Title: Fine Art
Author: lachlanrose
Disclaimer: Not mine. Thankfully that doesn't stop me from playing with that Logan one. Heh.
Feedback: Is better than chocolate. The good, the bad, the ugly, welcome. Flames may be publicly mocked. )
Summary: After being on her own for several years, Marie returns to the mansion. Things get painted. Sparks fly. W/R AU
Notes: This one is just a bit AU. Everyone still has all their regular powers. Logan arrives at the school after Marie's gone and doesn't meet her until several years later. I'm warning you all now, this story is unfinished. Let me say that again: This. Story. Is. Unfinished. (And it's likely to remain that way.) I was writing this story when some really bad juju was going down in my RL. Two cross country moves and several years on, I came back to it and realized somewhere along the way I'd lost all my notes and (possibly) the desire to finish what I'd started. Regardless, it still remains as one of my favorite pieces and y'all wrote and let me know that you wanted to see it, even if it was only the first five chapters of a much longer story. I might at some (very distant!) future point, consider adding to it. I intend to finish Shine Against Me and Holding Ground II, first. We'll see if the bunnies have returned at that point. It stands alone as it is, sort of like the first act of a play. It's adult in theme (duh - it's me) as I write for an adult audience and prefer not to impose limits on my imagination (or my characters). You have been warned. :) Onward!


Fine Art

Charles smiled at the soft rap on his study door and straightened in his chair, brushing a speck of non-existent lint from his impeccable suit. For as much as he was looking forward to this meeting — as was customary when a past student returned to visit the school — he was well aware he and this particular student had not parted on the best of terms. Despite the maturity of both parties involved, he knew this fragile beginning was delicate at best... and this was no ordinary visit. She was not here to rehash 'the good old days.'

"Please, come in." Although his tone was carefully even, he was curious what changes had taken place in her since she'd left them. Ten years was a long time. He knew it was no longer his business, but the teacher in him wondered if she'd ever learned to control her mutation. A young woman — in gloves — entered his office and closed the door after herself. Ahhh... Gloves. How very sad that control had eluded her all these years. Although he had expected no different, seeing them was still difficult.

Charles nodded as he took her measure. Where had the time gone? He suddenly felt very old. She was lovely — conservatively dressed in a long dark skirt, boots, a fitted top and gloves, all in similar charcoal tones. Her hair was up, but the tendrils around her face and the sheer scarf at her throat softened the look, making it eclectic instead of severe. Her features were the same, only more refined. She had the face of a woman now, without any hint of the adolescent awkwardness he remembered. "It's a pleasure to see you again, Rogue."

A reserved, polite smile touched her lips. "Thank you, Professor."

He noted that, while unfailingly polite, she didn't return the pleasantry. He motioned to the chair across from his desk. "Please, call me Charles. I haven't been your teacher for some years now."

At that she did smile, settling herself gracefully into the chair. It was a warm smile, but still clearly professional rather than personal. He had expected that as well. Apart from that brief allusion to their former teacher/student status, neither of them seemed eager to revisit the past.

It might not have been given voice, but it still rested heavily between them. How could it not? Of all the children he'd tried to help over the years, he'd regretted his failure with her the most — not just because she'd have made a fine addition to his X-Men, but because he understood the desperation of being trapped inside a body that betrayed the dictates of the mind that lived within it. She was much too young and had far too much passion to go through life being untouchable. How he'd wanted to help her with that. His failure to convince her to stay after the incident with Magneto weighed heavily on his heart.

But even back then, he'd understood her desire to leave. In truth, he probably would have done the same. She'd been a runaway, like most of his other students. He'd found her with Cerebro and sent Scott and Storm after her with promises of a new start. A safe place to sleep. Food. School. Friends who understood the value of acceptance. Perhaps even, with his help, the opportunity to control her gifts. He'd barely had three months with her before Magneto had stolen her away. Three short months. It was enough to make his eyes burn.

Oh, Scott, Jean and Storm had rescued her in the end, but not before Erik had raped her mind and nearly killed her in that damned machine of his. It was little wonder she didn't trust him to keep her safe after that. Whatever hardships she'd encountered alone on the road had paled in comparison to what she'd experienced that night in the torch, and she'd left shortly after Jean and Hank had released her from the medlab.

Charles had done his best to convince her otherwise, but she'd remained steadfast in her decision to go. She'd coldly, but politely, thanked him for rescuing her, silently listened to his arguments, and then quietly told him in no uncertain terms that she felt far safer alone on the road than she did at this school. Her hands were trembling, but her voice was steady as she told him that she was sorry if he didn't like it, but she was leaving and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it.

And then she'd walked away and never looked back.

He'd tried to keep track of her through his frightfully extensive network of contacts, and had reasonable success for nearly two years before he'd lost track of her. There was a stretch of several years after that where he heard absolutely nothing. Those were the most difficult years — at least before then he could appease his conscience with the knowledge that she was still alive, even if he had failed her. In the five years without any sign of her, his hope had started to wane. She had passed out of his life and beyond even his incredible reach. He was not God. Then, just when he had almost resigned himself to the notion that all hope was lost, fate had intervened.

He couldn't have been more surprised when whispers of a talented young artist named Rogue began to reach his ears. He did some checking. This painter — a young woman whose age and appearance reportedly matched those of his long-lost student — was making something of a splash in the upscale New York art scene. She hadn't yet had a show of her own, but several of the galleries known for discovering cutting-edge artists were already showing her work. Nothing extensive, only a painting or two apiece... but it was enough.

Charles made a discreet trip to see this artist's paintings for himself and was shocked by what he found. Whoever she was, she was very good. The work was still raw, but captivating — almost uncomfortably so. Transported. There was no other word for the feeling one got from viewing her work. The passion and emotion in each painting was shocking in intensity. It wasn't until the third gallery and the fifth painting that he realized he'd finally, truly found her.

Rogue.

He'd left elated, emotionally disturbed, and two thousand dollars poorer, but in possession of a piece of art that now hung in his private study. He fought the urge to cover it every single time he saw it. It was too raw, a man's heart exposed for the world to see in tones of metallic gray. Soldier's boots. Muddied ground. A sense of oppression, of terror. A pair of gates, horrifically bent at an impossible angle, and one gangly, dirty hand reaching forward in sheer, unmitigated desperation. The moment at which everything that followed had become inevitable. The death of his mother. His progression into Shaw's monster. The descent into darkness. One could almost hear the screams.

It was exactly as Erik had described it to him so very many years ago, back when things were different between them. Before they stood on opposite sides of a line drawn in the sand. Before they were enemies.

Charles had sat in front of the painting, motionless, for long minutes as the memories flooded back, pressing in like a wave. So much had changed between himself and Erik over the decades, and yet Charles had still been unable to leave the painting behind — a painfully intimate moment like that could not continue to be viewed publicly by strangers. Even as he'd arranged to buy the piece, he'd admired the finesse with which Rogue had so coldly exacted her revenge.

What a fitting punishment for what Magneto had done to her. He'd violated her mind and she'd used the memories he'd forced upon her to paint the single most traumatic moment of his life — baring his private hell, baring his very soul to anyone who cared to see it. What a hellishly perfect torment for someone as private and reserved as Erik.

In the three years since he'd bought that damnable painting, Rogue had steadily grown better, her work more refined. It no longer crudely reached out and clouted the viewer over the head with its raw, naked passion. It was still as powerful and as captivating, only more subtle - a whisper instead of a shout. And thankfully, there had been no more images from Erik's haunted past. Although she still painted for herself, she'd also begun discreetly taking commissions. Due to the social circles in which he traveled, Charles had been privileged to view a select few of those as well, and he had been quite impressed with the results.

After much deliberation, he'd placed a call to her agent, requesting a meeting with her to discuss several pieces he wished to have commissioned, an act that would kill multiple birds with one stone — if she agreed. He'd not only be able to reconnect with a lost student, and perhaps come to know her as a woman and a friend, but he'd acquire some very fine pieces for the school and for his personal collection as well.

He also intended to commission her to do a painting for each member of his senior staff. For some time now, he'd wanted to give them a token of his appreciation. Something above and beyond their regular salary. He knew what they did day in and day out was far from easy. None of them would accept a gift of money, and he'd never be so crass or insulting as to offer it, but he very much liked the idea of giving them each a unique, highly personal gift. Something for which Rogue seemed to have a unique talent, if her previous work was any indication.

There was a long, awkward silence before Charles shook himself from his reverie and found his voice. "Forgive me, Rogue. It was not my intent to make you ill at ease." He drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Perhaps it would be best for me to be blunt." His mouth turned up in amusement and his tone became wry. "If I remember correctly, that was your preferred style of communication, was it not?"

This time, her smile was genuinely warm, even if her eyes were still wary. "A lot has changed since then." Her smile grew bigger. "But not that."

Charles smiled in response. "Ah, yes. The truth, straight up. No chaser." He watched her eyes widen briefly in response to his unexpected choice of words, and he felt the need to explain his very un-Charles-like response. "A favorite phrase of one of my staff." He offered, giving her a thoughtful look. "You remind me a lot of him, actually."

"Scott?" Marie couldn't imagine Hank ever using the phrase 'straight up, no chaser.'

His brow furrowed momentarily. "No. Logan." He paused for a long moment. "He joined us a few months after you left." Charles sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "But I'm getting ahead of myself." He smiled apologetically. "Let me ring for tea and start at the beginning."

Marie nodded and settled herself back into the chair for what promised to be a very interesting conversation.


Up next: The Deal. There are details and then there are details. Rogue drives a hard bargain, but this time Charles is determined to keep her from slipping through his fingers…