Rogue turned the door knob and stepped inside the room the Professor was using as an office. As she turned and closed the door behind her, she quickly took in the space around her. It was nicely furnished, though not nearly as richly appointed as his office at the mansion had been. Still, like the rest of the house it had a warm, comforting feel to it.
“Please,” Charles said, motioning to a rather cushy looking chair across from his desk. “Sit down, Rogue.”
She moved to take her seat and felt a somewhat awkward silence come over her as she contemplated where exactly she should begin. With what had happened in this world? With Wolverine’s behavior? With how to find a way home?
Charles sensed her inner turmoil and cleared his throat gently. “Would you like something to drink?”
“Got any bourbon?” She asked dryly, one corner of her mouth turned up in a smile.
“As a matter of fact,” Charles responded, an answering smile on his face as he motioned to a small wooden cabinet she hadn’t noticed just behind her.
“I always knew I liked you, Professor,” Rogue said as she stood up and retrieved a bottle of Hudson Baby Bourbon and two glasses. She set the glasses on the desk in front of the Professor and poured each of them two fingers. After handing him a glass, Rogue raised her own in salute, “Cheers.”
He nodded back with his own glass they each took their time inhaling the fragrant golden liquid in front of them. Rogue closed her eyes in bliss. The familiar scents of honey, vanilla, and oak met her and she slowly sipped at her glass, enjoying the smooth burn that warmed her belly.
After taking his own sip, Charles put down his glass and studied Rogue as she savored the drink in front of her.
“Rogue, I understand that after everything that’s happened, you must be overwhelmed.”
She snorted at this statement and looked up at him, one eyebrow slightly raised. “You might say that.”
“I want you to know, that whatever is in my power to help you with, I will certainly make every effort to assist you.”
“Professor…” she trailed off as she took another sip of bourbon. Questions and thoughts were whirling in her head and she closed her eyes briefly as she let out a sigh. “I don’t know where to start.”
He smiled kindly at her. “Usually, the simplest place to start is at the beginning. What is troubling you the most?”
“Wolverine,” she blurted out without thinking.
Charles frowned at this admission. He did his best to maintain his colleagues’ privacy, but he could tell she was conflicted about her thoughts regarding Logan. He could sense feelings of guilt, as well as the inner conflict she struggled with as she fought a burgeoning attraction. Charles knew all too easily Logan’s feelings about Rogue; he’d been projecting strongly since they retrieved Rogue from the ruined mansion yesterday. Logan was continuously fighting the Wolverine inside, who was howling and raging against his restraints, insistent that they claim their mate, whom they’d thought dead and gone. Charles could feel the effort it took Logan just to be under the same roof as Rogue without acting on Wolverine’s instincts, so he wasn’t surprised that Rogue had been experiencing some of Logan’s more intense feelings as a result.
“Yes,” he nodded sympathetically. “Wolverine is an - intense individual. When his Rogue died, it nearly destroyed him.”
Rogue inhaled sharply. She hadn’t known. Hadn’t really understood the depths of his feelings for the other Rogue.
Charles continued. “You must know, he blamed himself for her death. Though, of course there was nothing anybody could have done to prevent the tragedy that occurred at the mansion. Wolverine left us for a time afterward. So great was his pain at her loss that he was not safe around others. He had enough insight to remove himself from those that cared for him until he was able to restore his self-control. After some time, we were able to convince him to come back. Though,” Charles added as he paused to stake a sip. “ That in itself was not an easy undertaking.”
“Professor,” Rogue began.
“Please, Rogue. Call me Charles.”
Rogue hesitated. It seemed somehow disrespectful to call the Professor by his given name. She had never felt as though she’d earned the right to call him so. From her perspective, only his closest colleagues and friends called him Charles, and in her world she wouldn’t be so bold as to count herself amongst them.
“I insist, Rogue. Really, it seems odd to have you call me ‘Professor’ after your counterpart had called me Charles for so long.”
“Really? She called you Charles?” Rogue was surprised. Maybe this Rogue had a closer relationship to the Professor than she’d had with her own.
Charles nodded. “Yes, and you should as well.”
“Charles, then,” Rogue said as she lifted her bourbon glass to him and drank once more. He smiled warmly and took another sip from his own cup. Rogue moved to pour herself a refill before continuing.
“Can you give me any advice about how to deal with Wolverine? I understand that he and Rogue were together, and that I look just like her. It’s just - ,” Rogue hesitated, unsure how to say what she wanted to.
“You’re not her,” Charles suggested softly.
Rogue nodded and took another sip from her glass. “Yes. If things were different, maybe - no. I don’t know what I’m saying,” She mumbled into her glass. The warmth of the bourbon had spread to her limbs and she felt a little too relaxed to keep speaking about Wolverine. She might say something she would regret.
“Rogue. Wolverine would never force himself on you, nor would he hurt you in any way. He knows you are not the same as the Rogue he lost. But for him, instinct is quite a difficult thing to overcome. You are aware that Wolverine is a feral mutant, yes?”
Rogue jerked slightly in her chair. No, she hadn’t known. But she should have. She’d realized there was more to his mutation than he’d let on after their encounter last night on the balcony in the crisp autumn air. His heightened senses, the golden eyes, the claws. It all came together and she found herself appreciating the restraint he’d demonstrated. The only knowledge she had of feral mutants was of the Victor Creed of her own world. And while she was glad he was working with the X-Men, she had witnessed his animalistic side enough to know that he did little to contain his baser instincts. If Wolverine was a feral mutant, he had enormous self-control, a fact which she could only commend, given the amount of discipline required to keep her own mutation securely in check.
“Part of that inherent feral characteristic involves the man controlling his instincts. And in this case, his instincts insist that you are the same woman he lost. He is doing his best to battle that drive. I hope you will be patient with him as he works through it. But if it makes you uncomfortable to be around him, I can speak with him, see if he would be willing to leave for -”
“No!” Rogue interrupted, feeling guilty at the thought of Wolverine leaving his home because of her. Charles raised an eyebrow at the exclamation. “No,” she said again, more calmly this time. “That won’t be necessary, Prof-Charles, I mean. I don’t want him to have to leave because of me. I’ll deal.”
Charles observed her flushed cheeks and nodded kindly at her. “As you say.”
Rogue cleared her throat, eager to change the topic of conversation. She took another sip of the bourbon and her next question came easily to her lips. “What happened when the mansion was destroyed? Wolverine said the Friends of Humanity blew it up using military planes?”
Charles sighed deeply and raised his own glass to drink. “That, Rogue, is a very long story.”
She smiled and quirked one eyebrow up in amusement. “That’s what Kitty said.”
“While tardiness may be one Kitty’s faults, no one who knew her could possibly consider honesty among them.”
“Well put, Charles. Now, ‘usually, the simplest place to start is at the beginning,’” She quoted his earlier words to her and was relieved when he smiled at her, if a bit tiredly.
“Indeed. Well then. I hope you will forgive me, but when I briefly scanned your mind yesterday, I saw several differences between your world and this one. Differences which are important enough to go back further than you might think would be necessary to tell you what became of the mansion.” He paused, and glanced at Rogue for permission to continue.
She nodded and sat back in her chair, taking yet another sip of bourbon. She had a feeling that she was about to need it.
“Our worlds both have a common thorn in their side; the Friends of Humanity.”
Rogue couldn’t help the revulsion that ran through her body at the mention of the words. But she inhaled deeply as she replied, “Yes. Bastards.”
Charles nodded and continued. “Here, the Friends of Humanity took advantage of one of the more high-visibility near disasters involving mutants and began their slow, but eventual rise to power. It was an incident that involved your counterpart and Magneto that began it.”
Her body broke out in chills as she thought of this Rogue’s death. She took several more sips of bourbon as Charles explained the incident on Liberty Island in much greater detail than what Kitty had briefly gone over this morning in the kitchen. She found herself both enthralled and shaken by the story as he described the destruction of Magneto’s machine and her subsequent resurrection at the hands of Wolverine.
If what he and Kitty said was true, that meant her counterpart had absorbed Wolverine’s memories and thoughts, and it sounded as though, even a few of his more animalistic traits for a time. She wondered if she’d had claws for a time and wondered what it felt like if they came out. She shuddered at the thought and brought her attention back to the Professor.
“Now,” Charles said after a moment’s silence where he allowed Rogue to regain a bit of composure. “Are you familiar with the Mutant Liberation Front? In your world?”
Rogue thought for a moment, frowning. “Doesn’t ring any bells.”
“Well, here, the group recruited some of the more extremist followers of the Friends of Humanity to pose as mutants. Using both technology-enhanced suits and several dangerous chemical agents, they appeared to the world to be mutants who were engaged in acts of terrorism.”
“What the hell?” Rogue blurted out. “They impersonated mutants? For what? To give us a bad name?”
“That’s precisely what they did. And they did it extremely well,” Charles added somberly polishing off his own glass. He set it back down on the desk with a clink and clasped his hands together for a moment as he considered what to tell her next. Rogue refilled his glass without asking and he nodded his thanks as he continued.
“For several years, this group planned and executed several deadly attacks on the most innocent of humans. They attacked schools, hospitals, and community gatherings. They killed scores of people, not caring who was harmed, as long as mutants were held accountable. These actions, along with blatant propaganda promoted by the Friends of Humanity, and taking into consideration the events that transpired on Liberty Island, succeeded in turning the tide of public opinion against mutants. Despite our best efforts, the Mutant Registration Act was signed into law over five years ago now.”
Charles paused for a moment, taking in Rogue’s reaction. While she was certainly projecting her distress at the events he’d relayed so far, he could tell she didn’t fully understand the ramifications that accompanied the passage of such a law. He braced himself for what came next in the story, and continued.
“Along with the passing of the MRA, the formation of the political wing of the Friends of Humanity took root and spread across the country like wildfire. They were well funded, and they began even more intensive propaganda efforts. Various extremist splinter groups formed, among them Humanity’s Last Stand, and the Church of Humanity.”
Rogue clenched her jaw and drank again from her cup. Those bastards had already done enough to her in her own dimension. To hear they’d somehow made their mark here as well was more than distressing.
“Despite our best efforts, the MRA moved ahead and compulsory mutant registration began. Several mutants complied with the law willingly, believing the government would never abuse nor take advantage of such information. Others, including the X-Men, resisted the mandate, certain that no good could come from such a law. Then, the following year saw incredible political upheaval.”
Charles paused and rubbed his temples, as if the memory caused him physical pain. After taking another sip of bourbon he sat back in his chair and continued.
“We had split our priorities between trying to protect those individuals who might be in danger from the extremist groups, and simultaneously continuing to attempt to influence the political minds who appeared, at any rate, to be influential in the policy making decisions. We seemed to finally be making headway with several members of Congress, and had convinced them to reinstate the Committee of Mutant Affairs, which previously had been dissolved under the previous administration’s instruction. Those members of Congress even attempted to censure the President and others who were supportive of removing mutant’s right altogether. However, there was a huge upset when the mid-term elections took place that November. The members who were voted into power in both the House and the Senate were overwhelmingly associated with the Friends of Humanity, or their various splinter groups, thus, shifting the balance of power against us.”
Rogue shifted uncomfortably in her seat at this and raised her glass to her lips once more. She didn’t like where this story was headed. But if sitting through it meant understanding what had happened to the mansion, then sit here and listen she would. So long as there was plenty of bourbon to soften the blow she could feel was coming.
“After the new members of Congress were sworn in, disturbing rumors reached my ears. Rumors of registered mutants disappearing, of cruel new anti-mutant laws being drafted, of government-funded laboratory research on mutants. Then, the unimaginable became reality. A coup d'état was staged by the Friends of Humanity and all branches of the military and government were effectively taken over.”
“Oh, God,” Rogue muttered into her glass. “Prof-Charles, I mean. Is that when they blew up the mansion?”
Charles sighed and took another sip of his own bourbon. “No. The coup caused extreme chaos within the government. The Friends of Humanity took several months in which to solidify their agenda, and we made no attempt to slow our efforts at subverting them in the meantime. We were focused on the continued protection of innocent lives and working on supporting restoration of the government. Since then we’ve done a certain amount of work aimed at rebuilding our former resources, but it’s been very slow work given our current circumstances.”
“What circumstances are those?” Rogue asked as she leaned forward in her chair and setting her glass down to refill it. Her head was beginning to swirl pleasantly, which was numbing the affects of hearing the disturbing events that had happened to this world.
“We’ve been trying to rebuild our numbers,” Charles said. “But it’s been slow and dangerous work. The United States is a hostile place for mutants, and those supporting mutants. They have developed impressive technology that allows them to track mutants, and we are constantly racing against the clock when I am able to detect a new mutant’s presence. You have no idea,” he paused to look at her quite soberly. “How please I am that we were able to retrieve you before you were detected by other means, though it was certainly a close thing if Victor was there.”
“Why would Victor be interested in finding new mutants?” She asked, brow furrowed.
“Our rivals in the Brotherhood have their own set of priorities which are primarily to install a mutant-controlled government. They believe that every mutant they find can be convinced to join their ever-growing army. The X-Men; however, are dedicated to restoring the government as it was. Many mutants have gone deep into hiding and we have very few human allies anymore. After the damage done by the Mutant Liberation Front, it was difficult to regain the trust of a lot of the population. And nearly all those who supported mutant rights were systematically hunted down and killed or imprisoned.”
Chills ran the length of her body at those words. The situation Charles was describing was just a little close to her own world. A few tweaks here or there, a different thread pulled, an influential person’s mind changed, and she too would be living this reality. “So. The mansion. How did it happen?”
“We had received intelligence that there was an attack planned on the Capitol building. Some of us went to stop it. Others, including Rogue, volunteered to stay behind to watch those few children who could not return home, whose families were not receptive to their return.
“Who on the team survived?” Rogue asked hesitatingly. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer.
Charles looked at her, his own clear blue eyes looking back at her, quite soberly. “We lost only a few innocents.”
Rogue swallowed hard past the lump in her throat. It felt entirely odd for her to talk so causally about what was essentially her own death. “Who died?”
After pausing for a moment, Charles spoke softly. “You, of course. Jubilee -”
Rogue took in a sharp breath as the pain of hearing those words entered her heart. God. Jubilee. Dead. It was unthinkable to think her dear friend was no more in this world because of such senseless hate and fear. She downed the rest of her bourbon in one gulp and shakily reached to refill her glass yet again and slammed down another mouthful of bourbon. Not even the taste of the alcohol was able to soothe her despair at hearing this news.
Charles rocked back in his chair at the explosion of grief that Rogue had experienced upon hearing that Jubilee had perished at the mansion. He casually reached for the bottle of bourbon as she tossed back another mouthful. Based on what he’d garnered from her mind, she wasn’t much of a drinker, and she’d had several glasses in the short time since they’d begun their conversation.
After allowing her a moment to recover, Rogue spoke again, her voice tight with unshed tears. “Who else?” she asked as she braced herself for the answer. It was difficult to remember that her Jubilee was still safe, still alive in her own world.
“No one else you knew, Rogue. I assure you. There were a limited number of team members who remained with us after the take-over of the government. Many had opted to return to their families or go into hiding when things appeared to be headed for disaster, and I encouraged them to do so,” he finished softly.
Rogue ground her jaw at his words, both reluctant to press for more details and eager to know more. She held herself back from asking additional questions as she fought to try and focus on her ultimate goal; finding a way home. Back to Remy. Back to Jubilee. Back to everything that she knew.
“I understand this is troubling for you, Rogue,” Charles said after several minutes of sensing Rogue’s internal struggle.
“Troubling?” She scoffed derisively. “Troublin’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. I just -” she paused, trying to sort through the bourbon haze for the right words. “It could have been me. It could’ve been my friends, my world. It’s not so different from this one,” she mumbled softly into her glass as she tipped back the last few droplets of bourbon.
Charles allowed her another few moments to gather her composure. Finally, she looked up him, her large brown eyes full of shadows.
“I don’t think I should stay.”
“Rogue. Please don’t make any hasty decisions,” he said, a slight note of alarm in his voice. If Rogue were to leave their protection now, she would find herself easy prey for those in The Brotherhood, or other even more dangerous enemies. “The recent history of our world is a lot to absorb and though some things are the same, it is also very different from your own. I would hate for you to go, especially if you are not adequately prepared to deal with the dangers this reality presents.”
“It’s just,” Rogue paused, uncertain how to put her thoughts into words that would adequately explain the completely foreign feeling she was experiencing. Everything was the same, and yet not. Everything was different, but not really. And then there was the matter of Wolverine. She didn’t want to be the cause of anyone’s pain, and it sounded like he’d experienced more than his fair share of it. She could only assume that her presence would be yet another burden on him, and that was the last thing she wanted. “You, Scott, Jean, and Kitty. You’re all so similar to the ones that I know. It’s hard -” her voice cracked and she cleared her throat. “Hard to separate you from them."
“Please, Rogue,” Charles urged her. “Stay. I believe I can help you to find out if there is a way home for you. I will do whatever I can to determine if Rift exists in this world and try and locate him if possible. And you would be a tremendous asset to the team in the meantime.”
Rogue scoffed again at this statement, having witnessed exactly how useful she could be at training earlier today.
“At least consider it,” Charles said kindly.
Rogue didn’t want to turn him down now; not when he seemed so eager for her to stay. Instead she nodded and rose from her seat. The room spun for a moment and she suddenly realized just how much bourbon she’d had.
“You should get some rest, my dear. Why don’t you head to your room for a few hours? I’ll ask Kitty to fetch you when dinner is ready.”
“Thank you, Charles. I appreciate it. I appreciate everythin’.” And she turned and stepped out the door.
Rogue turned the corner of the hallway after exiting the Professor’s room, her head reeling from both the knowledge overload and the bourbon, and found herself facing the impressively large form of Wolverine, who was striding toward the office she had just exited. The undignified noise escaped her lips before she could stop herself and she mentally smacked herself for the ridiculousness of the phrase which she had uttered. What kind of an X-Men said, “Eeek!”?
One eyebrow shot up as he registered her reaction and Rogue suppressed the sudden surge of attraction she felt as she watched him step toward her, one heavily muscled, tightly bound jean-clad leg at a time. His boots echoed in the corridor as he continued toward where she stood, frozen, and her eyes caught sight of that same damn silver belt buckle he’d worn last night. She felt her face flush as he caught her staring directly at the area of his crotch and she cleared her throat, unsure of what else she should do.
He stopped in front of her, leaned forward slightly, and sniffed her, frowning. “Jesus. How much bourbon didja have, kid?”
“Dunno. Kinda a lot I guess,” she said as she felt a bubble of laughter rise up unexpectedly and an honest-to-god giggle escaped her.
One corner of his mouth twitched. “Not much of a drinker, are ya?”
“Nope.” She shook her head but quickly stopped as the room spun wildly.
“I wanted to -” he broke off and clenched his jaw.
Rogue felt her heart begin to race as he gazed down into her eyes. He seemed calmer than when she’d last seen him downstairs when his eyes had flashed dangerously with rage after seeing the scars on her back. She nervously bit her bottom lip and she saw his eyes flicker there briefly as he took a deep breath.
“I wanted to apologize,” he continued in a deep voice, forcing his eyes away from her mouth. Nothing good could come of staring at her soft, pink lips. He would only start to imagine kissing her, tasting her, seeing if she tasted as sweet as he remembered. No, it was best that he didn’t think of that low moan she made when he ground himself against her, or the way she would wrap her legs around his torso as he drove into her. Definitely wasn’t wise to think of her lips making their way across his chest, downward-
“You’ve got nothin’ to apologize for, Wolverine. I’m the one-” Rogue paused and frowned up at him. “Man, Wolverine,” she muttered under her breath. “That just can’t be your real name. How come you know mine but I don’t know yours?” She asked him, her voice suddenly accusatory.
He frowned back at her, jaw working hard as he tried to remember the whole reason he’d come after her. “Look. I just wanted to say I’m sorry for gettin’ so angry. Before. You're right. It’s not my business what happened to you. From now on, I’ll leave my nose out of it. Alright?” He barked out the last word more harshly than he’d intended, since being so near her was testing his damn restraint again. He didn’t know how he was going to continue to be around her, when even though he knew she wasn’t the same person as his Marie, the sight and smell of her was so familiar, it made his heart ache.
“Well, fine, captain grumpy. Don’t tell me your name. I didn’t want to know it, anyway.”
Rogue abruptly turned away, intent on showing him how little she cared, and promptly tripped. She blamed it on the unfamiliar boots she was wearing.
Wolverine reached out lightning quick to catch her before she hit the ground, one arm wrapped tightly around her waist. He couldn’t help himself. He took advantage of the closeness of her body to lean in and sniff deeply at the skin of her neck. Fuck, that scent. He couldn’t help the low growl that issued from his chest. She felt so right in his arms.
A low rumbling sound met her ears, and maybe it was the bourbon that caused her to be so reckless, but Rogue tilted her neck to one side, allowing him greater access to her skin, unaware of what it meant for her to do so with a mutant like Wolverine. He jerked his head around to meet her eyes and she inhaled sharply as she registered the animalistic desire she saw there. She felt a warmth spreading through her that had nothing to do with the bourbon and felt a shiver break out over her body at the sensation.
Wolverine quickly dropped his arm from around her waist as quickly as if her skin had been turned on. A long, tense moment passed between them, until finally Wolverine spoke. “Don’t mess around with somethin’ you can’t handle, Rogue.”
And he spun away from her and stalked down the hall to the Professor’s door where she could hear a brief knock, then the sudden sound of a door wrenching open and being firmly shut.
Rogue leaned against the hallway and closed her eyes, her heart beating like a trip hammer in her ears. “Shit. What the hell am I doing?”