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Fic: The Road Away From Heartache 4/15 (X2, Scott/Rogue, various)

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  • princesstwilite1
    Detailed warnings, notes, and disclaimers in chapter one. Rating: NC-17 (eventually) A/N: Thanks for waiting on this, guys. It WAS a bit, wasn t it? Well,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 11, 2003
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      Detailed warnings, notes, and disclaimers in chapter one.

      Rating: NC-17 (eventually)

      A/N: Thanks for waiting on this, guys. It WAS a bit, wasn't it? Well,
      there were extenuating circumstances due to the content in this
      chapter - well, to be blunt, it sucked. I hope it doesn't now! :)
      thanks for all the reviews. The next chapter will be out MUCH quicker.

      Beta Readers: A.J., Laura, and Alex Dollard. You guys are great for
      putting up with my `artistic' temperament. And ya know, when I
      disappear. Thanks.

      The Road Away From Heartache
      Chapter Four (4/15)
      By Princess Twilite

      Scott spent his afternoon in the Danger Room, moving through
      simulation after simulation until his stomach muscles throbbed and
      his arms ached for a break.

      Afterwards, he sat on the stairs outside the room and drank
      heavily from the bottle of water he had brought with him. The water
      twisted its way down his throat, cooling off the dry, throbbing edges
      of his exhaustion.

      He sat there for a while, wearing loose shorts and a shirt
      with its sleeves cut off, letting the sweat soak into him. Usually,
      he would have been in the shower by now, cleaning up and dressing in
      the proper attire for dinner. Usually, but not today. His shoelaces
      were beginning to come undone as he tapped his foot to the offbeat of
      his heart. Tearing the label from the bottle of water, he stared
      absently at the wall.

      `Lighten up,' he could hear Jean admonishing. `It's not the
      end of the world. Look at ya, you're doing okay.'

      "Am I?" he whispered.

      The stairwell where he rested, breath slow and even, was
      dark, layered in shadows. Every time he tore another piece of the
      label away, the ripping sound flattened against the walls. It could
      have been heard down the hallway, if anyone was listening. But Scott
      was alone, thighs burning from the workout, hair wet with

      He closed his eyes on a sigh as the last bit of label fell
      onto the step where his feet were tapping to that beat no one but he
      himself could hear.

      * * * *

      Rogue helped him plan the ceremony, though they hadn't set a
      date to hold it yet. Scott felt a little guilty, dragging her around
      with him everywhere, when she could be out with her friends or
      boyfriend, doing her homework, or any number of things she might want
      to actually do. But she wasn't complaining, had in fact offered her
      assistance, so he wasn't going to look the gift horse in the mouth.
      Things were taken away far too quickly to regret having them around
      when they were there.

      Last night, they had sat around the fire in the living room
      with Bobby and Ororo, speaking for a long time about meaningless
      things that made them laugh. He had smiled softly at the way they
      looked together, Rogue and Bobby, sitting at the end of the couch
      with her head in his lap. The reflection of the flame had danced
      across her face as she fell asleep there, watching the television
      flicker at a distance, with some old sitcom on TV Land.

      Bobby had carefully disengaged himself from her clinging
      grip. She'd grumbled and shifted in her sleep, snorting softly. Ororo
      had laughed quietly from her perch in the comfiest chair. Bobby
      mimicked the sound, shifting her up into his arms, cradling her like
      a child and struggling a little with her weight.

      "Do you need some help?" Scott had asked, standing and
      flattening out the wrinkles in his pants with his palms. Bobby had
      turned, his back to the fire, light glinting over his shoulders as he

      "No," the boy had said in a slightly strained voice, moving
      Rogue until she was in a better position in his arms. "She's a
      handful, but I think I can take care of her."

      A soft, bittersweet pang had burst inside Scott's chest as
      Bobby turned away, Rogue in tow, her legs hanging over his forearm,
      head on his shoulder. He watched them go, a wistful burn in his
      heart. He felt the urge to call after them, but restrained himself.

      `You better,' he had thought. `Because if you don't... if
      you don't take care of her with everything inside of you, you might
      not get another chance. And then, I'll have to kill you.'

      "Are you okay?" Ororo had asked, in that calm, knowing
      voice of hers. Scott forced himself to turn away from the departing
      couple, facing her stiffly, spine erect.

      "I'm fine," he'd replied. Absolutely fine.

      "Not everyone comes to a bad end," she had said, and that
      was that.

      Returning to the present, Scott brought out a small box
      that he had placed at the top of his closet. It was deceptively light
      for something that held items of such importance to him. He took a
      seat across from Rogue on the floor, crossing his legs as she did.
      After a moment of hesitancy, he lifted the cover from the cardboard
      box. Inside were all the pictures of Jean that he had. A hard knot
      lodged in his throat as he carefully pressed his index finger against
      one photograph, at the top, a little dusty from storage.

      In the photo, she was standing on the top step in front of
      the mansion with her arms spread open wide like she might leap and
      fly at any moment. There was a wide grin on her face, hair spilling
      down around her cheeks in thick waves.

      Laughter, hers and his own, echoed hauntingly through his

      Silently, feeling a dull throb in his heart, Scott handed
      the photograph to Rogue, who was staring at him raptly. She took it
      in her gloved hand and looked at it for a long time, while he waited
      for her reaction. The muted glow from the lamp washed over the side
      of her hair, turning it a luminescent shade of red.

      "She's so beautiful," Rogue whispered, a moment later,
      lifting her eyes to his face. He felt his cheeks tighten in something
      like a smile.

      "That she is," Scott replied, gaze on the picture in her
      hand. "I'd... almost forgotten."

      "Yeah," he heard her say softly, near his cheek. And then
      Rogue's arms were around his neck and he was pressing his forehead
      into her shoulder, letting her hold onto him. The scent of her was
      sweet and comforting. And God, he needed to cry, needed to know that
      someone was still alive. To know that for a moment, just a moment,
      things were okay.

      The box of photographs sat between them, filled with
      memories of Jean Grey, her beautiful smile, and the way she just...

      "I loved her so much," he said into Rogue's ear while she
      kept her arms banded tight around him, trying to take the hurt away.

      "You still do." Southern-accent lilting over the words,
      making the ache go away.

      "Thank you." Again. He was always thanking her.

      "For?" So many things.

      "I once said you gave me something back. I just didn't know
      what it was."

      "What then?"

      "I think I can live without her."

      "Don't thank me for that."


      He wanted to say more, even began to. "Rogue," he
      whispered, when his tears were dry and itchy on his face, but she
      made small sounds in her throat like her muscles were cramping up.
      She groaned when he pulled back, releasing her, falling back onto her
      butt on the floor with a heavy thump. The hem of her dress tipped up
      at her ankles, and she reached down to rub her calves as if they'd
      gotten sore.

      Scott felt briefly ashamed, picking at the carpet, stroking
      his fingers along the edge of the box. Like a child who had held onto
      his mother in that shaky time of adolescence when it was embarrassing
      to and his buddies would rib him for it later on.

      "Sorry," she said, flashing him a grin. "I'm not very good
      at hugging. My muscles think it's a work out or something."

      "Thank you," he told her, ignoring her dodging statement.

      The smile dropped from her face and she turned, ever so
      slightly, the lamplight catching on the harsh, forever-defensive line
      of her cheek. "I keep telling you to stop thanking me."

      "And I keep telling you to stop apologizing."

      She frowned, the type he had seen only a few times before,
      when she'd just come to the mansion, skittish and afraid. The type of
      frown that made him wonder about the woman behind it, about why she
      was so afraid of caring for anything, and about why she bothered
      trying to comfort him when she couldn't seem to comfort herself.

      "It's okay to live without her," Rogue murmured to him, out
      of the blue. He found his eyes drifting over her face in surprise.
      How had she known what he was thinking, what he had wanted to tell

      She handed him another picture from the box. "She would
      have wanted it that way, I think. You happy. Large and in charge. I
      think she would have wanted you to go on like always."

      "And if that's not possible?" he asked, balancing the
      photograph on the flat of his palm.

      Rogue tilted her head to the side, considering him.
      Abruptly, she stood up, the skirt of her dress falling down around
      her stocking-covered legs. He looked up her body, at her face, down
      turned in his direction.

      "You know, Scott," she began, and she was smiling again. "I
      think just about anything is possible. Now, let's get the hell out of
      this suffocating room and get some fresh air."

      Scott nodded, pressing his hand to the rough carpet as he
      raised himself to his feet, tucking the photograph into his jeans
      pocket. He gestured for Rogue to lead the way, and she did in that
      flouncing way of hers, ponytail of streaked hair bouncing against her
      neck as she walked away. He followed behind her, leaving the box
      behind him, for another day when he would pick out the photographs
      for the bouquet.

      A bouquet of Jean. Photographs gathered together; all the
      memories of her forever with each other. Scott was sure that if she
      were still with them, she would laugh at him and call him a romantic
      at heart, even as he denied it.

      * * * *

      That night, Xavier's voice pulled him from sleep. Scott
      blinked his eyes open, staring at the wall on the opposite side of
      the room while he tried to adjust himself with where he was and why
      Xavier seemed to be speaking directly into his ear.

      Or, perhaps, in his mind.

      `Scott, come to my office. Immediately, please.'

      He shot up in bed like a steel rod had been shoved into
      his spine, tossing the covers from his body and making a half-asleep
      beeline for the closet.

      `Coming,' Scott replied.

      Less than ten minutes later, he strode into Xavier's
      office, fully dressed. Charles Xavier was behind his desk, familiar
      lines dug deeply into the skin of his face, lines that meant only one
      thing: trouble. Logan, sprawled out in the chair near the door,
      looked up when Scott entered.

      "Cyke," he grunted.

      Scott only scowled at him, too tired to deal with it. His
      eyes moved back to Xavier, even as Ororo and Nightcrawler came
      through the door behind him.

      "There's a situation," Xavier stated, his palms flat
      against the surface of his desk.

      "What kind of situation?" Scott inquired, taking a seat.
      There was a migraine, just behind his eyes. He was used to it, but
      the throbbing irritated like an itch, beating in time with his heart,
      every rush of blood sending another jolt of pain to his brain.

      Ororo sat down beside Scott, looking more awake than anyone
      had a right to at this god-awful hour. Her hair was tied back in a
      messy knot, as if she'd tried to pull it all back at the last minute,
      and had given up. She nodded at Scott in greeting. He smiled tightly
      in return.

      "It's in New York City," Xavier began, pushing his wheel
      chair away from his desk a few inches, picking up the remote sitting
      on its surface and pointing it toward the television. The television
      clicked on; a flash of light on the large screen, a spray of static
      and then a live news feed came through. "I intercepted this from a
      local news station. They decided not to run the story because it
      reflected badly on humans in this fight. However, I believe they've
      been... *convinced* to back politely away from broadcasting a
      situation such as this one. There are still powers in the government
      that don't wish for viewers to begin questioning who the right side
      actually is. We currently have the President in our corner, but that
      can change at any moment."

      They all became quiet as the feed played.

      A helicopter light shone over a building. The camera
      shifted over the city, quickly, moving back to the reporter's face.
      She was blonde, young, and looked like she was about to be sick. Wind
      kicked up her hair, made it hard to hear her.

      "It looks like they've got a little girl trapped inside the
      building..." The feed became a little scratchy, warbling. And then it
      turned clear again. "She appears to be a mutant, and officials are
      saying that this is a hate crime against the mutant population,
      payback for their recent attacks against humans." The camera moved,
      focusing on the city below again. The building loomed, broken and
      shadowy, only lit by the yellow, circling light. The reporter
      continued to talk. "There are a few squad cars outside of the
      building, but this wasn't designated as a high priority case." The
      reporter stopped talking, and mumbling could be heard, a male's voice
      too quiet to pick up. "What?" She asked. The camera panned back to
      her. She looked tense, pale around the eyes. "Oh... Shit! So why are
      we even filming? Cut feed. Now!"

      The television screen went to snow. Buzzing.

      "Fuck," Logan grunted from his chair, reaching up to scrub
      fingers through his wild hair. "They're just gonna let those fuckers
      do what they want to that little girl?"

      Xavier looked at him calmly. "They don't understand it, not
      quite as we do. They see us as the threat, Logan. It's going to take
      time for that to change."

      Scott simmered silently, staring at the dead screen. No,
      they didn't understand. They would never understand that there was
      really no difference between them. There were hearts in both humans
      and mutants, hearts that burned.

      "That's shit, Chuck," Logan muttered, stalking the rug.
      Caged. The room was too small for him. Scott smiled narrowly at his
      cursing, agreeing, but said nothing. Logan continued to rant. "They
      don't give a fuck about who they hurt. They just want to be the
      superior race. No matter what the cost. No matter how many little
      girls get caught up in the crossfire."

      "You're generalizing," Xavier replied, tapping his fingers
      together. "And now's not the time. This brings me to another
      interesting topic that I've been concerned about. When are you

      Logan paused, as if struck. He looked around him for a
      second, toward Scott, before shaking his head. "I don't know."

      "If you're going to be a part of this team," Xavier began
      seriously, leaning forward with an intense expression on his tired
      face. "You're going to have to do better than that. I need to know if
      we can depend on you, at least for a time. Otherwise, it isn't smart
      to bring you in on yet another mission. We can't grow to count on you
      if you're not going to be there."

      Scott kept his eye on Logan, watching the way the man
      swayed a little on his feet uncertainly, eyes darting around like
      he'd been trapped. The light snapped over his face, casting him in a
      pink glow. For a brief moment, Scott was amused. What would the big
      bad Wolverine say if Scott was to tell him that through his eyes, he
      always wore red and pink? The humor immediately fled when Logan
      suddenly stilled, his muscles going rock solid.

      "I'm not ready to leave yet," Logan said, deadly serious,
      in a gravely voice. "I'm not finished with..."


      Xavier simply nodded and gestured for Logan to take his
      seat again. When he did, his eyes briefly caught on Scott's face and
      a flicker of understanding passed between them. It was uneasy, a
      common thread of real pain, and it had Scott looking away, his mouth
      turned down.

      "How much time do we have?" Ororo asked, bringing the
      meeting back around to the topic at hand.

      Xavier rubbed a weary hand over his cheek. "We need to take
      action as soon as possible. The kidnappers are extremists vying for
      attention. They want to be heard. And I doubt they'll be happy with
      the lack of exposure. They want everyone to see who has the power; to
      expose their group nationally, if not internationally."

      "When they realize that they're not being covered by any
      syndicated news broadcast, it's going to set them off," Scott put in,
      feeling sick at heart. He pushed it aside. "We need to get in there
      and get her out before they react."

      "I agree," Ororo said. She stood. "We'll discuss details on
      the way."

      Xavier nodded at them. As Scott stood, he noticed the
      professor shifting uneasily in his wheel cheer, as if he couldn't get
      into a comfortable position. It struck him how aged the Professor had
      become these past months, how much he had seen compared to *any* of
      them. Swallowing hard, Scott forced himself to look away and followed
      the other X-Men out of the room.

      * * * *

      The jet hovered over the abandoned apartment building for a
      moment. Ororo turned off the lights, careful not to alert the
      attention of the few policemen at the bottom. There needn't be any
      casualties. Scott unbuckled the seat belt from around his chest and
      waist, moving to stand beside Logan as Ororo brought them down onto
      the roof with barely a sound.

      "Nicely done," he commented, tapping her on the shoulder.
      She looked up at him, smiling past a slice of hair. Jean had once
      told him that her hair was white as snow and just as beautiful. Scott
      had a vague recollection of white, but his mind had clouded over the
      years and he couldn't quite grasp it. He only knew that sometimes
      Ororo looked like a chilly statue standing all alone in the wind,
      never crumbling but never touched. Jean had been her friend, but
      sometimes mentioned that Ororo never seemed to speak of herself, like
      she only existed in the now.

      Scott stared out the windshield, where electricity polluted
      the night sky, making it impossible to see the stars. More than one
      police siren blared in the city air; a constant wail that no one
      heard anymore, far too used to the sound.

      Nightcrawler moved up beside them, looking at Logan in that
      intensely innocent way only he could pull off. "Are we ready?"

      Logan lifted a bushy eyebrow. "Let's go."

      On the roof of the building, they moved silently, like
      shadows attaching themselves to the blanket of darkness. Scott, at
      the front, walked slowly across the stone surface as they approached
      the edge of the roof. Puffs of smoke rose from the many chimneys
      throughout the city, fighting off the nighttime chill. He pressed his
      hand against the side of the chimney next to him, leaning over the
      ledge a little to determine if the police had changed position yet.
      They hadn't. They remained lounging against the hood of their
      vehicle, one smoking a cigarette, the other polishing his handgun as
      if he was bored. They were talking, low and fast.

      "Bastards," Logan muttered suddenly, close to Scott's ear.

      "Shh," Scott hissed in response, watching as the smoking
      officer tossed his cigarette away from himself, the tip glowing in
      the night, stumbling into the grass and dying out. Somewhere, another
      siren blared, angry and wet with violence.

      "They can't fucking hear us," Logan replied, now leaning
      over the ledge as well. "They're complaining about the
      assignment. `Protecting some mutant brat.' I'd like to cut him a new
      hole to shit out of."

      "Keep your mind on the situation," Scott warned, turning
      to face the older man. "Going in angry and getting us all killed
      isn't going to help the little girl, is it?"

      Logan snorted derisively, but he backed away from the edge,
      leaning his face up to the sky and flaring his nostrils like he
      smelled something.

      "Blood," he said, voice crackling with disgust. Shook his
      head. "This city stinks."

      Ororo and Nightcrawler waited near the arched glass
      ceiling on the other side of the roof. It was in the shape of a
      triangle, missing a few panes in some spots, completely broken in
      others, from an era when the building had been on the A-list, before
      it had been taken over by termites and squatters. Scott moved swiftly
      over to them, nodding to let them know that the cops were occupied
      enough not to give them any trouble.

      "I don't hear anyone there," Logan stated, grabbing the
      rope he had on his back. He attached it to the stone roof with its
      clawed weight, tossing the slack down through one of the missing
      panels of the glass ceiling.

      Scott secured his gloves and grabbed onto the durable rope,
      before quickly and silently dropping down into the room, immediately
      enveloped by the darkness. Only shards of light broke through the
      cracks of the boarded up windows, breaking over the odd pieces of
      furniture squatters had managed to gather into the vacated apartment.
      Touching a button on the side of his visor, he turned on the night
      vision component, peering around the room.

      And old mattress sat in the corner, stained with either
      piss or booze - by the smell of it, possibly both. Scott's lips
      turned down in distaste as he continued to look around at the trash
      littered room. Spotting no movement or sign that anyone had been
      there in the last few hours, he gave a tug to the rope, signaling the
      others that it was safe to come down. Moving to the side, he waited
      for them to drop down, one by one.

      Ororo also had on her night vision goggles as she came down,
      but Logan and Nightcrawler, able as they were to rely on their
      senses, had no use for them. Old dead dust tickled Scott's nostrils
      as they slid like silk across the floorboards, knowing that time was
      short before it became obvious to the extremists that their message
      wasn't being heard. The door leading out of the apartment was half-
      open, held that way by an empty bottle.

      Scott slipped out first, shoulders close to the wall,
      glancing both ways down the long hallway. No one else waited there,
      just the slivers of a streetlight peering in through yet another
      broken, dirty window and an unattached door leaning against the wall
      he had his back against. Motioning to the others, Scott pushed
      forward. They moved cautiously down the hallway, feet barely making a
      whisper of a sound as they touched the hardwood floor, stained with
      things Scott didn't even want to try to imagine.

      Behind him, he heard a vague hiss from Logan. And
      then, "The smell of blood is getting stronger."

      Scott swallowed, continuing on. They reached the door to
      the stairway within seconds. Maybe it was instincts, or maybe it was
      just deductive reasoning, but his stomach balled up into a knot of
      flesh as he opened the door and slid into the stairwell. He took the
      steps quicker than he should have; his hands slipped over the metal
      railing with a squeak as he descended, and his breath began to
      ricochet in his chest.

      Logan was right behind him, breathing down his neck.

      As they headed toward the second floor, a list of names and
      profiles worked its way through Scott's brain like snapshots. Paula
      Jasc, a 41 year old single mother with thin eyes and weak knees,
      pissed about losing her husband to a pretty young mutant. She's the
      group's passion. Michael Laney, a twenty-something pretentious author
      who wants nothing more than to write about something that no one else
      ever has before, and if that meant he had to kill a few mutants, so
      be it. His face is perfect. He's the group's brain. Eric Adams, the
      thirty-three year old fetishist, who longs for something real to sink
      his knife into. He doesn't care if it's mutant or human. He's the
      group's muscle. Then there is Aaron Lawrence, a fifty-year-old woman
      with a metal jaw. A mutant attacked and killed her children twenty-
      three years ago. She has never forgotten. Aaron... Aaron is the

      Short of breath, Scott reached the bottom level before the

      "Cyke!" Logan hissed from behind, but Scott had already
      rushed through the door. Ororo and Nightcrawler were still on the
      stairs of the second floor as Logan followed Scott's rapidly
      disappearing figure, running down the hallway on light feet that
      barely touched the floor. It was a trick all mutants must necessarily
      learn: run light, run fast, and run quietly.

      `This is what I am,' Scott thought as he neared the room
      Xavier had pinpointed as the extremists' location. `This is what I
      do. I have to do this.'

      Logan grabbed him before he could barrel into the room and
      completely wreck the plan. Scott struggled violently, muttering
      against the hand covering his mouth and kneeing the older man in the
      gut. Logan heaved a breath and dragged Scott back a few steps,
      shaking him roughly to get his attention.

      "I understand, all right?" he growled at Scott.

      `He said there was blood...' Scott thought, trying to pull
      himself together. He focused his eyes on the man before him, seeing
      the urgency there.

      "You understand what, exactly?" Scott whispered. "Yeah, you
      loved her. But I had her and now she's not there. I can take it. I
      can. But I can't fail at anything else."

      Logan shook his head, releasing him. "Smarten the fuck up,
      is all I'm saying. You're the leader here - think about that before
      you go losing control like a rookie. Think about what you just said
      to me on the roof."

      Scott nodded and pressed his back against the wall, taking
      a few deep breaths. He saw Ororo and Nightcrawler approaching over
      the line of Logan's shoulder and straightened, slightly ashamed that
      he'd almost revealed them all.

      Ororo shook her head, making it clear that now wasn't the
      time for apologies.

      The plan was to distract the group by kicking in the door
      while Nightcrawler crawled up the wall, onto the ceiling and got the
      position of the girl while Logan, Ororo, and Scott rushed her
      captors. That was the plan. Very simple and broad, leaving a lot of
      room for the details to be handled as they happened. Of course,
      strategic maneuver could only account for the opponent's tactics to a
      certain degree. Some things no one could predict.

      Scott kept thinking about the blood Logan scented in the
      air. It could be a dead rat or a dog. It could be that one of the
      four were wounded. Hell, it could be a dead body in an alley near by.
      He took a deep breath as the other three X-Men lined up beside him,
      and then he slammed his foot hard against the door. It flew open,
      into an apartment lit by a single dirty bulb.

      There was a muttered `fuck' in a raspy, cigarette-thick
      voice. Eric Adams leapt from his folding chair with a snarl, eyes a
      little wild as he lunged at them with a streak of metal. Nightcrawler
      had already vanished from sight, a puff of dark air that skittered
      across the ceiling like a ball of gas in the night sky. Eric looked
      like a bloodthirsty vampire, teeth shining beneath the light, knife
      snaking out to slice off a piece of his skin. Scott ducked out of the
      way just in time, dodging the larger man even as Logan's hand popped
      out of nowhere, slamming into Eric's jaw, knocking him backwards.

      There wasn't time for thank you. There were possibly three
      other people in the room. They couldn't afford to be distracted by a
      single one and let the others pounce on them like a litter of baby
      sharks. Scott spotted Paula struggling with Ororo at the other side
      of the room, decking the mutant square in the nose. Ororo's head
      bounced off the side of a table as she lost her balance and fell, but
      she recovered immediately, sweeping her leg out and taking Paula's
      feet out from beneath her. The woman banged her face off the floor as
      she twisted mid-air to try and catch herself.

      "Bitch," Paula cursed through bloody teeth, before
      attacking again.

      Ororo smiled, a slice of her lips upward that spoke of the
      deadly thrill a fight brought out in her. Logan jerked around,
      growling, when Eric managed to get to his feet after being hit so
      hard with Logan's metal fist.

      `He has that covered,' Scott thought, looking around for
      Michael and Anna. His eyes stopped their search at the sight of a
      figure leaning in the corner, casually smoking a cigarette, gaze
      flickering over the violent scene before him. `He wants to write
      something that means something. Something that no one else has dared
      to write before. He doesn't care what he has to do to reach that

      Their eyes caught, held.

      Michael pushed himself off the wall, propelling himself
      forward with the momentum of a boot heel against the plaster. The
      sound of the fight around them filled Scott's ears as he let the man
      approach him. Flesh hitting flesh. Grunts coming from a deep place
      inside the belly. Logan's growls were distinct among the others'

      "So, you're a mutant?" Michael asked in a quiet, civilized

      "Looks like," Scott replied, muscles tense as he eyed the
      other man.

      Michael nodded, watching him with curiosity. "How's that
      working out for you?"

      Scott sighed, balling up his left hand into the fist and
      striking the man smartly across the jaw. Michael put up his hands as
      if to stop him, but his movements were too slow.

      "About like that," Scott replied when Michael backed away,
      wiping blood from his mouth. "Anything else you'd like to know?"

      Michael shook his head, and attacked awkwardly, slamming
      his shoulder into Scott's stomach and driving him back against the
      small television in the middle of the room. He fell over it, taking
      it down and smashing it against the floor as he went. Its crash
      sounded loudly through the room, and Scott saw Logan look over
      briefly from his brawl as Scott rolled out of the way of Michael's
      boot heel when the man tried to slam it down on his face.

      Scott reared up at the man above him, driving his fist
      into Michael's solar plexus, knocking him back. Michael was winded,
      gasping for breath as Scott rose to his feet easily, slamming his
      foot into the back of the man's leg, knocking him to his knees where
      he was met with a fist in the face. It knocked him out like a light.

      Scott smiled, thin like a blade and glanced over his
      shoulder. Ororo was wiping a spot of blood off of her cheek where
      Paula had drawn blood with her nails. She nodded at Scott. Logan
      removed the knife from his shoulder, wincing a little as he gestured
      to the unconscious man at his feet.

      "I'll tie them up," Logan said, and Ororo tossed him the
      rope she'd had hooked to her belt. He snapped it in his hands, taking
      obvious pleasure in the task set before him. "Play with them a little
      before we hand `em over to the cops."

      Scott looked around uneasily. "Where's Aaron?"

      Ororo went to his side and shook her head, a line appearing
      between her eyebrows. She frowned and scanned the room. "I was
      wondering the same thing about Kurt."

      Crying. Someone was crying.

      Shadows moved on the wall, catching Scott's eye. The wall
      was near the kitchen, where light burned brightly. Lips firmed, he
      gestured for her to follow him. They picked their way through the
      debris the fight had caused, carefully approaching the archway. As
      they edged closer, the sound of crying became progressively louder.

      Apprehension wormed nauseatingly into his gut. Scott peered
      around the edge of the wall cautiously, scanning the room for Aaron.
      What he saw stopped him dead and he stared blankly at the sight
      before him. Nightcrawler was kneeling on the floor, rocking back and
      forth at the knees of the little girl.

      The dead little girl.

      `The scent of blood is getting stronger,' Logan had said.

      Ororo gasped in horror at his side and Scott closed his eyes.

      The child was dead and Aaron was nowhere in sight.

      * * * *

      A creeping sickness took up residence in his throat.

      Scott and Logan entered the mansion through the garage door,
      walking quietly through the gas-scented room. Logan walked well of
      course, with his healing power. Scott watched him bitterly as he
      limped up the cement steps and wiped a streak of blood from the cut
      on his forehead. It still bled, but the flow had slowed
      significantly. Didn't matter. His insides felt like they'd been
      mangled by something other than violence, an image of the child's
      body weighing there like a stone floating to the bottom of the ocean.

      The last thing he expected when stepping inside the halls of
      the mansion was to have three of his students waiting by the door,
      staring at him with wide, nervous eyes. Scott's gaze immediately
      landed on Rogue who stood shivering in her nightgown, arms wrapped
      around herself. The lamplight sat on her shoulders, shrouding her in
      a gentle cloak. Bobby and Jubilee stood at her side with extremely
      weary expressions, like they could fall asleep on their feet at any

      "Shit," Logan muttered. "Ain't you supposed to be in bed?"

      Rogue's eyes flicked toward him, and then landed back on
      Scott. "We were, but I heard the jet leaving and I kinda woke J. and
      Bobby up to wait for you guys."

      Scott moved further into the hallway, closing the door firmly
      behind him. Ororo and Kurt had taken an alternate route, through the
      garden and up the winding stairs that led to the adults' rooms. If
      the look on Rogue's face was any indication, he should have done the

      "Everything is okay now," Scott told her quietly. "You can go
      back to bed."

      Okay? Right. He could tell her just how okay things were not.
      He could tell her what it was like place a careful finger on the hand
      of a small girl whose mutant power had been electricity living within
      her skin, yet not feel any spark at all. He could tell her that this
      battle between mutant and humans might never stop. They might never
      accept mutants as human beings with something extra, as a natural
      step in evolution.

      "What happened?" Rogue asked Logan, ignoring Scott's
      suggestion. "I woke up and I felt sick. I only ever feel that sick
      when something really bad has happened."

      Logan shrugged, glancing back at Scott. A pained frown wrinkled
      his forehead.

      "It's nothing you need to know," Scott said, swallowing. He
      could still see the little girl's lifeless eyes, staring at him
      accusingly from her mute body. "This isn't for you."

      Her lips parted. Bobby's fingers closed over her shoulder,
      squeezing, but she pushed him away. "Don't TELL me this isn't for me.
      I've been working my ass off to try and prove to you guys that I'm
      ready to learn. I've been on missions before. I've been at the center
      of a lot of this crap, so you can't just tell me that I don't need to
      know. Not when I wake up sick at heart at the idea of not going with
      you guys. Look at you! You're bleeding! Am I supposed to always sit
      here and wait for the next class to start when I could be there
      helping? I've had a taste of it. I want it."

      "Hey," Bobby whispered near her ear. "Calm down."


      Scott was about to speak when Ororo suddenly appeared at
      the top of the stairs. "Rogue," she said, quietly. Rogue froze,
      before turning slowly, looking over Bobby's shoulder at the white-
      haired woman staring reproachfully down at her. Scott saw the guilt
      swim onto Rogue's face, like a cloud blunting her features.

      "This isn't the time," Ororo stated, descending the steps
      carefully, as if she was skating across ice. Smooth. Always so
      precise. "You have no idea how much this isn't the time."

      "I'm sick of not being able to do anything!" Rogue moved out
      of Bobby's reach as he once again tried to calm her. She turned her
      back on the men and Jubilee, staring desperately at the woman before
      her. Scott could only lean wearily against the wall and rub the skin
      on his forehead, where beneath the flesh and bone, a headache brewed.

      "You must have patience," Ororo said, reaching the bottom
      level and striding toward Rogue. She took the girl's shoulders into
      her hands, holding her tightly.

      Rogue stared up at the older woman. Her voice was agonized
      when she spoke. "I hate not helping."

      Ororo considered her for a long moment. It was a filtered
      silence that not all of them could hear. Only a few knew what it
      meant. Scott felt vomit rise in the back of his throat. Bobby and
      Jubilee looked as if someone had just shaken them awake, both
      watching the back of Rogue's head as if she had changed before their
      very eyes. Maybe she had. The way she stood suggested determination.
      He recognized the fight in her that had once been in him.

      It had faded. Everything faded eventually.

      "Then you *will* do something," Ororo stated simply. "You
      will begin your training so that you are prepared when we need you
      down the road. You are still young, so there is time for proper
      lessons. Now go to bed. We'll speak further on this tomorrow once
      I've had my beauty sleep."

      Scott's chin dropped against his chest as his heart nearly

      "No," he growled abruptly, breaking the silence.

      Logan arched a bushy eyebrow in interest, lips swiveling to
      the side of his face like: `shit, did tight-ass just growl?' Ororo's
      eyes traveled over Rogue's head, landing on Scott's face as her
      fingers fell away from Rogue's twisting form.

      "Only over my dead body is she ever going out there again,"
      he said, glaring at Ororo from behind his visor. A part of him wished
      he could just take it off so that for once they understood the force
      within him, that he was alive and burning like the rest of them, even
      if he had to control it constantly. He moved to take Rogue's face
      between his palms, protected from her deadly skin by the gloves he
      wore. She looked shocked, slack-jawed as he spoke intensely. "It's
      not safe. I'm not about to lose everyone I care about to this cause.
      I don't even know if I *believe* in it anymore. So just... no."

      He released Rogue and she stumbled back, grabbing onto
      Bobby's forearm. A horrible weight settled in the room, taut and
      obese. He couldn't take it. Feeling trapped, Scott turned and strode
      down the hallway, away from them and their insane suggestions. Rogue
      wasn't about to put her life on the line every day. She had enough
      problems in her life as it was, simply by being what she was.

      Behind him, a curtain lifted up. It caught in the wind of
      the open window, like a hand waving goodbye.

      * * * *

      Scott found her standing in the center of his bedroom when
      he returned. He pulled up short, holding the edge of the door. Rogue
      turned, wearing a robe around her nightgown, hair fanning out around
      her shoulders. She looked tired and beautiful and strong. He wondered
      if she'd been waiting there for long.

      "What are you doing here?" He didn't mean to bark it, but
      couldn't keep his words gentle.

      "I want to talk to you," she said seriously. Her arms
      wrapped around her chest, gloved fingers catching the broken pieces
      of light from the moon. "Logan told me what happened tonight."

      Scott shut the door as he pushed himself into the room. His
      lips turned up sardonically and the back of his throat hurt. "Of
      course he did."

      "What's that supposed to mean?"

      He shook his head. "Nothing. It means nothing."

      "Scott..." Her accent softened the hard sound of his name.
      He ignored her, moving to his desk, shuffling through the papers its
      surface. Busy work. She came up behind him, touching his arm briefly.

      He turned his head to look at her. "She wasn't even five,"
      he whispered. "She didn't do anything to them and they mutilated her."


      Scott laughed mirthlessly, shoulders shaking. He wasn't
      sure the shaking was going to stop. It just kept coming on in waves
      until he felt Rogue press her cheek against him, between his shoulder
      blades. She sighed, gripping his arms.

      "Fuck," he whispered, closing his eyes. "You don't need to
      know this."

      She stepped away from him and Scott turned, taking a seat
      on the corner of his desk. The tension already radiated off of her.

      "You keep saying that," she muttered.

      "I mean it every time," Scott replied, clenching his fists
      together and setting them in his lap. It was all he could do not to
      shake her until she had a change of heart and realized what a stupid
      decision it was to want something that could only hurt her. "I don't
      want you to be a part of this."

      Rogue's lips thinned. "And I don't think I can give ya
      that. I'm sorry."

      "Yeah," Scott said, chin dropping against his chest. He
      stared down at his hands, twisted together, aching to his
      fingertips. "Everyone is sorry. All the time."

      "I can't make things better for you by not going after what
      I want," Rogue cut in, gently but firm. A burst of sardonic laughter
      broke from his chest and he looked up at her bemused expression.

      "You want this life, Rogue? So very badly? I suppose it's
      the wonderful pay that attracts you. Oh wait, we don't get paid.
      Maybe it's the travel that intrigues you. Well, traveling to exotic
      locations where everyone tries to kill you is so much fun I can see

      "Stop it."

      "What?" Scott's face remained blank. "You don't want all
      that? I can't imagine why you wouldn't."

      "I said stop," she hissed. "I want to help people, okay? I
      want a place, somewhere to fit. Maybe you can't understand that but
      don't take what happened tonight out on me."

      Scott opened his mouth to argue, but nothing came out.
      Heaving a lumbering sigh, he slid off the desk and approached
      her. "What makes you want it so badly? What makes you think it will
      be where you fit? Tell me that much."

      Rogue shrugged, pulling back a little. Her eyebrows drew
      together. "I've taken from people," she explained, shifting uneasily
      beneath the robe, like she hadn't revealed this to anyone
      before. "That's all I've done. My skin takes and takes."

      "It's not your fault, Rogue."

      "I *know* that." She grimaced in frustration. "That's not
      the point. Ever since I got here, I've watched ya'll go off on one
      mission after another. Doing something to make things different. I've
      seen you fight for something good. You have something to believe in.
      And I believe in it too. I want to fight for it. I want to give
      something for once."


      "No. I do, Scott. Nothing you say is gonna change it, so
      don't even try talking me out of it. Ororo said she was going to talk
      to Charles... I mean, Professor Xavier tomorrow."

      At her slip, Scott's eyebrows shot up on his forehead. Was
      Magneto still in her head?

      "I can't just sit around and watch like everyone else,"
      she continued hurriedly, like she was afraid he was going to stop
      her. "That's not who I am. At least, that's not who I am today. You
      never know about tomorrow."

      Her attempt at humor fell flat. Lips trembling, she
      dropped her arms from around her waist, lifting them in the air in a
      half-shrug, as if to say: `that's all folks.'

      Scott closed his eyes for a moment, taking it all in. She
      sounded sincere, like she needed this. In his heart, he knew that
      maybe she did. When she'd last helped them in the White House, that
      single time that was meant to stay a single time, she'd walked a
      little bit taller, stood a little more firmly on the ground. The
      uniform had suited her, but he'd been too distracted to pay much
      attention to the new way she'd held herself.

      "Fine." The word was weighted. "Okay, Rogue. You win. If
      you want to start training to become an X-Man, then I'm not going to
      stop you."

      Rogue's face brightened by degrees. First her mouth turned
      up, and then her lashes shielded the pleasure in her eyes. A moment
      later, she rushed toward him, throwing her arms around his neck. He
      sighed and patted her shoulder awkwardly. "Just one condition." When
      she pulled away to face him, he smiled. "I oversee your training."

      * * * *

      Everyone had a picture of Jean in their hands. Rogue had
      passed them out at the beginning of the ceremony, before people began
      taking their seats in the fold-up chairs lined up evenly across the
      lawn. Scott remained distant to everything around them, finding
      himself distracted by the glare of the sun, a crackling red flame
      dancing over the lenses of his glasses.

      The grass was freshly cut, the flowers clipped and placed
      near the enlarged photo of Jean set up in front of the chairs.

      "Not too many," Rogue had warned. "The pictures will take
      their place. Her beauty and life should be surrounding us, not dead

      She'd been right.

      In a daze, Scott faced everyone. A wind gently ruffled the
      trees over their heads, lifting his hair from his forehead, tangling
      in it like fingers from the past.

      "I keep trying to understand," he told them, clutching a
      photograph of Jean in his pocket. "I keep trying to figure out why
      she did what she did. Why she sacrificed her life to spare us when
      she had so much left to live for. I guess that's what heroes do and
      that's what Jean has always been. A hero. My hero."

      Scott paused, looking around at the faces staring back at
      him, all emotion intent on Jean's memory. His heart gave a hard
      lurch, but he shoved himself on. "Sadly, her parents couldn't make it
      to this ceremony, but Jean was the type of person to take what she
      had and make the best of it. She found ways to be happy in the little
      things, like the fact that we all have each other here, thanks to
      Xavier. We're not alone in the world. I can only hope, that wherever
      she is now, that's one thing Jean isn't. Alone."

      Rogue stood off to the side, holding a photograph to her
      heart as if she was lost. She had a sundress on, the type that
      slapped against the skin with every caress of the wind. It was the
      type of dress Jean would have adored. Tears blinded him, as surely as
      the sun that broke through the trees and pressed through his

      "I think that's Jean's biggest gift to the world.
      Connection. Of the mind and of the heart. She taught us how to be
      with each other."

      * * * *

      Scott scrubbed his hands with anti-bacterial soap, getting
      the skin clean so that he could go in and eat dinner with everyone.
      Rogue had commented on his anal-retentive tendencies as he'd excused
      himself from the table, and for a moment, he'd seen Logan in her
      eyes. It'd been a little unnerving. The girl had more personalities
      in her than a schizophrenic.

      He flexed his fingers, scrubbing in the soft place between
      them. His hands felt raw, like he'd scraped all the skin off and
      stood with throbbing muscles in their place.

      A constant ache throbbed in the back of his throat, as if
      someone had pinched the skin there and refused to let go. Spitefully,
      he scrubbed the skin a little harder, before forcing himself to
      carefully fold the cloth and set it back onto the sink. He turned the
      cold water on, placing his hands underneath the spray and watching
      the suds wash away as the water hit them.

      The soap washed down the drain, swirling, vanishing, red.

      `Jean, you know you don't have to do those dishes.'

      `I'm not busy. I might as well.'

      `Is it because of your nightmares? They're getting worse.'

      `No. No, Scott. I'm fine.'

      A throat being cleared behind him had his shoulders
      tensing, the memory ripped from his head. He wasn't surprised to find
      Logan leaning against the wall with a beer dangling from his fingers.

      "You okay?" Logan grunted, obviously ill at ease. A muscle
      beneath his eye twitched every few seconds, like he didn't really
      want to be there.

      Scott shrugged, just as uncomfortable. "As good as can be
      expected." He paused, looking the other man over. He looked a little
      worse for the wear, as if he hadn't been sleeping lately. Dark
      circles sat beneath his eyes, thick and heavy. "You?"

      Logan smiled without humor, a baring of teeth. "About the

      Scott nodded and reached for a towel, drying his hands.
      Logan strolled over next to him and opened the refrigerator door,
      pulling out another bottle. A cool slab of air slapped against
      Scott's shins, making him shiver.

      He eyed the bottle Logan held out to him suspiciously.

      "C'mon Cyke," Logan said, swinging the beer bottle in his
      grip, trying to entice. "You look like you need to loosen up a bit."

      "Is that your polite way of saying I'm a tightass?"

      Logan snorted. "Geeze, man, I ain't ever polite and don't
      go telling people I am. Besides, if I wanted to call you a tightass,
      I'd call you a tight ass... ya tightass."

      With a sigh, Scott took the beer. "Thanks."


      They stood together in silence for a few moments, taking
      pulls from the bottles. Scott grimaced a little at the taste of the
      beer. Logan noticed and flicked an amused eyebrow at him. Scott only
      shook his head and took another sip, letting the bitter liquid wash
      away the ache in his throat.

      He could still smell the freshly cut grass that had
      surrounded him as he gave his speech on Jean's life. The picture of
      her weighed heavily in the back pocket of his suit pants.

      "So, what is it?" Scott asked when he could no longer
      contain himself.

      Logan sighed, eyeballing the bottle before setting it aside
      with a click as it touched the porcelain sink. "That obvious? Huh. I
      guess I just wanted to tell you... that I'm... well, that I'm...

      Scott crossed his arms over his chest when Logan scrubbed
      his hands over his face, digging fingers through all that hair.

      "You're sorry for something," he deduced.

      Logan shrugged, looking distinctly irritated. "I'm just
      saying that when... when Jean was around, I might have acted in ways
      I shouldn't have."

      Scott's stomach clenched. Fuck. "Doesn't matter now."

      "No." Logan frowned heavily, showing some of his true age
      in the lines around his mouth. "No. I guess it doesn't, does it?"

      * * * *

      The next morning, when he rolled over, he knew even before
      he opened his eyes that Jean wasn't beside him. Scott stretched his
      arm out over her side of the bed, pressing his cheek into the pillow,
      shutting his eyes.

      "I miss you, Jean."

      Time moved and the clock ticked, but he didn't hear it. The
      seconds and minutes passing weren't loud to him. He wasn't running to
      keep up with them. No, Scott had already fallen back asleep, holding
      what had been her pillow to his heart.

      Goodbye could be a quiet thing.

      End Chapter Four (4/15)

      To all those reading and reviewing, damn I love you.
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