"She didn't want to be a mutant, and she certainly didn't want to be a superhero: she wanted to be ordinary"

AU. This story started out going one way, and then it went off at a tangent. And then off on another tangent... It started as an idea inspired by a book called 'The Ordinary Princess' by M.M. Kaye, but along the way it's picked up shades of 'Danny the Champion of the World' by Roald Dahl, and 'Frankenstein', too.

Disclaimer: Characters ain't mine. Story is.

Further disclaimer: I ain't no outdoorsy type. All that sort of stuff is made up, or gleaned from watching Ray Mears on the telly. Pray gloss gently over it, if I make glaring errors.

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Chapter One

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Patrice ran the Princess Bar, and she knew Trouble when she saw it. She'd had years of experience, and right now, Trouble was standing in front of her in a coat far too thin for spring in Alberta. Looking for work. Sure, thought Patrice. Work. More likely the girl was running away from something, God alone knew what. And as far as Patrice was concerned, God could keep it to Himself. She allowed her eyes to scan disparagingly up and down the girl's thin frame, taking in the muddy boots, the tatty black jeans that had once been quite expensive, the old-but-decent shirt, the gloves she was still wearing, and came to rest on those evasive brown eyes. Patrice gave the girl the coldest dead-eye look she could muster, continuing to stare until she was squirming with embarrassment.

"Can you dance?"

The question threw the girl for a moment, then her eyes drifted upwards in realisation to the cage that hung like a gibbet over the main floor. "Up there?" she quavered in a soft southern accent.

"Yeah."

"C-clothed?"

The girl's stammer made Patrice feel a little guilty, which just made her crosser. "Yeah: coat, hat and gloves," she said sarcastically. "Naked, girl. What d'you think this is, the Moulin fuckin' Rouge?"

The girl's eyes, wide as all innocence, went to the cage again. Patrice couldn't believe she was even considering it. She'd said it knowing that it would scare the girl off. She must need the money badly.

"Would I be alone?"

The question was an odd one, but Patrice answered it. "Yeah. Well?"

The girl's eyes remained fixed on the cage. "I - I think I could do that," she whispered. "I'd definitely be alone, right? No one would get up there?"

Patrice was beginning to feel seriously guilty, and wished she'd gone with her first impulse and turned the girl down flat. She didn't think of herself as a bad person; she just didn't want her around. But the kid was obviously desperate, prepared to consider anything, no matter how much it terrified her. "Yeah, kid. Alone. This ain't a whorehouse."

"I'll do it."

"Fine. Start tonight." Patrice got up to leave. She couldn't stand those wide eyes any more. But a pang of conscience finally turned her around. "What's your name, girl?"

The girl came back to earth with a start. "Marie."

"Well, Marie. You can start in the cage tonight. Or - for half the rate we pay dancers - you can wash dishes. Your choice." After all, she reasoned, they did need another girl in the kitchen, too. Patrice was sick of having to muck in herself.

A look of complete relief flooded the girl's face. "Dishes," she said firmly, without hesitation. "Thank you so, so much! You're very kind."

Patrice scowled and turned to go. "Report to Eileen Pemberthy in the kitchens," she said over her shoulder. "You start tonight."

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Marie the kitchen girl. It sounded wonderful, to someone who'd once been Marie the freak, then Rogue the runaway, then Rogue the Gifted Youngster, and who had finally rebelled at being Rogue the X-Man. X-Woman. Whatever. Now she had 10 hours dishwashing and cleaning per day, Thursdays off, and a bed in the bunkhouse. A normal life. Just what she'd always wanted.

Marie sank into the menial job with a sigh of relief, and the first week washed over her with barely a ripple. The Princess Bar was hectic from the minute she got up until the moment her head touched the pillow again. It was the hub of local activity, 'local' being a relative term. Laughlin City was a tiny little town, but people came from miles around to be at the Princess. The food was good, the drink was plentiful, and there was always something happening. After a few days, Marie stopped finding it so overwhelming, and started to notice the bar itself. There was something familiar about it, but she just couldn't place it. Something about the atmosphere.

She was in the bar after her shift one evening when it came to her. She was sat alone at a table near the kitchens, with a view of the door, and she could see the bustle as people came and went. She was watching casually, but she began to see patterns in the behaviour of the people in the place. Some - most, in fact - were just out for a good time, but there were some, usually sat in the shadier corners, who seemed to be involved in intense discussions. There was a group under the right-hand staircase, for instance, who were having some kind of intense debate, and a pair in the nook by the main door who were carefully arranging the condiments from their meal to form a model of some kind. It suddenly struck her how much it reminded her of the rec room at Xavier's. The kids would be hanging around, relaxing, chatting, but in the corners there would be small clusters of activity, usually centred on Scott, Dani, or Jubes.

The place itself was amazing, run by Patrice independently of the absentee owner. It was huge, for a start - far vaster than necessary for such a one-horse town. Marie wondered at whoever had first built it. It looked like a cross between 'North to Alaska' and 'From Dusk 'Till Dawn'. If the slightly battered state of the decor was anything to go by, it had seen its fair share of bar-clearing brawls, too.

The main room was built like a barn. It was at several levels, confusing to the eyes, with a bar at either end for good measure. Three angular staircases led up to the hotel part of the bar, now used mainly by truckers and not the miners of earlier days. After Marie had been there a week she realised that the cage that had hung from the pinnacle of the pyramidal roof had been taken down and replaced by a robust wooden chandelier. Eileen explained that they did that when they couldn't get performers, and Marie wasn't sure whether she felt guilty or relieved. Off the main room were a maze of adjoining bars, passages, a dining hall, the kitchens, and a smoking parlour where Patrice spent most of her time - bent over the accounts amidst a haze of cigar smoke coming from the old-timers who'd made the room their kingdom. Marie found it almost impossible to get her head around the geography of the place, especially as the adjoining bars all tended to be dark and smoky, and the whole place was usually crowded. Stairs in the kitchen led down to the food storerooms, but she had no idea where they kept the alcohol. She was presuming good old-fashioned trapdoors behind the bars.

On her first day off, she looked around the town. She spent some time gazing at a beautiful hooded coat, long and thick and bottle green, in the window of the local store. It cost a hundred and fifty dollars, a daunting thought for a girl who had recently been starving for lack of funds. Still, it was very beautiful, and if she was going to be in Canada much longer, she'd need it. Maybe they'd give her a pay rise if she stuck around a little while?

Deep in thoughts of her future, she wandered along until she found she'd walked completely out of town. She was surrounded by forest, and she turned to look around her. The view was spectacular. The road climbed upwards away from her, as did the landscape around. Everything seemed to aim up towards the clear blue sky - even the trees pointed that way. She wandered off the road and into the forest, which closed quickly around her. The ground was fairly clear of undergrowth, shaded as it was by the close-growing pines, and it felt soft and spongy to walk on, the needles packing together to form a sort of carpet. She walked for a while, enjoying the peace and the sound of the wind through the branches.

She spent the day out there, returning as the sun slipped under the horizon. She felt slightly dazed as she got back into the evening bustle of the hotel. There was a strange undercurrent running through her. It felt like peace.

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