A week later, Logan began looking for an apartment. Not that it was a long search, because there was only one apartment building in all of Ryeton--Marie's. Convenient, how that worked out.
Logan didn't explain before moving in across the hall, because he wasn't exactly sure what he should say about it. The simple truth was that he liked her, that he wanted to be close to her, and this was the easiest way he could think of to accomplish that. But he couldn't tell her that.
So he just showed up one day, duffel bag in hand and the key to a scantily pre-furnished apartment now on his keychain. After looking around, he dropped the bag and sheepishly crossed the hall. She was home, he could hear her moving around behind the closed door. But maybe this had been a bad decision—right now, she liked having lunch with him every day, and always looked happy to see him. What if that went away?
He really didn't want it to go away.
Finally, he knocked, and when she swung open the door and merely looked surprised to see him standing there, he started talking without really knowing how to say what he needed to.
"I, uh, got a job," was what he started with. "At the club, the bartender needed a new bouncer. He said after a week of watching me in the cage, no one would dare step out of line while I was there, so he offered. I figured, maybe, I could make some cash, and took it. Just for awhile."
She was still just standing there.
"But, uh, I figured if I was gonna be here awhile, an apartment would be good. Because the motel maid kept coming in to clean things, and I don't like other people poking around all the time, and it smelled funny. So I live across the hall now."
And there it was, as much of the truth as he could actually verbalize. She'd probably freak out. It was a little weird, he knew, to meet someone and then just move right next to them without any warning at all. He had probably ruined everything.
"I was just cooking dinner," Marie said finally, and his awkwardness receded enough to register the smile that still played around the corners of her mouth. "Want to join me?"
Now that she mentioned it, it did smell awful good in there. And she was smiling at him still. Good. That was good.
"Sure," he replied, more relieved than he'd ever be able to explain.
Her apartment was pretty much the same as his, even down to the faded striped sofa. Still, somehow, hers seemed ... better. Homier, maybe. "What're you cookin'?" he asked, trying to relax once again and not obsess over why Marie hadn't freaked out or seemed put off by the whole thing. Had the situation been reversed, he sure wouldn't have invited himself in for dinner.
"Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, cornbread ... all of Mama's favorites," Marie replied. "I haven't lived in Mississippi for nearly four years, but I never really lost the urge for big Sunday dinners. Besides, if I cook a lot, it normally lasts me a few days."
He'd be cutting into her leftovers. "I could go …" he offered.
"Don't be ridiculous. A big part of Sunday dinner is company, and while I love Snowflake over there, he's not exactly much for deep conversation. Or conversation of any kind, really."
He eyed the fluffy, black cat sprawled over three quarters of the sofa like he owned it. "It's a black cat."
Logan turned his gaze back to Marie, who was smiling and brought him a beer without even having to ask. "You're weird."
She just laughed. "Coming from Logan, the Amazing Moose-Slayer, that ain't sayin' much."
He couldn't do anything but laugh with her, and finally, he began to relax. Maybe things would be okay after all.
Sometime in the middle of February, Marie had the disturbing realization that she was actually … happy. At some point, she had stopped just existing and started to really enjoy the quiet life she had built for herself. People in the town were starting to warm up to her, she had painted the walls of her apartment a sunny yellow, and, of course, there was Logan. Deceptively small things, when put separately, but together, they added up to a life that made her smile more than it made her cry.
That hadn't been the case for her in a very long time.
So when she swung open the front door one Saturday night expecting it to be Logan fresh off of work and wanting to sit on her couch and chat while trying to pretend that he wasn't petting Snowflake, and found Scott and Storm standing there instead, it understandably felt like she had been punched in the stomach.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, and regretted that it sounded more hostile than it really should have. But the phone had finally stopped beeping a few weeks ago, and she had let herself believe, even if just for a little while, that they'd stopped trying to get to her, to convince her that everything would be just hunky dory if she came back.
She knew better.
"There's a mission. We need you," Scott said in his clipped tones.
"You need my stolen super strength, you mean," she corrected. "Or is it flight this time? No, it can't be that, because 'Ro is perfectly capable …"
"Rogue," Storm said with that unflappable calm. "Please."
Marie sighed. When it came right down to it, she knew she'd go. They wouldn't have come, have invaded like this, unless it was really important. They were meddlers, yes, and they'd willingly pester her into submission. But they'd never force her. And really, it hadn't been their fault.
No, she had managed to kill their much-loved teammate Carol all her own.
"Let me get my coat," she said finally, resigned. Turning away, she managed to scribble down a note to Logan before they hustled her off to the Blackbird.
"Something came up. There are leftovers in the fridge. Be back in a few days," it read. On the way out, she slipped it under his door and just hoped that he found it before he tried to come over that night, so he'd know not to worry.
She actually managed to make it back in less than twenty-four hours, trudging up the stairs to her apartment around eleven Sunday night and finding a nearly frantic Logan waiting for her.
"What happened? Where were you? Are you okay?" were the first words that tumbled out of Logan's mouth as he caught sight of Marie, pulling her close without even thinking about it.
He had come home and she was gone, just …gone. It had been awful. Breathing her in, he tried to slow his breathing, to regain the control that seemed to have disappeared with her the night before.
"Oh, Logan …didn't you get my note?" she asked, letting him cling to her tightly.
He snorted. "Some note. You just …vanished! No explanation, nothing. You could have been anywhere, hurt or in trouble or something. And you missed Sunday dinner. You love Sunday dinner." He hadn't meant for the last part to come out so petulantly, hadn't really meant to say any of it.
"Oh, I'm sorry Logan. Tell you what; we'll have Sunday dinner on Monday this week. I need to call off tomorrow anyway," she admitted, pulling back a little and wincing as she did so.
"What's wrong?" he demanded, pushing her an arm's length away so he could study her and finally seeing the cuts and bruises that littered her face, feeling an irrational rage bubble up inside him. "What happened to you?" He should have been there, he could have protected her ….
"It's nothing," she said quietly.
"Bullshit! You're hurt," he insisted, surveying the damage he could see and wondering if there was more beneath her ever-present layers of clothing. Knowing she wouldn't volunteer the information, he pushed up the hem of her shirt a bit, going to place a hand against the pale expanse of her stomach, checking for bruises and bumps.
Before he could, she jerked away violently. The movement stunned him at first, and then the idea that she was that against him touching her just ached. "I'm not gonna hurt you," he said quietly, swallowing against the lump in his throat that appeared at the very idea.
She sighed, heavily. "No, Logan, it's not that. I know you won't. It's just …I just …look, I can't explain. Just know that touching my skin is a bad idea."
That didn't make any sense. None of this did. "Marie, where were you?" he asked, desperate and sad and hurt.
She just gazed at him, and for a brief flicker of a second, he thought maybe she'd tell him, that she'd tell him all her secrets and he could share his. That maybe she wouldn't be afraid of the claws just like she hadn't been afraid of the fact that some stranger in a back alley moved across the hall without warning. If she would just make the first concession, maybe ….
But she just shook her head, her deep brown eyes completely unreadable for the first time. "It's late, Logan. Go to sleep. We'll have dinner tomorrow. I'm sorry I missed it tonight."
She left him there in the hallway, alone and uncertain for the first time since he had met her.
Marie had hoped that when morning came, she would feel a little less like shit.
No such luck, as it turned out.
Not only was she bruised, cut, and burned over various parts of her body, but she had upset Logan. On some superficial level, they were nothing more than neighbors and lunch buddies. But really, it was deeper than that. It was connection and conversation and caring. Maybe it would have been something deeper still, if she had been honest with him from the beginning.
As it turned out, maybes weren't worth much.
She somehow knew the knock on the door wasn't Logan and was loathe to answer it. Marie expected Scott's face before she even caught sight of the red glasses—she had, after all, flown off in the middle of an argument the night before. All she had wanted was to go home.
"Come in, Scott," she yelled, not really feeling like getting up from her careful prone position on the couch.
The X-Men's team leader entered with an almost sheepish expression on his face. "How are you feeling, Rogue?"
"Like I got the shit kicked out of me. You?"
"About the same," he admitted. "Look, Rogue …we want you to come back. Come home. This has gone on long enough, don't you think?"
Marie sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "I don't know, Scott. Is there an appropriate length of exile for someone who killed a team member? A friend?"
"You can't keep blaming yourself for that. It was an accident."
"And still, I see blame in everyone's eyes. Even now, more than a year later, people can't look at me without wincing. They can't brush my shoulder without freaking. I was isolated before, Scott. After Carol, I was a god-damned leper. And maybe it's weak of me, maybe it's selfish. But is it so wrong for me to want to stay someplace where if I'm alone, it's at least by choice?"
Her voice was raised now, she couldn't really help it. Remembering back to that time, where her head was too full and her life was too empty wasn't a pleasant thing to do.
"Rogue, we need you on the team."
She winced. "And that should be enough, right?" she shook her head. "The thing is Scott, I'm not sure it is. Not anymore."
Logan jerked awake knowing one thing: Marie was upset.
He didn't even pause long enough to throw on a shirt, barging into the apartment across the hall in a near frenzy. It only got worse when he saw Marie near tears and a perfect stranger hovering over her. Was this who had hurt her? The reason she had come home with bruises and in pain? The reason she had missed Sunday night dinner and pulled away whenever he got too close?
Already feeling dangerously close to the edge, he pointed to the stranger. "You. Out."
Behind his weird looking sunglasses (and who the hell needed sunglasses in fucking February, anyway?), the guy just managed to look sort of bewildered. "Look, man, I …"
"OUT!" Logan roared, seeing nothing but red as he started to advance on the other man. He wasn't even aware that he had let the claws out until he heard Marie gasp.
"Logan …" she said, eyes wide as she looked at them, then up into his eyes and back down again.
The rage melted away to a moment of sheer panic, where he knew that the game was up it was all over now and he didn't want it to be. He wanted, no he needed Marie and the way they were, plain and normal and easy. But it would never be that way again.
Or so he thought until Marie cried out a nearly joyful "Logan!" and threw herself into his arms, heedless of the claws or anything else.
She was warm and tight against him, laughing. He couldn't process it all. There had been a lot of different reactions to the claws over the years, but never this.
Not that he was complaining. And if she was going to come to her senses in a moment and run screaming, he'd just have to take advantage of this. Sliding the claws back in, he tugged her even closer, burrowing his nose into her dark locks and forgetting everything else.
There was a spout of words coming from her mouth, words he didn't really care about because she was laughing and crying and still hugging him, and really, that was all that mattered.
He was a mutant.
Of all the weird twists of fate, after all her bad luck, there was this. There was a chance now, that she could tell him everything and he wouldn't run away or think she was horrible or evil or just not worth the trouble.
She was letting it all loose now, the whole story from running away as a scared seventeen year old to the Statue to Carol and the X-Men and it felt so good to tell him everything finally. She hadn't even realized how much she had wanted to.
" …And Logan, this is Scott, he's the team leader. He wants me to go back, to fight for them again because now I've got Carol's super strength and can fly and they want that on their team, and I …"
That caught his attention and Logan pulled away, looking just at her. "Are you going?" he asked, as though the rest of it didn't matter at all, as though that was the most important detail.
It threw her and thrilled her. "I don't know," she admitted. "I …I probably should …"
His hands tightened around her shoulders. "Don't," he whispered, eyes wide. "Stay here. With me."
That was the best offer she'd ever heard, and Marie couldn't stop the grin from spreading across her face. "Really?"
He swallowed, nodding, and she reached up, tracing the lines of his face with her gloved finger. Even knowing about her skin, skin that had already killed the strongest person Marie had ever met, he didn't so much as flinch. And she knew.
"Okay," she whispered. "We'll stay."