Chapter Twelve Contrast of Expectations

It was with some disquiet that Tabby made her way to the Boarding House that she referred to as both home and urine-soaked hellhole. Legions of kids peeled away the closer she got, and by the time she reached the intersection to her street, all those who had exited Bayville High alongside her were gone; picked up by parents, buses, or living in more affluent suburbs.

She kicked at a stone. It bounced off the curb and spun away into traffic where a car went over it, suspension shrieking. When the 'Walk' sign lit up she made a point of waving sweetly to the annoyed driver.

She had deliberately avoided talking to anyone all afternoon – even her teachers. Grunts could be amazingly eloquent, as Logan had taught her during her short tenure with the X-Men. Her lunchtime conversation with Kurt had left her with a groundless unease that had slowly translated into restlessness, until she practically sprinted down the main steps and across the field so she could avoid the parking lot.

Lance had gone to work at Joe's Eatery again, cutting last period to make his shift in time. She neither knew nor particularly cared what Fred, Todd or Pietro had done with themselves. They would come home eventually, when their stomachs told them to. She abruptly remembered one of Grandma Maud's old phrases, her subconscious likening the Brotherhood to button mushrooms because they always turned up at a good meal.

She hadn't thought of her mother's mother in a long while, and was mildly surprised to be doing so now. Grandma Maud had died of a cardiac arrest when Tabby was eight. Tabby had memories of Mrs. Smith buying a black dress and a veil to cover her face, and the long wait in a church she'd never been to, full of people she'd never seen before, while a priest prattled endlessly from the pulpit. With characteristic irreverence, her most abiding memory of the funeral was seeing the priest's face close up when they were all gathered around the grave. He had probably been no more than thirty, but had a scholarly pallor and a huge wiry beard that gave the impression God had stuck his pubic hair on the wrong end.

It didn't sadden Tabby that this was how she remembered the interment. Rather, it intrigued her that her thoughts should turn so resolutely to death and dying, and yet not plunge into complete grimness. She supposed it was a self-protective thing. So long as her thoughts didn't give death any weight, the subject obviously wasn't very serious, and therefore was nothing to worry about. It was a strange way to think about death – the ultimate end and possibly most serious thing in the world – but it suited her. It made dealing with it easier.

She knew why her brain had turned in that direction, of course. Still, she had never known the Morlocks. They were a purely academic thing – a nebulous enclave of thought. She had no real memories of them, only imagined pictures of what they might have looked like based on second hand information. Their passing should have meant nothing to her, like a character in a storybook being killed off – especially since she yet had to deal with how the Boarding House was going to feed itself tonight. That was a much more pressing concern.

Yet her mind kept coming back to the memory of Kurt's face, as he related the fate of a small band of misfits she'd never even met. And what concerned her was not the effect it had had on Kurt – though she wasn't entirely happy about him going all 'I'm a freak and nobody loves me', either. Despite all that had passed between them, all the idle flirting, rule-breaking, and the events that had led up to her leaving the X-Men, she and Kurt were buds. And buds looked out for each other. Therefore, she felt compelled to make the fuzzball feel better about himself, and it was frustrating that psychological issues couldn't be solved by a few boom balls or a quick kick with a size seven boot.

No, it wasn't Kurt's reaction that concerned her most. Rather, it was a small part of her own mind – a tiny corral of doubts and more lofty concerns than where her next meal was coming from. It was the place she'd stored Xavier's mutant-human rhetoric when she ditched the Institute, and now it poked at the rest of her brain with a few unpleasant notions that had taken root during Ms. Vasquez's English class.

The Morlocks had been targeted because they were mutants. They had done nothing more than be born with a few extra strands to their DNA, yet someone had seen fit to take their lives away because of it. No discussion, no warning, do not pass go and do not collect two hundred dollars.

Until now, Tabby had not really contemplated becoming a target because of her mutancy. She had spent a large part of her life being a target. The reasons were varied – she wasn't a good daughter; she wasn't a bright student; she refused to wholly conform to the status quo; she was female – but being a mutant had never really factored into it.

Sure, just being in Xavier's presence when he was spouting forth meant you couldn't avoid the whole 'human nature doesn't like what it doesn't fully understand' and 'mutants have overtaken humanity, but nobody likes to be left behind' schtick. She knew that when Mutantkind was finally outed – and it would be, of that much she was pessimistically certain – there was a likely chance it would be the new social minority group. Still, somehow the idea that you could be killed for it had never entered her head.

Stupid, really. You could be killed for anything, given the right person had the means. "Your eyes are too blue," "You looked at me funny," "You think you're better than me." People died before their time every day for mundane reasons. It didn't have to be about being different.

It didn't have to be … but it often was.

A sudden chill traced the length of her spine. Tabby found herself racing the last few feet up the driveway, swallowing the unwelcome and overly ponderous thoughts with the adrenaline of sudden physical exertion. She pelted up the steps, fumbled for a key, and dashed inside.

For some reason she slammed the door behind her – not because she felt like pissing the guys off with flakes from the ceiling, but because she'd thought the unwelcome thoughts outside. With the same irrationality that made her sometimes throw salt over her shoulder, she felt like by shutting the door she could lock them out there, out where they couldn't prey on her mind because her mind was in here, safe.

The house echoed with her footsteps. The television was silent. Nobody yelled from upstairs at the slamming door, and no music blared with siphoned electricity. Either those guys not in paid labour were out scrounging grub or … no, they were probably out scrounging grub.

Too buzzed to concentrate properly, Tabby flopped onto the couch, stretching herself across the three threadbare cushions. Her top rode up a little, allowing her stomach to rub against the shabby velveteen. She groped down the back for the remote. Her hand returned with something green and sticky smeared across the knuckles.

"Oh, yuk," she muttered. Then again, louder, alleviating the silence of the empty house with the sound of her own voice. "Yuk! I'm gonna nail Todd's scrawny ass to the wall."

Taking advantage of the Power of the Remote Control – something rarely experienced when sharing a house with four males – Tabby pillowed her cheek on her arm and let mind-numbing cartoons fill her brain.

"So what was so dang funny?"

Risty, previously holding her smile in with a hand, erupted into fits of giggles.

Rogue stared at her, nonplussed.

They had found a table at the back of the food court between plastic palm trees in dire green buckets. Some thoughtful soul had sprayed the trees with pine air freshener, creating an interesting contrast of expectations.

Rogue surveyed her friend, carefully moving her tray away when spittle started to fly. Risty had no compunction about laughing in public – not the reserved, I-know-someone's-watching-me kind of laughter, but the full, head thrown back and gurgling like a drain kind.

"Her name…" she wheezed, before dissolving once more.

They had left the Clothing Emporium with more bags than Rogue had felt comfortable letting Risty pay for. As such, her own purse was now empty and at risk of playing host to moths.

On the flip side, she was now the proud owner of not only the burgundy dress and stripy tights, but a pair of thick-soled black boots with metal clips instead of laces, a selection of fingertip-to-elbow gloves in assorted colours, and a pre-packaged batch of cosmetics they had each bought when cornered by a shop assistant and her perfume spritzer. In truth, these had been more of an escape tactic to get the assistant to leave them alone, but Rogue reasoned that she had needed some new mascara anyway.

They had descended on the food court and the Gut Burger there with all speed, Risty complaining of low blood sugar and a need to ingest fatty calories.

The girl who had served them was an emaciated stick with lipstick and eye shadow – a complete stranger to fried foods. Her nametag had identified her as Candida, which Risty seemed to find absolutely hilarious for some reason. She had stumbled into the seating area, leaving Rogue to follow in bewilderment.

Which brought us to the current moment.

"Y'want a glass of water?" Rogue offered, not sure the diet cokes they'd ordered would be much use.

Risty held up a hand, gave a last carefree gulp, and drew herself up. She ran a hand through her hair, shook her head back, and then it was as though nothing had ever happened. No blotchy cheeks, no make-up tinged tearstains, not so much as a hair out of place. Once again, Risty Wilde was poised and coiffed to perfection.

She popped a French-fry into her mouth and chewed, completely ignoring the curious looks of the other customers. When it became apparent that the show was over, they averted their eyes to their own cooling meals. Risty continued silently eating until the last one had looked away.

"Her name," she said calmly.

"Whose name?"

"The cashier's. Can you believe her parents were so cruel?"

Rogue cut her eyes at the desk and the emaciated stick. "What's wrong with her name?"

"It's Candida. You know – Candida." Risty gestured with a French-fry, as though fatty foods could grant sudden intelligence if used like a magic wand. At Rogue's blank look she went on, "As in albicons. As in thrush."


"What? I didn't decide to use it as a child's name. Why, hello there, won't you come and meet our offspring?" She spoke to an invisible visitor. "This is little Candida. And this is her brother, Non-Specific Urethritis. And this," she flourished proudly, "is our eldest; Genital Warts. A fine, strapping bunch, wouldn't you agree?"

Rogue let her forehead hit the palm of her hand. Nobody appeared to be listened to their conversation, for which she was eternally grateful. "I can't take you anywhere, can I?"

"Moi?" Risty pressed a hand to her chest. "I'm the perfect shopping partner."

"Maybe. But tact is sumthin' you gotta work on."

"When the world stops being so funny, I'll start being tactful."

They fell into companionable silence, absorbed by their meals. After a moment, Rogue found her eyes wandering.

There was a toddler in a stroller by the next table. He was clutching a French-fry in each pudgy hand and grinned wetly at her while his mother talked animatedly to a friend.

"And then I said, Daddy; I said, Daddy, if you expect me to be so spiritual then you should expect a little plastic bashing on massages. I can't, I said to him, I simply can't have dirty shakras. It's just, y'know, not done in the free fucking world, y'know?"

Vaguely disgusted by the mother's conversation, Rogue took a moment to regard the sticky infant. She was not a particularly great fan of small children – which was probably just as well. All the same, this one broke new barriers on the ugly scale. Plus, he was drooling – a hideous thing in her eyes. She knew all toddlers drooled, but this one obviously had a full complement of teeth, so why was he still dribbling like the Jabberwock?

The shreds of Kitty still hanging around her brain summed it up in one word: Ick.

Averting her eyes led her to look over Risty's head. On the other side of the quad was one of those ghastly chain stores that tried so hard to look like it wasn't. This one had opted for draping huge metal chains around the window display and painting appalling expressions on all of the mannequins. Two of them seemed to be engaged in some sort of indecent act under a mound of crushed baked bean cans. Had it not been for what they were wearing, Rogue might have brushed over the place like the sticky toddler.

The germ of an idea turned over in her mind.



"Could you lend me thirty dollars? I'm all out after the Emporium. I'll remember to pay you back, honest."

"I didn't doubt it. And even if you didn't remember, I would've." Risty tapped the side of her head. "Mind like a steel trap, dear – rusty and illegal in thirty-eight states."

Yes, I know it was short, but I've been hella busy with university work recently.

I got the idea of the switchboard from a short published story called 'Up The Hill Backwards', which had Betsy doing pretty much the same thing. Damned ifI can remember the author, though, Shadow Diva.

Oh, Logan in just a frilly pink apron! I'm not sure whether to catalogue that imageas the Funniest Thing I've Ever Seen (tm), or Fuel For My Nightmares (tm), Psycho-Neurotically Disturbed.

Hey, Ivan. Long time nosee. And I wasn't copletely happy with that scene,either (dialogue isn't my strong suit, so a dialogue-heavy scene was always going to be a problem), but unfortunatelythe story had reacheda point where it neededlots of the talky-talky in order to progress. Damn fic, taking on a life of its own.

As you find a rhythm
Working you, slow mile by mile,
Into your proper haunt
Somewhere, well out, beyond . . .' - from Casualty: Seamus Heaney

Rogue's one of those characters who's chock-full of ... well, of character, lots of interesting facets and shades. And yet, for the most part, the fandom focuses on only one of them - her angstiness. And having a relationship with Remy. Practically every Rogue-centric fic is a variation on the same theme. It drives me nucking futs! Um, but thank you for the review, Angel, I appreciate it.

Most people don't seem to bother with Ray at all, SperryDee. Which is just plain wrong. Lil' love-muffin deserves some fantime. Um, unless it turns out like the fantim devoted to Romy. In which case I'll keep him all to myself.

Glad you like it, The Hermione Granger Fanclub. Although henceforth, do you mind if I shorten your name to just Hermione? Here, you can have some more Rogue n' Risty hijinks to make up for it. Just look above... And for the record, my favourite curse (as in th one I use the most) just has to be 'Hell on a stick', or 'Hell's bum!' And 'you silly mare' comes right out of my everyday speak. England is good for swearing. You don't get quite the right emphasis in an American accent. 'Bollocks' or 'bugger' in a US drawl? Not quite, methinks. Although I feel I should be slightly worried that we have so many different words for urine, and incorporate 'piss' into so many curses.

Roberto and Ray are my boys, Slash Gorden. Although if your name is anything to go by, you might appreciate their appearance in UnknownSource's fic 'The Challenge'. Mystique and Barbie Doll Rogue (tm). Now there's something I never thought I'd ever write as a sentence. And Tabby is just plain fun. No question.

Hey, Azkailani. How's it shakin'?I despised Pocahontas II. Yes, I know it was a smidge more historically accurate than the first movie, but it also undermined pretty much everything partially redeeming about the first movie. So no, Disney sequels don't quite hack it for me. Except for George of the Jungle II, if only for their King Kong parody and explanation for why Brendon Fraser wasn't in it anymore.

I always thought Jean practially kept the aspirin industry intact by herself, Relwarc. Esepcially since that boost her abilities got in 'Power Surge'. That's some magic mojo, right there. Snobby!Amara is more InterNutter's creation than mine, but I still prefer her to the insipid version of the show.

See y'all next time! If I survive my exams to see next time. Help...