Fall comes in foggy and cool, and Rogue is sitting on a bench in the garden enjoying being alone. No one else wants to sit outside in the mist, and so she can take off her gloves and rub her fingertips over the wet concrete of the bench. It's rough and cold and a little dirty. She strokes it like . . . she doesn't want to hear what the voices in her head think it's like. She's willing to admit that it feels kind of sexy and kind of sad, and that should be enough.
She plucks a leaf off the ground and rubs it between her fingers. She has her gloves off and she hates to waste it holding her hands in her lap. She can touch the warm fabric of her jeans when she's in her room. She tries to store up the memories, to think of things she'll want to be able to touch when she can't.
She never knew you could miss the way a thing feels. On the road when she got hungry she would think about how food tasted, pizza hot and salty and burning her mouth or meatloaf drowned in ketchup. Now she'll be sitting in class and find herself daydreaming about how pencils feel smooth and almost slick in your fingers or about how chalk dust makes your hands feel dry and unreal.
Right now she wishes the bench were warm under her hands, so hot it almost burned. Keeping her hands pressed flat against the bench would make her palms sweat and itch as the heat soaked all the way through to the bone. She's not sure when she last sat with her hands on a bench in the hot sun. Last summer, she thinks. Last year in another life.
She's the only one in her head who likes sitting out in the cold. Logan doesn't see the point. He likes being alone, but he hates sitting still. It's easier to think out on the road with the trees whipping by and the radio blaring to shut up any voices in his own head he doesn't want to hear.
No, she tells him. Don't have a car. Not going to steal a car.
Don't steal a car, he says, his faint voice amused.
She hopes he'll stay around so she doesn't have to listen to Erik. They're not good at sharing her head. So far there hasn't been a peep out of Erik, but she knows he hates bad weather. After nearly a year she has a clear picture of all the things Erik is angry at the world about, from weather to genocide, and she can count the things he likes on the fingers of one hand.
She has to admit it's nasty weather. The fog soaks right through her shirt as if she were naked and makes her shiver when her back touches the bench's cold stone. To her it's better than being cooped up inside with her hands in gloves, but she can't blame them for not feeling the same way, and what can they do about it? They can't even go put on a sweater unless she lets them.
Not that she can see Logan wearing a sweater.
Too damned preppy, his voice complains, and who says "preppy" anymore? She's started noticing all the ways Logan's a little out of step, like five or ten years went by when he wasn't looking. She's sure he's older than Scott and Jean, maybe a lot older. She teased him about his age for a while, but she's stopped. It makes him think too much, and chase scraps of memories around her head until she has to go lie down, her head throbbing.
That's less and less now. Most of the time he treads lightly in her head. It seems strange to her, like the way the real Logan can move without making a sound. He's gentler than Erik. Most people are gentler than Erik, for all that he likes to think of himself as a gentleman. Cody was gentler, but she can't hear Cody clearly anymore, just some faded memories and a whisper in the back of her head, a reminder not to ever forget what her hands and lips can do.
She went shopping with Kitty and Jean when the weather changed, so she does at least own a sweater. It's not the practical wool blend that Jean suggested but a soft, thin angora with sleeves like cat's fur. She doesn't think it would do much to keep out the cold.
She guesses they all ought to get to remember being somewhere warm. But she can't remember it all at once; she'll blow a fuse or something. (Scott would frown and say it doesn't really work that way. She wonders when even people she's never touched became voices in her head.)
Logan gets to go first then. She always lets him win when she can, even though she knows he's just a part of herself. He's the part of herself she likes best.
I'm not your role model, his ghost says, and she laughs a little.
"Oh, yes you are," she says out loud. There's no one to hear.
She likes remembering being him. He's got wide, heavy hands he can wrap around a beer bottle or the curve of a woman's thigh. He didn't like the way the last woman he slept with smelled, like warm oil and bourbon under a haze of cigarettes. He liked the way she pushed him down into the sheets and he laughed when she bit. He has to be so careful when he's on top.
But that was in Alaska, and in the parts where his clothes are off it's hard to ignore the cold. He drums her fingers on the bench and thinks about what she wants.
By the time you've made up your mind, she'll be as old as I am, Erik says.
Logan thinks that's his exit line unless she wants a fight in her head. His mind brushes against her as he goes like a hand on her shoulder or the whisper of dry leaves against her clothes.
Rogue tries to keep him and can't. She stares at the empty space on the bench where she imagines Erik to be. He's gotten easier to deal with since she started imagining him as someone else, like her own personal ghost. She'd rather be haunted than be him.
"I don't usually try real hard to be nice to people who've tried to kill me."
Doesn't Charles teach that you should turn the other cheek?
And therefore illiterate?
"I don't like you. Not even the professor can make me like you."
That's all right. I don't think Charles likes me either.She could feel his mental shrug. You know, if my plan had worked out, you wouldn't have this problem.
"I'd rather deal with you than be dead."
Good to know.
"I didn't know you cared."
It would hardly improve my situation to be forced to watch you play out some sort of adolescent suicidal drama.
"Weren't you ever a kid?"
Not at your age.
"Then that makes two of us, doesn't it?"
Wouldn't you like to go inside? The modern marvel of central heat . . .
"If I wanted to I would. But I don't. So, your tough luck." Rogue thinks she'd hate to ride in a car with Erik. He'd be a terrible back-seat driver.
Absolutely, he agrees, startling her into a snort of laughter.
"Come on, be a good sport," she says. "Tell me about a sunny day."
He has no desire to be a good sport but like her he hates the weather, so he brings out a memory and turns it over in his hands.
It's blazing hot with no air conditioning, white curtains moving with breaths of hot air through the wide-open window. The heat bakes through to the bones he sometimes imagines he can see through his skin. The sun drips heat like honey.
There's a pot of strong black tea on the table, a curl of steam still rising from its pursed mouth, and the crumbs of pastries. He can taste the honey on Charles' mouth. Charles's hand traces the sharp ridge of his collarbone, and he leans back in the sunlight, in no particular hurry.
After a while they get dressed enough to go outside and Erik sits with his back to the warm brick wall while Charles sprawls on the grass, looking very young.
"I think I can feel the earth spinning," Charles murmurs. Erik knows he can. When he puts his hands on the earth he can feel through its skin to its heavy bones, its great hot core like a giant beast rolling slowly over in its sleep. Charles pulls him down (gently, always gentle), and he drops to the grass. They sprawl in the sun, fingers tangled and eyes closed, and talk without words.
"I liked it better when you were being angry," Rogue says, and her voice sounds like she's swallowed something that burns. She hates him for showing her this and herself for standing here pressed up against the glass of one more store window, yearning after things she can't ever have.
Romantic nonsense, Erik says, sounding more like himself, and she can feel him laying the memory carefully away in a drawer, where it can't rub up against his anger and get scratched.
She's heard a lot about Charles from Erik. Charles is a misguided fool. Charles has chosen to be Erik's enemy. Charles told Erik's guards to put him in a plastic cell and then told his ghost in her head what he'd done and why. He's Erik's favorite example of what's wrong with the world, right up there with the Nazis, and she's pretty sure that's not love.
She's pretty sure what she felt for Cody wasn't love either, but sometimes he's the only one she can stand. He's quiet, barely a whisper in the back of her head, and sometimes she can't even tell his memories from hers. He isn't very different from her. At least, he wasn't very different from Marie.
The town they grew up with was hot, and the roads were paved but still smelled of dried red clay in the summertime. His kindergarten was a lot like hers, only there was a jungle gym he fell off of and got stitches in his knee. The scraggly grass of their yards was the same, and the pollution haze, and mosquito bites in the summer.
They spent years in separate classrooms at the same school. If she had known, she could have gotten up out of her desk and walked out of her classroom, down the hall, and into his. She can imagine herself standing there in the doorway, watching his younger self playing with scissors. You shouldn't do that, she would say to him. A lot of things you shouldn't do.
But she didn't say that. Then in high school she noticed his eyes and the way his rolled-up sleeves fit tight around the muscles of his arms, and they came crashing into each other's lives. Here's her through his eyes, sitting on the hood of his car on a fall morning laughing at a joke he'd told.
She wasn't really that pretty. She tells him he's exaggerating. He doesn't answer her; he never does. She's stopped blaming him for that. The last thing he remembers is how much it hurt when she kissed him, how he couldn't breathe under the weight of her hands, and why would he want to talk to her after that?
Anyway, he's not real. She knows that now.
They're learning perspective in art class and she's starting to understand it. Things stay the same but look different depending on where you stand. She isn't as young as Logan thinks she is or as old as Erik thinks she should be. She isn't as pretty as Cody thought she was.
She isn't ever going to have the life Marie wanted, and Rogue thinks she's all right with that. Marie can't remember tearing up biker bars and the tinny sound of piano music on a pre-war radio and the taste of Havana cigars and the way bodies can be stacked like wood against barbed wire. Her mind can't hold that much.
Rogue can, and now she's Rogue. She doesn't think Marie was strong enough to stand up under the weight.
Yes, you were, Logan says, and she can hear Erik's dry voice, too: You're alive.
"I'm alive," Rogue says. "And I'm getting awful cold."
Let's go in, Logan says, and Rogue thinks she will. Her gloves are a limp heap on the cold stone, but she pulls them on. It's worth it to go get warm.