"I'm aware what the rules are

But you know that I will run

You know that I will follow you

Over silvery hills, through the solar fields

You know that I will follow you." 1,000 Oceans

–Tori Amos

A/N: Thanks for sticking with this and for all your encouragement and suggestions. I'm so glad and grateful that you have enjoyed reading it like I've enjoyed writing it. I feel such a ridiculous warmth for all of you people out there in the ether. Though we will never meet- Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Chapter 19-

A blast of cold hammers them from behind, ripping the fire away and casting them apart from each other.

The fire- the flowering of John's power dies abruptly and Rogue's chest echoes hollowly where it's wildness had surged through her.

Struggling to stand, a strong familiar hand wraps around her arm, pulling her to her feet. Across the alley, Bobby holds his hand palm out and John staggers under the ice that pours out of it. He fights his way to one knee and holds his own hand out like a shield to call up the fire when Bobby steps closer and the cold explodes over John, stronger than before. He falls again.

"Stop!" Rogue screams. She can feel John weakening. Drained and wavering- he is still fragile from his injury and from the emergence of this new facet of his power. But still he tries to push himself up with one hand as Bobby mercilessly pounds him across the shoulders. "Stop it! You're hurting him! Stop!"

Bobby doesn't hear or doesn't care. He watches John writhe under the cold with all the expression a man might give a fish on a hook.

Rogue tries to rush forward but Logan is still holding her, "Let go!" She demands, wrenching at her arm.

"Marie-" Logan shakes her, pulling her around to face him, trying to meet her eyes.

"Let go!" She repeats but his confusion is clear in the wrinkle between his eyebrows. He refuses to let go. Glancing over her shoulder, Rogue can see John's shoulders bowed under Bobby's assault, palms pressed into the rough asphalt, his head hanging low. There's just no time.

"I'm sorry, Logan." She sees the understanding in his eyes before she presses her free hand to his face. Rogue doesn't bother with finesse; she drags as much energy out of him as quickly as she can and he drops like a stone.

Hitting Bobby low and hard, Rogue tackles him around the middle, knocking him off his feet. With a quick powerful twist, he reverses their positions. Pinning her underneath him, one hand holds her down as the other draws back to punch when he finally recognizes her face, "Rogue?" Bobby asks, confused and she takes advantage of his hesitation, lunging toward the only skin he has left uncovered- his face.

He slaps her hand away, slamming her wrist into the ground and trapping it there, "Rogue! What's wrong with you?"

"Let me go!" She fights his hold wildly.

"What did he do to you?" Bobby whispers in horror as he stares down at her like she's become a rabid stranger. For a moment, Rogue stops struggling. "Marie," Bobby pushes the tangled hair out of her face, "We were so worried-"

A hand grabs Bobby by the hair and drags him backwards off of Rogue. Tossing Bobby onto the ground, John delivers a vicious unsteady punch that catches the other man full in the face. Blood washes over the pavement.

Now pinning Bobby down, John rains blows down on the other mutant. Again. And again.

Stumbling forward, Rogue grabs his arm, "That's enough-" She pleads, "John! That's enough!" It's almost as though he doesn't know how to stop.

A set of claws catches the light and Rogue moves just fast enough to take the blow instead of John. The adamantium slicing into her arm so cleanly, she hardly feels any pain until the blades catch bone.

The claws disappear in an instant and Logan's eyes stretch wide in dismay, "Marie-"

Stillness reigns suddenly and three pairs of shocked eyes gaze at her.

Instinct pushes Rogue to clutch at the wound but her hand flinches away before she can touch the bloody mess. The flesh of her upper arm has been sliced into strips right down to the bone. Her blood burns as it pours across the unblemished skin of her forearm and unto the ground. When her knees give way and she falls, the impact rattles her teeth. John is at her side in an instant, one hand steady on her back as he stares at the injury.

"Rogue-" Logan moves towards her and Pyro slaps him away with a wave of fire.

"Stay away from her!" John snarls, crouched over Rouge.

His burned skin re-growing as they watch, Logan pushes himself away from the wall and back to his feet, "You're really starting to piss me off, kid."

Clutching John's arm, Rogue's vision darkens at the edges.

He rips his eyes away from Logan to glance at her. In that moment of distraction, the blades leap through Wolverine's skin and his muscles bunch to spring-

The alleyway fills with a brilliant golden light that is both soft and warm and just a little sharp like rubbing cat's fur until a spark forms. It glows so bright everyone shades their eyes and a voice observes, "That's enough, children."

Stepping out of the ruined hole where his alleyway door used to be, Doc crosses the pavement quickly. He drops to his knees beside Rogue who recoils instinctively. Holding her with his calm steady gaze, the older man smiles gently, "Let me take a look at that, Marie." He nods toward her mangled arm.

Behind him, Logan looks stunned, "Now just wait a minute, Bub-"

Over his shoulder, Doc glares sharply at Logan, "Are you a doctor? Then shut up and stay out of my way." He takes Rogues hand and grunts in surprise as the drain starts.

Rogue feels the golden light of his power wash up her arm. Pain evaporating, the muscles knit back together, blood vessels leaping over the gaps and reforming to pump healing blood through the new tissue. The sensation is slower and warmer than what she had felt from Logan's healing. It's gentler too, erasing pain instead of forcing her to endure the discomfort of a long recovery compressed into a few moments.

Grateful, Marie smiles up at Doc and his eyes fall to where she is still clinging to his fingers as his veins rise to the skin, crawling up his arm, "A little help here, John?" He requests softly and the young man hurries forward to help him pry his fingers loose from Rogue's.

"I'm sorry-"

Doc waves her apology away, "No matter." Sitting back heavily onto his heels, his breath comes raspy in his throat, "Just give me a second and I'll take a look at him," He nods toward Bobby as the young man covers his bloody nose and mouth with one hand and he watches everything through wild eyes.

Studying Rogue, John touches her shoulder gently, "You okay?"

She gives him a small reassuring smile.

"What in the hell is going on!" Logan roars and everyone else jumps. "Who the hell are you?" He demands to Doc, then he jerks his head toward John though he is looking at Rogue, "And what are you doing with him?"

John raises one eyebrow sardonically then glances at Rogue . . . who is staring down at the tips of her boots.

When she doesn't answer Logan right away, all expression slips off John's face and his posture grows stiff, "So, tell him, Marie- What are you doing with me?"

Again everyone is watching her- even Doc has focused his soft gaze to her. Rogue turns to John, her eyes pleading but his expression has settled stark and cold across his face. How can she explain?

Frustration tightens her voice, "You don't understand. Logan-" Glancing around like she is trying to find the words, her eyes land on Bobby. Bobby with the blood covering his chin and the resentment and confusion clear on his face. Bobby who said he never wanted her to change and was still afraid to touch her.

Mute and furious, John is still crouched beside her, still close enough to touch.

Raising her chin, Rogue meets Bobby and Logan's eyes in turn, "I came to John." Pyro's head snaps up and she keeps her eyes steady on him as she continues, "I needed someone- no, I needed John to teach me-"

"Teach you what?" Logan demands.

"This." Reaching out, Rogue offers her hand and John slides his fingers into hers without hesitation. Bobby makes a strained sound.

Eyes falling to their joined hands, a muscle in Logan's jaw works fiercely. He jerks his head toward the end of the alley, "Let's talk, kid." He walks away, back stiff.

When she struggles to get to her feet, John rises as well, dragging them both up using the wall for leverage. When she starts to follow Logan, John warns, "Rogue-"

She runs a soothing hand across his cheek, a deep part of her wondering at her skin on his, "It's okay." She explains, before trailing unsteadily after Wolverine.

Leaning against the brick at the end of the alley, Logan lights one of his short cigars and regards her through a cloud of smoke as she sways in front of him, "Is this for real?"

Taking a steadying breath, Marie reaches out and lays her palm against his forearm.

He stares down at the small pale hand against his ruddy skin. When nothing happens, he demands, "How?"

A strange breathy laugh escapes Marie and her fingers fall away, "Practice,"

"Practice? Why didn't the professor-"

Rogue's expression darkens, "I'm not sure the professor wanted me to control it."

Logan chews the cigar thoughtfully. Then he notes, "He's Brotherhood, you know. The same people who tied you to a machine that was going to kill you."

Shaking her head, Rogue answers, "No. He's John. And I'm Marie."

Seeing the doubt in his eyes still, Rogue reaches out to grasp his hand with both of hers, one thumb sliding between his knuckles where the blades come out, "You said you were my friend once." She tugs gently on his fingers, "Please, understand this. Now. I need him."

The silence lays over them, heavy like water as he hunts her eyes for something . . .

Sighing, Logan's shoulders slump in resignation. Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out his keys, removing a separate ring holding two slices of metal. "Here," He offers them to her.

"What-" Rogue frowns in confusion, refusing the gift automatically, but he takes her wrist and presses the keys into her palm.

"You might want to head north for a while." He suggests, "Maybe take a trip you always meant to take. Maybe stop in Vancouver at a storage facility called Bobby Jack's and take a look at what's in unit number 43."

She searches his face, rugged and frightening to everyone but her. Somehow, she has always known she could trust him. Even now she isn't sure why.

So she asks, "Why?"

"'Cause, I'm your friend, kid."

Logan disentangles her arms from around his neck a moment later, "You're gonna give the firebug the wrong idea," he observes, nodding at John watching discreetly from a few feet away.

Turning, Rogue's smile is brilliant as she holds her hands out and John's stiff posture relaxes as he moves to take them.

"No!" Bobby's protest cuts across the alley and he stumbles toward them, shaking off Doc's restraining hand, "Marie-" His eyes, his familiar face begs her- Tell me this is some kind of joke. Somewhere under her ribs, Rogue can still feel him. Like the others, she will live with the knowledge of him, probably for the rest of her life. But it doesn't have to mean anything.

"I don't love you anymore." Rogue tells him calmly, her hand tightening around John's, "And I'm not sure you ever loved me."

"Marie-" Bobby insists.

"Christ, Iceman, it's over-" Logan's voice sounds disgusted behind them.

"Go home, Bobby." Rogue answers, "I'm sure Kitty's waiting."

For a second, he seems like he might accept it. His eyes fall closed and Rogue nods in relief but when he opens them again, he looks as immovable as rock. He opens his mouth to protest again- and crumples to the ground.

Toeing the young mans still form, Doc murmurs, "Boy needs to learn when to let go."

John laughs softly.

Wolverine gives them both a shocked look then with a shrug, nods his agreement. Crossing the alley, he bends over to sling Bobby up onto his shoulder. "Call me when you get there," He instructs Rogue.


He exchanges a nod with Doc and walks away, hauling the unconscious Bobby like a sack of grain.

When they are out of sight, John turns toward Marie, "What now?"

Rogue slides her arms around him, pulling him as close as she can. Her mouth moves over his, tasting the future there. When they part finally, she asks, "Have you ever been to Alaska?"