsteadily toward
him. Peter noticed her first, smiling at her with obvious approval. She nodded
to him as Kitty looked up from the crossword puzzle she was doing on the floor
at his feet.

Kitty looked briefly startled, but almost immediately grinned broadly and waved
a hand in greeting.

That got everyone else’s attention as Marie came around to the front of the sofa
and conversation came to a halt as she stood next to Bobby. “Hi,” she said,
focusing on keeping her voice even as she looked down at him.

“Hi,” he said. “Come to watch with us?”

She smiled. “Only if you promise not to sing along.”

Jubes snickered. “She’s got a point there, Icepop.”

Bobby threw a handful of popcorn at Jubes and she blew most of the kernels up
with her sparklers. Rogue took another breath and slid down to the floor next to
Bobby. He grabbed her hand and tugged her closer without saying anything.

With the greatest of care, she scooted next to him and put her head on his
shoulder. After a moment of silence, Peter said, “So, explain to me again why
these people are willing to humiliate themselves on national television?”

Jubes and Angelo groaned. “See, it’s like this,” Jubes said. “They think
that…”

Marie chuckled and tuned out the continuing debate, which she’d heard at least
three times. Bobby rubbed her shoulder with his right hand and continued pelting
Peter with popcorn with his left.

Okay, Marie thought, maybe I can do this. She rubbed her cheek against Bobby’s
shirt and he hugged her closer. Even through the layers of clothing, she could
feel the warmth of his body and it was enough. Enough for now.

–end–

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