Author's Chapter Notes:
Here's the second part of the Through Touch series. And once again a big thanks to Wolveriness for the beta - who puts up with my angst! *grins*
It's been a year since he left, and I can still taste him. Phantom hands still wander my skin at night. They haunt my thoughts whenever the reality around me is lost.

People say that I'm distant. Detached. I know they're worried about me. But they shouldn't be. I've worked hard, persevered. I've made a life for myself out of the train wreck my mutation left behind.

When he came back he was different. Something happened to him, in that year. Something that changed him. Made him bitter. Made him darker than before. He avoided everyone, even me. And that hurt. Even though I knew it shouldn't. Even though I had known what to expect. He'd made no promises.

But why is hope always last to die?

After his return, he spent a long time talking with the Professor in his study. There were evenings when he locked himself away in that boathouse; hours lost disappearing into the woods; nights out at rough bars where the drink was cheap, and the women cheaper.

And then there were the arguments. Not with me, never me, but with others. Tense, silent ones; hard glares and barely controlled emotions. Scott, Ro, Kurt, Pete. He was bristling on the edge of fury, and it made them resent him. He'd returned like a razor blade into our collective attempt at peace, and it was hard for everyone.

But even razors loose their edge after a time. These days, everyone pretends not to notice who he brings back with him. Scott frowns his disapproval, but says nothing. Ro politely refers to each one as his latest 'friend', and makes snarky comments behind his back about the fact that he never keeps them around long enough to offer them breakfast. The Professor is politely indifferent. It's like some horrible alter-reality where nothing quite works as it should.

Some horrible alter-reality in which I don't quite fit.

I've slipped out of sync.

I no longer remember the steps.

Sometimes, if I concentrate hard enough, if I close my eyes and really focus, I can pretend for a while that he never came back. I preferred it that way. My memories were untainted. I had closed that book. Accepted that what he gave me was just once, and for the first time I had been getting on with my life.

Until that bike no one thought to see again growled angrily back up the driveway.

Secretly I'm glad he no longer lives in the mansion. The boathouse is far enough away that I don't have to hear the noises they make when he fucks them hard. Does he do that? Fuck them hard? Or is he gentle. Like he was with me.

I eat my meals late, stay out of his way, and we barely have cause to meet. That's how I get by. Because his presence threatens to ruin my carefully constructed shell, and I don't know how to handle it. I couldn't bare the thought that he regretted what we did. What *he* did. To me.

It's actually weeks before we talk, and even then it's nothing. He gives me a brief smile, functional, and says his customary, "Hey kid," even though I haven't been a kid for years. Even though the last time I was this close to him I was gripping him hard between my legs as he came. The thought of it still brings a blush to my face even as I stand there, stupidly trying to appear calm.

The air between us is awkward; it's heavy and stifling, and when I reply and tell him that it's good he's back, the urge to disappear is so strong it claws at my back. I want to run. Run away like he does so well.

How could he do it? How could he touch me and leave? How could he come back, and then act as if it was nothing? Less than nothing. Not even worthy of note. Not even enough for him to seek me out and ask me how I was doing.

But I smile, like him, functional, and I move on, turning to walk to the library, even though I was heading for the kitchen, just so I don't have to follow him. Petty, I know. But it helps.

And that's how it goes on. The mansion's a big place. You can lose yourself in it, if you try hard enough. And he's an expert at that. So we keep to our broken pattern of avoided conversations, eluded glances, until one day I simply... snap.

I look at him. I've been sitting next to him for the last half an hour in the canteen. Students are fussing with food all around us. It's bustling with activity, but the noise just rings in my ears in a jagged cacophony of voices and clanks of trays and scrapes of knives and it makes my head hurt.

We didn't plan to sit near each other. Scott had beckoned me to join them, I couldn't exactly say no, and then he and Ro had a call to leave. Which left us stranded. I wanted to get up and move to another table, but that would be ridiculous. And obvious. And I don't want him to know how much he is hurting me.

I know he's deliberately trying to appear relaxed, but I'm so aware of him sitting beside me that I can't think straight. I pick at my food, drowning in the scent of his leather, and the words just tumble out. "Why can't we talk anymore? We could always talk."

But he doesn't answer. And that's worse than anything else he could say. He just stares straight ahead. Doesn't say a word, chews on his food resolutely, swallows down the last of his drink, before scraping the chair legs back. He picks up his plate, hands it back to the kitchen, and is gone. Just like that.

All I can do is sit there. I don't cry. I don't move. I don't get up and run after him. I just watch him walk away, putting down my fork as my hand starts to shake, swallowing the lump in my throat that will not go away. And I will not cry. I will not cry. I've worked so hard for this.

Slowly, I get up. I wonder if people are looking at me, but I avoid their glances. My knife and fork go neatly side by side on my plate, my chair tucked smartly out the way, hair smoothed straight. I can control the little things.

It feels like the whole world is watching me. I can feel the heat of their gazes fusing my skin with color. But my chin rises, even as my mouth trembles, and I square my shoulders, walk out and head for my room; where I shut myself in and crawl into my bed, burying my head under the cocooning warmth of the covers.

It's dark when he bursts through my door.

He's drunk. It doesn't take heightened senses to work that one out. And he's a mess. His clothes are torn, his eye's a slowly healing bloody pulp, swollen and half closed. There's blood everywhere. His? I don't know. But when he snarls the split in his lip cracks and he staggers up to me. Like it's an effort.

He yells, slams his fist relentlessly into the night stand, books splitting across the floor, the course scratch of torn pages. I'm hauled out of bed by my shirt, shoved hard against the wall. "WHY?!" He's furious. "YOU WANT TO KNOW GODDAMN *WHY*?! BECAUSE I SHOULDN'T HAVE DONE IT!" His grip tightens painfully. "Because it was SO FUCKIN' *WRONG*!"

My head is pounding, heart racing. I feel sick. I want to tell him to go. Not to destroy what little he gave me. Leave me alone before there is nothing left to leave. But he's far from finished.


"Stop," I manage weakly.

"I was supposed to LOOK AFTER you!"

"Please, stop." I can't handle much more of this. I'm being ripped in to pieces in front of him and he can't even tell.

"NOT fuckin' NAIL you!"

"STOP IT!" How can he say that? How can he turn what had been the most intense memory in my life into something sullied and dirty.

He forces me to look at him, hands in my hair, wrenching my head back so that I have no choice. He reeks of stale alcohol and blood and sweat. "I am so sorry Marie," he says, and his voice cracks. "I am *so* fuckin' sorry."

He's sorry? I blink. Breathe. I don't want him to be sorry. I try to hold back the tears. Breathe. My teeth are clenched so tightly together that my jaw aches. Breathe. My hands are trembling. Just Breathe. It's too much, it's all too much. I can't... My eyes close with the pressure, I can't help it. I explode in great big choking gulps. How could he? How could he come back and ruin *everything*. I hate him. I really hate him.

"How can you say that?" I shove him away, pushing so hard he stumbles back. *Good*. Then I hit him, not with my hand, but with my fist. Hard. Again and again. "HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT!" Now it's released, I can't stop. "It meant EVERYTHING." I hit him again, he staggers, but he takes it. "You gave me what I needed. I could even cope with you going away. But then you had to come back and I HATE IT! I HATE that I still want you! I HATE that you don't-"

It happens so quickly that I don't even have time to react. I'm slammed back against the wall, body against mine, hands holding me still and mouth so hot I cannot *think*. I want to wrap myself around him. I want to drown in him. He tastes of bitter smoke and another woman but I'm beyond caring. I want him on me, all over me, inside me, hard and heavy, kissing me like he didn't before. I bite his lip, and he growls, his tongue pushing into my mouth. I can feel my skin drawing him in, can feel the rush of thoughts, the memories, the desire, but I can't stop. I want more, I want to feel him, and I take and I take until he is hanging onto his consciousness by a thread.

When he finally pulls back, he's ragged, his body suddenly heavy as he sinks to his knees.

His eyes are screwed painfully shut; he's fighting for each breath. The wounds on his face are bleeding again, but he refuses to give in. He reaches up an unsteady hand and yanks me down to his level. "I'm...sorry," he struggles, wheezing with the pain. He clutches blindly at the floor beside him for support. "I didn't...Tomorrow I'll go. I...won't come...back. Promise."

Then he slumps to the floor, unconscious.
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