The timid knock on Xavier's office door was so faint that of the four
people in the room only the Professor heard it. But after all, Xavier
told himself, he had been mentally monitoring the knocker's hesitant
progress down the hall for the past three minutes, and he not only
knew the identity of the person outside but had a good idea of the
reason behind this visit.
"Come in!" he called, and in response to the startled glances of the
other three: "It's Rogue."
The girl peeked around the door. "Professor, Ah Oh! Oh, Ah didn't
know you had company. Ah'm . . . Ah'm sorry. Ah'll come back later
when you aren't busy."
He smiled and sent out feelings of tenderness and warmth. "You aren't
interrupting anything, Rogue. We're just relaxing, chatting. Please,
come join us."
"Well, if it's really awright."
"It's really alright."
But it wasn't alright, he realized at once when she entered and stood
there, hesitant. Of course! The only available seat was the couch
which was already occupied by Storm and Jean. Far too close proximity
with others for the girl's comfort. He turned to Scott at his side.
"Do you mind sharing the sofa with Jean and Storm?"
Scott laughed. "My pleasure." He got up from the chair beside the
desk and went over to insert himself between the women, throwing an
arm around each.
"Please have a seat, Rogue." Xavier indicated the vacant chair.
She perched on the edge, picking at her gloves.
"We were just talking about Logan," Xavier said in a quiet,
Storm looked surprised at this news and Scott was clearly irritated.
He could have sworn they had been discussing modifications for his
pet, the Blackbird. In fact, the air craft's plans were still on the
Jean, however, had also picked up what was worrying the girl. "Yes,"
she now said. "Logan's been gone almost two and a half months. We
were just wondering how he's doing. If he's hurt or in trouble."
At this Rogue looked up and Xavier saw the tears welling in her
eyes. "Ah Ah think he is," she said softly.
"Which?" asked Jean, leaning forward to catch the answer. "Hurt? In
"Serves him right," Scott muttered to Storm. "The jerk stole my bike!"
Storm ignored him, focused on Rogue. "How do you know Logan's hurt
and in trouble?"
"Ah feel him. Inside my head Ah feel him."
"Explain to me, please, Rogue, this 'feeling'," Xavier asked gently.
What was it the girl received? Not telepathy. An empathic connection,
A little crease formed between her brows. "Ah don't know, Ah . . . Ah
just feel him."
"So how do you know it's Logan?" Scott didn't try to hide his
exasperation. "You could be 'feeling' anybody. You could be 'feeling'
Rogue looked at him a moment and her mouth hardened. "Ah haven't
never touched you. Yet."
"Oh." He sank back in the sofa cushions, stunned, as if a kitten he'd
been teasing suddenly turned into a tiger.
"Ah've only ever touched just three people," she went on. "Logan,
that Magneto man, and David back home, and Ah know it's him. It's
"And what does Logan feel like, Rogue?" Xavier asked again.
"Cactus?" Scott suggested brightly.
Xavier gritted his teeth and was about to give that young man the
mental equivalent of a good, strong, tweak on the ear, but Rogue was
"Y'all ever eat a peach?" she suddenly asked the room at large. "Ah
mean a really ripe peach, still firm but just this side of goin' bad?
All prickly and bristly on the outside, but inside it's sooooo sweet."
Xavier saw the image in her mind. "With a tough, hard pit for a
"That's it!" Rogue turned to him in delight. "That's him. That's
Logan. Prickly, sweet, and tough all at once."
Jean laughed. "That's Logan, all right! What does Magneto feel like?"
The girl shuddered. "That Magneto man He's cold. Cold as ice. But
like ice in your hand that starts burnin' and hurtin', it's so cold."
Xavier felt a surge of pity. Erik, has it come to this? he wondered.
No warmth of humanity, just fire and ice? He glanced up, realizing
Storm had asked a question.
"David?" Rogue smiled to herself. "Soft as a baby's bottom, gentle as
a rain of rose petals."
Storm gave a sigh of pleasure. "I'd like to meet somebody like that.
Enjoy the quiet life."
Scott snorted. "Good luck finding it around here! So you feel Logan,"
he turned to Rogue and got back to the matter at hand, "and you think
he's both hurt and in trouble. How do you know? What's different?"
Rogue's face crumpled and she twisted her fingers. "It's like It's
like when Ah first touched him . . . Each time when Ah first touched
him he's like the peach, firm and sweet and all, but then the longer
Ah touch him the peach goes all squishy, squashy and even that tough
old pit gets mushy and it's like Ah can almost reach through
him . . . And and it's getting' like that now. And Ah think he needs
He was drowning in a sea of pain. It was agony to breathe, to think,
to dream . . . He had almost succeeded in blanking out thought,
replacing it with obedience and endurance. Endurance also hurt, but
to a lesser degree. It was a cooler fire. However, the dreams
continued to seethe and boil in his brain and each breath scalded his
"Come, my boy"
The quietly spoken words seared him like a splatter of hot grease.
Boy flinched, his eyes skewing over to the Man and a sudden blaze of
fear threatened to consume him.
Another test. A test that he would fail like those he had failed
countless times before, and then as punishmentthe burning. But
though he knew the foreordained outcome, it was impossible to disobey
the Man. If ever he had attempted such foolishness before, the memory
of it had long since been charred to ash.
He made to rise and found that he had been standing in the corner the
Man allotted him, so he shambled toward the gray-haired figure
slowly, mechanically. The Man did not like him to move quickly except
when he fought the dreams. He shuffled to a stop, head bowed, docile
before the Man, and stared at the dirty white floor tiles.
"Look at me."
In panic his eyes flicked up, shot away, slowly returned to focus on
the long, unforgiving face. He blinked repeatedly, trembling with
terror inside. Had he done wrong? It was so hard at times to remember
what the Man wanted of him.
But the other merely studied him with his habitual frown, then
circled him so that Boy did not know whether to stand still or turn
also in order to 'look' at the Man as ordered. Indecisive, for the
wrong choice would result in further pain, he remained motionless,
hunched, still trying to determine what to do when the Man once more
The Man was smiling at his creation. In the warmth of his maker's
approval the creature felt a knot of tension in his chest slip loose,
just a little, and he ventured to take a deep, relieved breath. The
air immediately stuck in his throat at the Man's next words.
"Are you ready?" Without waiting for an answer, the Man went over to
the console with its knobs and dials and flashing lights.
The trapped air hissed from between Boy's clenched teeth like a blast
of steam and claws shot out of his fists. He crouched, eyes darting
around the room. It was the dreams again. He hadn't killed them after
all. But where were they?
There! Lurking in the dark, as always. He sprang at them, roaring,
slashing. The young man with the red glasses, the older man in the
chair, the two women, the girl with the white streak in her
hair . . . He attacked them one after the other, cutting, hewing.
They trembled when his blades sheared through them, shimmering like
disturbed reflections in water, then they steadied and were whole
once more. So he must attack again, and again, and again, and
He halted in mid-stroke, remained that way, panting, sweat streaming
down his body, waiting for the command to continue. But when that did
not immediately come the dread that always smoldered in his gut burst
into flame and he tasted acid bile on his tongue.
"Sorry . . . I'm sorry. Let me try again. I can be faster. Please!"
"You did fine," said the Man over his shoulder. He was busy at the
Table, arranging the binders and setting out the instruments. "Just a
few minor adjustments. Sheathe your claws and come lie down."
Please. Please. The word flitted around inside his skull like a
trapped bird searching in vain for escape. But the claws slid home
and his feet obediently took him to the Table. He lay down and
watched the Man light the torch. Please . . .