Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made.

Warnings: coarse language; non-explicit sexual references; non-explicit violence

Spoilers: X1 through X3

Pairings: Rogue/Pyro, Rogue/Bobby, Bobby/Kitty (vibes)


WANT & NEED

"Uror enim laesusque exaestuat acrius ignis."

{{For I burn, and as I am thwarted, I burn all the more.}}

- Ovid, Metamorphoses

*

Rogue wanders into the kitchen, craving a midnight snack and hoping to find Bobby plagued with the same problem. She finds John instead.

He's leaning against the cabinets, cigarette dangling from his mouth, and a quick glance confirms that the smoke alarm has been tampered with. Of course.

Rogue hovers indecisively in the doorway, fidgeting with the fingertips of her gloves. John is looking at her as if he isn't the least surprised to see her turn up here at two-thirty in the morning. And as if he knows exactly what she's thinking – why she is hesitating and wishing that she saw him before he saw her, since it would be embarrassing to retreat now.

"I'm not going to bite, you know," John says, and he sounds far too amused.

Rogue rolls her eyes and walks in. She can feel his gaze on her as she makes her away to the pantry, a weight that settles across her shoulders and down her spine.

"Unless you ask nicely, of course."

Rogue stiffens, but refuses to give him the satisfaction of an affronted reaction. She pretends to be fascinated by granola bars and cereal and reminds him lightly, "You'd be in a lot more trouble than I would if you tried it, John."

"Your mutation doesn't scare me, Rogue."

"Then you either have an enormous ego or a death wish. Or both."

"It's been mentioned," he replies, sounding spectacularly unconcerned about both the opinions of others and his own safety. "It's a shame Bobby doesn't share my 'faults'."

Rogue almost drops the box of Cocoa Puffs. Instead, she slides it back in place and turns around slowly, hands landing on her hips. "What is that supposed to mean?"

She supposes she should have expected it. When Bobby asked her to be his girlfriend yesterday, she had been thrilled. She never thought, with her skin, that anyone could ever –

Well. The problem is that a lot of other people apparently can't understand why he would want her either.

But John surprises her. "It means that he is afraid of your mutation, Rogue."

"Oh. Well…" Momentarily distracted by the cigarette spark reflected in his eyes, Rogue trails off. Blinks. And then states what, to her, is obvious: "Anyone with common sense would be afraid of it."

"Anyone with balls and a little imagination would find a way to handle it. Neither is Bobby's specialty."

Rogue supposes this is where she should get offended on her boyfriend's behalf, where she should point out that Bobby is John's best friend and maybe he shouldn't be disparaging him, where she should walk away. Rogue does none of these things.

She watches the smoke curl in wispy tendrils around John's mouth and is suddenly very aware that they are a teenage boy and girl, alone, in the middle of the night. She is someone else's girlfriend and untouchable and it should feel innocent, but it doesn't. It feels as if they are playing some sort of game – one with rules Rogue doesn't know and John doesn't follow; one they shouldn't be playing.

"Maybe Bobby will surprise us," she says at last.

His eyebrows shoot up, and Rogue flushes as she realizes exactly what she said. Us.

"He won't, Rogue," John tells her after a pause, and he sounds uncharacteristically serious but oh-so-characteristically confident. She isn't sure whether he's being spiteful or kind by telling her this. "Bobby always does as he's told. If you tell him you don't want to risk hurting him, he'll listen. And if he ever does decide to chance it, he'll only end up more afraid of you than ever."

Rogue tucks her hands behind her back. But while they shake, her voice is steady. "You don't know everything, John."

"I know you." He pauses, and then adds, almost as an afterthought, "And him."

Rogue heads to the fridge, tossing over her shoulder, "Wanna split the leftover brownies?"

"As long as Ms. Munroe made them, and not Dr. Grey."

Rogue laughs, and sets the Tupperware on the island between them – part peace offering, part barrier. She rips off her gloves and feels John watching leather sliding on skin as he takes his final drag. She delicately picks up the chocolate in her bare fingers and has to muffle a moan when she bites into one. "Bobby is insane for not liking chocolate."

It is as close as Rogue will get to confessing that John might be right.

He smiles at her, but there is an edge to it, razor-sharp. It's just this side of cruel, but Rogue knows instinctively – it's only a matter of time. John won't slip over that edge one day; he'll dive off, deliberately and defiantly, plunging into the shadows with the reckless, defiant kind of joy that comprises his core. And Rogue will watch, the same way people feel compelled to watch a car wreck, helpless and horrified and fascinated.

She knows this, yet she shares brownies and jokes with John until sunrise.

She takes no effort to protect herself. She lets herself be drawn closer and closer, like a moth to a flame. It's a cliché, but there is a reason there are so many metaphors involving fire's lure and its danger. Rogue knows that she is playing with fire. She knows that the closer you get to fire, the more badly burned you'll be.

But still, she is drawn in. And not quite as against her will as she would like to believe.

Rogue's last and only line of self-defense is Bobby. He is her boyfriend, and John remains her friend. She may be masochistic, but she is not suicidal. In the end, she will burn and cry and scar, but she will survive.

Rogue considers herself an expert at getting what she needs, not what she wants.

*

"John, they told us to stay here!"

"You always do as you're told?"

The words are a challenge, an invitation, and a slap in the face all at once. Rogue can only stare as John barely even hesitates before he walks out.

Bobby thinks he is talking about their instructions to remain on the jet. Rogue knows better. She remembers every single conversation she has had with John. Every single time he tried to make her see that if she simply accepted the boundaries the X-Men suggested to her for the 'safety of the other students', in time, those boundaries would become all she could see. Every single time he questioned what it meant that Bobby so scrupulously respected them, and that Rogue let him. Every single time she refused to listen.

Rogue thought that John was the one she wanted, but Bobby was the one she needed. Now, she's not so sure.

"Hey!" Bobby protests as she starts to follow their friend. He moves as if to grab her arm, hesitates, then reaches out again.

That split-second hesitation makes her want to cry.

Because John was right. Before yesterday, before that kiss, the pattern between her and Bobby was always the same. Bobby eager for more contact, Rogue demurring, and Bobby accepting it – wistfully, yes, but graciously. Now, he still touches her, but there is this hesitation. This brief moment when she knows he is afraid.

John was right.

"What are you doing, Rogue?"

"I – we can't just let him leave!"

"You know what he's like. If John decides to do something, he can't be talked out of it."

"So you think we should just sit here while he walks off to his death?"

"John can take care of himself. Look at what happened at my parents' house."

And even Bobby, golden boy that he is, can't quite keep the bitterness out of his tone.

"Bobby…I know you're upset about what happened…and…"

It is on the tip of Rogue's tongue to say that he has every right to be upset. But does he? His parents looked at them like they were freaks and criminals. His brother called the cops on them. Logan got shot. And when John started fighting back, Bobby did not stop him, despite his mutation being ideal for it.

Besides, John did what he did to defend them. Rogue felt that when she touched him.

But she also felt his contempt for Bobby, his disgust for the other Drakes, and his anger at the whole goddamn situation. Good God, his anger. It honestly frightens her. Not just its intensity and his precarious control of it, but his increasing desire not to control it at all. To stop holding back. To let his rage loose entirely.

"We can't just let him leave and do nothing," Rogue says fiercely.

Bobby notices the tears starting to gather in her eyes and softens. "Rogue, we can't leave the jet unattended."

"Then you stay here, and I'll go after him!"

There is a slight shift behind Bobby's eyes, something that darkens the shade of blue, and Rogue remembers something else she realized about Bobby when he kissed her. He is jealous. His jealousy of Logan was obvious from the start, but she hadn't realized he is also jealous of her and John. Bobby can't pinpoint exactly what it is about how they interact that bothers him, but he has a nebulous yet unshakable feeling that there is something there for him to envy.

"You can't go off by yourself, Rogue," Bobby says in that gentle, reasonable tone of his, the one that reminds her of Mr. Summers. "Besides, John is probably almost there by now, and the X-Men will watch out for him. He'll be fine."

Bobby sounds as if he is trying to convince himself as much as her, but Rogue can't get the words out to argue with him, can't even choose which ones to use. She can't explain this feeling she has – this unwavering intuition that they are all teetering on the edge of a precipice.

She looks at Bobby and realizes that she has to make a choice, here and now. One more important than all the times she bet who would win the latest foosball match, more important than all the times she had to pick sides in an argument, and even more important than when she agreed to be Bobby's girlfriend.

She always picked Bobby. She always picked safety over risk, comfort over passion, kindness over honesty. That was what John was really saying to her, when he walked out.

Rogue looks between her boyfriend and the ramp, back and forth, biting her lip as indecision and fear seizes her. Which (who) will she choose this time?

Then the pain hits her. Pain unlike any she has ever known, even when she was in Magneto's machine. Rogue falls to the floor of the jet with a scream, and is only dimly aware of Bobby howling in agony too. Oh God, they are all going to die. Stryker is winning and they are dying and John is out there all alone

And then Rogue feels Bobby's hand grab hers, and he holds onto her so tightly, an anchor in a sea of pain and death.

When it stops, just as suddenly as it started, Rogue realizes that Bobby grabbed her without hesitation. That when they were both in trouble, the first thing he did was reach for her. Even if the first thing she did was think of John, that means something. Bobby helps her up and hugs her fiercely, protectively, and above all, unhesitatingly.

Rogue hugs him back and hates herself for having doubted him. Bobby loves her, needs her, and is always, always there when she needs him.

Maybe she was wrong all along, and it isn't her choice that truly matters, but theirs. Bobby has always chosen her, and John…hasn't.

I've made the right choice, Rogue thinks, as she hugs Bobby a little harder.

She thinks it again, as Dr. Grey announces what John has done.

She thinks it once more, as she puts on the X-Men uniform.

If only she could make herself believe it.

*

Three months after the events at Alkali Lake, John finds her.

Rogue stares at him as he sits across from her in the booth of the seedy little diner she uses as an escape from the suffocating grief of the Mansion. His audacity never ceases to astound her. Along with that other trademark quality of his.

"You're mad that I decided to join up with a guy who tried to off you once," he says as he steals one of her fries. "I get it."

No one does brutal honesty quite like John.

Rogue takes a moment to soak in his appearance. His hair has been doused with peroxide, and it's spiky as opposed to smooth. Sharper around the edges, like the rest of him. Not much time has passed, but a lot has changed, and it shows in the leaner lines of his body, the harder glint in his eyes, the ferocity in his demeanor that was always there drawn closer to the surface. From bonfire to inferno.

Finally, she demands, "What the hell are you doing here?"

"I missed you too," he says wryly.

Once upon a time, Rogue would have been sure that there was some truth said in jest. That John just had to make everything sound sarcastic, even when he was being sincere. Hell; especially when he was being sincere.

Now, she feels like a fool for ever thinking she knew him so well.

"Answer the question, John."

"Or what?" The characteristic cockiness is still there, and Rogue is dismayed to see that it's taken on a nastier edge. Less adolescent brashness; more cynicism and flat-out aggression. "How many times have I told you that your mutation doesn't scare me?"

"But that was before…"

Before she absorbed him. Before she had any reason to.

John's eyes glitter with something dark at the memory. "Before I knew what it was like? Well, now I do, and it still doesn't scare me." His gaze turns speculative, sly, spiteful. "Bet you wish Bobby shared my so-called faults now, don't you?"

Rogue stands up and starts to get out of the booth, but John has a fireball in his palm before she can get far.

"Sit down."

"Are you threatening me?" Rogue asks, incredulous.

"You?" He gives her a look that suggests she's about as smart as Piotr is small, and then his gaze slides away, landing pointedly on the many oblivious humans nearby.

Rogue feels sick. It has nothing to do with the greasy cheeseburger she just ate and everything to do with the fact that he would do it, without hesitation, and they both know it. She lowers herself back into her seat and orders herself not to cry.

"Now, if you're done being melodramatic -"

"Melodramatic? Melodramatic? How did you expect me to react to this, John? After what you've done…"

His eyes flash. "You mean deciding that I want to fight to stop people like Stryker from getting so close to slaughtering all mutants again? I guess that is so much worse than defending those who want genocide."

"Not all humans -" Rogue breaks off. She has had this argument enough times with the John in her head as well as Erik; it never goes well. "You know what, justify it anyway you please. The fact of the matter is, you left us. You left us to go off with the enemy. The reason we're not all dead is because Dr. Grey is."

The grief comes surging back for a moment. Rogue lost a woman she regarded as a mentor and Logan lost someone he genuinely loved, and the combination of the two along with John's desertion… It hurts so much sometimes that Rogue struggles just to breathe.

And here he is, looking at her as if her pain is ridiculous.

"I thought you were my friend, John! And Bobby too – you should see him! His family and his best friend abandoned him within two days of each other -"

But John's expression has gone cold. "He'll live."

Rogue wants to reach across the table and shake him, slap him, scream at him, demand to know if he ever gave a damn about her at all. Or Bobby, for that matter. Or were they just ways to pass the time, people who were amusing but insignificant?

Her eyes burn as she considers that possibility. How apt.

"I needed to leave, Rogue," John says at last, in a quieter tone, as if he is asking her to understand rather than demanding it, as he usually would.

Rogue closes her eyes. She doesn't want to hear this; she almost covers her ears with her hands like a child stubbornly in denial. She doesn't want to hear his reasons. Above all, she doesn't want to understand them. She was already forced to understand in the most intimate way how Magneto could think she was such a paltry thing to sacrifice in pursuit of his goals. She cannot – will not – be forced into understanding how someone she trusted and loved can think the same way.

If Rogue's eyes were opened, she would see something cross John's expression that is so rare it's almost alien. Something like vulnerability. But her eyes are closed.

"I need to get out on my own and explore my mutation without being held back, but -"

"No, you want to," she interjects, putting as much venom as she can into the words, "there's a difference."

"You'd know all about that, wouldn't you?"

Rogue's eyes snap open. "What are you talking about?"

"Every single mutant in the entire world wants to use their power, and needs to use it in order to learn to control it. You know that, but you're too afraid to admit it. You're too afraid to admit a lot of things."

"You're wrong."

"Am I? What makes you think you're so fucking special? I guess it's the whole 'martyr of the mutant race' thing."

For a moment, Rogue simply stares at him, astounded and devastated. Apparently, it isn't enough for him to abandon her for her would-be murderer; he has to throw it in her face too. She grabs her glove and scrambles out of the booth. She can't get out of here fast enough.

"Rogue -"

"Fuck you, Pyro," she snarls, and walks out. She does not look back.

*

Rogue is staring blearily at her laptop, working away at the second major paper of her university career thus far. As she reaches for her third cup of coffee with a bare hand, it comes back.

Getting the cure hurt, and not just physically. When it fails, it is just as intense and sudden a sensation, and painful too, though not in the same way. It feels like pins and needles are dancing up her fingertips, raking across the delicate skin of the underside of her wrists, making goose bumps break out as it slides up her arms like an electric shock. Her hand still hovers over her coffee cup and her eyes are still on her laptop, but Rogue is aware of neither. She is only aware of how her skin, after months of feeling numb and dead, now feels warm and alive again.

Bobby finds her sitting cross-legged on her bed, bare hands in her lap, staring at her upturned palms. He glances at her abandoned laptop and frowns slightly. "Uh…if you wanted to take a break, there's a carton of Häagen-Dazs with our names on it downstairs."

"It came back," Rogue says without preamble.

The boyish excitement so characteristic of her boyfriend drains from his face. Rogue has the mental image of a person's life force being drained away from them, a spider web of blue veins on paling skin. She remembers tasting Bobby's pulse and panic on her tongue. And she feels the remnant that she took rouse inside her, as if from a deep sleep, along with the others.

Bobby sighs and shuts the door behind him. He walks over to her dresser and rummages through her things with the casual intimacy they have been able to share for the past few months. He finds an old pair of gloves, the first ones he had ever bought for her – delicate silk of the palest blue. Rogue has never had the heart to tell him how much she always hated receiving gloves or scarves as gifts, especially since it seemed to be the only thing anyone ever got her. What began as novelty and ingenuity quickly came to feel like shackles.

The shackles she must put back on.

And yet, Rogue isn't all that upset. She has been staring at her bare arms for an hour now because, for the first time in three months, she can look at them and not feel a wave of choking nausea.

Despite the fact that she hadn't missed her mutation – it was difficult to miss something that made you feel like a prisoner in your own body – she had certainly felt ambivalent about getting rid of it. There were days when she would lie in bed with Bobby or go shopping for skirts with Jubilee and she would feel quite content. Then there were days when she would sit on the floor of her shower and weep until she was hoarse under nearly-scalding water, trying to rid her limbs of their numbness and to conceal her sobs from her boyfriend.

Rogue takes the gloves Bobby extends to her and idly notes how careful he is not to yank his hands away from hers too quickly. She should probably be more upset about that too.

But only one thing is causing her true dismay at the moment. "You knew, didn't you?" she demands. Even without his psyche revived within her own, Rogue can read him like a book, and he didn't look shocked when she told him it was back. Disappointed and pitying and guilty, but not shocked.

"We've been getting reports for the last few weeks," Bobby admits glumly. "For a small percentage of mutants, the cure seems to fail after about fifteen weeks."

"And you didn't think I might like to know this information?"

"We've been keeping it quiet," he says, and Rogue hates that he uses that word again – we. As in the X-Men. Which she lost her membership in when she lost her mutation. "I'm sorry…I just thought there was no point in worrying you when the chances that it would come back were so small."

Well, I see Bobby hasn't changed, her recently-resurrected inner John pipes up. Rogue can feel his disdain; it's a bitter taste in her mouth that scalds her tongue. He would still rather be 'nice' than honest.

He's right, and Rogue winces at the ugly truth of it. John's specialty.

"It's going to be all right, Rogue," Bobby is saying to her quietly. His tone is reassuring but his eyes are still on her bare hands. "It doesn't matter to me; I still love you."

Rogue is irrepressibly reminded of his mother saying the same thing to him after he came out of the mutant closet, so to speak. She knows Bobby hasn't spoken to any of his family members since that day. The irony of it is, Bobby means it, just like his mother did. And, just like her, that doesn't make him any less afraid.

Rogue knows what she has to do.

"I love you too, Bobby," she says, and that is as true as anything John has said to her. "But this isn't going to work." And that is true as well, because she is not in love with Bobby. In all honesty, she doubts she ever was, and she suspects it's the same for Bobby.

But, unlike her, Bobby will never admit this. If John is all about brutal honesty, then Bobby is all about pleasant illusion. Unlike Rogue, he doesn't even realize he is in denial. All he knows is that he cares about her and that he is a good guy. Good guys do not dump their girlfriends because they have difficult mutations. Good guys do the honourable, selfless, heroic thing, and feel guilty for even being tempted to do otherwise. Bobby is a good guy.

But that isn't what she wants anymore. More importantly, it isn't what she needs.

Rogue does not need someone who is afraid of her mutation, no matter how much he pretends he isn't. She does not need someone who feels both flattered and guilty over her taking the cure, no matter how many times she says it wasn't for him. She does not need someone who is much better suited to Kitty Pryde, no matter how fiercely she has tried to deny this in the past.

After John left and Logan lost himself in grief, Bobby was all she had. But Rogue can't lean on him anymore. She has to stand on her own.

*

When the media breaks the news about the cure failing in ten percent of cases, there is inevitable backlash, and all sides of this seemingly never-ending conflict are busy. Magneto returns, but he is not as much of a worry to the X-Men as the Friends of Humanity, who are enough of a threat that the Brotherhood again comes to them with an offer of a temporary alliance.

Rogue makes a promise to herself: she will not let Magneto provoke her, should he make another attempt as juvenile as insulting her hair, and she will not let the traitor affect her in any way. She is not a pathetic little damsel-in-distress. Not anymore.

When she sees that both Logan and Bobby are perpetually scowling, her resolve is only hardened. Logan can take care of himself, and if Bobby wants to walk around with bruises and burns all the time, that's his prerogative. Besides, he has Kitty to fuss over him now. It becomes an almost daily experience to see or hear about yet another fight between Iceman and Pyro, but Rogue considers it none of her business. Not anymore.

The one fight she did witness – ostensibly over the best method of infiltrating a lab where mutants were being experimented on – reminded her too strongly of their old fights, only worse. Which in turn reminded her of another lifetime, when she was the only one who could stop those fights. Of a time when that knowledge didn't make her feel as if all her old wounds are raw again, inside. In those halcyon days, Rogue never would have turned her heel and walked away from Bobby and John when they were trying to beat the shit out of each other. Not anymore.

Some things never change, but some things do.

While Bobby and John are trying to murder each other at least once a week, Bobby and Rogue maintain an awkward civility that isn't quite friendship and isn't quite avoidance.

Rogue and John, on the other hand, do not do anything. They speak if they absolutely have to, as part of this uneasy alliance, and are professional but not civil. Rogue is careful to use the name 'Pyro', and John doesn't bother calling her anything at all.

It is because she knows why that Rogue knows a confrontation is inevitable. Like his fall from grace, it's only a matter of time. Then, her human name will come out of his mouth like a weapon, a malediction. She is prepared for this as much as she was for his betrayal – which is to say, no matter how certain she is that it will happen, a part of her still hopes in vain. A part of her still remembers that once, they never went for the jugular with each other, and friends were worth more than the world.

Not anymore.

*

John chooses to attack her in the elevator. Rogue isn't surprised. John had always gotten off on intimidation; naturally, trapping someone in a confined space, alone and with no escape from his vitriol, would appeal to him.

And so Rogue steels herself; remembers how it felt to absorb Piotr's power and draws strength from the memory. She wonders what his target will be – her decision to take the cure, her failed relationship with Bobby, her hair…

"So…still trapped in your own poisonous skin, huh?"

Or that.

Her first instinct is to get defensive. Deliver a heated "fuck off" or remind him that he's an abandoning, traitorous bastard and her control of her mutation – or lack thereof – is none of his business. And, by the way, why the hell is he even speaking to her?

But, just as John knows her well enough to know exactly what buttons to push, Rogue knows him well enough to know exactly what he wants and how to avoid giving it to him. She also knows that offense is the best defense where he is concerned.

"Still want what you can't have?" she counters, making sure to meet his eyes so that she can see her words make their impact.

And they do. His smirk falters and his eyes narrow; he is remembering that she absorbed him once and realizing that she is no longer the naïve and insecure girl who will ignore uncomfortable truths instead of turning them to her advantage. For a moment, Rogue dares to believe that she might win this round.

"No," John says after a pause. "Why would I want someone who betrayed her own kind? Frankly, it sickens me that I ever had any interest in someone who aspires to being a baseline."

Just like that, Rogue can feel her advantage slipping away. And John isn't even finished yet.

"Tell me, Marie –" And it's all she can do not to flinch at the sound of her given name, slicing through her like a whip against tender flesh. "– was it worth it? Mutilating yourself just so that you could fuck Drake, only for him to dump you? Was he as disgusted by your human self as I am, or is Pryde just better than you in bed?"

Rogue has to ball her hands into fists to stop herself from ripping off her gloves and wiping that sneer off his face. It is only because she doesn't want to let him win, can't let him win, that she manages to restrain her temper.

"I dumped Bobby, not the other way around."

"That isn't an answer."

"But I did fuck him," Rogue continues, as if he hadn't spoken, and she can feel the temperature in the room rise with his anger, the heavy heat that precedes a forest fire. Instead of holding back, though, she lights a spark. "And, believe me, it was good."

Without missing a beat, John snarls, "Shame you'll never get to do it again, then, isn't it?"

Rogue flinches, because while her words were spiteful, his are true.

She stares at him, absolutely despising that she is shaking and that her eyes are watering and that he is seeing both. "I hate you," she whispers.

His expression flickers for a moment, something besides anger and triumph flitting across his features fleetingly. "I know."

The doors slide open and Rogue leaves, wondering why she still feels ensnared.

*

It's an accident. This is what Rogue keeps telling herself as she stares at the dead body. It was an accident. She didn't mean to. She didn't.

She just held on to the guard a little longer than she meant to.

Logan is saying something to her, but Rogue feels like she is watching him from underwater. His image is blurry and his voice is muffled. Something along the lines of a gruff "sorry, kid, but it had to happen sometime and the prick deserved it". Or maybe that's just his voice in her head.

Bobby is looking at her too, and Rogue doesn't have to look back to feel his horror, his pity, his fear.

She expects that she should be feeling guilt and melancholy, but she feels curiously detached. She can't look away from the corpse. She feels a bit light-headed and sways on her feet.

A hard hand grips her upper arm, keeps her steady, and a hot gust of air hits her ear. John, Rogue knows. She thinks he's saying her name – her mutant name. There isn't enough time to figure it out. Suddenly, Rogue can no longer see her victim and realizes she is being forcefully dragged down a hallway, around a corner, down stairs, stop and start. Bruises are forming on her arm and it's too hot and too bright, but John is the only thing keeping her from drifting away entirely.

Rogue feels dizzy again, lost on a turbulent sea, and she grabs at John like she would a life preserver.

"We have to keep moving," he snarls, but Rogue is already lurching over and vomiting.

She has ruined their shoes, she thinks dimly.

John's sigh barely penetrates the fog of her mind, but feeling his hands brush through her hair wipes it away entirely. He holds it back as she vomits again. Only one hand now; the other comes to her waist to keep her from toppling over.

When Rogue finally feels as if she is no longer in danger of coughing up her lungs, she slowly stands up straight, vaguely aware that she should be mortified. She isn't.

"Do you ever get over it?" she asks. Her mouth feels full of cotton and she can't look at him. "Does it ever get easier?"

Bobby would offer her the cold comfort of a hug and platitudes he doesn't really believe.

John tightens his grip on her waist and says simply, "No."

It isn't the answer she wants. But it is, perhaps, the one she needs.

Rogue swallows hard. "Let's go."

She doesn't thank him. But then, he never expected her to.

*

When the crisis is over, Rogue decides it's time to leave. As usual, it's Logan who finds her and questions what she's running away from this time.

"I'm not running away," she tells him. "But we both know I'm never going to learn how to control it here. It's my responsibility and it's time that I took it seriously. Plus…I always wanted to see the world."

Logan knows she is telling the truth, but not the whole truth. Rogue does want to travel and she does think she needs some time to herself in order to try to learn to control her power. But she is running away. It's not from what, though; it's from who.

With the allowance the Professor had given all students and the money her mother sent her (an apology and a dismissal all at once), Rogue has enough money to travel, as long as she lives cheap and occasionally supplements her income by pulling odd jobs. She is a hostess in Japan, a tour guide in Poland, a bike messenger in Britain, an English tutor in Morocco.

She is doing nothing but sight-seeing in Prague when John finds her. As he sidles up to her on Charles Bridge, Rogue wonders if he has been looking for her or just stumbled upon her while in the middle of some Brotherhood mission. He mimics her posture, leaning over the balustrade and staring out into the fog.

Neither speaks.

Finally, Rogue straightens up, puts her hands in her pockets, and turns around, as if to leave.

"So…still trapped in your own poisonous skin, huh?"

The words are the same, but there is less spite this time, more genuine curiosity. Instead of walking forward, Rogue leans back, setting her elbows on the railing. Willing to try conversation, but ready to walk away in a heartbeat.

"I can control it a little now."

"And after only eight months." He's mocking her, but it's the familiarity of it that hurts more than the sarcasm itself.

"What do you want, Pyro?"

He snorts at the name she uses. "Now you're just being childish."

Rogue starts to straighten up again, but John moves faster. He has her pinned between him and the balustrade, and shoves his hands into the pockets of her jacket to grab her wrists. Rogue isn't sure whether it's to prevent her escape or to put her in the more vulnerable position, his wrist flints digging into the fabric of her gloves. Either way, he's much too close to her.

"Why did you sleep with Bobby?"

Rogue would recoil, if she had the space. "Excuse me?"

"You didn't really want to, and don't bother telling me you did. You're piss-poor at pretending for someone who does it so often."

He's too close; she can't breathe air that isn't his and she can't look away from the accusation in his eyes. "Let me go!"

"Answer the question."

"No!" She's struggling now, but his grip on her wrists is too tight.

"It wasn't a request. Answer. The. Question."

"Stop it!"

"Why did you do it, Rogue?"

Why did you choose him?

"Because he was always there for me, because he would never hurt me, because he isn't you!"

John finally releases her, and they are suddenly so far apart that Rogue aches.

This time, it is he who walks away from her. But it isn't the first time; it is the second.

Rogue almost calls after him; almost uses his real name. The one she always thinks of him by, but hasn't said aloud in years. Almost.

Want and need, Rogue thinks again. For her, they never seem to intersect.

*

Rogue doesn't see John again for another year. This time, it's Istanbul and she knows he specifically came looking for her. She answers his question before he can ask it – she has full control now. John gives her that same dangerous smile she remembers from late nights at the Mansion. This time around, there is no Bobby, but Rogue still feels like the moth mesmerized by the flame.

He is gentler than she thought he would be. Not that she's thought about this before.

Much.

But John is nothing if not unpredictable, so Rogue supposes it suits him.

He is not gentle with her the way Bobby was. Bobby was gentle because that's who he is. Considerate, patient, sweet. He touched her as if she were made of glass. As if, since she could no longer hurt him with her bare skin, he might hurt her. Rogue supposes it was thoughtful of him, to think that she might be oversensitive to touch, having gone without it for so long. He never understood that she craved any and all kinds of touches – that she would have welcomed roughness with as much fervour as she did tenderness.

John is gentle because that is his current mood. Because he feels like taking his time, exploring every inch of her, studying which spots are particularly sensitive, tasting and teasing and testing.

His mood will eventually swing the other way; they both know that. The only question is when. Rogue suspects he gets off on knowing that she is tense with equal parts anticipation and apprehension, desire and dread.

And she hates that so much of their relationship consists of her waiting for him – to show even the slightest sign of interest in her beyond as another competition with Bobby; to help her or to hurt her; to leave her or come after her.

Always waiting.

When Bobby touched her, Rogue enjoyed it, but her pleasure was ephemeral. Cold, gentle fingers against her warm, sensitized flesh felt soothing and sensual, but the sensation faded quickly. Ice gives only a fleeting chill, melts, and then evaporates.

Two and a half years with Bobby, and he left almost no trace.

With John, it's different. His blazing heat enflames her, exciting and dangerous and overwhelming, and it seeps into her skin, down to her bones. Rogue knows it will never fully dissipate, this fire that is equal parts passion and pain. He burns her, like the sun searing her eyes even after it's gone.

John leaves indelible marks on her skin and on her soul.

Even though she expected it, his sudden shift startles her. Without warning, a light caress of her thigh becomes a bruising grip, and Rogue gasps at the almost violent force with which he surges into her. She can feel him smirk against her throat before he scrapes his teeth there, punishing and prurient and possessive. Her skin will bear a blue-black sign of his wrath and his desire for days, and he intends it to.

Rogue welcomes it, even as she retaliates by digging her nails into his back. She wants him to mark her. Maybe because she wants proof of having been touched; maybe because she wants to punish herself for who she is allowing to touch her. Who she wants to touch her. Always, always wanted to touch her.

In the early hours of the morning, Rogue wakes up, alone and shivering from the coldness of her hotel bed.

For all their differences, fire and ice have something in common, she thinks bleakly. Neither can be held onto for long.

*

This time, Rogue goes in search of John. She finds him in Boston, at a house that no longer belongs to the Drakes but still bears scorch marks on its veranda.

This is that 'coming full circle' shit, I guess, says the John in her head.

In learning how to manipulate the life force drain at will, Rogue has learned how to control other aspects of her mutation as well. When she drinks in another person's essence, the connection between them is never fully severed. An invisible thread connects her to John, like feeling a second pulse thrumming in her veins and in her fingertips, a twin heartbeat that calls to her.

She can still feel the others too, but it's not the same. With them, there isn't this pervasive and persistent need, this ache that burrows deep inside her and smolders.

John is leaning next to the big 'abandoned' sign on the front door with his arms folded across his chest. He watches her as she moves out of the rain and onto the porch. Rogue stops a few feet away – not hesitant, not any longer, but determined to tie up all the loose ends that have piled up between them. Whether they find resolution or end it, Rogue wants some kind of closure, and she is going to get it.

She leans back against the railing and glances at the singed white paint above them. She wonders if it was John or her who left that particular mark, and if they marred poor, pristine Bobby the same way. "Back to the beginning, hmm?"

"The beginning," John says bluntly, "was the second you walked into Storm's classroom, Rogue."

She shakes her head; she didn't mean that beginning. Orbs of flame and roses of ice. Fierce competition and safe choices.

"I meant the beginning of the end. You had your issues with me and Bobby and with Professor Xavier's philosophy, but here…in this exact place, five years ago…it started to become serious."

John does not pretend to misunderstand. Instead, he gives her a mocking look. "You absorbed me then, and you're only figuring this out now?"

"I didn't want to figure it out then," Rogue says, and, finally, she is being as brutally honest as he is.

John looks like he both respects and resents her for it.

"I absorbed you without permission and then didn't talk to you about it and didn't tell Bobby off for being angry at you about his parents' house, and then I let you walk out of the jet and stayed with Bobby…and I took the cure. So fine. I get it. But you did things to piss me off too, John."

You hurt me too, she doesn't say, but she used his name.

It makes the difference. She can still see the fury rising up in him like a firestorm – but it isn't only fury.

"You knew about what Magneto did to me," Rogue whispers, "and you joined him anyway -"

"I joined the Brotherhood," John corrects. "My loyalty was always to the cause, not the man, and I don't regret that."

"Fine, you don't regret it, but you don't even feel the slightest bit guilty for it either, do you? I trusted you -"

"Bull shit," John cuts her off, and thunder sounds in the distance, as if to underscore his anger. "You never trusted me. You acted like you were different from all the others, but you always thought I was the 'unstable' one, the 'bad' one, the one who would betray the X-Men and leave -"

"I was right!"

"You ever hear of a self-fulfilling prophecy?"

The implications of that question take a while to reach her, and when they do, they strike with the force of a slap. Rogue is left reeling – and livid. "You…you are not going to blame this on me. I wanted you to stay. Hell, I almost chased after you to beg you to come back. I argued with Bobby about it."

"Wow," John says dryly. "That's real heartwarming, Rogue. You almost chased after me. You argued with Prince Bobby about me. But did you actually do anything? No. Like always, you're all good intentions and no follow through."

"It wasn't my responsibility to stop you."

"No," John admits, "but you're the only one who could have."

A part of Rogue wants to recoil, turn away, run away, hide from that painful, ugly, undeniable truth. But a larger part – a part that has grown up and learned from past mistakes – wants to stay right here. Wants him, the way fire wants freedom. Needs him, the way plants need sunlight.

"You asked me once," she whispers, staring at the white wood planks at their feet, the space that separates them, "why I slept with Bobby. It's the same reason I took the cure. The same reason I couldn't…I didn't let myself fully trust you. Because I didn't trust myself, John. Because I was afraid."

"Of me?" John questions, and God, Rogue is probably the only person in the world that the notorious Pyro doesn't want to fear him, and they both know why.

"Of me," Rogue confesses, and John is the only person in the world she has told her secret to.

When she touched him in this exact place years earlier, it wasn't to save the cops, no matter what she told Bobby or herself. It wasn't the fire she was afraid of; it was her own power's reaction to it, the envy and the hunger that a little sip of Bobby had done nothing to satisfy. It wasn't John who almost lost control that day; it was her. She gave into the temptation to touch, to taste, to take, and it was excruciatingly difficult to make herself let go of his ankle, his power, him.

Just as she had known it would be, instinctively, from the moment she first met him.

"You wouldn't have let me keep you at arm's length," Rogue says.

And suddenly, she is no longer aware of the coolness of the rain at her back or the sound of it hammering around them, because John is standing so close that she can feel the heat radiating from him and hear his heartbeat pulsating with her own.

"No, I wouldn't," John agrees.

He reaches out to take one of her hands – still gloved, out of habit and the vestiges of old fears. They both watch as he raises it between them and peels the leather off her. Rogue swallows audibly.

"I wouldn't have let you back away from any human contact, as if it was modesty instead of fear that was driving you." He touches her bare wrist with one hand to pull the gloves off her fingers with the other, and Rogue inhales sharply at the contact. "I wouldn't have been afraid of encouraging you to use your mutation on me." He starts stripping her other arm bare. Rogue shuts her eyes, feeling almost light-headed with the heat she is absorbing from him. Or maybe it's from both of them. "I wouldn't have accepted you keeping your past a secret and your power restrained, not with me."

John tosses the gloves aside, but he doesn't move away. They are so close now that she can breathe him in.

He's right. About all of it. John knows her mutation can hurt him, but even more than that, he knows that it can take things from him. He knows that she took his memories, his thoughts, his feelings into her the last time they were on this porch, and that she chose not to take anything the last time they saw each other. He knows that she was afraid to look into him again, and that she was afraid to let him look into her – past the façade she shows the world, down to the parts of her she tries to hide, the parts that are dark and damaged.

He truly is Bobby's opposite.

Rogue can't resist anymore. She flicks her tongue over the pulse throbbing just under the skin of his throat, tasting salt and smoke and the strength of his heartbeat. She feels rather than hears his sharp intake of breath. "And now?"

Because there is no guarantee that he feels the way he did back then. Not after all this time and after all the wounds they have inflicted upon one another.

"I don't know," John says, though his lips brush her temple. "But I'm tired, Rogue."

She knows what it must have taken for him to admit that, and so she returns the favour. She rests her forehead on his shoulder, her cheek touching his neck, but Rogue doesn't need the little sliver of absorption to know that he is telling the truth. What she needs and what she wants is for him to understand – she isn't afraid anymore.

"I'm tired too, John. I'm tired of hurting whenever I see you, or touch you, or think of you."

"Let's stop hurting each other, then."

Rogue pulls back just enough to meet his smoldering gaze, wondering if the answer is that easy.

Nothing worth having comes easily, says John in her head.

And the truth, it seems, may be painful – but it really does set you free.

John is returning her gaze, searchingly. Whatever he finds must be satisfactory, because suddenly he is kissing her, demanding entrance, demanding everything. And Rogue finally gives in. She doesn't let her mutation hurt him – neither of them wants him unconscious at the moment – but she drinks him in all the same. It's ambrosia, sweet and hot and addictive, flooding her senses. Like going from black-and-white to Technicolor, or sitting by a fire after going numb from the cold. Visceral and pure and overwhelming.

The first time Rogue touched John, she had a little taste of this, and it scared her.

The second time she touched him, she refused to let this happen, because she knew that she walked an edge herself with John, and it would be so very easy to fall.

This time, she throws caution to the wind and leaps.

"It is not light that we need, but fire."

- Frederick Douglass


A/N: This is the first story I've published in this fandom. Feedback would be much appreciated. :)