Filling in the spaces between Cruise Control and X23

"Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle
Everything I do is stitched with your color"
'Separation,' W.S. Merwin

This headache, Rogue decided, was getting really old. Even though the mansion was, for once, genuinely quiet, the silence wasn't helping the throbbing in her temples. Even Kitty and Kurt had left on the cruise. They had felt bad leaving her behind, Kurt had even made self-sacrificing noises about staying behind to keep her company if she 'really felt that she vas too veak to go,' but Rogue had managed to convince him to go anyway. It might have had something to do with throwing up on him before he had been able to BAF away. Well, she had warned him that she wasn't faking it, she really did feel sick.

Part of her was relieved that she had this convenient excuse to miss what she could only imagine as a torture session—standing fully covered from head to toe in the Caribbean, watching everyone else have fun…and part of her was still simmering angrily about the whole thing. How could the professor have chartered such a 'vacation,' where she would have been so miserable?

But then she took a deep breath and forced herself to look around. She owed the professor a lot. She was still as weak as a newborn kitten, she couldn't stand bright lights or loud noises…Rogue didn't want to think about where she'd be if she didn't have anyone to take care of her after this whole mess. And after rejecting Mystique and Remy…the X-Men were pretty much all she had left.

She was a bit surprised that after the whole 'end of the world, opening of the second key' thing that the professor still thought it was a good idea to send his X-Men halfway around the world, but he and Beast had been holed up in the library for days now. She had only seen Beast when he came in to test her vitals, set her up on the machines that would contract her muscles, and drop off her food. And lately Beast hadn't been very good company, he had been muttering under his breath the whole time he was in the med lab…Rogue guessed that they were working hard on something and wanted the kids out of the way.

So, when she wasn't feeling relieved, or bitter, or desperate, or grateful, or lonely, she was feeling tired. Even her bones ached. She was stubbornly sticking with the physical therapy routine Beast had prescribed for her, but it was hard to get up and walk around the room when sitting up made everything spin and she could feel the blood pounding in her temples and the aching, scraped thin, emptiness of her subconscious.

And when she wasn't forcing herself to move or eat, she was sleeping. Rogue had never been so sick of sleeping. She supposed her body needed to recover from the 'physical, emotional, and psychic trauma' and now that no one was coming in to disturb her rest, it was taking advantage of the time to sleep. Although one small, cynical, and broken part of her wondered each time Beast came in with food, 'If I didn't eat this, would I still be as tired?' Rogue was terrified to find out, and so she ignored the possibility and made certain to eat every last bit of her food.

When she wasn't sleeping she had a few moments of aching mental clarity to be bored. She knew if she moved she'd exhaust herself and so she'd stare up and count the motes on the tiles. So far each tile had a mean of 97 motes. There were seventy-three tiles down and four hundred twenty-eight tiles across the ceiling, so, in theory, Rogue knew she could figure out the number of motes without counting. But she blanched at the thought of multiplying seventy-three and four hundred twenty-eight, so she went back to counting again.

It was better than thinking about Remy. She missed him. She missed his paranoid suggestions, his blustering protection, even his dirty jokes. She missed teasing him and making him laugh. She missed the edge of danger that she got from being with him—it was one thing to have him as a penpal, but Gambit in the flesh was even more exhilarating. You never knew what was going to happen next when you were with him…one thing about being around Remy LeBeau—you were never bored.

But she couldn't write him again just because she was bored. She wasn't willing to jerk him around like that—she had meant what she said.

So what if some part of her wished he hadn't let her go so easily. She should be glad that he respected her enough to leave her alone.

Yeah. Glad.

Rogue groaned and shifted back and forth on the bed. She had done the right thing. She knew it. She could not risk her place with the X-Men, she couldn't risk endangering them like she had again. It was one thing when she hadn't known, when she hadn't been in control, but to willingly be in a relationship with someone working for Magneto? No. That was inexcusable. She couldn't risk it.

But that didn't mean that she was happy with her decision.

The door to the med lab slid open, and Rogue propped herself up on one elbow so she could see Wolverine enter. He glanced around the room even as he made his way over to her bed. He was always skittish around hospitals.

"Hey, kid."

"Logan. What are ya doing in here?"

He took an exaggerated sniff and made a face, crunching around the cigar she never actually saw him smoke before he answered. "It stinks in here."

Rogue gave a grunt of ascent, "Not much Ah can do about it."

"You could leave."

"Yeah, Ah'll just up and walk out. Why didn't Ah think of that sooner!" Rogue flopped back on the bed and watched him come parallel to her out of the corner of her eye.

"I'll give you a hand up," Wolverine said, his voice curiously even as he held his bare hand out to her.

She followed his eyes to her gloves on the table beside her bed and caught his nearly imperceptible nod and suddenly Rogue couldn't breathe. Her brain was swimming with what he was offering her—willingly allowing himself to get drained so she could get out of the med lab.

She almost took it without thinking. Was this really what she wanted? Her head was finally hers again, was taking in another psyche best for her?

"The professor…said he thought Ah needed ta heal…naturally."

She was unaware that she was staring at his hand like it a slavering wolf stared at a fresh cut of beef.

"It seems to me," Logan said, his voice still that strange, flat tone, "that usin' your powers is the natural way to heal."

Rogue swallowed. She wanted to take his hand. She could almost feel the fresh rush of power surging through her, giving strength to her body and replacing that raw, scraped feeling in her mind. She wanted to take Wolverine's power. She wanted to take it so much, it terrified her.

She forced herself to look away from his hand and into his eyes. "Thanks, Logan. But this is something Ah need ta get through by myself. And if Ah take your hand…Ah'm not sure what will happen."

"You're going to have to find out sometime, Stripes," but Logan shoved his hand in his pocket. "If you change your mind, I'll be around. Just think of all the extra training we could get in with everyone else out of the way."

Rogue tucked her hands under the covers, "When ya put it that way, suddenly staying in my bed doesn't seem so bad."

Logan laughed, a raspy chuckle that filled the room. "D'ya need anything? Videos, books, deck of cards?"

Rogue twitched a little at the mention of cards, but Logan didn't seem to notice. "Ah guess…if you're that bored an' all…Ah could play a card game or so?"

Logan reached into his pocket and took out a fresh deck of cards. They were a plain Bicycle brand, nothing should have made the hairs of the back of her neck stand up, and yet…

"Look at ya, carryin' around a fresh deck of cards like a professional."

Logan looked up from where he was wrestling with the cellophane wrapping to meet Rogue's (hopefully) innocuous gaze, "They were on your bed when I was making rounds. It's what gave me the idea to bring 'em down. Don't suppose you know how to play poker?"

Rogue had to fight back a hot flush of seething anger. She didn't keep fresh cards like that. But she knew a certain mutant who did. And he had been in her bedroom. But how had Wolverine not smelt him…

Logan was looking at her with shrewd eyes, and she shook herself to respond to the question, "Ah know the basics. Maybe ya could teach me?"

"Well, I only play every once in a while," Logan said as he finally freed the cards from the cellophane and loaded them into one hand to begin to shuffle in a way so awkward it was obviously practiced. "But I think I remember enough for us to muck our way through a game."

Rogue began arranging the pillows behind her so she could sit up straight, "It's worth a shot."

"All right, this is 5 card stud…"


Philosophically speaking, meeting X23 reminded Rogue that no matter how bad it was, some people always had it worse. After all, she had only been in Area 51 for a week, X had been dealing with that sort of experimentation since she was cloned. From Logan. Which made her like a mini-girl-Logan and Rogue was still trying to wrap her mind around the fact that Wolverine had like…a daughter.

It hurt her head to think about it, but fortunately the throbbing in her temples was pretty much completely faded and the scraped raw feeling was now happily filled with Ray and Scott who were (not surprisingly) arguing in that area of her mind. The fact that the psyches were back and filling her head like the constant noise of a staticy radio made her feel more...balanced was not half as disturbing as the way she had been forced to acquire them.

She had been used as a weapon against her friends. Again. And while neither Ray or Scott blamed her—after all, she'd been in med lab for almost a month, she couldn't be expected to be on top of her game—they were still giving her plenty of space. Rogue didn't think they were even conscious of it, and somehow that made it worse.

She got up off the bed—her bed—and began to pace around her room. There was no visible of Gambit anywhere, but she knew he had been there. It was in the way everything was still so exactly where she had left it. She knew that Kitty had been in and out of her room at least a dozen times while she had been in med lab, and yet everything was still neat. If that wasn't a tell, she didn't know what was.

It was typical. He was doing what she asked. He hadn't contacted her. He had just made it impossible for her to get away from the fact that he could have contacted her at any time, but he was choosing not to. He was giving her space, but he wasn't saying goodbye.

And that was something that just really wasn't worth thinking about, because she couldn't decide if she was flattered or furious.

The chattering inside her head grew more distinct as her emotions rose and Rogue took a deep breath and forced herself to calm down. It seemed that her newly acquired male psyches had very definite opinions about Gambit's presence in her life that they wished to express. Rogue half-seriously considered absorbing Kitty and Amara just to balance out, before rejecting the idea.

She needed to make up her own mind.

Which she had already done, damn it.

"Ah am not contacting him again. Ah don't care." She whirled away from the door and walked towards the balcony. Sliding the window-door open, Rogue stepped out onto the narrow platform and crossed her arms over her chest. There was a cool wind rustling through the trees and she inhaled the sharp, clear air.

It was time to move on. The X-Men were her family now, even if it was a strange, readily expanding sort of family. Even if it was a family full of secrets. Even if certain members of the family were too afraid to stand near her...

But hey, what family was perfect?

She was doing the right thing. She was protecting them.

There was a knock on her door. Rogue turned around, calling "Come in," even as something caught the corner of her eye. It looked like there was something wedged into the plastic molding which sealed the sliding door.

Before she had a chance to inspect it closer, Kitty phased through the door. "Hey, Rogue, whatcha doing out there?"

"Just gettin' some fresh air. What's up?"

"Since this is, like, your first full day out of med lab, Kurt and I thought we'd throw a little party. We rented two seasons of Mystery Science Theater and picked up a bunch of cheese doodles. I even baked a cake! Kurt's staked out prime spots in the common room and is, like, defending the DVD rights with his life. So…do you want to come down?"

Rogue fought back an entirely unexpected and unwanted rush of tears. This was her family. She would protect them. "Yeah. Just let me touch up my make up and Ah'll be right down."

Kitty grinned, "Sweet," and phased through the floor, waving at Rogue while she was sunk halfway through. "See you down there!"

Rogue walked over to the mirror to check on her face and counted slowly to fifteen. When she was certain that no one was going to just pop in on her, she walked back over to the balcony door and examined the sealing. There was a small bump about midway between floor and ceiling and when she bet to examine it she saw that it was the very faintest edge of the tip of a playing card.

Rogue cussed through her teeth as she began to prod the card out of the wall. The friction kept it stuck to the wall and she had to wiggling it up and down before managing to get enough it out so she could get a solid grip on it. Once she had it firmly in her hand, she was able to pull it out.

Exasperated, Rogue flipped the card over to see a joker's face winking up at her.

"Oh, ha, ha, Remy." She sighed and stared at it before crumbling it casually in her hand.

Her jaw set, Rogue turned to leave her room and throw the card out on the way.

But somehow…the crumpled up card ended up in her pocket instead. And as she sat and laughed with Kitty and Kurt and Joel, Tom, and Crow, the knowledge that it was there was strangely warming.

AN: OK, wow, this was the Transitional Chapter of Doom. Following the Month of Doom, I suppose that only makes sense. I'm sorry this is so short, but at least it's done, out of the way, finished. And you all know what's coming next. That's right, Dark Horizons. Wonder how our heroes will react to Certain Events that goes on in them there mess. I'm really looking forward to writing some of that live-action. Thank you all so much for your reviews! They really help me keep this story going.