Okay, so I'll tell you how I felt about Risty. Flabbergasted.
I awoke to find all our limbs tangled up together. It was a mite awkward, just like when I found her "love bite" on my face the morning after Mystique tried to give her some new airholes - only twice as bad since I knew it was my fault this time instead of hers. Me waking up woke her up, and we had a laugh about how messy our hair was, and we started grabbing up clothes to go wash and get dressed... and then we remembered. Like, at the same time, we both stopped what we were doing and gaped at each other, shocked that our thoughts hadn't gone back to it the minute we left dreamland. But the looks on each other's faces were so comical that we chuckled again, and then we put it out of our minds, acting like it never happened.
When we were together, anyway. The minute I was in the shower all by my lonesome, I curled up into a ball on the tile floor. Everything felt so insane. That was the biggest problem, I think: that it wasn't good or bad. If it'd only felt good, I'd be all glowy, singing bubblegummy Mandy Moore songs as I washed up or something. If it'd been bad, I'd toss my cookies and then get over it. Stuck in that limbo, however... that was aggravating. How was I supposed to deal with this on top of all my other problems?
Breakfast was uncomfortable, but only a little. Once we got the conversation rolling along, we kinda brushed the weirdness under the rug. Nobody else noticed anything, which was fine by me. Kurt seemed like he was in the dumps, though, so I spent an extra minute trying to cheer him up afterward.
"That's the bright side, I guess," he told me privately once we'd put our plates away. "Now I have a sister."
"You bet, Fuzzy One," I laughed, patting him on the shoulder. "Blood may be thicker than water, but adoption papers are legally-binding. You're my little bro for good."
"Little?" he blustered. "But I am the firstborn, and you vere adopted later!"
"But you're shorter than me. I ain't callin' you 'big' anything, shrimp."
He swatted my hand off playfully, and I tousled his hair. I was still doing it when he teleported away, so I stumbled and almost fell. From across the kitchen came a fit of laughter, but by the time I turned toward it I was alone again. Little jerk.
Alone again. My brain flew back to that night like a bird migrating north once winter was over, eager to be home. Did I screw up so bad that it was gonna be like this forever? I didn't know, but I knew I didn't want to think about it right then. School would've been a great distraction if it wasn't Saturday. Why is it the days you want to have off you gotta go, and the days you don't you have free? Stupid educational system.
So the next best thing was the gym, where I went and stayed for hours, working off nervous energy in the form of pummeling the heavy bag. Scott and Evan dropped in and kept me company for a spell while they worked out, and I contented myself watching Scott flex and move, thinking about how cute his "serious face" is. And that brought on a whole other set of problems; I kinda had a thing for him, once upon a time. Didn't I still like him? Then what was all that craziness about with Risty?
On the other hand, Scott was beyond my reach for two very solid reasons: first that he had Jean, and second that we couldn't even hold hands if I wasn't wearing gloves. Nevermind anything more, uh, fun. It'd almost be underhanded of me to trap somebody in a relationship where no touching is allowed. Reminds me of those guys who buy classic cars, get them fully restored, then don't let anybody drive them or ride in them – including themselves. What's the goddamn point?
I couldn't look at Scott anymore. It was just too depressing. Time to head to the Danger Room; maybe if Logan put me through my paces again, that might be distracting enough that I could set my brain to standby for a few hours.
"Excuse me, Professor?"
The follicularly-challenged benefactor of the X-Men raised his eyebrows when I entered, looking away from the document Ororo Munroe was holding out for him to notarize. "Miss Wilde. A lovely surprise."
"Don't give me that, Sir," I chided shyly as I edged past the door. This was using up my pitiful stores of courage at an alarming rate, so I tried to be just clever enough that it wouldn't take too long to work around to my goal. "I'm sure you puzzled out that it was me from a kilometer away."
He smiled genially. "I did, of course, but I am loath to toot my own horn."
"Right. Er, if this is a bad time-"
"No, no, we were just wrapping up. Come in, sit. What's on your mind?"
"Don't you know already?"
He sighed, exchanging a weary glance with Storm as she stifled a laugh. "No one seems to believe me when I tell them I resist thought-dropping without permission unless it is absolutely necessary. I should hand out informative brochures..."
"I'll just go and see what Hank is up to," Ororo said, patting me on the shoulder as she swept from the War Room.
"Very well, then," he said as I sat across the table from him, fidgeting with the fabric of my khaki cargo pants. "What's the matter?"
"It's... I wondered if you could help me with something." When he didn't reply, merely waiting with his hands folded under his chin, I grimaced and ventured onward. "I wondered if you had the ability to... to set up walls within my mind. To block out bits."
"The bits of Mystique?" I squirmed, which he assumed was an affirmative response. "It shouldn't take a psychic to figure that one out. I'm sure she's the person you care for least in this world, and being plagued by her memories must be..."
One of his eyebrows went up as he smiled. "If you say so. But are you sure this is what you want?"
"You can do it, then?" I asked, heart leaping.
"Possibly. It's a very tricky process, and doesn't always succeed. Most often, it's down to the ability of the subject, how well they can resist accessing the information. I'll warn you now that it's near impossible for me to wipe memories, destroying them and making it so they never come back. But I have had some luck with putting them behind a 'wall', as you put it."
"Then let's give it a go. Come on, then, I'm chomping at the bit!"
"Hold on," he chortled, brandishing a biro at me. "It's not a race against time, is it?"
"You don't understand," I pleaded with him, gripping the edge of the cold Perspex table as I leaned in. "Every day, I deal with this cropping up, this bilge of hers, and... and alright, it's been dead useful once or twice, but mostly it makes me feel like I'm not myself! Like there's been an insurrection in the halls of my noggin and that trollop has deposed me, the rightful ruler! I want control back! I want my life back!"
"Yes," he said slowly, thinking hard with a hand at his chin. He did that often, I recall. "I can concede that if Magnus, for example, were to forcefully fill my head with his experiences, I might feel a bit out of sorts for a while. And I don't want to begin to ponder what it was like for you in those days when the two of you shared a corporeal form."
"You really don't," I assured him.
"Even so, Lazarus, I wonder if this might not be about something else? Just a hunch, but... is it Rogue?"
My eyes narrowed. "You poking around in there right now, Chuckie?"
"No," he told me mildly. "But, in past instances when I found it necessary to probe Mystique's mind, I found something unsettling. Though I can't be certain why, she has an unnaturally strong deference for your friend's well-being." His gaze was penetrating, but I don't think he was using his powers on me. Yet. "Care to shed any light on that?"
"I'm surprised you haven't already sorted it, but... no, that's for her to share, not me. I will tell you that Rogue is fully apprised now; she knows what I know."
He nodded, resigned. "It is a personal matter, I take it? Then I'll keep my theories to myself, and I won't go fishing for answers in your borrowed memories. But I'd appreciate it if you encouraged Rogue to come to me if it looks like something that may pose a threat in the future."
"Got it, Chief."
"Meanwhile, am I to guess that these memories of Mystique's are upsetting Rogue somehow? Due to you knowing them, I mean."
I tried, valiantly, to keep my cheeks from blossoming with scarlet. I failed. "S-something like that."
Suddenly, Charles Xavier looked surprised and slightly embarrassed; I can only assume, given that he's said as much to me on one other occasion, that I was broadcasting such a pungent anxiety and bashfulness that it must have been like erecting a billboard right in front of him that depicted (how can I make this sound less grotesque?) my fluctuating feelings. In the time since that day, I've learned that the man was no stranger to the ways of the heart in his own life, but I don't think he often discussed such things with his subordinates. Eventually, he coughed into his fist, then gave me a would-be casual smile. "Right. Well, then, perhaps I will take some time to contemplate the situation. We could certainly use the data to our advantage should Mystique renege on her promises, but... it's not worth it if it causes you, ah, discomfort on a daily basis."
"I'd appreciate it, Sir." Now all I desired was to melt into a puddle and seep through the emergency floor drains into the sewer. It would have been preferable to having this become public knowledge before I even understood what any of it meant (or didn't mean?).
"You needn't worry," he told me kindly, correctly interpreting my mortification. "I'll treat this matter with the utmost sensitivity."
Since I couldn't verbally respond anymore, I nodded sheepishly. How awful I felt! That was one of only a few times I sincerely wished Logan hadn't confiscated my stash...
As you'd probably expect, the novelty of having my ass whooped in the Danger Room wore off pretty darn quick, so I decided – since I was trying to avoid confronting Risty as long as I could – to take a little tour of the Institute grounds. Lots of stuff was still in bad shape, but we'd cleared almost all of the debris away before we started rebuilding, so the lawns were green and healthy, most of the trees stood proud and tall, and the tennis and basketball courts looked awesome. Too bad for us the swimming pool was a complete wreck. It was pretty unanimous that we hold off on fixing that until after the mansion itself was whole again, even though it sucked not to have it to help take our minds off living in a glorified storm cellar.
The last thing I was expecting to find out there was Kitty Pryde sitting on one of the dozen or so benches, bawling into her hands.
"Hey, what's wrong?"
"Oh!" she gasped, wiping her eyes on the back of her sleeves so fast I was worried she might gouge them out. "Rogue, you- what's up?"
"Notta lotta. What's up with you?"
"Oh, the usual," she said brightly as her voice warbled a little, trying to smile. "I'm admiring the weather. Isn't it nice out?"
She didn't look up at me – just kept staring out at the woods, slipping her feet in and out of her sandals a few times, biting her lip so hard I thought she was gonna draw blood. Then she whispered, "God... what am I supposed to do now? Without him..."
Lance Alvers. Of course this was about that deadbeat. After yo-yoing for a second about whether or not to stick my nose in where it don't belong, I sat down next to her and put my hand on her back. "His loss. You know that, doncha? He's the one who screwed up, going back to those guys. Siding with them over you."
"It felt so good being on the same team," she burst out angrily, new tears dripping down the tracks the old ones had made on her face. "We could be together, and we didn't have to worry about who was betraying what, or any of that junk. Then Mystique decides to pull them back to the Moron-hood House, and they cause all that nastiness at the board meeting... why can't he just grow a brain and think for himself?"
"He ain't the brightest crayon in the box," I sighed.
A tiny bit of indignation shot through her voice. "That's not true, though. He's smarter than he acts, he just... lets himself get talked into stuff. Into acting like a jerk. I really thought he cared about me enough to shape up."
It was hard not to grimace. "Obviously not, if he could let you go for those bozos."
"Rogue..." She swallowed thickly, leaning against me for support. "We were good together, when it was just us. And then all this other crap gets in the way, and... and that stupid blue skank won't stay out of it. This messed-up world refuses to let us date. Would it be so wrong for us to be a couple? Would it really?"
"Yeah," I laughed bitterly. "Kinda get where you're coming from right now."
Her throat made that high-pitched whine thing that happens when you're trying not to cry out loud. "I knew you'd understand, 'cause of Risty. Like, it should be no biggie that he's from the other side of the tracks or whatever. Because he cared about me, and I cared about him. And instead, all this other lameness matters way more than it should, y'know?"
"What did you say?"
She sat up and blinked at me. "Huh? I said... what?"
"About Risty. What did you mean?"
"Oh..." Then, like flipping a switch, she was totally horrified. "Omigod, did I just do that? Forget I said anything, I so didn't mean-"
"Wait a second." I scooted a few inches away, hands shaking, mouth going dry as a gulch. "Just what in the Sam Hill do you think is going on with me and Risty?"
"Nothing, I swear!"
"What would even make you think that?" I shouted.
"Rogue, don't be mad!" She whimpered slightly, knowing she had stepped in it but good this time. "I... okay, you're really, really not gonna like this..."
I shoved myself away from the bench, folding my arms and showing her my profile. "Go on, spill it! I'm all ears."
"It was a few nights ago," she began slowly, hands pulling at her hair in her panicked state. "I... I got up to get a glass of water, and I phased back into my bedroom so I wouldn't wake Jean by opening the door... and then I realized I was in the wrong room. You know those cubbyholes all look the same. I was turning around to go, and..."
The hesitation wasn't making me any less furious. Neither was how rosy her cheeks had got. "...and I saw you guys in bed together. You were, uh, pretty close. Like, superglued."
"So what makes you think we're... we're anything?" I demanded, and not too quietly. "Just b-because we were sleeping in the same bunk doesn't m-mean squat!"
"I know, I know," she pleaded with me, trying to calm me down. "But... I dunno, I've never cuddled with any of my friends like that. Not... like that."
"Oh my freaking GOD," I bleated, sinking to my knees.
"Rogue!" she gasped, reaching out to me. "Are you okay?"
"No, I'm not okay!" It took me a few more seconds to be able to say anything else. "Does anybody else know?"
"Come on, don't say it like I can't keep a secret!"
"Well, you can't!" I accused. "You couldn't keep Risty's secret before when it was about her powers, so how'm I s'posed to believe-"
"I would never! Rogue, I don't know, I- you're both girls, and I don't really get it, but I... seeing you guys together, it felt so dirty that I did, and I tried to tell myself that it was just cold in there or something..."
I sensed the "but" coming, so I said it first. "But?"
"But how you're reacting makes it way harder to turn a blind eye, y'know?" She frowned at me, still crying like a baby. "I'm really sorry, Rogue, I didn't mean to... to out you or anything!"
"Whoa, back up there, sister!" I snapped, almost snarling at the poor dimwit. "I'm not in anything that I could be outed from! And there's nothing going on – nothing! Do you hear me?"
"Rogue, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to see it!" Then she took another breath and stopped her face from leaking, but she still looked miserable. "Your secret's safe. I swear it. I swear it, like, on a stack of Bibles. I won't tell anybody."
"There's nothing to tell!" I insisted.
"Okay, whatever you say!"
I stood, wobbled slightly, and started to walk away past the bench. I got right next to it before I tripped over a loose paving stone and fell sideways, clutching at the seat for support. Kitty automatically reached out and phased me through it, and I found myself lying on the bench, curled up in her lap and shaking so bad I might as well be having a seizure.
"I don't wanna do this," I whispered into her abdomen. "I ain't got the stomach for it, I'm in over my head! She's my best friend, it's... and how can it be right if we're girls? I don't like girls, I never have, and never even wanted to try – I still don't! So why now? Why is this happening to me now?"
It sounded like her heart was in her throat when she cautiously asked, "So you... so she likes-likes you?"
"No," I said with a bleak, powerless laugh. "I got turned down. Lame part is, I didn't even realize I was coming on to her 'til after she gave me the brush-off."
"Don't do that!" I pleaded, voice cracking as I shook. "Don't look at me like I'm some, some whore! I didn't know I was doing it, I swear, I got no clue why I did! Just that..." She waited for me to continue, didn't speak, didn't move a muscle. "Kitty... what if she's the only other human being on the whole planet I can touch without killing them? Am I... am I stuck with Risty being my only option, when she d-doesn't even want me?"
"Oh, Rogue..." she sobbed – and this sob was a whole other kind. The kind where she suddenly knew; where her understanding overpowered her confusion. From where I was lying, I could almost hear the sound of her guts twisting on my behalf. "God, I had no idea you were going through all this... because of your- and you can't- this sucks so bad!"
Okay, so Shadowcat's not much for eloquence... but she makes up for it in compassion. For a long while we cried, both of us, and hard. Our collectively broken hearts pretty much bled all over each other. I felt her hand stroking my hair, her other one clutching my arm so tight she probably drew welts, and I knew she really gave a flying fig. That's more than I can say for most folks. She probably doesn't know how fiercely I needed it, and how deeply I appreciated it after. Sure, most of the other X-Men would have tried to comfort me a little, or said whatever they could think of to cheer me up, and they sincerely would have cared. But only that airheaded girl (whom I used to resent sharing a room with with great gusto) had it in her to just hold me and cry with me, making my pain her own. Maybe she was returning the favor from back when she and Lance took their relationship a step further than she was prepared to go, or maybe not, but that's a minor detail to me. It was an amazing courtesy that I've never forgotten, and probably never will.
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