It wasn't as if Rogue woke up one morning and decided that everything she believed in, everything they taught her at Xavier's Institute for Gifted Youngsters, was a lie.
It all started with a job application. More accurately, it started with several.
She'd look back later and blame it all on Jubliee and Kitty's grand idea that they all get summer jobs at the mall, but that was only the start of the problem, not the cause of it.
"I mean, we should probably learn stuff about managing money and having a checking account," Kitty had said seriously, trying to find a way to paint Rogue's nails without accidentally brushing her skin. "We don't want to end up with a lot of debt because of credit cards while we're in college. I saw a show about it on Dateline. Trust me. It wasn't pretty, ladies."
Rogue and Jubilee both had just smiled and agreed with Kitty, because usually that was the easiest thing to do. Kitty was very fond of opinions, and had many, on topics ranging from Gaucho pants to emo bands and everything in between. She was also very convinced of the veracity of television news programs.
Bobby thought it was a good idea, but not because of the Dateline special about college students and debt. "We do need to learn how to be self-sufficient," he said, sounding remarkably like Mr. Summers. "I mean, someone cooks for us, cleans the bathroom, orders all our books and stuff. Someone even does our laundry. I don't even know what setting to wash sheets on. Do you?"
"I don't even know where the laundry room is," Rogue said with a grin. "Besides, what does having a summer job have to do with washing sheets?"
"Responsibility," Bobby said, shrugging. "Or something. Whatever, I was just saying it was a good idea." He went back to his comic book, some harrowing tale of adventure and hell-spawned orange men.
"I think so too," Kitty said with a nod. "I mean, you might never be able to buy a house, Rogue, did you know that? Too much college debt can absolutely ruin your chances of getting a reasonable mortgage rate."
"Why am I the likely candidate for college debt?" Rogue asked dryly, grinning at her roommate. "You're the one with the clothing obsession."
"That's why I'm going to get a summer job. The discount." Kitty giggled, and Rogue had tried to ignore how Bobby's eyes lingered just a little bit too long on Kitty's mouth, pink and glistening from her favorite strawberry-flavored lipgloss.
Just her imagination. Had to be. Bobby was a good boyfriend, and she was perfectly happy with him. Besides, Kitty was cute, and she couldn't really blame him for looking at the girls he could touch. He didn't do anything about it, and that was all that really mattered.
Rogue liked to shop, but not so much because she wanted to buy anything, or at least not in the endless array of clothing shops she visited with Kitty and Jubilee.
She had a vague appreciation for fashionable clothing without any great desire to actually purchase it. She liked seeing nice things on Kitty or Jubilee because they wore them with a natural flair, some inner confidence that Rogue never felt like she had.
Perhaps it was because she had a lot of men taking up residence up there in her head, and they liked pretty clothes but didn't know the first thing about picking them out.
Perhaps it was because clothing was more a shield to her than anything, just another way she kept herself safe from everyone else, and vice versa.
Maybe it was all of these things, and maybe it was something else entirely, but she had no fashion sense to speak of. Most of the time, Rogue allowed her friends to drag her along for the companionship, and invariably came home with a black or green t-shirt or perhaps a new pair of jeans if she came home with anything at all.
No, Rogue liked going shopping because there was so much she could touch.
She liked to go into the stores and find the racks of silks and other soft materials, and after looking around to make sure it was safe, she would slip a glove off and slide the cloth between her fingers, feeling the smooth glide of silk or the warm, comfortable scratch of wool. Rogue was very aware of the feel of cloth against her skin, because it was the only thing that ever really touched her.
She would ride in the back of Kitty's jeep on the way to the mall, and on warm days they'd put the top down and Rogue would tie her hair back and take her gloves off, and feel the rush of the wind on her skin and feel the heat of the sun like a warm blanket settle around her. When it was cold or when it would rain, she'd roll down the window in the back and do the same, let the water run over her naked arms or allow the sharp bite of the cold air to prickle her skin. Even if she had to take the bus—Kitty was one of the few students with a car—she would press her face to the glass just to feel something touch her skin.
She appreciated them asking her to come along, even though she couldn't talk about trends and fashion with the same amount of ease they could. Even though they inevitably had to protect her from overzealous shopkeepers, who would try and bring the plain girl with the strange hair things to try on, doing their usual routine of holding clothes against her body, not knowing that one misstep or press of skin against Rogue's face or neck could kill them.
Today's shopping adventure had the additional requirement of picking up job applications for their proposed summer job plan. Jubilee and Kitty had decided they would only consider a job at the mall; Rogue had figured she might pick up applications in the bookstore, the music store, the goofy place that sold novelty items featuring ridiculous bunnies with various crude phrases printed beneath them and adult-themed games, and the Goth store. She figured maybe with her hair she would fit in well there, and she did own a lot of black and some wicked satin gloves.
Jubilee and Kitty each picked up applications at their favorite clothing stores, though Rogue pointed out they'd never save any money if they ended up working there.
Kitty had thought about that for a minute. "We'll have all the clothes we need for college, though, and then we'll save ourselves from the lure of evil store credit cards," she decided. She looked at her two friends. "Does that sound fair?"
"Sounds responsible enough to me," Jubilee said with a laugh. "Although Kitty, you'll want new clothes in three months and you did just sign up for the Gap credit card."
"Yeah, well," Kitty said, shrugging, apparently unconcerned. "You got twenty percent off your first purchase! I'll just cut it up when it comes in the mail. Let's go get a milkshake."
Rogue grinned at Jubilee and put the applications in her bag, grateful for the moment that she felt just like any other girl her age.
Rogue waited until the end of the weekend to fill out her applications, until she was seated on the unused twin bed in Bobby's room (not St. John's bed, they never spoke about him, never mentioned the comics and the pair of shoes still shoved underneath), nibbling on her pen and reading over the applications. She'd nearly finished the first when she gave an indignant squeak, staring in outrage at the paper.
"What's the matter?" Bobby asked, looking up from his Boston College application. He'd been angsting over it for a week, trying to figure out the best way to explain why he was a good candidate for admission. Rogue had talked him out of writing "I don't need air conditioning or a refrigerator in my room and therefore will save you money," though she was hopeful he'd only been trying to make her laugh.
"Listen to this! Can they ask this? I don't think it's legal!" She shrieked, staring at the paper in a fury.
"Uh, Rogue?" Bobby stared at her, eyes wide, ball-point pen poised over his crisp white application. "You gonna tell me what it says?"
"If you are a mutant with dangerous or life-threatening abilities, please check this box. This does not exclude you from employment; however, failure to divulge this information will result in immediate termination." Rogue shook her head. "You ever heard anything so...well. I ain't gonna be applying here, thank you very much." She tossed the application aside and began filling out another one. Forget Hot Topic. Their stuff was lame, anyway, and way too expensive.
Unfortunately, the question wasn't limited to the one job application. It was on all of them. She stared at it for a long time, the words swimming in front of her eyes and making her sick.
"Everything okay?" Bobby asked her later, with that smile on his face that always made her want to kiss him. Today, oddly, it just made her sad because she couldn't, not like she wanted to.
Yet another reason I have to check the damn box.
No. Every thing's not okay. You wouldn't have to fill out the stupid box.
She just gave him a small sort of smile and shrugged, but didn't say anything.
"It's not that big a deal, Rogue," Kitty said later, when Rogue was sitting on her bed, brushing her wet hair, trying to feel like a normal girl again and not some sort of potentially deadly freak. Which was probably not a healthy thing to think about oneself, but she couldn't help it. She had begun to repeat that phrase in her head from the application over and over, like some demented mantra.
"Are you serious? It is too!" Angrily, she jerked the brush through her hair, pulling, finding a curious sort of appeasement from the pain. The white part of her hair was always very dry, and she wondered why that was. Maybe if she ever saw Magneto again, she'd ask him. The thought made her scowl harder. We love what you've done with your hair, indeed.
"You could just check no," Kitty offered helpfully, chewing on her lip nervously as she saw Rogue's expression. She hung up the shirt she'd been wearing, some little spring top with ribbons and sheer sleeves. Rogue could put someone in a coma in a shirt like that if she wasn't careful.
"Then get fired when someone bumps into me and dies?" She tossed the brush across the room in a temper. "And tossed into jail for, what was it? Failing to divulge the information about my deadly skin?" She stared at the brush that lay across the room, breathing fast, trying to calm herself down.
Kitty stared at her for a few moments, concerned, then said slowly, "Maybe you should talk to Professor Xavier, Rogue. I mean, he'll know what to do, won't he?"
Rogue shrugged. "Why? He'll just tell me to fill out the application honestly and hope for the best." Something dark passed across her face; the shadow of someone else's disapproval, perhaps. His voice was a quiet echo now, where once it had been a scream, for which she supposed she should be grateful.
"Well, maybe he won't. You know. He might not want anyone reading it and showing up to ask questions or something about you." Kitty went back to hanging up her clothes, about which she was obsessively neat. Which was good, considering how much of them she had, but odd considering the mess she had on her bookshelves.
Rogue stared at her, feeling a little sick, finding it suddenly hard to speak. "You think I'm a danger to the school?"
Kitty looked at her, surprised. "Uh, 'course not, Rogue. I'm just saying, maybe the Professor won't want you to go around and turn in applications telling everyone how dangerous you are. You know." She smiled at Rogue. "Silly, I know you're not dangerous."
Rogue looked down at her bare hands, at the gloves resting on the nightstand beside her bed, the soft cotton ones she wore to bed. She remembered when she'd first come here, how she'd nearly killed Logan. "I am dangerous," she said quietly, and heard someone laughing in the recesses of her mind, cool and quiet and faintly amused.
She ended up going to see the Professor, in the end, because she was honestly without a clue about what to do. Besides, was this some weird trend she had to look forward to for other things, like college? Was she ever going to get a job, anywhere, or was this question going to haunt her forever?
While everyone else headed outside to enjoy the warm spring weather, Rogue made her way to the Professor's office. The mansion felt very large and quiet around her as she walked down the hallway and knocked on the heavy oak door, which was probably unnecessary. He must have known she was coming. She waited for his verbal, "Come in," and then pushed the door open and went inside.
Rogue always had an idea that she made Professor Xavier nervous. He was perfectly polite and understanding with her, as he was with all the students, but she sometimes detected a slight tightening around his mouth whenever she spoke to him, some vague hint of reserve about him. Maybe she was imagining it, but she always felt like he was on guard with her more than with some of the others.
"Rogue," he said, smiling at her. "Please, sit down." He waved a hand to indicate the seat in front of his desk. "What can I do for you?"
Rogue looked at him warily, thinking carefully how best to answer him. "I sorta have…a little problem," she admitted slowly, pulling back to sit straighter in the smooth wooden chair that faced his desk. She told him about how she'd wanted to get a summer job with Kitty and Jubilee, about the question on the application she didn't know how to answer.
"I imagine that is most definitely problematic." His voice was smooth and benign, as if they were discussing her most recent paper on William Faulkner.
Rogue nodded. "Yeah," she said, twisting her fingers together, black leather sliding slickly against each other. "I don't want to be the only one at home all day while everyone else is out being productive," she said, shaking her head. The thought of spending all summer watching Bobby play endless games of Soul Caliber IIIwith Piotr because humanity was too intolerant to give her a job? Yeah. Not so pleasant.
"I wouldn't find video games all that entertaining for an entire summer either," the Professor agreed, and Rogue felt a brief flare of annoyance, tensing at this unwelcome intrusion into her thoughts. There had to be at least some part of her mind that remained her own for her not to go completely mad, didn't there?
"My apologies," he said, inclining his head, sounding sincerely apologetic. "I do not mean to pry. I understand the dilemma. If you want to answer the question honestly, Rogue, go right ahead."
Rogue sighed. "Great. So the mansion can be raided again?" She shook her head. "Don't think I want to be the cause of that, Professor." Rogue was relatively unscathed from her rather harrowing encounters with the Brotherhood and Stryker's forces, but she felt guilty whenever she saw the (recently renovated) train station and she wasn't overly fond of anything with the Statue of Liberty on it.
"Those incidents were hardly your fault," the Professor said softly. "What do you think you should do, Rogue?"
Rogue gave him a considering look. "I want to fill them out and turn them in. At least, you know. To see what happens. But I don't…" she trailed off, remembering the soldiers, remembering how she'd cut herself running across broken glass and still had a scar on the bottom of her foot.
He nodded. "I understand. My concern is for the safety of this school and the students, of course, but you must be allowed to make your own decisions in regards to these types of situations."
That wasn't really an answer, and she felt a little shaken. He was supposed to reassure her, wasn't he? Tell her that he would protect her if they came looking for her?
"Of course I would," the Professor said with a nod, and Rogue felt herself relax a little. "I assure you, if anyone shows up unannounced because of your job applications, I shall make them have a sudden urge to be elsewhere."
"All right." She turned to go, but when her gloved hand made contact with the shining brass doorknob she turned to look back at him. "What would you do, Professor? Would you check yes or no on the application?"
He looked at her for a few moments without speaking. "I suppose I would keep in mind that while we want to co-exist with humanity, Rogue, we want to avoid blatant displays of our abilities."
Something about that rang false to her, and she gazed at him with narrowed eyes. He held up a hand, stopping words she was too respectful to say, and continued. "I would also, of course, remind myself that hiding what I was from the world eventually became problematic."
"But that's not an answer," she said, shaking her head and biting back the words she wanted so badly to say. How can we convince them we're not a danger and then lie to them at the same time?
"Perhaps not," Charles said shrewdly. "Rogue, it seems to me you have two choices. You may either lie on your application and hope to change their perspective by revealing later who and what you are, or you may tell the truth and confront this unfortunate situation head on. I do not know if one way is better than the other, but there is likely one way that suits you best." He smiled at her. "I think perhaps we may differ a bit on that score."
Did they? She liked to think she was the type who was gifted at subterfuge, but all she could think about was the people she might inadvertently hurt if some unforeseen accident were to occur. "I guess I'll think about it, then." She gave a forced smile and left his office, feeling oddly alone as she walked down the polished wood floors, her footfalls echoing in the hushed darkness of the corridor.
There is likely one way that suits you best.
When she returned to her room, she found her applications and sat down at her desk, carefully filling out the hated box on the papers and tucking them into her bookbag. She'd turn them in that weekend.
It would have been easier to check no, but Rogue didn't always do what was easiest. She just hoped she was doing what was right.