[Author's Note: It always drives me nuts when people start a new story before finishing an old one, but since my last one is *almost* done and this one has been really bugging me I just had to get it started. As usual I promise to finish it unless I get creamed by a truck or something. Enjoy!]

"Just as we practiced, Rogue." Xavier's calm voice washed over her. "Deep breaths. No fear."

Marie nodded, her eyes closed tight, trying to keep her breathing deep and even as they had practiced for months in their meditation sessions.

Concentrate, she told herself. You can do this. No fear. No fear...

She opened her eyes. Hank's furry blue face looked back at her, his expression unafraid and empathetic.

Dear, sweet, Hank. He had volunteered for this, knowing that a little bit of feral and fur would be more manageable for her than telepathy or optic blasts or control over bolts of lightning, and that his strength would hold him in good stead if she...

Don't think it, she admonished herself. You're not gonna fail. You're not gonna hurt him. No fear, no fear...

She stretched her arm slowly outward to where Hank's hand lay, palm relaxed and open on his knee.

She kept her eyes on Hank, listening only to the Professor's voice, trying to tune out his presence otherwise and completely ignore Jean where she hovered by the crash cart. Much as she understood the necessity of it, she hated that Jean had insisted on doing this in the medlab. The sterile room was so different from the Professor's study where she had practiced her meditation. All the stark metal...

She froze as she suddenly felt Magneto stirring in her head behind the barriers she had constructed to contain him.

Concentrate, Marie, she told herself again fiercely. Another deep breath and Magneto was silenced.

"Very good, Rogue," Xavier said soothingly. "Now continue."

No fear, no fear...

The distance between herself and Hank seemed endless as her arm inched forward, index finger outstretched.

You won't hurt him. No fear...God, please don't let me hurt him...no fear...

"Concentrate, Rogue." Xavier's voice remained calm, but her long familiarity with him allowed her to hear the extra note of tension in his words.

Her index finger was a bare inch from Hank's rough blue palm.

No fear, no fear...I can't hurt him, not Hank...

Against her will images flooded her mind. Hank's sympathetic face, his steady support over tea and Twinkies whenever she needed it. And then in an instant the image changed to one of that dear face turning pale, black veins popping up under the blue fur, his body writhing in helpless agony as she drained the life from him...

She tried to control her thoughts, tried to manage her breathing, but just a hair's breadth from Hank's skin the index finger she held outstretched started to tremble...

With a gasp she jerked her hand back, clenching her gloveless fists in her lap. She closed her eyes tightly, trying to hold back the tears of frustration and despair.

"It is all right, Rogue. We can try again," Xavier said consolingly.

"No." Her voice was flat and final. She kept her eyes closed. She couldn't stand to see the disappointment in their faces. "I can't do it. I just can't."

"With more preparation..."

"Just...no. No more." She jumped to her feet, swiping angrily at her eyes, despising her weakness. "We've had months of preparation. Months. And I'm no closer than I was the day we started."

"That is not the case, Rogue. Your mental barriers are getting stronger every day..."

"But that's different, isn't it? At least do me the courtesy of telling me the truth, Charles," she snapped.

She saw a shadow pass through his eyes and she sucked in a surprised breath as she realized what she had called him.

"Professor," she corrected herself, clamping down again on the Magneto in her head. That bastard never missed a trick. He had taken advantage of her anger to try to slip out again. So much for the strength of her barriers.

"You are just upset, Rogue," Xavier said, reading her thoughts. "And understandably so. But you have made exceptional progress with your barriers."

She took in a deep shaky breath, her anger leaving her in a rush. Now she just felt cold and empty inside.

"But I'm right, aren't I? Controllin' the personalities in my head...that's mental. Controllin' the fear of my skin...that's emotional, and it's a totally different thing. And I'm not any better at it now than I was the day we started."

She cringed at the way her Southern accent was coming out thick in her voice, a clearer sign of her distress than even her tears.

Hank cleared his throat and then spoke, his voice gentle. "Knowing that your mutation is defensive was an enormous breakthrough, Rogue."

She managed a shaky smile. "I know, Hank, and I appreciate all the work you put into that." The smile faded. "But in the end...does it really matter? As long as my mutation has been active, I've done nothin' but hurt people. Askin' me not to be afraid of that, to turn it off somehow? It's like askin' the sun not to shine. I don't know how to stop it from happenin'. It's even worse, knowin' that there is a way to stop it, but it's so far out of my reach that it might as well not even exist. I couldn't stop it when Magneto had me screamin' in that machine of his, an' I can't stop it now..."

She stopped, the lump in her throat choking her. She breathed in deeply through her nose, trying to calm herself so she could get the words out. "Maybe it's just time I admit that this is the way it's gonna be. Forever."


She held up her hand, stopping Xavier's words.

"I realize this must be disappointin' to y'all. You've worked as hard on this as I have. But maybe it's time...maybe it's time I just gave up. I think keepin' on hopin' like I have been...It's just too hard. I can't do it anymore. I'm sorry."

She felt the tears welling up again, and knew she had to leave before they broke free. She looked from Xavier to Hank to Jean, wishing she could make them understand better than her meager words could convey.

"I'm sorry," she said again, and then walked quickly from the room.

Xavier looked at Hank as Jean rolled the crash cart back into the storage closet.

"That was unfortunate," Hank offered.

"Yes, it was," Xavier agreed.

"Perhaps she will reconsider."

"Perhaps." Xavier sighed. "But somehow I do not think so. Rogue has always been an exceptionally determined young woman, but we all have our limits."

They sat in silence for a long moment.

"Any other thoughts, my friend?" Hank finally inquired.

Xaver rubbed his chin. "Only one. It has been in the back of my mind for quite some time. It is...quite...extreme. A last resort, if you will. But perhaps...perhaps Rogue has come to that."

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