Westchester, NY

Xavier Institute

The warm morning breeze rustled through the trees.

A single golden leaf spiraled through the air, twisting gracefully as it floated its way down from the sky to touch down on the water below.

The surface of the lake rippled faintly, sending shimmers of light cascading across the water, the sunlight dancing over the glistening lake like flickering fireflies. With the warm sun beating down on face and the gentle breeze caressing her hair, Rogue sighed, closing her eyes and savoring the moment of stillness.

Tranquility was a rare thing these days, for all of them.

It had been a week since Alcatraz, a week since they took a stand against Magneto's army, a week since they'd lost Jean all over again.

The President had extended his gratitude to the X-men for their part in defeating Magneto during his address to the nation, and he'd talked about the need for healing, the need for change and new direction.

After Alcatraz, the world would never be the same.

No one knew that better than the X-men.

San Francisco was recovering, there were plans to rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge, and the country seemed to be doing its best to try and make life as normal as possible.

The Institute was trying to do the same, for all the normalcy they'd ever really had.

Classes had resumed and Ororo had called Kurt Wagner back from Germany to take over her old teaching position, and Hank McCoy had agreed to stay on as a member of the faculty since recent events had left them short-staffed.

But there was disquiet about the mansion these days, even if they all pretended not to notice.

Ororo kept saying it would take time, for things to smooth over.

But Rogue doubted it would ever be the same.

Too much had happened, in such a brief span of time, too much that could never be undone.

No one knew yet how many people had died at Alcatraz, the casualties were rising as the military carefully picked their way through the gnarled mess of debris left in the wake of Magneto's attack, but Rogue knew it was going to be high. There had been so many bodies, even before Jean...

The memory of what had happened to the soldiers on the ridge haunted her.

When she closed her eyes at night she saw their faces as their molecules were ripped apart, as they shattered into dust.

She understood now why Logan wouldn't talk about Xavier's death.

It was just too horrible to comprehend.

Some of the older students had asked about what happened, apparently the news footage had cut out not long after Rogue and Warren left in the Blackbird II, but the answers they got were brief and vague.

For the first time, Rogue understood why Ororo and Scott had been so reluctant to let her and Bobby join the ranks of the X-men before Alkali Lake.

The world had no sympathy for the young, and innocence was often violently taken.

Carol Danvers was proof of that.

Rogue sighed heavily, that constant ache in her heart wrenching at the thought of the girl whose life her powers had taken, the girl that life had hardened too young, shaping her into a young woman that would abandon her family for Magneto's crusade, ready and willing to kill for his beliefs.

From Carol's memories she knew that it had been a year since the Danvers last saw their daughter, she'd slipped out the window one night after an argument with her father and never looked back.

Someday, Rogue was going to have to pay them a visit and tell them what had become of their little girl.

She owed Carol that much, at least.

"What are you thinking about?"

Rogue glanced over at Bobby, who was sitting next to her on the edge of the dock, and found him gazing at her with such earnest concern that she didn't have the heart to lie.

"Carol," she murmured, and cast her gaze back to the water.

Bobby was silent for a moment, an uneasy pause. "It wasn't your fault," he said after a beat, and his soft sincerity both warmed and broke her heart all at once, because she wasn't sure his faith in her wasn't misplaced. "She was going to hurt people, she was trying to hurt you, all you did was defend yourself in the only way you could."

It wasn't that simple, of course.

To Bobby it was, because he loved her, but Rogue knew the world wasn't black and white.

She'd fallen into one of the many shades of gray.

But this was a conversation that they'd had more than once in the week since Alcatraz, and Rogue knew that no matter how many times she tried to explain it, Bobby would never see things the way she did.

When she didn't respond, Bobby seemed to get the hint and let it go.

"Where do you think John is now?" he asked instead, and Rogue didn't miss the slight tug of wistfulness in his voice.

"I dunno," she answered truthfully.

They'd brought John back with them from Alcatraz, apparently rendered unconscious from having Bobby head-butt him with a skull of solid ice, but the next morning the infirmary bed was empty and John was long gone, the only trace of him a slip of paper left on the cot.

Frostbite sucks, asshole.

Bobby had actually managed a chuckle at that.

Rogue had just rolled her eyes, wondering if there would ever be a day when John would grow up, when he would do the right thing and be the man she knew he was capable of being.

He hadn't, as Bobby pointed out, burned down the mansion while they were sleeping.

In "guy world", apparently that was a big step or something.

"Probably somewhere warm," Bobby murmured, the corner of his mouth lifting slightly in a small smirk. "A tropical beach or something."

"Wish he'd taken me with him," Rogue drawled, lazily drawing circles on the surface of the water with her bare toes.

Bobby gave her a look, which she pretended not to notice.

They hadn't really talked much about John since his disappearing act, but Rogue knew that he had been on Bobby's mind. In truth, she'd found her thoughts wandering to the little pyromaniac from time to time, as well.

She missed him, had ever since he left the first time.

Now he was gone all over again, not that she was surprised by that.

Somehow she'd known he wasn't going to stick around once he came to, it wasn't in his nature.

John was the kind of guy who had to make all the mistakes he could, test out every option, and do things his way on his terms- he was right, he didn't belong at the Institute anymore.

Where did he have to go, though, now that Magneto was gone?

Come to think of it, where did Magneto have to go?

She hadn't wanted to look Ororo in the eye when her former teacher asked if anyone had seen where Magneto ran off to.

But she'd told the truth, that she saw him run and let him go.

And she didn't regret it, not anymore.

Magneto was dead, all that remained in his place was Erik Lensherr, a sad old man who couldn't see past his own traumas to realize that he had become the very thing he once hated, the monster of his nightmares.

She knew about Auschwitz, knew what he'd suffered there.

And she knew about Anya, his firstborn whose death had unleashed the single-minded rage that gave birth to Magneto.

There was sympathy there, she pitied him for what he'd been through, for his suffering, but she knew he was too far gone to be reasoned with.

He'd been too far gone a long time ago.

Even his own children knew it, they had long since turned their backs on him.

And Charles Xavier, the only man whose faith had lingered, who still deeply believed that in time his old friend would learn the errs of his ways, was dead, and his students did not have the same soft spot for Erik Lensherr.

Ororo was hoping they'd heard the last of Magneto, now that his powers were gone, but Rogue highly doubted it.

He would be back, someday, when it was the most inconvenient.

The wind shifted slightly, blowing her hair across her face, and Rogue started to reach up to brush it back in annoyance, but Bobby beat her to it.

Ever careful not to touch her skin, he slowly tucked her hair behind her ear, a simple gesture of affection that he'd done dozens of times over the past two years, but now she was more acutely aware of how close his fingers could come to her skin without ever touching.

It was tragic irony, she was all too aware.

Bobby could get as close to her as he liked, but they could never truly be close.

One of the many difficult truths that she was learning to accept in the aftermath of Alcatraz, now that the proverbial rose-colored glasses had fallen away.

She felt so grown up suddenly, so old.

And looking at Bobby now, with his laughing eyes and bright smile, she realized that despite the fact that he was a good three months older than she was, he was still so young.

They'd both been naive, to think that everything would magically turn out right in the end.

That the world would let them have a happily ever after.

Eighteen, Rogue thought numbly. We're only eighteen years old, barely done with high school.

Strange, when she felt like she'd lived a dozen lifetimes, and maybe in some way she had, the lives of everyone she'd ever absorbed.

On the flight home from San Francisco, he'd pulled her aside, wordlessly handing her the gloves she'd left on the co-pilot's seat when she and Warren left to join the battle at Alcatraz Island.

"I'm sorry, Bobby," she'd whispered. "This is me."

"I know," he'd replied quietly, seriously, with just a hint of bittersweet regret in his eyes. "I've always known who you are, Rogue. Your powers... as difficult as they are, they're part of what make you the Rogue I know and love. I wouldn't change you."

He wanted to be with her, come hell or high water, her powers be damned, and she loved him all the more for that.

But she knew what Bobby didn't, what he was in denial about.

Someday their paths were going to diverge, and their lives would go in different directions.

It was inevitable.

One day they would start to drift apart, and no matter how desperately they tried to cling to one another, to make it work, in the end they were going to be too different.

She loved Bobby, with all her heart, but even now Rogue knew it wouldn't last.

Bobby was bright and golden and strong, all the things she wasn't.

She was tarnished, rough around the edges, with something dark inside of her, buried deep down. Maybe it was from all of the twisted psyches she'd taken into her mind over the years, or maybe it had always been there inside of her, dormant, like Logan's primal rage.

A girl was dead because of her.

And Rogue knew she would never be able to forget that.

Her demons would become a part of who she was, and it wasn't fair to drag Bobby down with her.

Though he'd try, for her, he could never understand.

Rogue shuddered a little, Carol's lifeless face floating behind her eyes, and a moment later Bobby was on his feet, holding out his hand to her. "Let's head back to the mansion," he suggested, assuming she was cold. "We can watch some television or something. I'll even let you have control over the remote."

Despite herself, Rogue smiled faintly, and let him take her gloved hand and pull her to her feet.

Bobby draped his arm around her shoulders, drawing her close as they made their way back along the dock, and she watched their shadows on the ground, blending together in ways they never could.

As they drew near the mansion, laughter filled the air.

On an open stretch of the lawn, Peter was trying to teach Kitty to catch a football.

It looked like the football was winning.

"Hey, guys," Kitty called, breaking out into a brilliant grin when she caught sight of them. "The Ruskie is totally schooling me over here. Wanna join in and make me feel less pathetic?"

Bobby laughed. "I don't think you want me to play, Pryde," he warned. "You'll only end up even more embarrassed."

"Oh, really?" Kitty arched an eyebrow, a definite challenge.

Without realizing it, Bobby had taken a step forward, instinctively ready to join them, but he paused, shaking his head. "Maybe later, I'm going to hang out with Rogue for a while."

"No," Rogue said. "Go ahead and play, Bobby."

He frowned at her, uncertainty clear in his eyes. "But what about watching television...?"

"We can do that any old time," Rogue answered with a shrug. "You should play. Besides, there's something I kinda need to do anyway."

"Are you sure?" Bobby asked, and she knew he would walk away from the game in the blink of an eye, without looking back, if she asked him to.

"I'm sure," she told him, and kissed her gloved fingertips, pressing them to his lips. "Have fun."

"I love you," Bobby said, with one of those smiles that he reserved solely for her.

"I love you, too," Rogue replied softly, a small catch in her throat, and she gave him a shaky smile in return. "I always will, no matter what happens."

Not catching the hidden meaning in her words, Bobby leaned over and pressed a kiss to the top of her head, lips safe against her hair, and then bounded toward Peter, catching the football that their teammate tossed in his direction.

Kitty rolled her eyes, clearly unimpressed, and Rogue turned and left the lawn behind.

Even though they hadn't talked about it, even though she knew that Bobby truly loved her, Kitty would always be there, an unspoken wall between them.

Was Bobby's infatuation with the younger girl really anything more than just attraction? Would it turn into something more someday, somewhere down the road?

Rogue didn't know, and she suspected that Bobby didn't either.

But strangely enough, Rogue was no longer troubled by thoughts of Kitty coming between them.

Eventually, something would.

She wasn't going to worry about any of that now, though.

For now, she and Bobby had one another, and she was going to live in the moment, savoring it while it lasted.

Making her way around to the back of the mansion, Rogue approached the small garden that had been transformed into a small cemetery, and was unsurprised to find Logan there. He stood with his back to her, staring at Jean's tombstone, beneath which there was finally a body.

Silently, Rogue moved up beside him, her eyes tracing the familiar words.

"I figure she's at peace now," she murmured, and next to her Logan stiffened. "With the Phoenix tearing away at her mind, and with everything she'd done... she must have welcomed it."

She was met with silence, which she pretty much expected.

"It wasn't her, Logan," she said gently. "It was the Phoenix, not Jean. Jean Grey died at Alkali Lake, saving us all. What came back...it wasn't her."

"It was."

Taken aback by his husky whisper, Rogue searched his face, but he never looked away from Jean's grave.

"In the end, when I... it was her."

Rogue bit her lip, her voice failing her for a moment, and then swallowed past the lump in her throat. "Well then I'm sure she was grateful, that it was you." Logan made a dismissive grunting sound, and she sighed. "Well I would have been anyway, if it had been me, in her place."

"You don't have to do this, kid," Logan said flatly.

"Yeah, I do," Rogue replied.

Logan finally looked at her, and when he did there was something in his eyes that she couldn't quite define. "Looks like we both made some big sacrifices, for the greater good."

He was looking at her gloves, expression unreadable.

"Thought you were sure that was what you wanted," he commented gruffly.

"I thought so, too," Rogue admitted quietly, absently playing with the edge of one of her gloves. "I waited in line for an hour outside the clinic, filled out all the necessary paperwork, sat in the damn lobby for half an hour..."

"What changed yer mind?"

"Mystique," Rogue answered bluntly.

She could almost see Logan's hackles rise at the mention of the shapeshifter. "Mystique?" he echoed. "What's she got to do with it?"

"I'm still not sure, actually," Rogue replied. "She showed up at the clinic while I was waiting. Came looking for me, I guess, specifically to talk me outta getting the cure." Logan's brow furrowed, clearly as unsettled by that as she had been when it was happening. "She didn't come to start anything or what not, she really just talked to me. Made me realize that maybe my powers had a silver lining after all, maybe they make me who I am. Make me Rogue."

"Hnn," Logan grunted, and cocked an eyebrow. "Convenient, that she knew when you'd be there."

"Yeah," Rogue agreed softly. "Too convenient."

"How so?"

"She... knew things. About me. Things that I don't see how she could have known. And she called me Marie."

"Magneto probably pulled your background information back when he was after you to power his mutant machine," Logan reasoned.

"Maybe," Rogue murmured. "But it kinda makes me wonder how he even knew about me in the first place. I kinda got a vibe from Mystique that maybe she's been keeping tabs on me, for a while now."

Logan frowned, but didn't try to argue. "I'll keep my eyes and nose open, if she comes around we'll know."

"I really don't think she's a threat," Rogue said. "At least, not to us. Not anymore. Magneto abandoned her, after she took the dart meant for him. If anyone needs to watch their backs with her, it's him."

Besides, Rogue was painfully aware that she might just be more dangerous to her friends than any foe.

As long as her powers were uncontrollable, she had to practice constant vigilance.

Reading her, in that frustrating way that only he could, Logan decided to confront her head-on, with all the subtlety of a train wreck. "Her powers haven't worn off yet."

"No," Rogue confirmed, swallowing hard. "They haven't."

"Kinda strange, that," Logan observed.

"Mr. McCoy thinks maybe..." Rogue paused, blinking back the tears that were starting to well in her eyes. "He thinks that maybe they're not going to. That since Carol died, I took in every last drop of her powers, permanently."

"Could be the case."

He was looking at her with knowing eyes, a reflection of her own guilt surfacing beneath those dark depths.

"I don't want to talk about it," she said flatly.


And just like that, he let it go.

Logan wasn't going to press her into it, he knew she'd come to him when she was ready, because, really, he was the one person who she could talk about it with.

There was blood on his hands, too.

Rogue figured if anyone could tell her how to live with it, it would be Logan.

"So what about you and Popsicle?" he asked. "Now that you've turned down the cure?"

"I dunno," Rogue responded honestly, with a soft sigh. "I really don't. I guess... I guess we'll just see where the future takes us."

"Sounds like a plan," Logan said quietly, his gaze drawn back to Jean's tombstone.

Rogue followed his gaze, her eyes sweeping over to the other two headstones alongside Jean's, and her heart ached at the reminder of what they'd lost. "And what about the future of the school?" she murmured. "Of the X-men? What do we do without them? Where do we go from here?"

"We keep fightin' for Charley's dream," Logan replied huskily. "For their dream."

"I do believe we'll make a model X-man out of you yet," Rogue declared wryly, and put on an innocent smile when he turned a glare in her direction.

"Watch it, kid," he growled.

"Who are you calling 'kid', bub?" Rogue retorted.

Logan started to reply, then looked toward the mansion, his sensitive hearing picking up something long before her own ears. Artie was leaning out the back door, looking around, and when he spotted them he called, "Mr. Logan, Ms. Munroe wants to see you in her office."

"Somebody's in trouble," Rogue chuckled.

Artie grinned, and when Logan glared at him, the kid darted back inside.

"Be nice," Rogue scolded, swatting him lightly in the chest.

Logan grunted, the breath knocked out of him, even though he tried to hide it.

"Sorry," Rogue apologized sheepishly. "Keep forgetting my own strength nowadays, I guess."

"Some work in the Danger Room will help that," Logan said, and there was a glint to his eyes that she didn't like. "Bright and early, 8 am. We'll see just how much it takes to put you through the ringer."

"I hate you," Rogue declared with a groan.

For the first time in a week, Logan actually smiled, which didn't bode well for her.

Watching him walk up toward the mansion, Rogue stuck her tongue out at his back, grumbling to herself.

"Forgive me for interrupting your riveting conversation with yourself."

At the familiar voice, Rogue smiled. "Hi, Warren," she said, without bothering to look up at the sky. "Finally gotten all your unpacking done?"

"Yeah, just finished," Warren replied, the sound of his wings flapping filling the air as he hovered above her. "It's a while before dinner, and it's a nice day out so I thought I'd see if you felt like going flying with me."

A broad smile tugged its way onto Rogue's lips.

There was one definite upside to having permanently taken in Carol's powers.

"Sounds heavenly, Angel," Rogue told him brightly, and looked up at him even as she pushed off the ground lightly, floating up to join him.

"You aren't going to let this whole 'Angel' thing go, are you?" Warren asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Never," Rogue told him, still smiling. "Best get used to it."

Warren chuckled, rising higher, and Rogue followed him up into the sky, high above the grounds of the Xavier estate and into the cerulean blue morning sky. They rose up into the clouds, and Rogue closed her eyes, feeling the warmth of the sun on her face and the wind in her hair.

Flying had been Carol's only real escape, she knew from the memories locked away in the corner of her mind.

It made her feel free, at peace.

Rogue could relate.

Inhaling deeply, she opened her eyes to take in the luminescent clouds around her, ethereal with their golden glow as rays of sunlight streamed through the misty thin patches.

Ahead of her, Warren stretched his wings, white feathers gleaming.

For a moment he took her breath away.

He'll never know just how appropriate the nickname "Angel" really is, she thought with a touch of awe.

Suspended in the air, clouds seemingly parting to bathe him in sunlight, Warren truly looked like something out of a heavenly choir.

And then he totally ruined the affect by letting out a whoop of delight, tucking his wings, and diving down through the clouds like a bird of prey, his laughter ringing out through the sky.

Rogue rolled her eyes, but she couldn't help following.

And as they soared through the air, weightless, freefalling with the total security of knowing they could catch themselves at any moment, his laughter was infectious. The past week began to fall away… all of the grief over the loss of people she cared for, all of the turmoil about her powers and the hurt confusion about her relationship with Bobby, all of the memories of Alcatraz that haunted her dreams… it all just slid out of focus.

The President was right, it was a new world.

And she was ready to embrace it.