“Hello?” the brunette answered the phone.
“I’ve found him,” said a gruff voice on the other end.
“W-what?” she squeaked out.
“You fuckin’ deaf, girl? I said I found him.”
The girl regained her composure. “Where is he?”
“Not tellin’ ya. There’s a problem.”
“What?” she asked, not hiding her dread.
“He’s got amnesia or some shit. He doesn’t remember a
damn thing,” the man replied, barely keeping the anger out of his voice.
There was a long pause. “Are you sure?”
“I sat across the bar for him for two fucking hours, we looked right at each other, he didn’t recognize me at all. If he doesn’t remember me, he sure as hell ain’t going to remember you.”
“Is he okay otherwise?”
“Dandy, from what I can tell,” he said sarcastically.
“Spends his time drinking, getting into fights at bars,”
“And sleeping with sluts,” the brunette said, completing the thought.
“Uh, yeah,” the man said, in an uncharacteristically apologetic tone.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said, her tears obvious even over the phone, “we’ll find some way to get him back. Where is he?”
“Alberta, heading towards the Northwest Territories. Ain’t giving you the specifics yet.”
The man growled, “Cause if I do, you’ll go up there, find him, and start babbling to him about everything and he’ll just think you’re fucking crazy. Won’t end well for anyone. We need a plan.”
“You got a plan?”
“As a matter of fact, I do.” He said angrily, annoyed that the girl’s assertion that he couldn’t figure anything out for himself. “I’m currently working a job for a total nutter, but the pay’s good. His little plan needs someone, someone like you.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
The man gave an evil smirk. “You know how protective he gets . . .”
She walked into the bar, looking as young and innocent as she knew how. Scanning the crowd, she saw that they were the usual hick-bar types that would attend a cage match: hairy, volatile, unclean, and drunk. Taking a whiff of them almost made her pass out. Her eyes moved to the cage in the middle of the warehouse-sized room as a plaid-clad man was being pulled out.
And there he was, exactly as she remembered him. Which was surprising, since she hadn’t seen him in fifteen years. Rippling with muscles and exuding masculinity, the dark haired man with deep hazel eyes was beating the tar out of some unsuspecting fool. Why any man was stupid enough to compete in a no-holds-barred cage match with this man was beyond her.
He finished the bout with a head butt that laid the contender out cold. The man crumpled to the floor in pain and the announcer cried “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight’s winner, and still King of the Cage . . . the Wolverine!” Wolverine gave a slow turn away from the cheers and hisses of the crowd, eventually turning his eyes to her. Their eyes locked for a second, but she saw no recognition in his gaze. He turned away, to down another drink and get back to his cigar, and she stood in shock for several seconds, before wandering over to the bar. She sipped on water and fought back tears, realizing that Wolverine really was a stranger to her.
She sat waiting at the bar, drinking her water and trying to focus on the plan. She had known that he had forgotten everything, but to see his empty eyes as he looked at her had shaken her to her core. With the fights over, the crowd trickled, and sometimes drunkenly stumbled, out. The Wolverine came out from the back room and sat down at the bar a few seats down from her. They exchanged glances, but she had to turn away for fear of blurting out everything. One of the men who Wolverine had dropped like the sack of crap while in the cage started to hassle him as he sat at the bar.
“You owe me some money.” She nervously looked on, wanting to see his response.
When the stranger pulled out a knife, she instinctively screamed. ‘No one’s taking him away from me now, not when I’ve just found him again.’
Wolverine spun around, grabbed the hick by the collar and held him against a post, countering the small pocket knife with three nine-inch claws. Metal claws. ‘Well that’s new.’ She thought to herself. The barkeep pulled out a shotgun and demanded that Wolverine leave. Wolverine turned and slashed through the gun barrel with a well placed slice of his claws. As he sauntered out, she followed close behind, jumping into the back of his trailer while he was busy trying to get his rusting truck to start.
She couldn’t believe that this piece of crap was his vehicle. He was always one for simplicity, but this just reeked of desperation. She couldn’t help crack a grin at that though. ‘I guess you really do need me around after all.’ She practiced her story in her head, and did her best to pull from her last decade in the South to create a convincing persona that was close enough to her own that she wouldn’t have to always be on guard, but different enough to not arouse suspicion of her true identity. About an hour out of the cesspool known as Laughlin City, he stopped the truck. ‘Bout time you heard me back here, I’m fucking freezing and damn hungry to boot.’
“What the Hell are you doing?” He asked in a quiet voice, which anyone else would have mistaken for concern. But she wasn’t anybody, she knew he was pissed. She played up the runaway Southern girl act the best she could. In the end, she knew he wouldn’t leave her there in the frozen tundra of Canada, not if there was an ounce left of the man she knew.
“Ah’m Rogue,” she introduced herself to the man she’d known for most of her life. He didn’t answer. She looked down at his chest, noticing the dogtag with his alias on it. ‘Something else new.’ She pondered. She inadvertently flinched when his hands got near to hers, and she felt compelled to explain her mutation, at least the part of her mutation that she was willing to let others know about.
“When they come out, does it hurt?” She asked, glancing at the weathered knuckles that hid his deadly secret. She knew that the bones claws that he used to have hurt him, and that she involuntarily winced almost every time he bared them, knowing that it caused him pain. She hoped that these new metal claws, razor sharp yet perfectly sculpted, would somehow be less painful.
“Every time.” He responded simply. She silently mourned for him, for he really had gained nothing and lost everything.
“So, what kind of name is Rogue?”
“I don’t know, what kind of name is Wolverine?”
He might not have remembered her, but he was still the man she remembered: Gruff, quick-witted, honest, and occasionally empathetic.
“My name’s Logan.”
“Marie.” She looked to see if that rang any bells with him. It clearly didn’t. But somehow he remembered his middle name. She smiled at that.
“Do . . . do you just go by Wolverine?”
He grunted, shook his head, and slit the dying deer’s throat.
“I really don’t want to call you that, not when you’re like this. It’s like me going back to call you the monster.” She cringed, seeing the deer’s final spasms, as the life-blood flowed out of it.
“James Logan Howlett. Don’t care if you use my name or not.”
“I’ve never heard the name Logan before. I like it. My full name’s Anna—”
“—Marie Wilson. I know.”
“Then why do you always just call me ‘girl’?” She asked a little confused while holding out a large butcher’s knife to him.
He shrugged, took the knife from her hand, and went about butchering his kill.
The reunion (in her case) and introductions (in his) were cut short by a falling, or rather, pulled down, tree and mutant battle royal that broke out soon after. If Logan had listened to her and put on his seatbelt, he might have actually stayed conscious for the whole thing. ‘He never did listen to me when I was being practical.’ As a result, the reunion was postponed as the victorious group of mutants, who called themselves X-Men, took her and Logan to New York with them. Not that Logan really had a choice in the matter, as his healing factor was working overtime, leaving him out cold. The X-Men promised to give Wolverine all the best medical care, which she hoped meant looking into the metal plating on his bones, which the red-headed doctor referred to as adamantium.
Playing the part of a Southern runaway had just gotten a whole lot harder – Rogue never contended on being shacked up with dozens of other mutants, some of which were telepathic. She could shut the telepaths out of her mind, but she couldn’t shut everyone out. And to be honest, she didn’t want to. There was something strangely freeing about being surrounded by other mutants, even if she was hemmed in by her own lies. An adorable little rivalry over her affections started between the boy that introduced himself as Bobby and the fire-starter known as Pyro almost the minute she was placed into the weather witch’s class. She might have been flirted with from time to time, but never by someone who knew about her mutation. It was heart-warming, and Rogue wasn’t used to having her heart warmed.
She was so damn cold. The campfire was nothing but smoldering ashes, and the pail of water they had brought with them was now an inch thick with ice. She sniffled, partly from the cold, partly from the sadness that threatened to consume her.
‘I just want to be somewhere warm, somewhere safe, somewhere away from him.’
She glanced over to the Wolverine, who managed to fall asleep in the bitter cold, despite giving her his only blanket. She didn’t hate him, it took too much energy to hate him. She just wanted to be away from him and everything he represented.
She took off her glove, uncloaking her numb fingers to the frigid air. Nervously, but with determined purpose, she slowly moved her hand to his cheek. She hesitated out of confusion when she was a hair’s breadth from his face and wondered why he hadn’t woken and stopped her yet. She forced her hand the final few millimeters and turned on her skin the moment it touched his chilled flesh.
She gasped and recoiled at the intensity of the thoughts and life force that flowed into her. Her last cogent thoughts were of how she hadn’t knocked him out long enough to get away before the full force of the feral’s mind overwhelmed her consciousness.
Rogue banished the reminiscences that she full knew could consume her, and rose from her bed, intent on having a word with Logan. She was not sure what that word would be, but she knew she couldn’t stay quiet any longer.
She silently slipped out of her crowded dormitory, wearing the shroud of a nightgown they had given her. Rogue paused outside Logan’s door, steeling herself for her conversation with him. She breathed out audibly as she opened the door to find him trashing in his sleep, apparently being assaulted in his dreams.
Gently trying to wake him from his nightmare without touching him with her bare hands, she called his name. “Logan . . . Logan, wake up.”
He woke with a start, murder in his eyes, claws instantly extended. Before she could comprehend what was going on, she could feel it, feel the perfectly sculpted adamantium blades pierce her skin. And yet they kept going, with agonizing proficiently, she felt them pushing through tissue, bone, piercing her lung, impaling her entirely.
She couldn’t speak, she felt the blood filling her lungs. She knew that in a manner of seconds that she would lose consciousness and she would be lucky to survive. ‘At least this time, I’m with him,’ she thought wistfully as she saw the recognition of the situation dawn on Logan’s face. He retracted his claws in a panic, and she thought she heard him yell, but it was as if it were from miles away. Instinct took over and she raised her bare hands to his face.
He seemed to know what she was going to do, but didn’t move away, even when the life-force was being sucked out of him. She briefly wondered why he didn’t try to stop her, until one thought of his got through her mental defenses - ‘she has to get better.’
She took what she needed from him, feeling her lungs fill with air again, the sweetest air she could imagine. The muscles and tissue began to knit back together, painfully, but with a beautiful ache of healing. He dropped to the floor, snapping Rogue back into the world outside her own body. Only then did she realize that she and the now-twitching Wolverine were not alone in the room. Several students and teachers surrounded her, all with their own look of distrust, horror, and concern.
“It was an accident,” she explained to a shocked Storm, then fled.
She fled where she had always fled in times like these, to the woods. Crashing through the old-growth forest on the property, she pushed everything in her mind down except the world before her away. Any thoughts or feeling that she had taken from Logan were trampled underfoot with the brown leaves and broken branches under her naked feet. She couldn’t let him take her over, and she couldn’t stand to really see what he had become. Despite her trained mind and determined will, little thoughts that were not her own still managed to bubble up.
‘Jean, you’re so beautiful.’
‘Kill them all.’
“Please, stop!” she screamed to the forest. She crumpled to the ground on a patch of ivy, deeply inhaling the scent of the trees around her. And the voices stopped.
She no longer thought – she felt.
She felt the ice cold air warming in her expanding and contracting lungs, she felt the darkness part before her keen eyes, she felt the blood surge through a body she had once given up for dead. Then there was a thought, a voice – but it was not her own. The voice spoke to her, not in words, but howls and growls. Barely audible laments on years of loneliness, howls of joy and longing upon finding a small form to share a long life with, and rumblings of deep devotion, the complexity of which she could barely fathom.
Howling aloud she responded, through her lungs were young and untested. She sang a primordial cry of belonging to the creature in her head and in the nest the two had made. She paced back to the body of the voice that now possessed her, only to halt at the sound of a branch cracking and the smell overwhelming smell of gunpowder. She and the Wolverine were not alone in the forest, and intruders were not welcome in their territory.
If anything, Rogue was an expert at playing a part to the very end. After the incident in Logan’s room, she bathed and went to bed, and woke the next day as usual. Everyone was more cautious around her, but she understood and put on a brave front. She had agreed to have lunch with Bobby that day, which she was sure would take her mind off her real problems. She waited and watched some of the mutant children play basketball, while others giggled and gossiped amongst themselves. Smiling to herself, she speculated how many of the children had been turned out of their homes when their mutation manifested, how many of them had any family to speak of.
‘Xavier has done something good here. Makes me wish I’d done more with my time.’
“Rogue,” she heard a familiar voice.
“Bobby,” she greeted the blue-eyed boy.
“Rogue, what did you do? They say that you’re stealing other mutants’ powers.”
‘Stupid teenagers and their gossip.’
“No, no – I borrowed his powers.”
“You never use your power against another mutant,” he stated, seemingly accusing her of intentionally harming Logan, which felt like a punch in the stomach. The still-undigested Logan in her mind growled at his assertion.
Rogue would have been outraged if she had not felt so guilty. All she could respond with was a sheepish “Ah had no choice – no, you don’t understand me.”
Bobby glared at her, “If I were you, I’d get myself out of here.”
Wasn’t this the boy that was hitting on her not twenty-four hours ago? The punch in the stomach started feeling like a knife, as he went on about how everyone hated or distrusted her. She wondered if Logan would feel the same once he regained consciousness.
“I think it will be easier on your own.”
‘No, it hasn’t been.’ But then again, seeing Logan not recognize her, not being able to be herself, being feared even by her own kind, none of it had exactly been easy. A loneliness that she had not felt in a long time took the breath from her. As she stood and looked back at the cold eyes of Bobby, she felt the little bit of hope that burned inside her all but extinguish. So she ran.
She bought a ticket to Richmond, Virginia, as if she really was going home to the South.
‘Home. What a joke. I haven’t had a home since –’
A mother and her son sitting a few seats away on the train caught her eye. ‘Does the universe really feel the need to fuck with my head any more?’ She thought bitterly as the tears threatened to fall and her heart clenched.
“Hey kid.” She thought he might find her, try and fix things, try and be a good man. He sat next to her, unbidden, and told her, “I’m sorry about last night.”
‘In more ways then you’ll ever know.’
“You running again?”
“You can’t run from it, you know. Can’t run from what you are. Hell knows I’ve tried.” Logan said, his exhaustion clear in his voice.
“I’m not running from anything I am, I’m running from what you are, what you’re making me into.” Bitterness filled her as she attempted to catch his eyes, which were darting around – always scanning, always alert. They finally, reluctantly, met hers.
Shame. His eyes were full of shame. She hadn’t thought that he was capable of that particular emotion – he certainly never acted with any shame or sense of morals that she could detect. He opened his mouth, as if to speak, but apparently the words would not come.
“What if,” she said softly, her anger gone with the recognition of Logan’s show of humanity, “what if, instead of running from what you are, what I am, we change it?”
A slight smile graced his chiseled face, his eyes lightening. He gently cupped her cheek, trusting her not to use her powers against him. “No promises, but I can try. With your help.”
She smiled back at him and nuzzled his hand slightly, “Thank you. Thank you for trying. For actually caring.”
Rogue gave Logan a tearful smile and unburdened herself as much as she could without blowing her cover. He listened, he cared, even if he didn’t know why.
“What do you say, give these geeks one more shot? Come on, I’ll take care of you.”
“Promise?” He never made a promise unless he meant to keep it, so his total number of promises that she could remember could be counted on one hand.
“Yeah, yeah I promise.”
She settled in close to him, filling her lungs with his hauntingly familiar scent. For the first time since re-uniting with Wolverine, Rogue felt at peace, happy even. And then some old fart in a pseudo-military outfit, ridiculous helmet, and delusions of grandeur ruined the moment.
‘You’re so going on my shit-list, dickhead,’ she thought as the old man laid out Wolverine and she made a strategic retreat, only to be tranquilized from behind.
Being captured by the egomaniacal master of magnetism was not her idea of a good time. Even on her best day, she couldn’t take out Magneto and his Brotherhood. She hoped Logan and his new friends would be around soon to put some serious hurt on this asshole.
‘Preferably before he monologues me to death. Yeah, yeah, land of liberty. Noble cause. Bla bla bla. Damn this guy is full of shit.’
The door behind her opened and she whipped her hear round with a gasp. A great hulk of a man, with long blond hair, overgrown teeth and eyebrows glared down at her from outside the boat.
“Put her in the machine,” ordered Magneto, and went out to the front of the boat. Sabertooth stepped inside, stalking closer to Rogue, hovering over her and baring his claws.
“You scared, little girl?” Growled Sabertooth with a sadistic smile on his face.
“Yeah, sure, let me go get my boots so I can quake in them.” Rogue gave him a cheeky grin, unable to keep a serious tone with him.
Sabertooth’s grin turned to one of bemusement. “I got this, you know that, right?”
“I know,” she replied calmly, “I just hope this works.” She sighed and let herself be pulled up while she contemplated him. “Getting a bit shaggy there, aren’t we, Victor?”
He gave a low chuckle. “I think it works for me. And with the two of you out of my life, I’ve been getting a little . . . wild.” Rogue slowly looked over him, seeing how his long, lank hair, nearly black eyes, and protracted claws made him look as much like an animal as she’d ever seen him. It reminded her that Wolverine’s disappearance had affected more than her.
“We’ll get him back,” she said with false confidence. He just growled in response as Magneto reappeared and ushered her to the top of the Statue of Liberty. As she was waiting alone in the contraption he had created, doubt and worry began to overwhelm her, and she was tempted to call out Sabertooth’s name. A battle raged below her, while she tried to figure a way out of the bizarre metal contraption to no avail. Victor had neglected to tell her what the machine was for, but Magneto had confirmed that it would kill her.
‘Shit, shit, shit – this is what I get for going along with Vic’s little plan.’ She could hear shouting and explosions nearby, but couldn’t make out what was going on.
Her breathing came more rapidly, panic overtaking her. ‘They’re going to die – I’m going to die. Fuck, fuck FUCK! Oh God, please – ’ She could feel her skin ticking to life, out of control as her mind reeled. “Help! Somebody help me!”
Her luck being what it was, the figure that came before her was the last one she wanted to see.
“I’m sorry, my dear,” Magneto said contritely, bringing his hand to her face.
“Don’t do this,” the begged, ‘Not now, not when I really have a chance to live again.’
He grabbed her head with both hands and held tight. She tried to push her panic aside, turn off her mutation, but every nerve in her body was on full alert, ready to destroy anything it came into contact with. She could feel Magneto’s life flowing into her, along with his powers, and his memories – oh his memories. The camps, the betrayals, the grand plans, they swirled through her head, becoming her own, making her reach out for something. ‘Must activate the machine,’ the idea echoed through her head until she found the power to flip the switch without moving a muscle.
The contraption ascended and began to rotate around her, her mind too chaotic to do anything but scream.
Rogue felt the strength being pulled from her veins. An intense pain tore through her body; she could feel her consciousness slipping. ‘Is this how it feels for others when I suck them dry?’ she thought, trying to distract herself from the pain, which had soon overtaken her. She could no longer see, she couldn’t tell if her eyes were opened or closed. She couldn’t hear anything but a metallic scratching which at first was deafening, but it started to fade, as everything else started to fade, into the darkness. “Logan,” she whispered as the darkness overcame her.
She stood on the hardened tundra, small drifts of brown snow remained where sunlight never ventured. The glacial chill of the April morning air was counteracted by the adrenaline coursing through her. Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath in, she hoped that she would break the spell that had come over her, that she would awaken to the world she knew and a place where she was safe. Keeping her eyes closed, she took in another deep breath, this time smelling the distinct, rusty smell of human blood. A tear ran down her cheek as she unwillingly opened her eyes, knowing that it had not all been a nightmare, it was her life.
The man’s body splayed out before her was still warm, for she could see steam rising from where his intestines had been ripped from his flesh. The man’s blue eyes still registered shock, but they were fast glazing over. She wished she had caught the brave, foolhardy man’s name before he had died.
A strong hand grabbed her shoulder from behind, but she still stared intently at the dead man. She was being dragged away from the place the corpse fell, where she knew it would rot there the coming months. “Wolverine, please,” is all she could manage to the man dragging her away. He didn’t look at her, and all that she could do, once the man’s body was out of view, was look down at her hands, covered in drying blood.
For a brief second, she thought that she was dead. Then the darkness retreated and the flood of memories, emotions, and sensations that were not her own washed over her. She knew that someone was still touching her, and she shoved them off.
Starting with a gasp, she saw the bloody, beaten, comatose form of Wolverine fall away from her. As his sacrifice dawned on her, all she could do was sob like the child she appeared to be.
“I hate you.”
“No you don’t,” he grumbled, “it ain’t in ya to hate anyone.”
She repressed an urge to growl at him.
He looked her dead in the eye, “What’s really going on? “
“I’m not doing well. Not doing well at all. My head is throbbing, my jaw feels tight, I want to run or scream, or both. I feel like I’m falling apart. And there’s you. You in my head. Talking to me. You talk to me more in my head than you do in real life. But both of you do tend to grunt a lot.”
He attempted a smirk at her last half-joke, but it came off as little more than a nervous twitch. He was otherwise petrified, at a loss for how to respond.
Her breathing came faster and shallower, as the tears that had been building finally marred her porcelain cheeks.
Closing the gap between them the two of them in a single stride, he wrapped his arms around her. “Breathe slowly, darlin’. Nice and slow.” Her tears continued to fall, leaving a damp stain on his shirt, but her breathing began to steady. “Slow breaths,” he kept whispering to her.
When some semblance of calm returned, she gently pushed herself away from him.
“Thank you,” she said earnestly.
“Nothing I wouldn’t do for you – and that was the least I could do.”
“Hope I never have to see the most you’ll do for me.”
He gave her a knowing smile.
Rogue ushered the most recent incarnation of Logan’s psyche into the recesses of her mind. She admitted to herself that it took her longer to do so than it really should have. On some level, she still wanted it there, with her, in the forefront of her mind. Yet a larger part of her was glad to be rid of it. The way he saw her now broke her heart. It scared her even more than the first time she absorbed him and became possessed by the blood-lust, passion, desperation, and domineering nature of the Wolverine.
Loosing herself in bit of frivolity with her new classmates, she tried to push all thoughts of Logan out of her mind. She almost didn’t notice when the actual Logan silently stalked by her, clearly headed for the door and out of her life.
“Hey,” she sprinted over to him, “you running again?”
He shifted uncomfortably, not meeting her eyes. “Not really. I got some things to take care of up North.”
He finally looked at her, and touched the strand of white hair that she had inexplicably gained in her last near-death experience. “I kind of like it,” she admitted. ‘A little change after all this time ain’t so bad.’
“I don’t want you to go,” she said simply.
Taking off his tags, the only link to his past that he knew of, he placed them in her gloved hand. “I’ll be back for this.”
‘The tags or me?’ The little ember of hope in her heart that was all but extinguished burned warmly once again. She smiled as he walked out the door.
‘Waited for him for fifteen years, I can wait another few months. Especially in digs like these.’