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"Counting Backwards" R; Rogue (Logan); 4/5

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  • Molly
    Counting Backwards (4/5) by Molly 1.  “We cut a nice figure of a family.” Throwing Muses The dreams start the same night that Jean suggests she join in
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 10, 2001
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      Counting Backwards (4/5)
      by Molly

      1.� �We cut a nice figure of a family.� Throwing Muses

      The dreams start the same night that Jean suggests she
      join in the defense training classes. She thinks of
      five days of absolute peace and of how it's still
      eleven days before Logan will come back, and she tries
      to think of what she wants to do after that but can't
      even fathom.�

      It's the white room she thought she left behind in
      Mississippi. The white room with white tile floors in
      Jackson, where she could see every bit of dust and
      hair and anything that fell on the floor. They only
      came to vacuum every other day, and when they'd
      finished all their tests-- when the insurance had run
      out, she knew-- they sent her home and she went with
      trepidation to her little room in Meridian. Her little
      room, which was carpeted, where she started vacuuming
      twice a day because she knew then what kinds of things
      could creep in and settle when she just wasn't
      looking.�

      It's the white room only her mother ever saw. The
      white room she stayed in for two and a half weeks, and
      she wakes up in the middle of the night and can't get
      back to sleep for all the thoughts of home. She
      remembers Lindsay asking, just the once, if she wanted
      to call home; a not that wasn't entirely true; a
      curious longing that comes back hard and leaves her
      feeling sick.�

      Xavier watches her at breakfast and she can hear the
      slight fear in his voice when he speaks quietly to
      her. "Is everything all right, Marie?"�

      She shrugs. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine," she murmurs.�

      ***�

      "It's a long drive," Scott says. "You're sure you
      don't want to wait for Logan?"�

      "I'll be back before he is." She closes the trunk of
      the small Saturn Xavier agreed to let her take. "One
      week."�

      "Okay. But don't drive too much each day, and stay in
      decent places, and-- "�

      "And always keep the phone charged and turned on," she
      finishes, grinning. "Scott... thanks."�

      He nods slightly. "You've got to do this, don't you?"�

      "Yes." She sighs and reaches up to lightly tap his
      visor. "You know, my father was the first one I
      noticed. Giving me one of those looks?"�

      Scott smiles sadly and hugs her. "Don't speed, all
      right?"�

      With a wink, she opens the driver's door. "I'll keep
      it to 90, I promise."�

      ***�

      It's a Comfort Inn in Virginia and she doesn't even
      know the name of the city. The manager is a woman with
      deep-set eyes that strangely match her cap of
      silvery-blue hair, the shad that she's never seen on a
      woman under 60. She tells Marie not to use the vending
      machine in her wing, because it only steals money.�

      Marie doesn't want anything, anyway. She falls into
      bed with the TV on-- hockey-- and wonders why she
      thought she could drive so far on her own. It's still
      at least a full day to Mississippi; she thinks she
      sees black asphalt and white strips flashing in her
      skull when she closes her eyes.�

      She wakes up early to children screaming in the halls.
      McDonald's, they insist. McDonald's McDonald's
      McDonald's, and she closes her eyes again and rolls
      into the cool emptiness on the other side of the bed.�

      That wakes her up. A fast shower and she leaves, gets
      pancakes for breakfast.�

      She cuts through Tennessee and across a corner of
      Georgia, and it's dark when she stops at the
      Mississippi/Alabama border. She showers again and
      falls asleep wrapped in her towel.�

      Noon, and the house looks just as she remembers. White
      and cheerful, lawn carefully mowed because her father
      always said appearances are everything, and she leans
      against the car for awhile, just staring and smoking a
      cigar. There's a For Sale sign in the neighbor's yard;
      she wonders where the Dewitts moved. And she can see
      the small area of chipped paint on one of the porch
      pillars, where she once caught the pedal of her bike
      as she lugged it up the stairs. Nobody ever got around
      to repainting it.�

      The house seems quiet and still as she approaches and
      knocks on the door. It feels strange; she's never had
      to knock before. It takes over a minute for her mother
      to pull it open, and when she does, she just stares at
      Marie, her lips slightly parted in shock. "Marie," she
      whispers, and reaches for her.�

      She steps back. "Don't. I mean, you can't... nothing's
      changed, Mom. No touching."�

      Her mother's eyes fill with tears. "Oh, my God, Marie,
      I'm so sorry. I thought maybe-- "�

      "It's okay," and she wonders why she's left feeling
      vaguely guilty. "It's okay... It's not so hard to live
      with anymore."�

      "Not so-- Here, come inside." Her mother rubs tears
      away. "Come inside; your father isn't home."�

      ***�

      Her mug of tea is almost too hot to hold, but she
      grips it awkwardly and stares around the living room.
      At the piano, at the faint black soot stains on the
      stone mantel. At the photos just above, and she
      realizes with a start that there aren't any of her,
      anymore.�

      Mrs. Dutton follows her gaze. "Your father," she says
      in weak explanation. "I have them upstairs, in your
      old room... He never goes in there, so... "�

      Marie watches her carefully. "I should leave before he
      gets home, shouldn't I?"�

      "That-- It would be best. You have to understand,
      Marie, he-- "�

      "I understand," she breaks in. "Same old. I'd ask if
      he threw a party when I left, but then he'd have to
      explain why, right? Let everyone know my dirty little
      secret."�

      "Marie-- "�

      "Mom. I'm sorry." She sighs and rubs her eyes with one
      free hand. "I know how he feels. I never was quite
      sure about you... I just came to finally let you know
      everything's okay. I'm okay."�

      "I'm so glad." Mrs. Dutton is slumped in an armchair,
      looking frailer and less confident than Marie
      remembers. She tugs a lock of hair that has many more
      streaks of gray than in the past. "I hated not
      knowing. You could have been dead, and I wouldn't
      have... " She trails off and stares at the carpet,
      seeming lost in four years of speculation.�

      "I almost was," Marie tells her frankly. Her head
      snaps up. "A lot happened right away, Mom. I couldn't
      even begin to explain what it's all about. But I *am*
      okay now."�

      "Why did you really come here? You could have written,
      or called-- "�

      Marie shrugs. "I'm trying to get myself together,
      trying to get past everything about the past four
      years. I had to see you to do that."�

      "Me?"�

      "Yeah. I had to... I don't know. See if you were still
      here, if you were... still here with him."�

      And her mother gets a sad, vacant look in her eyes. "I
      shouldn't be. I-- I like to think we would have left,
      Marie, if you hadn't... I like to think that, but I
      guess you were just strong enough to do it on your
      own."�

      "There was no strong about it. I had to." She sets her
      tea down and coughs slightly. "It's good that I did.
      Things would have been much worse if I hadn't."�

      "Where have you been?" her mother asks suddenly. "Did
      you-- did you find good people to be with?"�

      "I did," Marie says. "I didn't realize it until
      recently, but yeah, I did, Mom. They got me out of a
      lot of trouble, more than once."�

      "Trouble?"�

      "It's... complicated. There's a lot of stuff happening
      out there, over mutation. What I do is dangerous...
      it's valuable to some people. I-- I don't want to go
      into everything, but I wasn't very happy for a long
      time, but I'm getting there now." She hesitates. "I
      think I just needed you to know that."�

      "Thank you," her mother whispers. "You have a good
      home?"�

      "For as long as I need one, yeah. There's a place up
      north, for people like-- for mutants. This guy helps
      us out, helps us live... I think you'd like him."�


      A faint smile touches the older woman's weary face.
      "You've been there the whole time?"�

      "More or less. There were about five weeks on the
      road, and-- I was with Lindsay for awhile, just
      recently. Until last month."�

      "Lindsay?"�

      "Yeah. She thought I should call... You should give it
      another chance, Mom. She's your family."�

      "Yes, she is. But then, so are you, and I couldn't
      make that work."�

      "Mom! There was nothing to make work, okay?" Marie
      closes her eyes in frustration. "Blame it on Dad if
      you have to, but you-- It was hard, okay? And I was
      angry at you both for a long time. But you *tried*,
      which is more than he did. Hell, more than I did."�

      "I don't-- " Her mother stops short and gets up, turns
      to the piano and taps a high note nervously. "Your
      father will be home soon."�

      Marie coughs again and stands. "Okay. I should get
      back to New York, anyway. Someone's expecting me."�

      Her mother follows her to the door. "Marie... I'm
      sorry. I am."�

      "I know," she replies quietly. "Tell him I was here,
      okay? In case some part of him does want to know."�

      "I will."�

      "Thanks." She reaches out and rests her gloved hand
      gently against her mother's cheek, then pauses.
      "Listen, let me give you the number of this place. In
      case you ever need to... " She reaches into her bag
      and then scrawls the school's number on a scrap of
      paper. "Here."�

      "Thank you... Bye, baby."�

      "Bye," she whispers, and turns down the walk. When she
      starts the car and drives away, her mother is still in
      the door, gripping the crumpled paper in one fist.�

      ***�

      She goes far out of her way, to a beach in South
      Carolina. The wind rolling in off the ocean is warm
      and salty; she remembers a vacation on the Gulf that
      was too crowded and blisteringly hot to really enjoy.
      The heat of approaching summer is easier here and the
      Spanish moss whips around the trees and it's quiet.�

      She stays two days in a small hotel, a splurge but one
      she pays for with her own saved money, rather than the
      credit card Xavier provided. When she leaves after one
      fianl trip to a clouded-over beach, she drives
      straight through the day and night to reach
      Westchester.�

      When she arrives it's 3 am but all she wants is her
      bed, in her room, and isn't it just too strange that
      she can think of hers and of the mansion all at once.
      She leaves the car at a slight distance in the
      driveway and kills the motor and she must have learned
      things from Logan about stealth because she doesn't
      make a sound creeping in and up.�

      She hasn't even brought in her things. She slips into
      her room and toes off her shoes on the way to bed;
      she's asleep within seconds.�

      And when she opens her eyes to bright, late-morning
      sunshine, she rolls, reaching for the extra pillow,
      but her arm hits solid warmth. "Hey," Logan says
      softly, wide-awake.�

      She blinks and sits up, staring at him. Him, rumpled
      and wrinkled from sleeping; him, right where she's
      been wanting him for the better part of a month. She
      opens her mouth but words won't form, and instead she
      manages a slow but sincere smile. "Hey," she finally
      gets out. "How long've you been here?"�

      "Three days." He's not smiling, but he does reach and
      rub her knee. "How was home?"�

      "I wouldn't know." She lets a hand creep to his bare
      chest, lets her gloved fingers slide gingerly across.
      "I don't seem to have one."�

      Logan's eyes cloud. "What happened?" he demands.�

      "Nothing. I saw my mom and I left. Everything's the
      same, and here I am yet again." She shrugs, runs her
      hand more confidently over muscle and bone. "Three
      days, huh?"�

      "Yeah," he mutters. "I keep showing up here expecting
      to find you, and you keep taking off ahead of me."�

      "I'm sorry," she whispers. "I had to get it done. I
      thought I'd be back first."�

      "Well," he softens. "I guess I sort of forgot how many
      days February has."�

      "You 'sort of forgot'?"�

      "Fine, no. I sort of said to hell with the damn
      calendar, it felt like a fucking month." He raises an
      eyebrow as she laughs. "Marie, you act like you've
      never seen my chest before."�

      "I never get you like this. You always keep a shirt
      on."�

      "Safer like that."�

      "I know." She rubs her into his navel. "Tickle?"�

      "Good tickle," but he catches her gloved wrist.
      "You're different."�

      With a flush, she pulls slowly away. "How do you
      mean?"�

      "I don't know. Different." He grabs her again and
      pulls her down to carefully hold. "Xavier filled me in
      on the Magneto shit."�

      "Oh... Is it a bad kind of different?"�

      "No."�

      "Oh," she says again, and starts to relax as relief
      floods her body. "Okay."�

      "You got things sorted out, then?"�

      "Mmm, yeah, I think so," and she feels her lips curl.
      "It feels a little different, being with you. With
      everything so quiet, you know?"�

      "Yeah?"�

      "Yeah. I don't have to share anymore."�

      "Isn't a little supposed to go a long way?"�

      "Sure. But sometimes you have a lot and it seems to
      just disappear."�

      Logan runs his hand over her back and breathes against
      her hair. "Sorry things didn't go so well with your
      parents."�

      She shrugs a bit, shifting to ease one leg over him
      and lean down, breathe against his cheek. "It went
      okay. I think I got things over with. My father is how
      he is, which doesn't go well with how I am, and my
      mother... I feel bad for her."�

      "Why?"�

      "Because she wants to be strong enough to get out, but
      she isn't. That's her life, like this seems to be
      mine." She grins wryly. "Some life, huh?"�

      "It's a kicker, yeah." He winks. "Not too bad from
      this view, though."�

      She just chuckles. "Pretty good seats, I think."�

      "Just pretty good?"�

      "Best in the house," she amends. "Now put a shirt on
      and let's ruin some more of my clothes."�

      *** �

      They make it, just barely on time, to lunch. Xavier is
      deep in conversation with Jean, but he looks up at
      Marie with a smile. "Marie," he says warmly. "I'm glad
      you made it back well. How did everything go?"�

      "It went," she tells him simply. "How are you guys?"�

      "We're quite fine. I trust you found the beach
      pleasant?"�

      She blushes, smiling sheepishly. "You checked on me?"�

      "Just to assure myself you were safe."�

      "Oh... It was good, yeah. Relaxing."�

      "You went to the beach?" Logan mutters under his
      breath, sitting down. "Without me?"�

      "Hush. You hate the beach."�

      "Okay, but still." He elbows her lightly. "I'm
      suffering here alone, and you're sunbathing or
      something."�

      "It rained," she lies, laughing at him.�

      "Marie," Jean suddenly says, glancing at Xavier. "Have
      you any ideas yet as to what you want to do next?"�

      "I-- " She glances at Logan, who is eating calmly.
      "No, not really. Why?"�

      "We have three old students returning in August, for
      the next year," Xavier tells her. "A few years older
      than you; they've recently finished college and have
      expressed interest in joining us here. I've arranged
      courses in defense, fighting, and so on. I wanted to
      make it available to you, should you with to
      participate."�

      She stares at him. "I don't-- Why?"�

      Xavier smiles knowingly. "Marie, I fully realize that
      now is not a time at which you are interested in
      joining us, should you ever be. In the simplest terms,
      I believe that, given you past experiences and the
      lack of guaranteed future safety regarding your gift,
      the training would be of value to you. Just in case."�

      "Of value," she echoes, and looks at Logan again. "You
      knew about this?" He nods, chewing a piece of chicken.
      "What do you think?"�

      With a swallow, he shrugs. "I think it doesn't matter
      what I think."�

      "I think it does." She flushes, feeling trapped under
      the pressure of this kind of answer.

      "Well, you're wrong. Are you interested or not?"�

      "I don't know!" she snaps. She turns back to Xavier.
      "Can I think about this?"�

      "Of course. I do, however, need to know soon, so I can
      arrange for an additional trainer."�

      "Okay." She bites her lip and stares at her food.
      "I'll let you know."�

      ***�

      "You let them spring that on me," she accuses, out on
      the garden path.�

      "Nobody sprung anything," Logan says calmly. "They
      asked you a question."�

      "And big help you were."�

      "Look, Marie, it's not up to me. It's your life."�

      "Which is all tangled up with you!" She frowns. "I'm
      not gonna do it. I won't stay here without you. I
      can't."�

      "Wait." He stops and frowns right back at her. "Who
      said I wouldn't be here?"�

      Hesitating, she stares at him. "Would you be?"�

      "I better, since I told Xavier I'd help if you said
      yes." He laughs at her statement. "Quit jumping to
      conclusions, would ya?"�

      "But-- You're not a trainer. You don't teach."�

      "I know a lot of dirty tricks that a lot of dirty
      people could try against any of us. I think I could
      survive the ordeal of sharing the knowledge."�

      "You jerk." She smacks his arm. "Why didn't you tell
      me any of this?"�

      "You're cute when you worry." He grins and winks.
      "Because it really shouldn't have to do with me. If
      it's right for you, do it. If not, don't."�

      "Great," she mutters. "The hothead goes and gets
      reasonable one me."�

      "Shut up."�

      "Make me," she leers. "I'll think about it, okay?"�

      "Good," and he gives her cheek a glancing brush of his
      thumb. "Good."�


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