Chapter One


The mansion was ridiculously dark at this time of night, all of the lights turned out and the blinds on each window securely closed. It made it somewhat more difficult to navigate the hallway connecting the male and female dormitories, but Rogue was nonetheless glad for the darkness. The last thing that she needed was to be caught outside of the girls' dorms at this time of night once again.

She had taken to roaming the hallways at night not long after her arrival at the mansion, and the habit had only intensified over the past few months. The cure had left her with the ability to touch, but it hadn't done anything for the lingering memories and personalities running loose in her head. With roommates, her options were limited when struggling with insomnia—or, failing that, when she was determined not to sleep because she didn't know whose nightmares she would be encountering. So, as blaring the television or stereo was out, she had found wandering the halls to be the best option for passing the night. Or at least the most distracting option.

Distraction wasn't her real goal in being out tonight, though. Not distraction by walking anyway. Her eyes focused on the only real source of light in the vicinity, glowing iridescent against the surrounding darkness.

That, there: There was her target. She licked her lips in anticipation for the one thing she knew was sure to momentarily distract her from her misery. A pleasure she generally denied herself, partly from fear that over-use would dampen its power, and partly for fear of the increase of her waistline.

She approached the snack machines gleefully; one hand gripping her loose change and one holding together a robe that's belt had long since been lost in the wash. God, that brownie was gonna taste sweet.

She feared that she had come to rely on chocolate entirely too much recently, if the increasing tightness of her jeans was any indication. But, damn it, what did she care?

Her boyfriend sure as hell didn't seem to. Not lately, anyway.

No. She chose to nip off that thought immediately. She absolutely refused to think about Bobby and his wandering eye anymore tonight. She was having her brownie, and she was going to bed—whether she would actually be able to sleep was questionable, but she was determined to try for once.

She studied the snack machine in front of her, relieved to see that the almond-topped brownies she loved so much were in stock, and began to feed her change into the machine. Before she could put more than one dime in, though, a creaking floorboard off to her left startled her, and the change went flying.

Rogue immediately tensed, stepping back from the light of the machine into the shadows. Her best friend was a stalking, growling wild man with killer instincts. It was impossible for her not to have picked up on some of his more helpful characteristics along the way—particularly as a small piece of him lingered somewhere in her psyche.

She listened, eyes futilely scanning the darkness of her surroundings, for several minutes. When nothing came, she rolled her eyes—still alert, but generally feeling like an overly-paranoid imbecile. She went down on her knees beside the coke machine, rooting around on the ground for her lost quarters and dime. The first two she found easily enough, but the dime eluded her. With nothing to light her way, it was like searching for a needle in a haystack.

Well, that was just great. The stupid machine wouldn't take dollars, and it had taken her a good twenty minutes to locate the loose change she needed. She exhaled in frustration, fighting the urge to curse as she leaned in for one last search of the floor between the coke machine and the snack machine.

Without warning—without a rustle of clothing, without a creaking floorboard, without a single freaking sign of movement—a lighter flared to life mere inches from her face.

"Need a light?"