Interesting wouldn't begin to describe it.
"Can you pass the mashed potatoes?"
I was pretty sure that was a repeated request, since the girl's voice had
taken on that griping tone, and I struggled to grab them, passing them down
to Johnny, who handed them off in between bites of steak, as I tried to
tear my attention from the head table.
Big Visible Change here--at Xavier's school, I didn't remember there being
a head table. There was, granted, a *teacher's* table. Sort of off to the
side, where the X-Men and teachers would eat together. Sort of. On formal
occasions, they wouldn't be in the dining hall at all, but in Xavier's
private dining room, and that was *only* used for those kinds of occasions.
Xavier had encouraged family, familiarity, friendship, equality between the
mutants and occasional human student.
You can't put fifteen people on a dais and say there's equality there, even
if the slightly ornate chairs that had once graced only the dining room
hadn't surrounded the formal table. Well, more than fifteen--Bobby and
Johnny usually sat up there, apparently, but chose to sit with me today.
Uh-huh. Fifteen people and I recognized only a few--Jean, Scott, Warren,
Lensherr, Ororo--Remy? I blinked. Remy. Okay. Kitty on the end,
apparently back from her mission, talking quietly to Scott. Trying not to
look too obvious, I twisted a little, trying to get a better view of the
changes an alternate timeline brings. Scott's hair was slightly longer,
the rich brown sunstreaked--not such a huge jump. My angle made it
impossible to catch Ororo's or Jean's faces, and I resigned myself to
stalking them later to get a view. Remy was Remy--charming, careless, and
if he seemed a little faster, a little more jerky in his movements, that
could mean anything.
There were a few others I vaguely knew from school, and a frighteningly
sharp-eyed Asian woman who moved far too smoothly and whose eyes constantly
scanned the crowd. I knew her--new arrival, only a few weeks before at
home. Betsy. Telepath. Not exactly Miss Ethics, though I supposed she
was nice enough as telepaths went.
Her eyes met mine and I jerked my gaze down, fixing them on my mashed
potatoes. The power behind those dark eyes shook me--I'd never seen a
telepath before that flaunted her skill so openly.
--Marie. Watch it.--
The warning hit the second I felt the touch. I didn't move, didn't breathe
for a few long seconds and then--there it was, a slim, cool tendril of
probing thought, reaching deep into my mind. Looking casually through, and
finding nada. Because she wasn't aware of what being an energy absorber
was, of course--Jean had learned how to break that particular
characteristic somewhat and find me inside my own head and also taught me
to build shields to defend myself against other telepaths, a slow,
step-by-step process that had often left me mentally exhausted and hating
I loved her now. Passionately and utterly, and did I owe her. Oh God, did
I owe her. I felt a trace of shock as Betsy tried to sort through the
confusion and slammed my shields down into place, feeling her withdraw
hastily. Then I took a bite of green beans and chewed with gusto, feeling
her eyes rest on me briefly before turning away. I didn't dare look up to
see her reaction, though I felt, just surrounding me, a startled suspicion
that lingered like a bad odor.
--You know, if you wanted to say, stay the hell outta my head, you could
have been a lot less obvious about it and just yelled it in the middle of
the dining hall. Every telepath in this room probably felt you do that.--
The cross between anger and amusement in Logan's voice startled me.
--Ethical telepaths don't wander around in other people's minds without
permission or cause.--
--And yet, you persist in thinking' that ethics are a big thing here, huh?
Shit, Marie, get with the program. This is NOT Xavier's school and these
people developed a shitload differently than we did. Maybe you'd better
find out how the hell they *are* different before you screw around too
I nodded to myself, finding my knife with one trembling hand and cutting
into my steak. Bobby was talking across the table to Johnny. They'd never
been particularly sensitive to psi-use.
--I wonder...-- I promptly forgot what I was wondering when the far door
open and Logan walked through.
Things that stayed the same--still jeans and flannel, still tall and
brooding and looking like he wanted to fight someone just for kicks.
Nicely familiar scowl, standard expression, no problems there. The brown
hair was cropped shorter than I could ever remember him wearing it,
though--vaguely military, stirring traces of Inner Logan's memories from
the far recesses of my mind. For some reason, the sharp cut made the scowl
look even more menacing, especially with the sideburns trimmed down to bare
dark shadows--shit, Jubilee and Kits would be going into fits of laughter
to see this at home.
The reactions to him, however, were totally off the scale--the students
nearest him grew quiet and I smelled it again--the trace of fear streaming
through the room. Logan scared students, granted. He always had. But it
wasn't out and out fear, not since the beginning. They *knew* him, knew
that Logan would die before he hurt any of them. They were his students,
some were his friends, and he'd drunk with them and talked to them and
played basketball with them and fixed cars with them.
The trail of fear, of awe, of--of things I couldn't even identify. And
Logan, at the school, usually played down that part of himself. The part
that *wasn't* the X-Man and teacher--the part that was pure predator. He
wasn't even trying here--he was a living, breathing weapon who didn't give
I stared in fascination as he crossed the room, stopping to speak to Jean
before taking the empty chair on her other side beside Kitty. Scott was
leaning over, making a comment, and Logan grinned, before attacking the
plate that was almost instantly placed before him.
"Told ya, Drake."
"Huh?" The amusement in Johnny's voice was bitter, and I turned my gaze to
see Bobby was frowning slightly.
"Shut up, Pyro."
It was so characteristic I sighed, and both looked at me as if they'd
forgotten I was there, which wouldn't have been that unusual at home;
Bobby and St. John had often seemed to inhabit a snarky little universe all
of their own.
"Umm--guys?" I tapped my fork on my plate for emphasis. "Anything I need
"Oh, nothing." St. John reached for a piece of bread, spreading it with
butter from the dish at his elbow. He was still grinning at Bobby. "Just
normal reaction to Logan." His gaze stabbed mine. "Don't drool so openly.
He can smell that out."
Oh yes, the smell thing. Shit. I tried to measure the distance between
the main table and me, but my math wasn't coming anywhere near my
--Relax. In this mess, he'd never notice.-- Logan's voice was oddly
quiet. --You should be okay here. He'd have to be specifically searching
for you to track you in here. And that's unlikely.--
I tried to remember if I'd touched anything nearby but the table.
--All kinds of sure, baby. Relax. Eat. And see what you can fish outta
the boys there. Drake's droolin' over you. Never understand what you saw
--He let you walk all over him like a used carpet.-- Logan snorted. --You
have lousy taste in men, Marie.--
Yeah, well, my first choice hadn't been too interested, either, so screw
you, Logan. I buried the thought--Inner Logan was just a little too strong
and we'd had this argument early on, anyway. I wasn't particularly
interested in re-examining it. The brussels sprouts on my plate took my
attention, but looking down, I could only see the image of Logan, eating up
on the dais.
He thought I was dead. Ooh, don't think about that. No reason to give
myself even *more* complexes than I was enjoying already.
"I'd avoid him."
I jerked my gaze to Bobby, whose blue eyes were fixed on me with a
familiarity that was oddly comforting--Bobby had never been a big fan of
Logan, but the reason for that could be spelled with five letters.
R-O-G-U-E. He knew before I did that I wasn't moving on with him, just
"Not a good idea, Marie. He's not--a nice guy."
I frowned a little and St. John leaned across the table. His expression
was deadly serious.
"That's not fair, Drake." Pushing his plate aside, St. John rested both
arms on the table and gave us both a steady glare. "He saved your
life--hell, it was him and Hank who got us out of that hellhole in
Bobby flushed dark.
"I'm not saying--"
"You are saying." This seemed to be an old argument and I tried to sink a
little into my chair. They were telling me things, important things I
needed to know. And those things were about Logan. "Look, get over it,
okay? He's paid his dues and more than either of us did. So feel
oh-so-free to keep your mouth shut." With that, St. John got to his feet,
grabbing his plate, and stormed from the table.
And a lot of eyes were fixed on us. Shit. Shit, shit, shit--attention
drawn. Oh goodie.
--Yeah, Logan, I'm not so pleased either. They're looking at me.--
I forced my gaze back to the vegetables, perfectly aware that I wouldn't be
able to choke down another bite. Beside me, Bobby hadn't moved, hadn't
I gave him a quick, sidelong look.
"It's okay, s--Bobby." DAMN. Gotta avoid sugar. Gotta avoid sugar.
Bobby's plate was empty--mine was still half full, but I pushed my chair
back in relief, feeling the curious gazes again. I had to get out of here
before those at the big table took any more interest in me than they
"No." I paused, seeing the curious eyes. I was new--that alone would
bring some interest. People would want to meet me. And--things would
happen. I knew I'd slip, somehow, give something away. And Logan and
Carol in my head were absolutely convinced that nothing good could come of
anyone finding out my actual identity, even if they believed me.
I had to agree. Every instinct in my body was saying the same thing.
Luckily, Bobby acted true to form--rising, he stepped back, allowing me to
precede him toward the door. Once outside and in the hall, his smile was
I nodded mutely. That worked for an interpretation.
"I--I'm not used to it, you know." I paused, twisting my hands together a
little and Bobby brushed my covered shoulder. I didn't need to fake the
stiffening of my body.
"Yeah." He glanced around, then seemed to come to a decision. Thank
God--I sure as hell couldn't think. "Hey, how about we take a walk in the
gardens? There's no one out there now. And Dr. Grey will be able to find
us when she's ready."
"Ready for what?"
Bobby shrugged a little and began the trek to the wide French doors that
led to the garden.
"You know--identification, classification, medical exam, the whole works."
--Logan, I won't make it through that.--
--No, I don't think it's a good idea, either.--
How brilliant he could be.
--If she runs a genetic test, she's gonna be awfully surprised, you know.
If they have their old files, they still have my original from when I
entered the school.--
--If it wasn't destroyed.--
I paused at that.
--She's a doctor and a researcher and twice as smart as me and you put
together. Even if she doesn't know why, she gets the DNA, she'll recognize
it from somewhere. And one touch will be enough to convince her that I'm
not what I say.--
--Okay. We'll think of somethin'--
I jerked back into the present and realized we were outside. Shit, I *had*
to learn to get the weirdness under control, and damned soon. These inner
convos were screwing with the real world too much.
He smiled sympathetically and gestured for me to precede him off the
stone-paved patio and into the garden proper.
"Ororo created these." He looked around fondly as he led me toward a
secluded bench. Oh yes, subtlety there. "They're almost exactly the same
as they were before the war." I nodded--he was right. Except--except the
pansies hadn't been on the east side. There had been three benches, not
four. That willow was younger than the one that had been in the garden.
And--and-- I frowned, trying to work it out.
It *was* the same, with those tiny differences. Without even meaning to, I
reached out to the roses beside the bench, the special hybrid that the
Professor's family had bred over generations, and ran a light finger over
the velvet-smooth petals.
I could remember trimming this bush in my world.
It was like a constant state of deja vu. Not as much fun as it sounded.
"They're beautiful," I answered honestly, wrapping my arms around my
chest--June evenings in Westchester had always been cool, rich with the
scent of flowers and the evergreens that grew only a few hundred feet away.
Bobby was a cool, solid presence beside me, and he left me my space for a
few minutes while I started assimilating what I'd learned.
"Tell me about Rogue."
--WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?--
I winced, grabbing at my head carefully--so Logan wasn't on board with this
plan. Keeping my gaze on the flowers, I watched for Bobby's reaction from
the corner of my eye.
For an entire ten seconds, there was nothing. Blank shock--what, did they
not talk about her openly? They built a nice, gaudy memorial for her and
people took flowers there, but--
"I didn't know her very well."
Memory descended; I was in the classroom and he was giving me an ice-rose.
I was walking with him to my room. I was on my first date with him and he
kissed my cheek through my scarf. I was shopping with Jean for a bodysuit
and she was prescribing me birth control, just in case. We were fighting
in the rec room downstairs, and he was walking out on me without a
backwards glance--telling me to get my ass outta my fantasy life because no
one could be expected to compete with the fairy-tales I created in my head.
And he'd be damned if he'd try anymore.
Bobby was my first lover and I was his. I shut my eyes tightly. But he
didn't know me.
"You saw the memorial, right?"
I sucked in a breath, nodding, not trusting myself to speak.
"She-- Mr. Lensherr needed her, for his machine. She...she was only
sixteen, you know? But she went up on the Statue because she knew--she
knew it was the only way." Bobby's voice was soft. "She was brave, Marie.
No one knew if it would work, but she was willing, you know, to try?"
My throat began to close.
--He believes what he's saying.--
--We don't know what happened here, Rogue.--
My eyes burned. I couldn't imagine any version of myself climbing into
that hellish thing willingly.
--How could he not know the truth? I mean--if it is the truth.-- I could
accept some things, but the idea of being willing wasn't one of them. I
couldn't have been. I'd never been that suicidal, even during my darkest
moments, and of all the ways I could choose to die, that one wouldn't have
rated among the top fifty in any universe.
--Here's a better question--how could he? Who, specifically, would know
about what happened that night on the Statue of Liberty?--
I breathed out, hearing Bobby still talking--about her, with that wistful
voice that was always associated with lost potential. Here, I'd never been
his friend or lover. I'd just been a possibility.
--Magneto. Mystique. Sabretooth. Toad. The Professor. Scott. Jean.
Ororo.-- I paused, feeling a growl rise in the back of my throat. --Most
of all, Logan. He would know.--
The sudden urge to jump to my feet and track down Logan was
overwhelming--Carol froze me in place.
--You know, you and Logan are making me fucking nervous taking over like
--Trust me, if I *could* take over for good, at this point, I would.
You're making a mess of this. Stick to your priorities--getting us out of
--Yes, Carol. Of course, I'm just fucking around. Gimme a second, I'll
run up to Magneto and ask for one of those nice interdimensional gates he
keeps in his back pocket, okay?--
"...and Polaris agreed."
And this is why I needed to remember not to fight with those inner
personalities, because shit, I had no idea what he was talking about. But
his face was strangely lit up, blue eyes clear as a summer day.
Breathtaking. I had loved him, I had to have. It hadn't been just a
simple crush, he hadn't been my placebo for unrequited love, no matter what
everyone had said. No matter what he had said on the day he'd left me.
"She did?" Repeat, sugar. Repeat it for me. Please.
"Yeah." Was that--there was a shadow on his face now. All the tiny
muscles in his jaw had tightened and the blue eyes wouldn't quite meet
mine. "We--Lensherr thinks this'll break the last of the human resistance.
And he's right; it's gotta be done now. Just--" he sighed. "She was
honored, you know."
--What the fuck did I miss?--
"Yeah. Honored," I echoed. Polaris. Cool name. Polaris. "She's--"
Would I know her power in this world? Polaris indicated something
magnetic. What the *hell* was he talking about?
"Mr. Lensherr has been working with her every day, trying to bring her up
to full power. She was *really* untrained when he found her." I caught
Bobby's fond smile. "Almost wiped the computers by accident when she lost
concentration last week. And bent all the spoons in the kitchen."
Magnetic. Okies. We're good there. I should have been listening closer.
Polaris was honored to *what*?
"We're just hoping it'll work this time, even if we don't have--you know,
It took a moment to process. Work. Magnetic power, connect to Rogue,
"Lensherr's running the machine again."
"Logan and Lensherr tracked down the leaders--as soon as they finish
running the tests, Polaris will get in, and we'll have the last of the
human leaders on our side. Hopefully--Well, we can't afford another war.
We can't. We're still uncovering some of the anti-mutant weaponry and
biological weapons." Bobby shivered. "If they got their hands on
I nodded, knowing my voice wasn't going to hold out and not even caring.
Bobby patted my shoulder.
"We-- When he first brought it up, we couldn't imagine letting someone else
go through what Rogue did, you know? But...but after the crap we found in
the military bases, everything changed. And Polaris, she wants this.
Lensherr's running her through meditation exercises--the test run a couple
of days ago wiped her out." Bobby's mouth twitched slightly. "Speaking of
that--I need to go check on her. Do you want--"
"You mind if I stay here?" I asked slowly, measuring out each word. Calm,
Marie. Calm, calm, calm.
"Feel free." He smiled. "If you need help finding your room--"
"I'll be fine, Bobby. Thanks."
He nodded, brushing his fingertips across my shoulder before rising, and
all the skin on my shoulder broke into cold goosebumps. Something
resembling a smile stretched my lips automatically, and I hoped to God that
it didn't look too fake, that I looked normal, and apparently, I pulled it
off, because Bobby walked back inside. As soon as he was gone, I slumped
into the bench.
--I can't start screaming right here, can I?--
--Maybe you should go somewhere else to do that.-- Logan's voice was
amused. --Marie, just bring that to a stop. You can have a nervous
breakdown later. You cannot-- *cannot--do it now.--
I nodded, not quite able to articulate words, and dragged my legs up under
me, crossing them and placing my hands on my thighs.
Clear my mind, clear my body,
they-are-putting-someone-else-in-that-machine, clear my mind, clear my
body, Bobby-thinks-I-went-in-that-thing-willingly, clear my mind, clear my
Slowly, so slowly, seven years of discipline did assert itself. I was
Rogue, an X-Man, a student, a teacher. I was *not* an hysterical little
girl and I was *not* going to worry about crap I couldn't change.
When my heartbeat had returned to normal, I opened my eyes and took in the
garden again. It seemed the least of the uncomfortable thoughts swirling
in my head.
--It's weird--they really did try to get it exactly like before.--
I meant, the house, the grounds, the Professor's office, my room, even the
halls--it was vaguely startling because I could feel the slight
differences, just lurking in the edges of my mind. Strange, but not alien.
"I don't believe we've been introduced."
I looked up, a little startled, to watch Jean's approach.
From the edge of the dining room, I hadn't been able to get a good look at
her; up close and personal, I was utterly floored. She carried herself
like a weapon, like a banner, and it was suddenly easy, too easy, to
recognize that this wasn't my Jean, not anything close to her. Beautiful
still, hair cut shorter than I remembered, in the tailored suits of her
profession, a smile turning up her lips in welcome. The dark eyes,
however, didn't reflect the easy warmth I remembered, and she thrummed with
a power I could sense at only a few feet away.
My Jean had never had that level of power inside her--or if she did, she'd
never discovered it.
--Stop drooling, Logan.--
"Hi." I shifted rapidly to my feet, and what was it about Jean always made
me feel small and clumsy and dirty? No idea--I almost sighed and quickly
controlled it. "I--I'm Marie Danvers, Dr. Grey."
Her smile was dazzling and she extended a hand--hadn't she noted the fact I
hadn't extended mine?
--It's easier to read someone you're touching. Very easy. Almost
I shivered and slowly let my hand lift, her long fingers closing over
it--and my mind slammed down every shield I knew instantly, everything Jean
had taught me and drilled in me, everything Xavier had shown me. No way
was she going in my head. At least, not without a fight.
There was no perceivable reaction from the dark eyes when I felt her quick,
casual dart fail, but--God, it was strong. Too strong for my memories of
Jean Grey. As I stepped back, shaken, Jean nodded.
"Welcome to Xavier's school. Please, sit down. I don't want you to be
--She's kidding. She's doing her damndest to make me uncomfortable.--
--She wants you off-balance.-- Logan's inner voice still had traces of
startlement running through it and I almost sighed. I did *not* need to
get through a round of erotic-Jean-dreams while I was here,
thank-you-very-much. --She wants you to break your concentration.--
Slowly, I took my seat and she lowered herself down beside me with
exquisite grace, leaning her chin on her hands.
"Erik told me you'd arrived." A pause, while I took in the jarring
intimacy of Jean using Magneto's personal name. "Are you settling in
"Yes, thank you." I paused, trying to think of what else she wanted to
hear. "Bobby's been great. So's Johnny."
"Johnny?" Her brows knit delicately. "St. John?" A slight smile turned
up her lips, soft and slightly alluring. Wasted on me. Apparently not
wasted on inner Logan though, and I resigned myself to a night of weird
dream sex. "I've never heard him called that before."
Another dart of her mind and I felt my shields shudder--I hadn't been ready
"They were--great. I'm glad to be here."
Jean nodded, eyes searching my face.
"When you have time, please come down to the lab and we can start your
work-up. I'd like to get you classified and examined as soon as possible.
How does tomorrow afternoon sound, around four?"
"Uh--fine. That'd be fine." Another, sharper poke and I was getting a
little dizzy trying to balance the outside world and my
concentration--shit, she was strong. Somewhere distant, I could hear Logan
trying to say something, but it was too hard to keep track of outer
conversation and the inner assault. I wasn't prepared for a Jean this
strong--I hadn't been *training* with a Jean this strong. There was the
softest shudder of my inner shields and I hoped to God she didn't feel it.
--Why is she doing this?-- I didn't like what it said about Jean Grey or
this particular world, for that matter. Betsy I could understand--but Jean
was one of the strictest practitioners of ethics I'd ever met.
"Excellent." Jean rose, smiling down at me, and I blinked as the pressure
eased. "I hope you'll enjoy your stay with us. Have a nice evening,
Marie. I'll see you tomorrow." Another smile, utterly brilliant, but
inner Logan didn't react. Oh, how strange. Relieving, but--
--If I could take over *RIGHT NOW* I would.-- Carol's voice was furious
and I grabbed for my head as soon as Jean was out of sight.
--MEDICAL EXAM. Fuck, Rogue, are you actually wanting to have this happen?
Are you that hot to get caught? YOU AGREED!--
Startled, I turned my head from watching Jean go inside. Forgot that
quick--but it worried me far more to note that my mental shields were
exhausted and I'd be broadcasting if I wasn't careful. Shutting my eyes, I
pulled my legs up under me and began to try to regain the ground I'd lost.
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