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Claremont era
"Fortress Around Your Heart"

Fortress around Your Heart

Author's Notes
Chapter 1: Dramatis Personae
Chapter 2: We All Have Our Separate Battles...
Chapter 3: Tell Me Why
Chapter 4: Setting Parameters
Chapter 5: Approaching Storm
Chapter 6: Basic Training
Chapter 7: A Very Important Date
Chapter 8: Nice from Far, but Far from Nice
Chapter 9: Guest Account
Chapter 10: The Battle for Asteroid M
Chapter 11: With Enemies Like These...
Chapter 12: Denouement

Chapter Seven -- "A Very Important Date"

Fortress arced over Breakstone Lake and made a smooth landing on the front porch of the mansion. He'd had a busy week arranging for a date. Rogue was intriguing (among other things) and he wanted to do things right. He'd dug out his only suit -- fortunately it was actually a rather nice one, a conservative dark blue, classically styled. It was also in good shape, having been worn for just two family weddings.

He was a fairly typical starving student, but he was prepared to dip into his savings a bit for this, and he wasn't totally incapable of romance. He'd made what he thought were pretty good arrangements. A nice restaurant, show tickets, and -- of course -- flowers.

It had been hard for him to find dates. Close physical contact could be risky -- they might detect his field, and he couldn't keep it off indefinitely. It was hard to judge who he could trust without getting to know them. The problem was, that was what dating was for. He had several female friends, but hadn't had romantic prospects in a while.

The notion of dating someone that he didn't have to hide from was new and exciting. The fact that she was also quite attractive was very tasty icing on the cake. Of course, it would be nice to know just what her angle is. Or maybe just her real name, he thought ruefully.

He rang the bell, and waited for a bit. He was slightly early. Rachel opened the door. "Well, well, don't you look nice." <<Rogue, your date's here!>> she telepathically called.

"Thanks," he said, stepping into the hall. He tried to look calm and confident. Rachel didn't need to probe deeply to feel how tense he really was.

"What kind of flowers are those?" She asked, taking some pity and trying to distract him. Just then Dani and Rahne passed by, glancing and giggling, spoiling her efforts. Gossip had been rampant all over the school.

"Roses, of course, and Magnolias: the state flower of Mississippi," he replied, outwardly unperturbed. "Rogue said she was from there."

"Clever. They really look nice." <<Rogue, honey, you may have a keeper here.>>


"I'm afraid she isn't ready quite yet. Do you mind waiting in the den? Can I get you something?"

Rogue judged that she'd kept him waiting long enough. She was certainly tired of waiting; she was so excited she'd barely gotten any sleep last night. Her whole day had been spent preparing. Several of the X-Women had offered plenty of help with her clothes and hair. Kurt had been happy to provide a male opinion when required. It was almost like a normal first date.

Her heart was pounding in her chest as she descended the stairs, leaving Storm and Kurt behind. Carol thought she was making too much of a production of things, but Rogue was proudly Southern, and courtship was important to her.

Most of the mansion was tuned into Rachel's "psi-cast" of the scene, seeing through her eyes as Rogue entered the den where she and Greg stood chatting. Her auburn hair was up in a dramatic mane, the white streak prominent; she wore a red dress, with a ruffled skirt that ended mid-calf, and long red evening gloves. High-heeled black shoes went well with her black tights. The matching pearl necklace and bracelet (a surprising gift from Logan last Christmas) completed the ensemble.

Greg was impressed. Rachel couldn't resist passing along his appreciation to Rogue, who felt a surge of confidence. She liked Greg's tie; the blue matched his suit and the green set off his eyes.

"Wow," he breathed, "I need to apologize more often. You look wonderful."

"Thank you, suh," she smiled, nodding her head, laying her accent on thick.

"These are for you, m'lady." He presented the flowers with a flourish. "A small token of my regret for the prior inconvenience I caused."

"Why, thank you! Roses and Magnolias, how thoughtful!" She herself hadn't known the state flower until Rachel passed it along quietly. They did look good together.

"Our reservations aren't for forty minutes or so. I hope you don't mind flying, but I wanted to get an early start tonight."

She was horrified. "Mah hair! Mah clothes!" Didn't he think to hire a taxi or something?

"Don't worry!" he grinned. "I think I can guarantee a wind-free journey."

A bubble of force had indeed kept them immaculate on their trip into the city. They landed discreetly in an alley and emerged onto a busy sidewalk. Greg had known of an upscale French restaurant from previous journeys and they were seated promptly. He was surprised when she rattled off her order in fluent French.

"I barely remember my high-school French. Lemme see ... 'Est-ce que vraiment un moto? Quelle taille avez votre dentiste? Il y a un poisson dans votre bibliotheque!'"

She laughed aloud. (He'd said, more-or-less correctly, 'Is that really a motorcycle? What size does your dentist wear? There is a fish in your library!') "Useful phrases, all. You'll go far with those."

"Yeah, I'm ready for Paris," he agreed. "Speaking of which, that's where we're going tonight, in a manner of speaking. I called in a favor and got us some tickets for Les Miserables."

"Really?" With the life they led, the X-Men didn't often have time for things like plays. "Isn't that a little pricey? Ah know you're on a budget and all," she teased, alluding to their low-cost, high-altitude voyage to the restaurant.

"I once helped a guy move here. He owed me, and he works at the theater."

"You get here pretty often for a guy from Wisconsin."

"I've been lots of places," he said evasively. "I guess I have my own private supersonic jet."

Rogue was enjoying things too much to press him. "Ah once flew all the way from Japan, but Ah was bushed when I got in."

"I've been there, too, but I didn't take it in one go. I stopped off in Hawaii, spent a couple days there. It's expensive." The conversation moved on to more mundane topics; movies, music, and so on. Rogue relaxed, pretending she was just an ordinary girl with an ordinary suitor.

There was a bit of awkwardness when they got to the theater. Greg asked at the booth, and the ticket-taker paged his friend. Carl proved to be a tall man in his late twenties, who escorted them inside.

"Well," Carl exclaimed as he led them to their seats, "if I'd known you had a date like this in mind, I'd have negotiated better. Who is this ravishing creature?"

Rogue paused, but Greg stepped in quickly, "Lisa Haselby, a friend from back home. She's attending a private school here, but I couldn't let her get away so easily."

"I can see why. Charmed, milady Lisa!" He held her gloved hand for a moment as he waved to their seats.

"Front row! Why, this is wonderful!" Rogue was eager to move the subject from her name.

"You sure you couldn't cough up thirty more bucks?" Carl asked Greg, smiling. "Isn't she worth it?"

"I saved you ten times that moving your piano crosstown!" Greg objected.

"And someday you'll have to tell me how you did it. But later, I need to get backstage and set up some props. You kids have fun! It's a great show." A bit of the entertainer's pride was evident in his tone.

As they sat down, Rogue murmured, "Thanks for coverin' back there."

Greg's smile was a bit labored. "No problem. I really did know a Lisa Haselby, but I have no idea where she is." He paused. "Any chance you might save me the trouble next time, and tell me your real name?"

"A girl's got to save something for future dates," she said, mock-seriously.

"Oh, well." Greg frowned for a second. Then, attempting to move on, he said, "They do a pretty fair job with the stage and props here. The whole thing can rotate..."

Greg and Rogue sat on the ledge of her favorite building, looking out over the brightly lit city below. The wind would have frozen most people, but they hardly noticed.

He was talking about the first time he flew. "I'd levitated a few times in my room, and I had to see if I could do it. I biked off, deep into the woods. I just lifted off, and cruised for a while above the trees. It was incredible. I felt so ... free, so alive. It was hard to come back down."

"Ah know what you mean. There's nothin' quite like flyin' up in clouds, feelin' the wind, lookin' down at the ground so far below..." She sighed. "Makes up for some of the problems," she said quietly.

"I know," he misunderstood. "It'd be easier to be normal, but giving that up ... I don't think I could do it." He glanced at her, and grinned. "At least you meet some interesting people." He put an arm around her shoulder, carefully. She didn't brush it off.

"That's a fact." Slowly she leaned into him, trying to keep her breathing steady. He'd been a perfect gentleman all night, and she'd wondered if something like this was going to happen at all. There wasn't time to take off her gloves...

He turned his head to hers. Carefully, giving her a chance to react, he bent forward, but she turned to meet him. The kiss was gentle, almost formal. It lasted a few seconds, then he moved back, looking at her appraisingly.

Rogue's heart was pounding; it was different than she'd thought, both less and more than she'd expected. Carol thought it hadn't measured up to some she'd had, but Rogue pushed her away and concentrated on the moment. She brought her hand up and touched his face. She couldn't sense the field through her glove; she'd barely noticed a hint of it with her lips.

The second kiss was a bit more urgent, but still tentative. Neither Greg nor Rogue wanted to lose control, for their own reasons. Rogue thought about that for a moment; warring with herself. Finally she decided to go ahead.

When they broke apart, Rogue pulled back, out of his arms, and turned herself to face him directly. She could see that he realized something was up, and was waiting for her to speak. She took his hands in her own.

"Ah have to tell you somethin'. It's important, and you should know what you're gettin' into." He frowned, and she could see him tense up. "Ah didn't tell you all about mah powers. There's somethin' else...

"Ah'm strong, and Ah can fly, but that's not mah mutant power. Those're someone else's powers." She waited, giving him a chance to absorb that.

"I don't understand. You're not you?" He was confused, and starting to get worried. "Phoenix telekinetically makes you fly? What do you mean?"

"When Ah touch someone, I absorb their powers, Ah can do what they do."

Greg was now very worried; she'd already touched him, though, so it probably couldn't make it any worse to stay. He waited for her to continue, making plans for an escape in the back of his mind.

"There's more. Ah get their memories, emotions, everythin'. Ah get all of them. They pass out. But it's only for a while, then it goes away and they wake up."

He jerked his hands back. "So now you know all about me?" He was getting angry, now, too. He tensed, ready to lash out or flee.

"No, Ah said, they pass out. You're still awake, right?" She could see that this wasn't going well.

He relaxed infinitesimally. That was true. Then he thought again. "Of course, you never told me about this before. Maybe you're making that part up."

"Ah'm not! Besides, Ah can't affect you anyways! Ah knew that right when we met!"

Greg thought for a moment, then got it. "I was trying to help you, and you tried to suck out my brains even then?!" He was furious. He'd been starting to like her! He stood up, trying to decide if he should attack or just run.

"No! Ah didn't try anythin'! Ah can't control it! You touched me! Ah didn't have a choice! But your field protected you!" She stood up herself, yelling, trying to get him to understand.

He stopped, turned to face her as her tears started to flow. "Wait a minute. You've been flying since we met. How long does it last? Who's been in a coma for over a week?" he snarled.

"Ah absorbed Ms. Marvel permanently. It was an accident; Ah still don't know why it happened! Would you please just listen to me!" She was sobbing, pleading.

Greg waited, glaring at her. "Okay. Fine. Go on," he spat.

"Ah can't control it. If Ah touch someone, Ah absorb them, for a few seconds or minutes. Then it fades. They wake up. Ah still don't know why it was permanent with her. Ah wish Ah did. Ah can't control it. But it didn't work on you." She trailed off, realizing she was babbling.

Greg was silent for quite a while, glaring at her. Eventually, he asked, "So, what was all this? You wanted to see if more intimate contact would work?"

"No! Ah just ... Ah ... Ah just wanted to go on a date! With a guy Ah could kiss! With someone who didn't have to be afraid of me!"

"So you don't care about me at all, huh? I'm just an experiment, right?" He lifted up, getting ready to fly away.

Rogue got angry. "You idiot! Why can't you listen? Ah didn't want to hurt you! Ah wasn't usin' you, Ah really wanted to get to know you! You actually seemed like a decent guy, once!"

Greg floated further away. "Sure. How can I believe that?" He turned away.

"Dammit, why can't you trust me, even a little?! What the hell made you so paranoid!?!"

Fortress stopped in mid-flight. He spun around, and zipped back in front of her. He landed so hard the roof shook a little. She fell back, seeing the rage in his face.

"You want to know why I'm so 'paranoid'? You want to know why I don't trust anybody? Fine, you want it, you got it!"

He took a deep breath, let it out. "You ever hear of a little island republic called Genosha?"


Continued in Chapter Eight


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