It is the sixth day of Rogue's summer vacation, and she is having an absolutely wonderful time.
She's on the back of Logan's motorcycle (well, Scott's really, but nobody seems to remember that anymore, except maybe for Scott) as they zoom along the highway, headed north. North means cooler weather, more comfort in the long pants and long gloves she has to wear. And after growing up in Mississippi, Rogue finds the mere fact of chilly weather in summertime novel and thrilling.
Her arms are locked around his waist. His hair whips in the wind. When he made her put on the helmet, she protested that it wasn't fair. Logan said when her skull could regenerate itself in three minutes, then she could go without too.
Rogue's power isn't the kind that protects her from much. But it doesn't matter, as long as she can lean back, relax, and let Logan steer her toward the horizon.
Bobby will be spending the summer at the mansion for the first time. All the kids are welcome to, if they need to or even just want to, but he always used to go back to Boston.
"You could call them," Rogue said, sprawled on her belly across the bed that had belonged to John. "Just say hey. Find out what they're thinking."
"What if my brother answers?" Bobby never looked away from the window; he just kept staring down at the younger kids playing on the lawn. "He could call the cops again. They could trace the call."
His family knows where he is. But Rogue knew, listening to Bobby that afternoon, he wasn't worried about being traced. He didn't want to find out what his family was thinking. It was better not to know. Not to know more, anyway.
Rogue's family is freaked by her mutant status, but they wouldn't call the cops on her, no way. They were relieved when she called and said she was okay, that she'd found a school and friends. They send money, ATM-crisp $20 bills folded in Hallmark cards; if they offered to pay tuition to Professor X, neither he nor they have ever mentioned it. But they didn't ask her home for summer. The neighbors, they said, and Rogue still doesn't know if they're trying to protect her or themselves.
So at first Rogue thought she and Bobby would have the whole summer to themselves, with only a few kids around and no classes. All the crappy things that had happened - John's leaving and Dr. Grey's death and Bobby's family being evil - all of that would seem farther away in the summertime. In the days they could lay out on the grass, listen to music, watch movies when it was raining. In the nights - well, as long as John wasn't using his half of the room anymore, seemed like a shame not to find out just how much petting you could do through your clothes.
They could have fun. They could forget.
But this summer is not a good time to be at the school. All the kids feel awful about Dr. Grey, but the teachers feel worse, and their sorrow casts a pall over everyone and everything. Mr. Summers never comes out of the garage; he builds machines, takes them apart, and rebuilds them again, day in and day out, like if he doesn't have to look at anything but metal, it will be all right. Bobby watches junky reruns on TV for hours on end: Gilligan's Island, The Jeffersons, Full House. Nobody laughs out loud in the hallways anymore. Nobody runs down the steps. Sometimes Rogue thinks Professor X's grief is leaking from his mind, traveling up through Cerebro into them all.
Rogue feels bad too. She wakes up from dreams of drowning, gasping for breath, still remembering what it's like to claw desperately through water in a futile quest for air. But she doesn't want to dwell on it. She wants to think about something else, anything else. It's summertime, after all.
So when Logan suggested they take a road trip, she jumped at the chance. Rogue didn't ask why he wanted to leave for a while; she figures the reasons are pretty obvious. If Professor X or any of the others had questions about it, they kept those to themselves. She figures it's really nobody else's business anyway.
Their days have already fallen into a rhythm.
She wakes up first in the morning and wanders from her motel room to his door and beats on it, as loudly and obnoxiously as she can. It takes a while to wake Logan up.
Within half an hour, they're at the nearest diner. Logan has eggs and bacon and coffee. She has waffles and orange juice. They speculate about the other patrons, make up stories about where they're from and what they're like. In truth, mostly Rogue does this - either Logan doesn't have a lot of imagination or (more likely, Rogue thinks) he doesn't use it like that. But he laughs when she makes up the stories, so she keeps doing it.
Then they take off and drive.
Oh, sure, every few hours they stop - there are always sights to see, interesting stuff to eat. Yesterday she had her first lobster roll, clambering on the rocks by the beach while Logan hung back and smoked. Every afternoon she dutifully writes a postcard to Bobby, describing where they are at that moment. She could never explain to him that the driving is what's fun.
Because when they're driving, they're going so fast that it's like flying. And her arms are wrapped around Logan, and her legs are flush against him, and the low fast thrumming of the engine pulses through her, and while Rogue accepts that she will never make love with Logan or anyone else, this is about as close as she's going to get.
She can be with Logan like that, for hours and hours on end, and he won't break. He steers them on. He's in control.
They ride for hours after dark, because it's more intense that way - there's nothing in the world but them. But finally, when Rogue's tired enough that she can't deny it anymore, she squeezes his shoulder. Next town, Logan gets them two motel rooms. She stays in his room as long as he'll let her; she likes seeing him strip down to his T-shirt, making him mad by reading verses out of the Gideon Bible that describe them as sinners. The second night, she took his dog tags from the bedside table and held them up to the light of the cheap plastic lamp.
"Been wonderin' when you'd take those back," Logan said.
Rogue had meant to do no such thing, but immediately she slipped them around her neck. They haven't left her body since. The metal gets hot in the shower.
They decide to cross into Canada at Niagara Falls. This decision is reached through a lot of nagging (her), a lot of protesting (him), and finally just a little whining (her again.)
"We can go on the Maid of the Mist," she says. "And we have to stay at a motel with one of those blinky neon signs. And champagne-glass bathtubs."
"You didn't know they had those?"
"If I did, I forgot it with the rest. Mercifully."
"They're for honeymooners," Rogue says, and then wants to drop dead on the spot. She always saw those tubs in the cheap ads at the back of the Bride's Magazine issues she read during study hall back in Meridian. But she'd never actually thought about being in one with a guy - it seemed more tacky than sexy.
Too late, though: She said it, and now she's thought about being in one with this guy, and she's flushing hot all over.
All Logan says is, "We can look for a neon sign."
The sign that beckons them in the end is for the Wonder of the World Motel - red letters that flash on and off, aquamarine water that pulses in a rhythm meant to look like the falls. For the first time, they get adjoining rooms. Rogue's excited until it hits her that the closest she gets to intimacy with Logan or any other guy is an unlocked door.
Still - they sit up and talk until late. Or they sit up while she talks and Logan listens. For a guy so rotten with words, he's good at listening to them - really listening. Most people aren't. He stretches his legs across the bed, and around about midnight, she rests her sock-clad feet on his thighs. When he brushes his fingertips over her ankle, Rogue loses her place in the anecdote she was telling and has to start over.
When he finally makes his way to the door between their bedroom walls, she sing-songs, "Sweet dreams."
He looks over his shoulder at her, and the expression in his eyes makes her go warm and soft inside. "You dream too," he says. Rogue wonders if they just promised to dream about each other.
But that's stupid. Crazy, even. Nothing can ever happen with her and Logan: end of story. It's different with Bobby, somehow; he's a sweet boy, a gentle boy - well, a boy. And it's not the age difference with her and Logan, either; it's the age difference between Bobby and Logan that says it all. A boy might be content holding hands through gloves, touching bodies through clothes, rubbing off against each other in the back seat of one of Mr. Summers' cars. Logan is a man. A man wants a woman he can have sex with. That doesn't make him a bad person, Rogue thinks; she has thought it through enough to know it would be a problem for her, too, if the tables were turned. It's just how things are.
Maybe he just likes the fact that she likes him. Rogue's not sure how she feels about that. Sometimes it seems skanky; other times, it seems sweet. She slips off her long white glove so she can wrap her fingers around the dog tags, feel the metal.
Before Rogue goes to sleep, she writes a postcard to Bobby. The hotel has them in the rooms, picture after picture of the falls; the cards are old enough that the water has faded to an unnatural baby-blue. She doesn't mention the adjoining rooms.
The Niagara Falls diner is overpriced, and the food's awful, even by the modest standards of highway eating. "Tourist trap," Logan pronounces, staring down at the eggs as though they'd just insulted his hair. Then he stares at her. "What are you laughing about?"
She describes the image of the eggs insulting his hair, and he threatens to put out his next cigar on her waffles. It's a good morning.
They negotiated the trip on the Maid of the Mist before they ever decided on the detour; Logan thinks it's a waste of time, but he's willing to humor her. Rogue is willing to be humored if it means she finally gets to see the falls. Besides, she also gets to see Logan put on the ridiculous blue plastic poncho everyone has to wear. "I look like a moron in this thing," he says.
"Everyone looks like morons," Rogue says, gesturing at the rest of the boat, where people are all griping about the ponchos in a dozen different languages.
As the boat negotiates its way through the turbulent river to the falls, the guide yells through the microphone about people who have thrown themselves over the falls in inner tubes, in crates, in barrels. Most people who do that die. At first Rogue thinks those people are crazy, hurling themselves into something deadly just for a thrill; then she remembers last night, and Logan looking over his shoulder at her, and believes that perhaps she knows just how those people felt.
The Maid of the Mist people are smart; they don't angle the boat so that you can see the Falls, REALLY see them, until you're right there. Then they turn it, and -
Water, thousands upon millions upon billions of gallons of it, roaring down, pounding into the river, shaking the air. Rogue opens her eyes wide, and all the people in their blue ponchos yell the one word every language must share: "WOOOO!" Mist sprays against her cheeks, and she didn't know there was anything this beautiful and terrifying in the world.
"I told you," she laughs, yelling to be heard over the crowd. "I told you this would be worth it!"
Logan says nothing, and Rogue forces herself to glance away from the falls. It will be worth it to actually see wonder on Logan's face. But instead, his eyes are wide and his lips twisted in a grimace of pain. He is staring past her, past the falls, at something deep within his mind.
Oh, shit. Alkali Lake. The dam. The water.
How could she be so stupid? How could she not think of that? It wasn't that long ago, it was just a couple of months ago, and it's not like she's forgotten, even though -
--even though she's tried.
Rogue, struck dumb with guilt and unable to take any more pleasure in the falls, wraps her fingers around Logan's. He squeezes them so hard it hurts. They say nothing more during the rest of the cruise, while the tourists snap pictures and laugh and yell to each other in all their languages. She and Logan don't meet each other's eyes.
"I'm sorry," she says after they've thrown the ponchos away.
"Not your fault. Skip it."
They hurry past the souvenir shops; Rogue had intended to bargain for a T-shirt or a visor or something, but she doesn't want to remember that she ever came here. Bobby's postcards will just have to skip a day.
I'm sorry, Rogue repeats in her mind, but she's not speaking to Logan now. She's talking to Bobby, to Mr. Summers, to Professor X. When she saw their pain, all she wanted to do was run from it. Sometimes it feels like she's carrying around so much of other people's souls already - like she can't bear to carry any more. But that doesn't absolve her from being a decent person. If she has to bear more, well, that's just the way it is.
And she knows, too, that Logan has been doing the same thing. He has wrapped himself in the open road and anonymity and this - whatever it is between them - as his only protection against his grief for Jean Grey, the woman he never had, the woman he really loved.
The knowledge doesn't sting anymore, now that Dr. Grey's dead, and the last apology Rogue has is for her. Dr. Grey was a good woman, who fought hard for them, and she deserves to be mourned by everyone -- by Rogue and, though Mr. Summers might argue, by Logan too.
When they reach the motorcycle, Logan pauses, one fist atop the handlebars. He looks tired. It's an illusion - Logan's body doesn't tire the way most people's do - but Rogue understands that he can't face the idea of getting back on the road.
"I'll drive," she says.
He stares at her; if he hadn't been the one who taught her how to ride a motorcycle in the first place, she knows she'd be in for a hell of a fight. Instead, he just says, "You sure?"
"I can do it, Logan."
Maybe he understands what she's really trying to say. Maybe he's just grateful. For whatever reason, he brushes his fingers along her collarbone - the touch thrilling even through her shirt - until his hand closes around the dog tags. As Rogue holds her breath, he bows down and kisses them once, quickly.
Rogue feels blood rush to her cheeks, embarrassment and excitement and everything else all together. "I kept them safe for you," she blurts out, to have something to safe.
"You keep doing that, kid." The word "kid" never sounded better.
She slides on her helmet, takes her position and feels Logan settle in behind her. His arms wrap around her waist, and his legs are flush alongside hers. Logan's body is indestructible, and Rogue imagines for a moment that she has put on armor.
He rests his head against her shoulder. It's heavy from the metal they pumped into him, but Rogue likes the weight. "Ready?"
"Let's go," Logan says, and she turns the key in the ignition so that the motorcycle roars to life beneath her. Rogue steers them out of the parking lot, away from the falls. She drives back over the border into the U.S. again; without even asking, she knows that Logan's as ready as she is to head back home.
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