"I don't guess we could stay a little longer, huh?" Rogue asked, her feet squelching in her soaked sneakers as they plodded back to the Blackbird.
Kurt's arm slipped from around her shoulders as he stopped to gape at his sister. "The guy kidnapped you and you want to stay?!" he yelped.
Her joy at his apparent forgiveness faded slightly with the beginnings of annoyance.
"Rogue?" Cyclops asked, raising an eyebrow.
She shrugged irritably. "I don't wanna stay, it's just…"
"It's been a while since you've been South, hasn't it, Rogue?" Storm asked gently.
Rogue gave her a grateful look. "Yeah, it has."
Ororo smiled, and it hit Rogue all at once how much she missed home. Big trees and Spanish moss, rivers and creeks, bayous and swamps, even the heat and humidity… and God, the food! Yankees couldn't season for shit.
Not to mention their accents. She didn't have much to do with him, but Rogue was profoundly grateful for Sam Guthrie; the Kentucky boy might not've had a proper drawl, but at least she wasn't completely alone.
To her horror she felt her eyes misting, and stomped toward the X- Jet.
Kurt's concerned eyes stayed on her back the whole way.
- X -
"Explain." Wolverine ordered ominously, giving the controls over to Storm and turning to face Rogue.
"Wolverine." the weather witch chastised gently.
"I…" she hesitated, trying to think of how she could put it so that he would understand.
Trouble was, she didn't entirely understand herself.
She decided to go with the basics. Lord knew Logan would interrogate her until he was satisfied, anyway. "His father was kidnapped. He needed me to find out where he was."
"And you just went along?" Wolverine snorted.
"Well, he used knockout gas an' tied me up-"
"- but he untied me when I promised I'd behave-"
"And did you?" snarled Wolverine.
She couldn't repress a smirk. "He had ta lean over me to undo the ropes- he used his powers. Knife hand to his throat an' I kicked 'im in the middle."
The claws retracted and Logan smiled darkly.
"He caught himself in the doorway," Rogue continued, "an' used his powers again- threatened ta blow up the boxcar if I didn't pull him back in."
"So why didn't you get away from him after you got off the train?" Scott asked. "Did he tell you what he wanted you for?"
She flushed. "No."
"Then why didn't you slip away and call us?" Kurt jumped in, the barest hint of hurt tingeing his tone. "I would've come for you, even if we weren't getting along- you should know that" hung in the air, unspoken but heavily present.
The blush deepened, much to Rogue's disgust, and she shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
Logan's glower deepened in proportion to the redness on Rogue's face. "He… when we were on the train, he said he knew- that he thought I wanted to leave, an' he was just helpin' me with the first step 'cause he knew from experience that the first step's always the hardest."
"You stayed- because you want to leave the Institute?" Scott said slowly, the beginnings of a frown forming on his face. Kurt's fingers twitched before his hands fisted.
"No!" she denied, too quickly. "Just- from things he said, I thought… it felt kinda like… he understood, a little, an' I just…" her voice broke. "He'd told me on the train we were goin' to Louisiana. It… it's been so long since I was home… and I've always loved Mardi Gras."
The men were shocked into silence; up front, Ororo bowed her white head sadly. She knew what it was like to live in a region different from the one you considered home, and the ache it left. The teenagers flinched in surprise when she spoke. "It is hard, living in a place so different than the one you grew up in and one that you will always think of as home. I am sorry we did not realize how you felt sooner, Rogue."
"It's okay." the younger woman said softly, and Scott was powerfully reminded of how reserved she'd been when she first came to the Institute.
"It's… not my place…"
"What happened at the jazz club?" Wolverine asked abruptly.
Rogue's head snapped up, and damned if she wasn't flushing again- but this time it was in angry shame at her own foolishness. "He knew I hadn't eaten-"
She scowled. "Said he's been watchin' me. Guess he figured out that I skip breakfast more often than not."
"You do?" Kurt blurted in shock; the thought of skipping a meal was anathema to him.
Actually, a lot of the time a hearty breakfast was the reason he was late to school.
Scott elbowed him and Rogue pressed on. "Anyway, we sat down to eat an' talked a little bit while we were waitin' for our food. Before it came this guy, Julien, came up with a few other thugs and they grabbed us. We started fightin', and wound up in the street… I touched Julien to put him down. More guys started runnin' up, an' Gambit blew up a parkin' meter and my beads so we could get away.
"Turns out Gambit used to be part of a crime family called the Thieves Guild, and Julien belongs to another crime family that call themselves the Rippers-" she rubbed her temple tiredly- "although now that I have time to think on it the Rippers are part of a larger Assassins Guild.
"Anyway, the Rippers kidnapped Gambit's father, the head of the Thieves Guild. Gambit was down there tryin' ta get him back, but he needed me to find out where he was bein' kept, first off, and how to get in. That's where we were when y'all came."
"How many Rippers did you touch, Rogue?" Logan asked, eyes calculating.
"I dunno. Um… I'd say 'bout four."
He nodded and went to the back of the jet while the boys continued questioning her.
"Wait a minute." Cyclops said. "If he didn't tell you why he kidnapped you, when did you find out?"
Rogue sighed and dropped her eyes. "I forgot about a security camera and had to tackle him so we wouldn't be seen. His finger brushed my cheek." Her jaw tightened. "That's all it took."
Logan returned with aspirin, which Rogue accepted gratefully.
"And you helped him even after you knew he'd deceived you?" Kurt asked, making a great effort to keep his tone neutral.
"I was goin' to leave." she confessed in a low voice. "I was in the boat to go, but I…"
With great effort, she met her brother's eyes. "I couldn' do it."
He nodded. He'd gotten through after all. Not in time to save Mystique, but in enough time to save Rogue.
And God help him, if he had to choose, it would be Rogue every time.
He gave her a small smile, and she tremulously returned it.
"I snuck back in the house," she told them, breaking Kurt's gaze, "and took down Julien and his dad. We'd almost made it outside when Storm made an entrance for us." Rogue smiled in the former goddess' direction.
"Glad to be of service." Storm said, somehow mixing dryness and warmth.
"And you know the rest." Rogue concluded, leaning back and fervently hoping the exposition was over.
"Still don't see why you didn't let me gut the little bast-"
"Wolverine!" snapped Storm.