A/N: Okay, so there have been seven million stories about this topic since X3 came out making me loath to share my in some ways inferior version. But on the off chance that someone other than me may enjoy this . . . here goes nothing. I don't own X-Men yada, yada, yada.
One might think that after the battle at Alcatraz everyone all lived happily ever after. Sure, the X-Men were mourning the deaths of our fallen comrades, but the good guys had won! In fact, Bobby knew that if this were a Hollywood ending – he indeed had ended up the hero. He had defeated the villain in John and even ended up getting the girl – Rogue could finally touch and he was the one benefiting the most.
However, none of that quite explained why he felt like crap most of the time.
Watching the most recent in a long parade of substitute physics teachers, he once again realized how much they really had lost in the last week. He missed the professor, everyone did in their own way, although, granted some more than others. Whether it was shameful or not, Bobby missed the stability that he had offered more than the man himself. Xavier had been a once in a lifetime hero to him, like getting to work with Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln or the other men Storm had quoted in her eulogy, but heroes were a bit hard to relate to. It wasn't surprising to him that his own family's betrayal though less recent stung far more than the loss of his mentor. While it felt slightly unloyal, it was none the less honest.
While Mr. Ross valiantly tried to get his sound wave model to work correctly, Bobby continued to analyze the ways he had taken Xavier for granted. Not only had he been recruiting a superhero team to save the world and in his case and others doing so personally; he had also handled all the budgeting and staffing of the school. Which was not an easy task as he knew Ms. Monroe was finding out the hard way.
Clearly, it was one thing to talk about keeping the school open and another thing entirely to do so when half of the faculty had been vaporized or worse. Warren had stayed on to help, but being only barely out of college there was a limit to his own expertise. Logan had surprisingly stuck around this time, but he too was limited by his skill level in dealing with all things teenaged. And for some reason, it was hard to convince substitutes to stay – even if they had been told they were to keep their powers strictly under wraps in front of the subs.
At the front of the class, Kitty had taken pity on the poor substitute and joined in his ministrations to the machine. Surprising no one, she had it working within minutes.
"Ah, yes, thank you Miss Pryde," Mr. Ross said patting her on the back. "I could have done it of course, but it's always nice to let a student get some real 'hands-on' experience don't you think?"
Kitty smiled for a moment – a genuine 'Can you believe this guy?' smile – looking up instinctively at Bobby to see if he shared the moment with her.
Bobby looked quickly away, not meeting her eye and therefore missing the way her face fell as she returned to her seat. Bobby wouldn't let himself share in any more private jokes with her. He couldn't.
Fortunately for all involved Mr. Ross decided to end class on a high note, dismissing them a bit early.
"Well, that was a relief," Rogue – now Marie – said, lacing her fingers in his as they strode out into the hallway.
Bobby tore his gaze from where Kitty was gathering her books, her hair obscuring her facial expression, to glance down at their intertwined hands. "What?" He asked confused. "Right."
Marie noticed the direction of his gaze and smiled shyly. He couldn't seem to avoid the rumors, so it was hard to believe that she hadn't heard them as well. Even if she could now touch others she was still the same person inside that she had always been. Hesitant, afraid of rejection, completely trusting.
'Naïve,' Bobby's conscience added despite himself. 'Completely unaware of how close to accurate the rumors about Kitty and Bobby were – of what almost happened.'
Nothing had happened, so nothing had almost happened, Bobby tried to convince himself for the millionth time. If Ro-Marie – hadn't have gotten the cure he still would have come back from San Francisco to work things out with her. Or at least he thought he would have.
Again, the truth was somewhat less noble – namely that Bobby was confused. He liked to think that this was what was meant to be, that the comradarie he felt with Kitty was just a brotherly type affection. That Marie meant everything to him and always would. That anything else had just been the stress of the heat of a battle that his true love had not been a part of – a mixture of shared grief and fear combining into something he had mistook for something else.
But just like keeping the school open, it was a lot easier to say than to believe.
"You okay, snowball," Marie asked gently, seeming to realize his attention was not fully – rather was not at all – on her.
"Yeah. Just thinking," he replied quietly. "Look you mind if I bail out on dinner? I'm not particularly hungry."
"Sure," Marie smiled, albeit a bit sadly. Truth was meals were now mostly somber affairs, filled with old memories and shadowy presences. It didn't take much for someone to want to opt out of them.
As she walked away, the shadow of her smile haunted Bobby. 'One more thing to feel guilty over,' he thought angrily.
It wasn't his fault she got the cure. Or it shouldn't be at least. It was her decision. She had said as much and it had to have been. There were other people she wanted to touch, surely. His flirtation – friendship – he corrected violently – with Kitty wasn't responsible for Marie's decision.
At the same time, it would be stupid to think that he hadn't at least factored somewhat into the equation. Or if not him specifically than the category of "boyfriend" in general had. And so whether he would have figured things out with her or not would never actually be answered. He had no choice but to stay with her after such a sacrifice. Even if he did want it and he hoped greatly he had, it was no longer what he had chosen. And so the question of "what would have happened had Rogue not gotten the cure?" was sent instead to the same what if land of possibilities that tormented each of them every night. "What if I had stopped John from leaving?" "What if I had found Rogue at the clinic?" "What if I had never come to the institute?"
It had to be better than what was tormenting Logan. "What if I could have saved her?"
Bobby had avoided Kitty since the return from San Francisco and the reunion with Rogue. While it was easier than the guilt he felt over whatever Rogue might have misconstrued and in truth easier to ignore than decipher whatever feelings were developing for Kitty that may or may not have been more than friendship, inside Bobby knew it was completely cowardly and beyond lame to just shut her out. Instead of relieving guilt, he was rapidly discovering that each snub of his merely added to his overall guilt quotient each time Kitty's eyes reflected her disappointment and confusion.
Which in turn made him angry. Angry at himself for being a coward, angry at Kitty both for trusting him and for making him feel things that he shouldn't and angry at Rogue for removing any choice he may have had.
All in all, Bobby was not entirely sure this was what happily ever after was supposed to feel like.
Reaching his room, he realized his thoughts had got him too worked up to do much more than beat something senseless. Fortunately living at Mutant High there were plenty of punching bags in imaginative shapes and sizes just below his dormitory.
He hadn't gotten past the first floor when he heard the muffled voices of people shouting. Nothing new there, it seemed like everyone had taken for granted the effect a telepathic headmaster had had on conflict resolution. What was new was the girl that sat on the bottom stair, knees curled up to her chest defensively staring at the closed door. The very girl he had tried so hard the past week to avoid.
"He doesn't belong here!" Logan's voice snarled through the thick wood.
"Well, then, where does he belong, Logan? What is our purpose if not to help mutants who have lost their way? He's just a child!" Ororo's voice was half pleading, half indignant.
"Yeah and we're not juvy hall, 'Ro. Do you forget what he's done?"
"I'm supposed to have a meeting in there in five minutes, you know," Kitty's voice drifted up to him.
Maybe she wasn't talking to him. Maybe she was just thinking out loud. He hadn't made any noise, he could probably slip away, go back to his room and work out later. Then again, she did have an uncanny way of reading his mind.
Kitty turned around to face him with a small smile – more tentative than usual, although he couldn't say he blamed her for that all things considered. "You were quiet enough, but there's a little chill to your step you can't completely erase when you're upset."
She turned around pulling her knees tight against her once more, shuddering.
Bobby tried to control the unconscious "chill" he was sending out, but couldn't completely do the same to his emotions. "Yeah, well, good luck with your meeting, I was just on my way to work out."
He strode by her without looking her way once, although he could feel her eyes follow him as he rounded the stairwell.
"Well, well, well . . ." a familiar voice drawled, although it was completely without the accompanying clicks he was so used to connecting with that voice. "You always did have a way with the ladies."
Instantly all semblance of controlling his powers went out the window and the room dropped a few degrees.
"What are you doing here?" Bobby asked disdainfully, turning to see his former roommate. John was lounging against the side of the staircase, looking completely unconcerned about his fate. Bobby realized belatedly that the teen standing in front him was the cause of the argument reverberating through the mansion. An attempted murderer was in the school and not 10 feet from where Kitty sat, completely unaware, Bobby realized stiffening. Considering the last time he had seen his old teammate he had been throwing flaming cars at them, Bobby was pretty much squarely on Logan's side on this one.
"Well, it just so happens that no one seems to know what to do with me," John smiled wryly. "Can't force cure me now that you all have got the kid. Can't put me in a maximum security jail as I'm not yet 18 – think of the press! Can't keep me in any other facility."
"So you're here?" Bobby's voice was incredulous. John had tried to kill him and Peter, not to mention the entirety of the faculty and they were actually considering letting the fox sleep in the hen house.
"Bobby?" Kitty had finally realized that he hadn't left the vicinity and come up behind him. "John?" She gasped, taking a step back involuntarily.
"Hey, pretty kitty," he taunted. "How have you been?"
It was completely illogical, considering the girl in question could phase and was, therefore, virtually invulnerable, but Bobby had never been so grateful that he was standing between John and another person.
"Leave her alone!" he shouted.
"Awww, isn't that cute? Sticking up for the little girl? But my, my, whatever would your girlfriend say? Or did she realize what an uptight ass you were and leave you?" John continued smirking quietly.
"Shut up!" This time the voice was Kitty's, quiet and full of steel. "I'm not a little girl and you have no right to insult Bobby. He and Rogue have been through enough without you to -"
Bobby turned around, effectively silencing her. "Kitty, go back to your room. Logan can come get you when it's time for your meeting. You shouldn't be here."
Kitty opened and closed her mouth like a fish, no sound coming out before turning and starting to leave. She didn't need to say anything, her eyes said it all.
Bobby felt like he was about an inch tall. That hadn't come out right at all. He had wanted to warn her and instead sounded like a controlling father. All he knew was that he wanted her as far away from John as possible. John was dangerous. Surely, she would see that he was only trying to protect her?
"Smooth, Drake." John laughed as Bobby despondently watched Kitty walk away. He walked right up to Bobby and slung his arm around his shoulder. At one time it would have been the most natural thing in the world, two buddies hanging out and checking out a girl as she strode away.
Too much had changed and Bobby pushed John roughly away.
Something flashed in John's eyes and he jumped right up in Bobby's face. "You want to go? Rematch, Iceman."
"I'd remind you that fighting is not allowed in the halls. Or anywhere else for that matter." A stern voice broke in. Instantly the two boys separated, turning to where Ororo had exited the room, Logan backing up her words with his glare. "This much at least, has not changed."
"Does that mean the whole 'safe place for mutants' has?" John muttered under his breath.
"Not yet, Mr. Allerdyce. I will not allow Charles' dream to die with him just yet," Ororo said calmly in a voice that silenced Bobby's arguments before they began.
"Come, Mr. Allerdyce. Some things have changed since your last visit and there are some restrictions that we have been instructed to relay to you," she continued, gliding up the stairs.
With one last glare at Bobby, John followed her, taking care to keep a wide berth of Logan. Kitty, Bobby saw with dismay had not exactly taken his advice, but instead retreated halfway up the stairs. John paused to murmur something towards her that caused her to blush, making Bobby see red before Ororo once more called to him to keep up.
"Half-pint!" Logan called, noticing Kitty for the first time. "You forget our meeting?" Kitty started to protest, but Logan just kept going. "Get down, here, pronto!"
She followed him into the office, but not before turning to glare at Bobby. So much for ignoring her. Bobby had the sinking sensation as the door slammed firmly shut behind her that he had just made things between himself and Kitty much, much worse.