"To the future," Charles Xavier said evenly, folding his hands in front of him as he gazed around the room with a calm smile. "May it hold peace for us all, mutant and human alike."

"To the future," the room echoed, lifting their glasses.

Except for one.

Rogue stood as far away from the rest of the group as possible, leaning against the wall closest to the foyer. She didn't even have a glass to raise if she had wanted to. She'd long since grown tired of the punch Ororo had made, having spent most of the night nursing glass after glass to avoid being drawn into the center of things. It wasn't that she didn't want to be part of the night's gathering...

Okay, so that was exactly it. But she didn't want to hurt any of her friend's feelings, and she doubted that any of them would understand her discomfort, so she had remained silent and suffered through the night, thankful that this was, at least, the last party of the year.

"To friends," Scott said, glancing at Evan, who stood beside his aunt, holding the videocamera. "May we never part again, and if we do, may we always find our way back to one another."

"To friends," the rest of the party echoed, and even Rogue felt compelled to murmur the words along with the others. Evan had only recently returned to them, and not even her depressed mood could make Rogue any less glad to have him home again.

Ororo smiled down at her nephew, who just grinned, flashing Scott a thumbs-up as he panned the camera around to the next person in the circle, and Rogue was surprised to hear Kurt speak up.

"To family," he said quietly, and she raised her head to see him looking directly at her. "May ve always know zat ve are loved."

"T' family," Rogue said softly, tipping her head slightly at her brother. It still amazed her sometimes, that he wanted to be her brother. When they had first learned of their connection, Rogue had offered him a way out by pointing out that they were only siblings by adoption, and Kurt had replied that it made no difference to him.

He had wanted a sister, but more importantly, he had wanted her.

"To perseverance," Hank said, raising his glass in his furry, blue hand. "May we all find the strength to endure these turbulent times."

"To perseverance."

Rogue glanced over her shoulder at the front door, judging whether or not she could slip out unnoticed. It was growing closer to midnight, and she didn't want to be anywhere near this party when that time came.

"To love," Jean's voice echoed through the room, and Rogue couldn't help the way her heart dropped to her feet at that word, at the way the redheaded telepath glanced over at Scott, at the way he smiled back at her. It wasn't so much that she was jealous, she had long ago accepted that Scott and Jean were meant to be, and yet, in a sense, she was jealous.

Jealous that Jean and Scott could hold hands, that they could kiss.

That they could know the simple pleasure of one another's touch, something that was forever denied to Rogue.

She tried to shove all thoughts of such things aside, but how could she, with Jean and Scott eyeing one another like that? With Sam and Rhane sharing those not-so discreet looks? With her own brother draping his arms around Amanda, making lovestruck eyes at her?

It wasn't just them, though, it was this whole night.

The entire day was just leading up to that one moment, minute by minute, hour by hour. To the one moment when all across the world lovers and friends shared a kiss to celebrate the ending of the old year, and the coming of the new. To most, it was a joyful time.

To Rogue, it was just another painful reminder of her curse.

God, she thought with a mental groan. Ah hate New Year's Eve.

It hadn't always been that way, of course. Once upon a time she had loved the holiday, and had relished every single minute of it. When she was little, she used to beg her mother to let her stay up to watch the ball drop. Her mother would always refuse, saying she was too young, and so she would pout, and in the end she would get her way, only to fall asleep before midnight anyway.

Where are ya t'night, Mama? Rogue wondered, thinking of the last time she had seen Mystique. It had taken some time, but she had finally accepted that the shape-shifter who had once led the Brotherhood and the woman who she knew to be her mother before she'd bent sent to live with Irene were one and the same, just with different faces. At first she had been devestated, but as time passed, she couldn't help remembering all of the happy memories she had of her childhood, and the loving mother that Mystique had once been to her.

It frightened her that she sometimes wished for Mystique to be that mother to her again.

"To the X-men," Bobby cheered, pumping his fist into the air with all the eagerness of a boy who had just recently been promoted to a full member of the senior team.

"Yeah, man," Evan agreed. "May we always triumph over our enemies."

"Acolyte and Brotherhood alike, dude," Ray added with a lopsided grin, lifting his drink with a wry salute.

Rogue didn't miss the way Kitty glanced away at the mention of the Brotherhood, no doubt thinking of Lance. Silently, she placed a hand on her friend's arm, and the younger girl looked up with an embaressed, but trembling smile.

Lance is a moron, Rogue muttered to herself. Doesn't he know how much she loves him?

Boys could be so stupid sometimes.

"To us," Ororo said with a tender smile. "May we always know that we have a family, that we have a home, with one another."

Rogue turned away from the others, and slipped out of the room silently, making her way towards the door. She needed to be alone for a while.

Logan glanced at her as she opened the door, his enhanced hearing picking up the noise that no one else heard. For a moment Rogue froze, thinking he was going to say something, but he didn't. Instead, he just nodded at her, giving her his blessing to go. After all, he understood the need to get away from the others sometimes.

And he understood her.

She'd always known that, but she hadn't realized how much he understood her until the incident with her powers, when he had risked his life to help her, to get through to her in her darkest hour. Since then, Logan had been a comforting presence in her life, always there, unwavering and strong, but giving her the distance that she needed to keep herself together.

Ah don't know how Ah would have gotten through this mess without him, Rogue thought with a small smile as she stepped outside into the frigid night air. He'd not only helped her deal with the chaos inside of her head, but he had helped her to work through the trauma of discovering who Mystique really was.

For that Rogue would be forever grateful.

Shivering slightly in the icy air, she lifted her gloved hands to zip up her jacket over her black turtleneck sweater. The shirt had been a Christmas present from Kitty, the jacket a gift from Scott. Though this Christmas had been smaller and more quaint than others at the Institute, mostly because of the rebuilding, everyone had made the best of it, and no one had gone without a present from every single one of the X-men. On Christmas morning, the pile of presents under the tree had been almost as tall as the tree itself.

Rubbing her hands together to warm them up, Rogue walked down the icy steps and onto the sidewalk. The snow was still falling, covering everything in a glistening white landscape. Being from the south, Rogue found that winters in Bayville were often colder than she would have liked, but she had gotten used to the weather by now, and actually enjoyed it when they got snow.

There were daily snowball fights to join in on, sledding to be done on the hills of the Institute grounds, and even skating on the frozen lake when it was cold enough. Still, out of all of the winter activities that she and the other X-men participated in together, Rogue still enjoyed the occasional snowmobile race with Scott the most.

He still didn't understand how she always managed to beat him.

As she walked further away from the mansion, the echoes of laughter and cheerful music grew fainter, but still wafted through the air. Rogue was glad, she wanted her friends to have the best New Year's Eve possible. They deserved it, after all they had been through these past few months. It wasn't their fault that she couldn't find the same joy in the holiday that they could.

Better stay on the Institute grounds, Rogue thought. Logan an' the Professor might not be too happy if Ah took off fo' a bit without tellin' 'em.

She followed the path that led through the woods, heading down towards the lake. If she wanted someplace to sit and think, the dock was her best bet. Emerging from the trees, she paused for a moment, the sight of the silver lake taking her breath away. It was beautiful, the water frozen, reflecting the twinkling starlight on its slick surface, with the snowflakes falling softly across the ice.

Taking a deep breath of the winter air, she closed her eyes, savoring the aroma of winter, and then started down the path to the lake.

She had just reached the dock with a gust of wind blew across her path, and she stopped, frozen in her place, as she stared at the figure in front of her.

"Pietro," she breathed.

Sure enough, the white-haired, blue-eyed speedster of the Brotherhood stood before her, dressed in the usual jeans and black sweater, but his trademark smirk was missing, and there was no sign of the smug arrogance she'd been expecting to see. Instead, his expression was shadowed and his eyes were full of something she couldn't quite define as they darted across her face, as if looking for something he couldn't quite find.

He didn't speak, just looked at her, and time seemed to stretch on for an eternity before she was able to find her voice again.

"What are ya doin' here?" she asked.

"I had to see you," Pietro replied quietly, sapphire eyes earnest and pained. "Just for a few minutes."

"Pietro..." Rogue murmured, shaking her head.

"I just needed to see your face tonight, that's all," Pietro said, and her chest tightened at the bittersweet emotion she recognized in his voice. "I know I shouldn't be here, it's just..." he trailed off, not bothering to finish, and he didn't need to, because she understood.

She wished she didn't, but Lord help her, she did.

Rogue studied him in silence for a long moment, her eyes tracing over every detail of his profile. He was a handsome boy, she had thought so from the day they first met, all those years ago. He was tall and thin, with a wiry muscularity, and his silky silver hair was a sharp contrast to those sapphire eyes that shone with a dangerous intensity.

He looked so very much like his father, and she wondered how Wanda could stand it.

Pietro was looking at her, his gaze hadn't wavered from her face since his arrival, and she lifted her eyes to meet his, the two of them staring at one another in silence for a long moment. There was too much that they wanted to say, and too much that they knew could never be said at all, so they didn't speak, because what was the point? It wouldn't change anything, all voicing those unspoken words would do was make it even harder, for both of them.

Finally, when she felt like she was drowning in his eyes, Pietro looked away, back in the direction she had come, towards the mansion. "Sounds like there's a party going on," he commented.

Rogue nodded.

"Why aren't you inside with the rest of the X-gee... er, X-men?" Pietro asked, correcting himself when she glared at him.

"Dunno," Rogue shrugged. "Guess Ah jus' didn't feel in the partyin' mood, ya know?"

Pietro shoved his hands into his pockets, nodding absently, and turned his attention to the frozen lake. "Looks sturdier than the pond behind the boarding house," he observed.

That applied to a lot of things about the Institute as opposed to the Brotherhood, and they both knew it.

"Think it could hold the Blob?" Pietro asked with a wicked smirk.

"Ah think if it can hold the Blackbird, it can hold Freddie," Rogue retorted. "Unlike the pond behind the boarding house."

"Haven't forgotten that, have you?" Pietro chuckled.

"Kinda hard t' fo'get fallin' through the ice, sugah," Rogue pointed out with a scowl. "Especially when someone had gone through all the trouble o' assurin' me that nothin' could go wrong."

"Ah, technically I didn't say that nothing could go wrong," Pietro protested slyly. "I said that I wouldn't let you fall, there's a difference. And I didn't let you fall, now did I?"

"No," Rogue conceded. "Ya jus' fell yo'self an' pulled me down wit' ya."

"Minor details," he said with a dissmissive wave of his hand. "C'mon, let's give it a second try."

"We don' have skates, Pietro," Rogue told him in amusement.

"So? We don't need them."

"Have ya been eatin' pixie sticks again?" she demanded, raising an eyebrow suspiciously.

"Maybe," Pietro admitted with a wry grin, and grabbed her by the hand, whisking them onto the ice so fast that she stumbled, but he steadied her with one hand, then let go of her and pushed one foot forward across the ice, gliding about a foot or two away. "See? Told you it would work fine."

"Ah'm sure," Rogue muttered, letting her boots get traction on the slick surface before moving a few inches, her feet slipping. "Ah think Ah'll jus' stay right here, thank ya very much."

A small gust of wind tosseled her hair and she found herself face-to-face with Pietro, his hands tugging on hers with childlike insistence. "I won't let you fall," he said, and though his expression was playful, she knew he meant that promise. "Trust me."

Sighing, Rogue shook her head. "Ah'm gonna regret this later, but okay."

Pietro grinned and pulled her closer to him, his arms encircling her waist as pushed himself backwards, pulling her with him. Rogue's heart skipped a beat at how close they were to one another, but she didn't pull away. It had been so long since she had felt his arms around her, since she'd felt his touch at all, that she couldn't bring herself to do it.

Who cared that he was still the enemy, that he had betrayed them all for Magneto? With his arms around her he wasn't an Acolyte, she wasn't an X-man, they were just Pietro and Rogue again, the way it had been at the beginning, before everything got so messed up.

Rogue closed her eyes, trusting in his promise not to let her fall, and just savored the feel of being near him again as he guided her across the ice at a carefully slowl pace, no doubt a great feat for one who could run across the world in a matter of minutes.

"Roguey?"

"Hmm?" she murmured, not bothering to open her eyes, less it break the tranquil spell of the moment. His chin was resting on her head now, and she felt his arms tighten their hold around her waist.

"I love you, you know that?" Pietro asked, his voice husky against her ear. "I try not to, but I can't help it."

Swallowing past the lump that rose up in her throat, Rogue was relieved to have her eyes closed already, because it let her keep the sudden surge of tears at bay. She willed them away, refusing to cry, refusing to be that weak, but it was a futile battle, really, with such conflicting joy and sorrow stirring within her at those words.

"Say something," Pietro implored softly, a tinge of desperation in his voice.

"Ah..." Rogue rasped, refusing to open her eyes. "Ah can't..."

"Sure you can," Pietro protested wryly, trying to hide the flash of hurt in his eyes. "Open your mouth and words come out, right?"

Rogue shook her head, and his gloved hand came up to lift her chin.

"Look at me," he pleaded gently, and against her better judgment, she opened her eyes to find that their noses were now just inches apart. "I know you feel it, you can't deny that. So why can't you say it?"

"What difference does it make if Ah can say 'em or not?" Rogue snapped, drawing away from him. "We can't be t'gether, we both know that, so what's the point in all o' this?"

Pietro didn't deny her words, they both knew it was useless to even try. They had walked this road before, and it led to a dead end.

"We can't be t'gether, Pietro," she repeated, her voice quivering as she bit her lip. "So it doesn't matter how Ah feel."

"It matters to me," Pietro said sharply, refusing to let go of her hand. His eyes flashed as he glared down at her, and she was suddenly aware of just how much taller he was than her. "I need to know, Rogue."

Her eyes stinging, Rogue looked away. "Ya know how Ah feel, Pietro. Ya always have."

"I need you to say the words," Pietro insisted.

"Don' do this, Pietro," Rogue pleaded, tugging her hand out of his and taking a step back to put distance between them, but he just stepped forward again, bringing them closer together than ever.

"Please," he whispered, lifting her chin with a gloved finger. "Marie..."

"Rogue's heart constricted at that name, her real name, and the way it sounded coming from his lips. She had confided it in him back when they had lived together at the Brotherhood boarding house, and she had only heard him use it once before, when he had discovered her packing her things to join the X-men.

"What are you doing?" Pietro demanded.

Rogue ignored him, lifting the last of her shirts from her drawer and stuffing them into her duffel bag. Her eyes were burning with tears that wanted to flood down her cheeks, but she refused to let them fall. "Rogue?" Pietro asked, almost frantically as she zipped the bag and stood, sliding the strap on over her shoulder.

Wordlessly, she made her way across the room to the door, avoiding his gaze as she stepped out into the hallway where the others were standing, having heard the commotion. Their expressions faltered in surprise as they saw the bag in her hand, then flickered with hurt as realization set in. Fred turned away, Todd disappeared back into his room, but Lance's gaze never left her face. She would never forget the betrayed look in his eyes as she began to descend the stairs.

"Rogue?" he called again, pleading, desperate. He was trying not believe it, trying not to see what the others had already accepted.

Rogue swallowed hard, willing her tears back. If she could just keep them at bay until she made it out the door...

A gust of wind told her she would not be so lucky, and she blinked before coming face-to-face with Pietro, whose sapphire eyes were searching her own green ones frantically. He must have found his answer, because his lips parted and he whispered in horrified realization, "Marie..."

With a trembling hand, she touched his cheek with her glove. "Ah'm sorry, Speedy," she whispered. "Forgive me."

And then she hurried out the door, never looking back.

Rogue swallowed, trying to blink back the tears streaming down her face, but she could no longer fight them, and a sob escaped her lips, followed quickly by a thousand more. She felt strong arms wrap around her, and she buried her face in his chest, her shoulders shaking fiercely.

"Ah'm sorry," she cried into his sweater. "Ah'm so sorry."

"Shhh," Pietro murmured, kissing her hair the way he used to do when she woke up from nightmares. "It's okay. It's okay."

"No, it's not," Rogue protested hoarsely. "Ya'll were mah friends, mah family, an' Ah jus' up an' left ya with no explanation or nothin'. Ah should have tried t' explain. Ah should have-"

Pietro silenced her by placing a gloved finger to her lips. "I know why you left. We all do. It was because of Mystique, not us. We get that. We really do."

"Ya'll sure could have fooled me."

"It's just... it hurt when you left," Pietro explained in a weak voice, stroking her hair. "More than we thought it would. It hurt real bad."

"It hurt me, too," Rogue whispered.

"I know," Pietro said, holding her closer.

They stayed like that for a long while, wrapped in one another's arms, a comfortable silence falling over them both.

"Pietro?" Rogue said softly. "Yeah?" "Ah love ya."

Pietro's lips twitched. "I know."

Rogue lifted her hand to wipe her eyes, and stopped, catching sight of her watch. "It's midnight," she said in surprise.

"So it is," Pietro replied slyly, and before she knew what was happening he was leaning towards her, his lips pressing down against hers.

Rogue blinked, startled, and had the urge to pull back, but she forced herself to ignore it, closing her eyes and savoring the ever so brief moment of contact between Pietro's lips and hers.

Pietro pulled away a moment later, his face pale and haggard, but his lips were curled into a faint smirk. "Happy New Year, Marie," he rasped, before slipping to the ground unconscious.

Rogue stared at him in shock, even as his memories flooded over her. Memories of his childhood with Magneto and Wanda, of growing up alongside Evan, of the many battles against the X-men, of Mesmero changing Wanda's memories.

So that's what happened t' her, Rogue thought with a nod.

But the memory that stood out the brightest in his thoughts was that of their first meeting, of looking up at the sound of the steps creaking, and catching sight of her for the first time as she came down the stairs.

A blush crept across her cheeks, and Rogue sighed as she lifted the limp Pietro into her arms. What am Ah gonna do with ya, Speedy? she thought, and used his powers to zip across town to the Brotherhood boarding house. She opened the door and sped up the stairs before anyone could see her, and deposited Pietro on his bed.

She took a moment to look at him, grinning at how peaceful and still he looked in his sleep, and then she darted off again, this time back to the Institute.

She bounded up the front steps and reached the door just as Pietro's power began to wear off. She ran a gloved hand through her wind-blown hair, then opened the door and stepped inside.

"Rogue?" she heard Kitty call out. "Is that you?"

"Yeah," she called back, sliding off her coat and hanging it up on the coat rack along the wall. "It's me."

"Like, where have you been?" Kitty demanded, phasing through the wall and grabbing her by the arm. "You totally missed a great party!"

Rogue waited to reply until Kitty had phased them back into the other room, unsure how talking worked when you were intangible. "Sorry," she replied sheepishly. "Ah went fo' a walk an' Ah guess Ah jus' lost track o' time."

Logan raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything.

"Too bad, man," Evan said, jingling the camera on his shoulder. "You missed the ball drop."

"Ja," Kurt agreed, coming over with Amanda at his side. "And you missed all ze midnight fun."

"Oh, Ah don't know about that," Rogue murmured.

Seeing the confused looks that her friends gave her, she smiled and picked up her glass from earlier, lifting it into the air and clearing her throat to get the attention of everyone in the room.

"T' all o' ya'll here," she said quietly. "It means a lot that ya'll have stuck by me through it all, even when Ah'm less than pleasant t' be around. A gal couldn' ask fo' a better family. Ah jus' wanted ya'll t' know that."

There was a long moment of stunned silence, for this was the most Rogue had said since waking up in the med-room after her powers had gotten out of control, and everyone in the room was startled by her sudden speech.

Everyone, that is, except for one.

"To our family," Logan said tipping his glass in acknowledgment.

"To our family," everyone echoed.

Rogue smiled faintly, and when no one was looking, touched her fingers to her lips, feeling the phantom touch of Pietro's kiss. New Year's Eve was still her least favorite holiday, perhaps even more so after the reminder of just what she could never have, but it wasn't as unbearable as it had been before.

Maybe next year she'd even smile at the countdown.