I: TOUCH

When she learned how to get over Jean's death, she learned how to control her skin.

She'd been in session with the Professor, trying to lock up a few of her memories, 'like a locked box in the back of a closet,' he'd said, and she'd suddenly just known, known, how to turn her skin off.

She couldn't believe, really, that she'd hesitated, but she did. She'd opened her eyes and asked the Professor, 'If I—If I can turn off my skin,…should I?'

He'd seemed surprised, wanted to know more, but she didn't know how to describe it. So he'd told her that, yes, if she thought she could turn off her skin, he wanted her to try.

So she had, and she'd experienced something, a feeling, or more the lack of a feeling. Something, perhaps nothing? She'd raced one hand over her arm to feel the skin, press it, scrape it a bit with her nails to establish that, yes, she could still feel. She just couldn't feel…

And she'd freaked out about it so badly, she'd flipped her skin back on. With a rush, she felt the difference, a buzz, a hyper-sensitivity, a surge of power that felt normal and good and comfortable, and she shuddered, opening her eyes.

She'd lied to the Professor, said that she couldn't do it right now. And he'd nodded: do whatever felt right, and keep him apprised of further developments.

She'd spent the rest of the day compulsively turning it on and off. On. Off. On…Off. 'Till she could feel the flicker and the surge, could identify the instant before she lost it and the difference when it swooshed back again.

And she hadn't been able to stop looking at her skin, her hands, her arms, her legs, her toes, her stomach, seeing how the different feel of it still looked the same.

Laying in bed that night, flicking it on and off as she stroked her skin, she just had to know. If she could touch now. If this was off. She found Kitty and Bobby in Jubilee's room, and she'd thrown open the door, shut it conspiratorially, and whispered low, no preamble, 'I think I can turn off my skin.'

Bobby had looked really shocked, and Kitty had gasped. Jubes had just cocked her head. Rogue had taken a deeper breath, 'But I don't know for sure.' And she halted there, having exhausted all her courage, hoping that one of them would understand, perhaps, volunteer.

'I'll do it, chica,' Jubes responded, laying a hand on Rogue's gloved forearm.

'What!' Kitty shrieked, and Bobby protested. But Jubilee held Rogue's gaze until their bluster was over, and she repeated, 'If you want to check it out, you can touch me.'

Rogue swallowed and nodded and peeled off a glove.

She flicked a gaze to Jubilee's steady one, and swallowed. She didn't want any mistakes: she figured she'd never get the opportunity again, for one thing, and she feared almost more that she'd never want to try again, either. So, this was it. She closed her eyes, focused on the feeling… and turned her skin on…off. So she could be sure she could tell the difference. Off, this was off.

She opened her eyes, and Jubes laid her palm, face-up on the table.

'What? You can't let her!' Kitty protested, but the room was thrumming and still, as they all knew that Jubes would.

Rogue stretched out her hand, and slid the tips of her fingers onto to Jubes' palm slowly. She swallowed and hesitated, then deepened the pressure and breathed out a trembling breath. She glanced up. 'Congratulations, chica,' Jubes smiled softly.

Bobby reached out a hand then, and brushed the back of hers—'cool'—and withdrew it.

Rogue pulled back, and Kitty broke the growing silence. 'How long can you hold it for?'

Rogue's face lifted, but she was still unfocused, bemused, 'I don't know. I think as long as I want. Like a switch: on or off.'

Kitty looked at her hand a little uncertainly. 'Is it still off?' Rogue nodded. 'Can I…?' She nodded again, and Kitty darted over, danced over Rogue's skin, once, twice.

The group collectively swallowed, and Jubes relaxed in her chair. 'Well, if you know how to leave it off, chica, let's get you out of those layers.' Rogue hesitated, but Jubes persisted. 'Gloves first!'

Rogue watched her friends watch her, all of them waiting to see what she would do. She gingerly removed the other glove, and Jubes reached out and rubbed Rogue's hands.

'You've got cold hands, girl,' Jubes observed, buffing them up a bit. 'So, hey, we were playing poker before you so rudely interrupted us. Ay, Bobby! Deal her in!' she ordered.

So Bobby shuffled, and Rogue anted up, and Jubes swept the first few hands, as the rest were still too shocked to take her for the bluff. But Bobby, after some aspersions cast on his manhood, was soon provoked into earnestness, and Rogue and Kitty brought out their usual banter about how much they hated playing poker with the other two, and…somehow it was okay that Rogue felt the cards in her hands and gripped them with her bare fingers and brushed her friends' hands while sweeping in the pot.

It felt almost safe that first night, but the next day, she felt more dangerous with it off than on. She wanted to have to be careful. She wore her gloves still, around campus, and she checked to see if it was on several times a day – a quick off - ON- off.

Until Jubes grabbed her hands a few days later and coolly stripped her of the gloves, without even asking if it was safe. Whilst casually baiting Bobby. That angered her. And freaked her out. Danger wasn't forgetting. Danger was other people forgetting.

So she concentrated on making sure her skin was always off, instead of covered. She stopped wearing gloves and started carrying them.

And then one day, maybe four weeks later, she came back to her room at night and realized that she had forgotten them. That's when she finally began to believe.

It was strange, how long it took everyone to notice. At any other time, she supposed they would have noticed immediately. But the whole school was recovering from the school's invasion, from the pains of rebuilding, and, of course, Jean's death.

Rogue herself had nightmares left over from that time, angsty, guilty nightmares about how she could have acted in those awful last minutes at Alkali Lake, how she could have saved them if only she'd been brave enough, how they could have saved Jean.

Storm had been the one to notice, actually, that Rogue wasn't sleeping well, or much at all; so they had sent her to the Professor. Hence the sessions--Rogue had since declared herself cured and quit going. She knew there were more important things for everyone to be doing with their time.

But Rogue knew she hadn't been the worst affected. Storm had suffered the burden of playing 'Mother' to the hundred or so students at the school. The Professor had seemed distracted and withdrawn, his body seeming to shrink into his chair, and he was growing increasingly passive, increasingly defensive, increasingly isolated. That left Logan and Scott without an umpire, and they were…well, they were suffering and at each other's throats and looking mirror images of miserable at meal times.

Scott was unshaven, Scott. And he looked perpetually exhausted, strung out, and unwell. He picked fights with Logan. He yelled at his students. At night, he camped out in a chair in the lounge, and spent hours flicking through the four channels with a comatose gaze.

His face twitched whenever he saw Logan.

Logan had stayed, as in permanently. He'd been assigned teaching duties and everything, and he was even more of a tight ass than Scott had been in his hey day. Woe betide the student who didn't have all their i's dotted and t's crossed. And he picked fights with Scott right back. He stayed out all night and dragged himself in around four in the morning.

On the weekends, Logan'd head down to the tv lounge with a bottle of scotch, and he'd slam it onto the side table and throw a glass at Scott. 'You first,' he'd growl. They'd get absolutely pissed, first angry--at each other, at the scotch, at the tv, at themselves,--and then maudlin. Rogue had once seen Logan in drunken tears, sobbing nonsense to a bleary-eyed Scott who was hugging the empty bottle. She'd stopped coming downstairs after her nightmares.

So, yeah, Rogue didn't have too many problems. By comparison.

So she wasn't so surprised when no one seemed to notice that she went around without gloves, that she wore short sleeves sometimes. She never made it obvious, by wearing skirts or shorts or tank tops, even in the fine weather. She didn't really own such outfits anyway. But she did sometimes wonder a bit resentfully why they didn't want to take care for themselves when she was walking around ungloved. They were either way too trusting, or they had some kind of death wish—well, maybe they did.

They were graduating in July, she and Bobby and Kitty and Jubes, delayed due to recent events. No one told them anything about what was going to happen then. Like—where were they supposed to go? Did they leave, get jobs, get lives? Nothing was decided, but no one asked either. There was a complete and utter silence about the future.

Perhaps that explained why no one else discovered that Rogue could now control her skin, even though it was no secret. No one was talking, each group so isolated in their misery and uncertainty they didn't notice anyone else.

Something happened about two weeks before graduation – it was like the teachers at the school suddenly realized the semester was almost over, and everyone worked frantically to finish, to be over, with this awkwardly shitty time.

At least some questions were answered. With graduation in July and classes again in August, many returning students were just staying for the summer. Rogue and Kitty were both offered a faculty fellowship for the next year. Jubes turned one down to go to a community college nearby, but Xavier had offered her free room-and-board while she maintained a 3.0. Bobby had applied (and gotten into) SUNY; his parents agreed to pay, so long as he didn't come home. So…there was that.

But more than that, there was a massive effort on the part of everyone to just get over it, finish. Xavier made a host of decisions (the school bulletins grew 300 longer) about next year that really should have been finalized six months ago. Logan and Scott were too overworked to pick fights with each other, and the students stopped having nightmares and started having panic attacks.

And then finally, exhaustingly, it was here—the end!—though the effort required to make graduation into a huge party was just too much. Xavier and Storm just kind of told the students that they could use the cafeteria, and Jubes organized a potluck, so there was actually plenty of food.

And someone brought beer.

'To graduation!' Rogue crowed, for perhaps the 20th time, holding up her fifth beer, and clinking it noisily against those of her classmates. They all drank defiantly, and Rogue enjoyed the feeling of being tipsy and beyond her control, let alone anyone else's.

There were only about 30 in the graduating class, but they were making a hell of a racket anyhow. Rogue supposed that the teachers were letting them; Xavier and Ororo hadn't bothered to stay beyond the first 20 minutes. But then she saw Logan and Scott glance in, hover, at the doorway, with twin expressions of weariness.

Rogue cackled when it occurred to her that they weren't her teachers anymore; she threw an arm around Jubilee's neck and another around Bobby's waist. 'To the best year ever!' she toasted. She felt free—that's right, free! You aren't the boss of me, Mr. Scott and Logan! Mr. and Mrs. Scott and Logan! Hey, that was really—snort—funny!...Rogue wondered if she was saying this out loud.

Scott had seemed disinclined to interfere, but when he saw Logan advance, he moved to confiscate the remaining beer with a jaded disinterest. Rogue, clasping Bobby closer in outrage, started to protest, 'Hey--!'

But suddenly two strong arms untangled her from her friends, lifting her away, and she could hear Logan grate in her ear, 'Darlin'. Know it's a celebration an' all, but that could change right quick if you don't go cover up some. You're not being careful.' Rogue flailed in indignity. 'Where are your gloves?'

She jerked resentfully some more, and Jubilee and Bobby burst into laughter, even as Logan's grip tightened around her middle. Kitty giggled uproariously, and Bobby screeched, rather unflatteringly, 'You look so…so…stupid!' At which Jubilee and Kitty laughed even harder, until Kitty dropped her drink and started crying over it.

'No!' Rogue yelled, thrusting her lip out. She thrashed a bit, lashing out behind her impotently, and it took her a while to realize where she was being held. With great focus and some malice, she reached for Logan's hands around her waist and tried to unclasp them.

He was quick (ok, maybe she was slow), hiking her up by one arm for a bit, and flipping her shirt over his bare hand, but she persevered and pried the material out to work on his fingers. He shook her a bit angrily, yelled her name in warning, but she screwed up her face and continued with single-minded purpose, feeling him brace himself. There was a pause, and she was actually able to pry up a finger.

Suddenly, she felt herself slide out of his grasp, and she flung his hand away in satisfaction. 'Ha!' She felt triumphant!

When she turned round, Logan looked confused, and Jubilee and Bobby had nearly collapsed in laughter. Kitty said mournfully, 'She can control it now,' which made sense, but she said it to the floor where her beer had spilled.

Rogue had everyone's attention now it seemed, and 'Ha!' she repeated, bowing low, nearly falling. Logan grabbed a wrist again tightly and whirled her up to him. 'You can control it? How long?'

She felt a little ill, but answered defiantly, 'Oh, weeks and weeks….and weeks.'

Jubilee spat out, 'And WEEKS.' And she and Bobby cracked up some more, Bobby nearly sobbing. Kitty started to laugh that it would be so funny if Bobby passed out because--haha--he couldn't breathe. She giggled again, and Bobby almost didn't breathe. Scott crouched down and thwacked him on the back, and Bobby sucked in a wet breath.

'Alright, let's get you kids to bed,' Logan ordered resignedly.

And she didn't remember much more about that night, except that it wasn't as pleasant as it began. And she tried to tell Logan that they weren't kids anymore, they were graduates. But she couldn't remember whether she actually told him, or whether she thought it up very angrily as a retort much later.

She supposed, if she had thought about it, that she would have expected to get called in to see Xavier the next morning. But her analytical skills hadn't really improved to that extent, and she was nursing a hell of a hang-over.

Logan woke her up with no mercy at 8:00 in the morning. 'Up and at 'em, kid,' he called, poking his head in her room and then snatching the pillow away. 'You're talking to Xavier at 9:00.'

She'd groaned, and he'd shot her a look that she interpreted as, watch it. And she'd considered, just for a moment, actually challenging him, but she figured she was in enough trouble already.

So an hour later, she found herself with wet hair, and a coffee in hand, blinking angrily and painfully at the world, waiting outside of Xavier's office. And she hoped, bitterly hoped, that this was considered a part of the punishment for underage drinking. She tossed the rest of her coffee back, hoped it would help.

She wasn't exactly running on all cylinders, but when Xavier's office door opened, and Logan called for her to enter, it did occur to her, peeking a look inside and sweeping a gaze outside, that she was alone. 'Hey!' she protested. 'Isn't anyone else getting in trouble, too?' She dug in her heels and eyed Logan disdainfully. 'It wasn't only me drinking, you know. And I didn't bring the beer!' Loyalty be damned!

'Rogue, this isn't about the drinking,' the Professor spoke from behind his desk, and Rogue saw that Ororo and Logan had moved to stand either side of him. 'Though that will come later.'

Well, shit, this looked well-and-truly like being called out on the carpet. 'Then what is this about?' she asked, confused.

'Rogue, we're here to talk to you about your powers,' Xavier intoned, and he gestured for her to seat herself in a small chair before his desk.

Her powers? Ok. She glanced up to Ororo, inscrutable as ever, and Logan was taut and pillar-like and…disapproving? Whatever. She hadn't done anything wrong. She was a little belligerent now, not just cranky.

'Rogue, when did you gain control of your powers?' Xavier asked.

She resented the pedantic line of his questioning, and not just because she had a headache. 'You know when that happened,' Rogue countered, and she saw Logan glance at the professor. 'You were there.'

'Rogue, when we last spoke, you said you did not have the ability to turn your skin off,' Xavier continued sternly.

Rogue shrugged. 'Well, I didn't know for sure. But then I practiced a little, and I touched Jubilee, and…' she eyed the three of them, staring down at her, 'well, it worked. It's been off in public ever since.'

Logan fidgeted restlessly at his post, and there was a pause in the room that Rogue grew increasingly uncomfortable with, so she broke it. 'Look, why is this a big deal? I can turn it off, not on. It's less dangerous—'

Xavier interrupted neatly. 'It's a big deal, Rogue,' and his tone was condescending, 'because we don't know that it's less dangerous. We don't yet know how it works—'

'But I do,' Rogue insisted, leaning forward in her chair. 'It's my skin, and I can tell, I can feel--'

'I'm afraid,' the Professor said, shaking his head, 'that your feelings aren't good enough.' He turned to Ororo, pinching his nose and shaking his head slightly as he began to dictate, as if overwhelmed, 'We're going to need to run some tests right away. Hank can run the blood tests—'

'This is in my mind, Professor. You think some blood test is going to give you an answer? You think my liver function changes when I turn my skin off?' she scoffed, but she was nervous.

The Professor put his hand on his desk, his mien challenging, 'We don't know, Rogue, because you failed to tell us when this happened. Now we're playing catch-up.' He shook his head, in irritation, weariness, utter disappointment. 'Rogue, we cut you and the others some slack because of what happened, but that does not excuse you--'

'Cut us some slack?' Rogue echoed, stung. 'Apart from last night, which I realize—we don't—anyway…apart from last night, we--the students--haven't done anything…anything!—except try to get through this shitty semester. It's you all,' and she gestured expansively, 'who have been falling apart! And I—I know, we all know, I mean, w-we…it's understandable. But don't make like this is my fault in not coming to you, when you weren't there!'

She saw Logan stiffen, and Storm take a steadying breath, and she winced, hoping she hadn't gone too far, knowing that she had. She fidgeted sulkily in her seat.

Xavier's expression softened a little and settled into its now-perpetual expression of weariness and regret. He responded heavily, 'Yes, you're right, and I'm sorry, Rogue. You have been through a great deal, and I know that we may have failed you…indeed, all the students this last semester.' There was a heavy pause after that, and no one's thoughts were comfortable.

'It wasn't a big deal, I would have come to you - ' Rogue offered, wanting to take back some of the bitterness of her diatribe.

'Fine,' Xavier placated, 'But let's deal with things are they are now. Now that we know, we have to run the tests, determine if it's safe, discover the mechanisms of your control.' Rogue started to object, but Xavier continued warningly, 'And, Rogue, until we know more, I want you to wear gloves and take all precautions…'

'No,' Rogue protested. 'That's not necessary. I know what works. I can feel it when it's on, and I can turn it off.'

'You'll forgive us, Rogue, if we are not quite satisfied with that. Your skin can kill, and we have an obligation--'

'You think I don't know that?' Rogue rose, feeling righteous, feeling beleaguered. 'But I can control it. I'm careful. And I would never---'

'Last night,' the Professor cut in pointedly, 'you weren't being careful. You were intoxicated.'

That sent her from beleaguered to just plain pissed. How dare they, with no knowledge whatsoever, question the care she took with her skin? Did they know what it was like every day, to be thinking always, in the back of your mind: be careful, watch out, think, for others, since they wouldn't for themselves? Did they think she took her ability to kill lightly?

She leaned over the desk, and she spoke low, almost growling, 'I was sober before I was drunk, and I would never forget to take precautions if they were needed. You don't forget that you can kill with a touch.'

She paused for breath, teeth somewhat bared, and continued somewhat less angrily, 'I know you're scared of my skin. And I am, too, because it's powerful, and it can kill. But it's mine.'

She eyed Xavier challengingly. 'So you're going to have to trust me, just as you trust Bobby with his ice and Kitty with her phasing, trust Scott with his lasers. Because you?—you can't control my skin. I can,' and she smacked her bare hand in front of him on his desk.

'I control it,' she ground out and held his gaze as she reached out, grasped his bare hand and squeezed. 'This is my gift, Professor. Trust that. Because that's all you have.' And she stood straight, casting a glance at Logan and Storm at his side, and swept out of the room.

She trembled as she stalked away, upset and confused and still somewhat angry, but also hurt, that they thought her so lacking in discretion, in responsibility. She didn't know what.

She was also ashamed…and worried. That she had thrown away the only place, the only people, she had. Had she really—wince—just touched the Professor, proclaiming that this was her gift?

She made her way outside and planted herself on bench just outside the exit. She wanted to be found. The issue hadn't really been resolved, and she didn't want to duck this any longer. She didn't suppose that they did, either.

About five minutes later, Logan thrust a head out the door, glanced each way, spied her. Just as she suspected—he was looking for her.

She rose to meet him. His expression was somewhere between grim and dread. That bad, huh? Well, she didn't want it sugarcoated. 'So, does he want me gone?'

Logan took several seconds to process that, but he answered, almost horrified, 'No! Of course not.' He shook his head, sinking down onto the bench. She stood there for a second, looking down at him. So she guessed it was…ok?

'So I can stay?' she queried, and, when he looked confused still, she pressed, 'Even after what I said?'

'Yeah,' he responded absently, not really looking at her, 'yeah.' After studying him for a few minutes, she followed him down to the bench, and they both sat side-by-side, staring at the small flowerbed in front of them. She guessed it was…ok. She felt…ok, she guessed. She glanced at Logan.

He sighed suddenly, long and loud, and leaned forward heavily with arms braced on his knees, hanging his head. She could just see his expression, and it was so despairing, so lost, so tired,…God, what a mess. She couldn't help it. She snaked through and grasped a limp hand and gave it a squeeze.

He looked up at her touch, surprise mixing with the weariness on his face, and she gave his hand another squeeze, tried a small smile. He stared at her, then down at their clasped hands for a long moment, stroked the skin. Then he sighed and, draping an arm over the back of the bench, pulled her into his side.

'So,' he began softly, giving her shoulder a squeeze, 'why didn't you tell me, kid?'

She hadn't been expecting that to be his first question, and she gazed up at him in confusion. She honestly didn't know how he couldn't know…how often he was gone, how much he was already carrying, how inappropriate and awkward it would have been for her to presume on that old whatever-it-was, and how she couldn't blame him, really.

But he held her gaze, insistent. She shook her head, tried to answer, 'You were--…' busy? Depressed? Drunk? In mourning? No longer really, or ever, her—someone she would tell?

After a few arresting seconds, he seemed to guess what she hadn't said, and his face fell, crestfallen. 'God, kid, I'm—I'm so...'

She gave him a shrug, a small smile, shrugged again. 'But it's a good thing,' she remarked in a carefully light tone. 'Right?' Because she still wasn't sure he thought so.

He smiled, but it was pitiful. He seemed to not know what to say, but after an awkward pause, some more wracked expressions, he confessed, 'I don't know how to do this.'

She didn't know what 'this' was, but… 'Ok,' she agreed readily.

He seemed to feel something more was needed, struggled to articulate whatever it was, and she just smiled a little more desperately and nodded some more.

She didn't want to hash over it: how much he loved Jean, how hard he was taking it, like all of them. She didn't want to hear apologies, or to explain how much she'd seen, how much she understood. She didn't need that, and she couldn't take that. And it really wasn't a big deal, as she'd mentioned repeatedly. So she hoped that he'd just see what she meant, because—sigh--she'd already said far too much today.

Finally, he reached for her hand again, and, with certainty, echoed, 'It's a good thing.' She gave him a genuine smile this time and settled back against him, and they stared at the flowerbed some more.

Scott found them like that a few minutes later, as he made to enter the building. 'Rogue,' he greeted colorlessly, except for the faint surprise, 'So you got control of your power. Congratulations.' He halted near the bench, and Rogue got the feeling he was trying to be normal and interested.

'Thanks, Scott,' she returned sincerely. 'It's been a few weeks, so it doesn't feel too new anymore, but, yeah…thanks, congratulations.'

There was an awkward silence, and Scott seemed to suddenly register Logan's presence, to take in his arm around Rogue. 'Well,' she began, peeking a look at Logan and darting back to Scott. 'I'd better go apologize to the Professor. I kind of…yelled at him this morning.'

Scott was surprised enough to turn his gaze back to her, but Logan called attention to himself again by giving her a squeeze, saying softly, 'Darlin', you don't need to apologize. For anything.'

'Yes, I do,' she insisted, sliding out from the bench. She tried for levity: 'My momma always told me…'

That failed, as Logan's eyes narrowed, and he returned grimly, 'Seems to me, momma lost the authority to 'tell' you when she let you go hitchhiking at sixteen.'

Wow, wasn't that just what she needed? What the--?

Scott stiffened, and his reaction, and the growing tension, made Rogue think better of responding. She stammered, without looking, 'Good manners's good manners.' And she positioned herself behind Scott, so that he would precede her into the building.

Scott paused, rigid, waiting for a reason to fight, but she gave a small cough, and he seemed to recall himself and walked in. Rogue darted one nervous glance at Logan as she quickly followed, enough to see Logan's suspicious and angry expression aimed, it seemed, at the two of them.