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"The Archetype Association"

The Archetype Association

Author's Notes
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49


"You busy?" Will asked Rogue.

"Not really," she replied as she closed her book. "I thought you said you had plans for lunch."

"I do," he informed her as he came out from around the corner. He held a picnic basket in one hand. "I was planning on having lunch with you."

Rogue smiled. "Let me get my shoes."

A few minutes later, they were both walking towards the lake. They decided on a good spot at the edge and sat down. Rogue waited while Will pulled a tablecloth out of the basket and spread it out, then placed several covered dishes on top of it.

"What's on the menu?" Rogue inquired.

"Fried chicken strips, foccacia, cranberry-walnut relish, apple cider, and Italian rice pudding."

She smiled. "Sounds like an upscale Boston Market menu."

"I won't say anything if you won't." He poured the cider into two mugs, handing one to her.

"You'd better put it down," she advised him. "I'm not wearing any gloves."

He nodded, placing the mug on the tablecloth. She took a little bit of everything available and leaned back against a convenient rock. "I'm tempted to go swimming," she said, eyeing the lake with a speculative look.

"I think it might be a bit chilly. Why not just use the pool in the mansion?"

"The fluorescent lights give me a headache."

"You too? I didn't want to say anything - I thought it was just me. To be honest, I'd kill for an hour or so in a Japanese bath."

"Would you?" she asked teasingly.

"Okay," he amended, "maybe I'd just maim slightly."

"I've got an idea."

"What's that?"

"I think I'll save it until later. I owe you a few surprises."

"Ooh. Another entry for my diary."

She had to laugh at that. A moment later, however, she sobered. "Will?"


"Are you sure you're okay?"

"I'm getting better. I think I'll be back to normal by the time everybody gets back."

"That's not what I meant. You haven't talked about what happened between the time that you vanished after Apocalypse's attack and when you came back for us."

"It wasn't something that I can put into words very easily. I had to go deep - very deep - to find the strength to recover. I don't talk about it because it all took place at a level that's so... elemental... that I don't think language can convey the reality of the experience."

Rogue nodded at that. "I think I understand. I can describe how my power works until I'm blue, but I don't think anyone has ever really known just what it feels like when I absorb someone."

"That's one of the reasons that I've never asked. I didn't want to make you uncomfortable."

"Let's get back to you, okay? Why did you have that panic attack?"

"I had to take some pretty drastic measures to get back into shape quickly. I did something which I guess would be the equivalent of taking a psychic amphetamine."

"Run that by me again?"

"I forced my powers to operate in ways that they really weren't meant to. I geared them towards offensive power and physical impact. They're usually acting on a more subtle level."

"It hurt, didn't it?"

"Like breathing acid."

Rogue winced at that image. "So your attack was a kind of withdrawal."

He nodded in reply.

"Are you still in pain?"

"It's more like a dull ache. Mostly in my joints and bones." He polished off the last of his food and put the plate down. Leaning back until he was flat on the ground, he sighed softly and closed his eyes. "This is too nice a day to go underground."

"I'm tempted to play hooky myself," she confessed, "but you're right - we have a lot of work to catch up on."

"So we bury ourselves in files for a few hours, break for dinner, then play it by ear tonight?"

"Let's see how far along we get. We'll work late if it all gets to be too much, but if we make a good size dent in everything, we'll call it a night."

"Sounds good," he said, grunting slightly as he got up. They dumped everything into the basket and headed back.

Three hours later, Will yawned and rubbed his eyes. "I think that's it for the text files," he told Rogue.

"Already?" she said incredulously.

"I'm a speed reader," he informed her.

"You must be. It takes most of us half the night to get through all that. Find anything interesting?"

"Maybe. Some of the rival factions in Genosha are talking about a cease-fire. It looks like they've run out of bullets, and the casualty rate has reached the point where they're spread too thin to threaten one another. The conflict's essentially running out of steam."

"The Professor will want to know about that. Maybe we can contact Peter Moreau and Jenny Ransome, and they'll be able to take advantage of it."

Will jotted down a note to himself to remind Xavier, then glanced at Rogue. He did a double take, spinning in his chair to face her. Her posture had become stiff, her hands had balled into fists, and her eyes, staring into the distance, had a haunted look.

"Rogue?" he asked anxiously, getting out of his chair and kneeling beside her to look her in the face. "Rogue, what's wrong?"

Rogue blinked and composed herself. "Sorry," she said apologetically as she looked away, "my mind just drifted for a second."

"Drifted to some place that you didn't like going to, from the look of it. What were you thinking about?"

"The first time I was in Genosha."

"What happened?"

"I'd rather not talk about it right now, okay?"

He looked at her for a long moment, then nodded. "All right. What's left to do?"

"Just the foreign news."

"Let's split that up. We can be done in an hour."

In fact, it took less than that, as Will's speed reading allowed him to review the tapes in half the time that Rogue took, giving him the opportunity to pick up some of her load. "Anything else worth worrying about?" Rogue asked him when they were done.

"Not really. Looks like it's a slow day."

"I'm not going to complain about that. It's not like we're in any shape to do anything right now, anyway."

"Good point. Ready to call it a night?"

"We've done our duty for the day. Let's go."

They went back up to the main floor and knocked at Xavier's office door. "Is pizza okay for dinner?" Will asked Xavier once he had been invited to enter.

"I have no problem with that," Xavier replied. He picked up the phone. "What do you want on it?"

"No, no, no," Will said, waving one hand in dismissal. "I'll be making it."

"Oh." He put the phone down. "In that case, I'd like pepperoni and green pepper."

"And I'll have pepperoni and sausage," Rogue told Will.

"Leaving sausage and mushroom for me," Will finished. "Everything should be ready in an hour."

"All right," Xavier agreed. "That should give me time to finish what I was doing."

Rogue joined Will in the kitchen and made herself a cup of tea while she watched him prepare the pizzas. He mixed the dough within a few minutes, and gave Rogue some entertainment by twirling the crusts with one hand, while using the other to chop the vegetables with a Chinese cleaver. About twenty minutes later, Xavier joined them for dinner.

"Very good," Xavier told Will after he had taken a bite. Glancing at the wooden serving plates which the pizzas lay on, he gave Will a questioning look.

"They're mine," Will informed him. "I used baking bricks in the oven, so I needed something to put the pizzas on."

Xavier nodded and kept his mouth shut... and full.

After Rogue did the dishes - over Will's objections - she joined him in the living room, where he sat reading a magazine. "All done," she told him.

"Great," he said, putting down the magazine. "So, what's the plan?"

"Feel like renting some movies again?"

"It's not a bad idea, but should we leave Xavier here on his own?"

"I think he can handle himself for an hour or so."

"Do you feel up to driving?"

"I'll be okay. Let's go."

An hour later, they returned to the mansion with The Field, Mindwalk, and The Wicker Man, a movie which Will suggested as one of the few accurate portrayals of Pagan belief in film.

Mindwalk, Rogue thought, was a fascinating film, but it left her head spinning, as it covered everything from economics to quantum mechanics. "That was one deep movie," she told Will.

"Did you like it?"

"What I could understand of it."

"It's not exactly something that's going to be a hit with the Steven Seagal crowd," he admitted.

Rogue sat up straight and stretched, yawning. "What time is it?"

"About ten. You ready for bed?"

She smiled. "I've got a better idea." Kicking off her shoes, she grabbed a blanket off the back of the couch and covered herself from the neck down, then stretched out on the couch, placing her head in Will's lap. "Can you get the light?" she murmured.

Will was so startled that he obeyed instantly.

Sometime during the night, Rogue felt a gloved hand reach out, gently caress her cheek, then withdraw. A few minutes later, an arm wrapped itself around her, embracing her comfortingly.

Rogue tensed for a heartbeat, then, realizing that she wasn't in skin-to-skin contact with the person, relaxed. Inhaling deeply, she recognized Will's scent, and felt a warmth spread from her center to throughout her body. She accepted the comfort which he offered, and as she drifted off to sleep again, Rogue surrendered to dreams which she had not allowed herself to consider for nearly ten years.

The evening breeze drifted over the river, bringing a coolness which was a welcome relief from the summer heat.

Sitting on the porch swing of her family's mansion, her fan lying unused in her lap, she watched the steamboats paddle slowly along the course to Vicksburg.

The message had arrived by courier a week ago. His unit had finished their tour, and he had resigned his commission. He wanted to come home, back to the farm. Back to her.

She had spent the time since then cleaning the house, and the maids had, under her direction, cooked a meal large enough to feed the county. She now wore the dress in which he had first seen her, a green satin ballroom gown which her mother had made for her.

The full moon hung high in the night sky, casting silvery light and long shadows over the road. The crickets and bullfrogs courted on the bank of the river, and the otters played with their food and with each other.

The distant sound of hoofbeats shook her from her reverie. She looked out onto the road, and saw a long shadow moving towards the house.

He was dusty and tired, but he sat proudly in the saddle. His uniform was crisp and his buttons and buckles gleamed. The burns and powder marks on his coat, however, told the story of his struggles during his long absence.

She stood up, but found herself unable to move towards him. She watched as he lowered himself from the saddle, displaying the stiffness which came from a long, hard journey.

He removed his hat, holding it to his chest as he ascended the stairs. His eyes drank in her face, and he slowly lifted one hand towards her, but didn't touch her.

"Ma'am," he said quietly, "I've returned."

Her voice, when she responded, was choked with emotion. "Welcome home, sir," she said, tears streaming down her face. "Welcome home."

She melted into his embrace, leaning into him and sighing deeply. "Promise me that you won't ever leave again," she breathed.

"With all my heart and soul."

"Even after what I've done?"

"What you've done is what you needed to do to survive. But the war will soon be over, and we can start looking beyond survival. Soon you - all of us - can start to grow again, and overcome our old limitations."

"Do we have a chance to be happy?"

"If we don't give up. We may have trouble keeping faith in ourselves, but we have to keep our faith in each other, and trust that it's all going to turn out well - that the pain, the tears, and the loneliness have been part of something that makes us both, together, something greater than we were before we found one another."

"I do believe that," she whispered.

"Then hold me, love me, and don't be afraid."

She looked into his eyes, bringing her lips closer to his...

Rogue awoke with a start, her eyes flying open.

Will had, surprisingly, fallen asleep, and her left hand was intertwined with his right. A glance at the clock told her that it was about three in the morning.

"I have got to lay off the Harlequin Romances," she muttered to herself as she nodded off again.

When she opened her eyes again, the room was filled with sunlight. She turned her head to look at Will. He was awake, and looking at her with amused eyes. "Good morning," he told her.

"Morning," she replied with a sleepy smile.

"Do you still respect me?" he teased.

"I never did," she told him in a playful voice, as she sat up and stretched. "I cannot believe that I slept like that all night."

"Well, it's eight A.M., so I guess you did." He stood up and twisted his head from side to side. "My neck is going to be killing me for the rest of the day."

"Sorry about that."

"That's okay. It was worth it." He held out a hand to help her up. "I'll have to start breakfast soon, so I think I'd better hit the shower. See you in a few minutes."

"Where's the Professor?"

"I heard his chair at about two last night, so I let him know I was awake. I convinced him to sleep himself out, so I figure he'll be out cold until ten or so. I'll just make him a big lunch."

She nodded. "You can take your time with the shower. For once, we don't have to worry about using up the hot water, so I'm going to take a nice, long bath."

"What about your bandages?"

"Damn, I'd forgotten about them," she muttered.

"We'll check with Moria and see if you can do without them yet."

"Good idea." They took the elevator down to the medical lab, where Rogue called up a channel to Muir Isle.

"Hello, Rogue," Kurt said as the screen filled with his image.

"Hi, Kurt." Rogue answered warmly. "Is Moria around?"

"She's in her lab. I'll patch you through."

A few seconds later, Kurt's face was replaced by Moria's. "Hello, Rogue, Will. Any problems?"

"No problems, Moria. My ribs feel fine now, and I wanted to see if I could lose the bandages."

Moria's image frowned. "Will, if I tell you how, do you think you could work the medical scanner?"

"I think so," Will replied. "My powers are mild enough to not be a problem."

"Good." Under Moria's guidance, Will set up the scanner and programmed it to send a copy of its results to Muir. Rogue removed her shirt and lay on the medical table. Will ran the scanner through its cycle, and Moria examined the readout a few seconds later. "It looks like they've knitted enough for the risk to be minimal," she decided. "The bandages can come off... but you have to take it easy, Rogue. No exercise for at least another few days. Will, if she even looks like she's pushing herself, call me immediately."

"No problem," Will replied. "I'll put Percodan in her food if I have to."

Moria grinned. "That's the attitude I like to hear from a nurse. Muir Isle out."

"Okay," Rogue told Will as she sat up, "get these damn things off me."

"You'll need your collar," he reminded her.

"Second shelf, third cabinet on the top," she informed him. "It's the one Hank keeps for medical emergencies."

"I wouldn't call this an emergency," Will protested.

"No, but there may be one in a few minutes."

"How's that?"

"If I can't scratch some of these itches soon, you're going to need a doctor."

"Gotcha," he said, nodding in understanding. He took the collar out and gave it to her. She latched it around her neck and turned her back to him. Will pulled a pair of surgical scissors from a drawer and cut through the bandages. "Don't pull them off all the way yet," he told Rogue.


"I want to see if I can get some of the adhesive off your back first." He went over to the counter again, pulling out some rubbing alcohol and gauze. He poured a small amount of alcohol on the gauze, and lightly scrubbed Rogue's back, removing the adhesive and dirt that inevitably builds up at the edge of a bandage. "Finished," he told her after a few minutes.

Rogue peeled off the remainder of the bandages and breathed deeply, relishing the freedom of movement. "Oh, that feels great," she sighed, stretching her arms straight up and arching her back.

"Any soreness?" Will asked.

She gently pressed against her ribs with her fingers. "Doesn't seem to be."

"Good. Could you put your shirt on, please?"

Rogue turned her head, and was surprised to find that Will was facing away from her. "What's with you?" she asked.

"You're not my patient anymore," he shrugged.

"You saw my chest when you put them on."

"Actually, no I didn't. I saw things in the infrared spectrum then."

"Why, Mister Riley," she teased, "are you embarrassed about seeing me without my clothes?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I am," he replied testily. "Now can we please drop the subject?"

Rogue smiled and put her shirt back on. "It's safe now," she told him.

Will turned around and put the bandages and gauze in the trash, then placed the scissors in the autoclave. Rogue handed him the collar, and he put it on its shelf. "Anything else we need to do?" he asked.

"Not that I can think of."

"I'm hitting the showers, then."

"Wait for me."

They entered the elevator and started back up. "I'm sorry about teasing you," Rogue told Will, "but you were just too tempting a target. I swear, you're more nervous about my showing skin than I am."

"That's probably true," Will admitted. "It doesn't help that I was..." He bit off the end of the sentence.

"You were what?"

"Never mind. It's not important."

"Come on, Will," she told him firmly. "Spit it out."

His reply was so mumbled it was unintelligible. "One more time?" she asked.

"I had a dream about you last night," he muttered.

"Why, Will, that's the sweetest thing you've said to me," she told him. Then she smiled wickedly. "Did it merit a PG, R, or X rating?"

Will look at her with a shocked expression, then composed himself. "I'd definitely rate it PG," he said stiffly.

"For shame. You're going to have to do better than that."

Will blushed bright red, and Rogue laughed as the doors opened and he rushed to his room.

Some time later, Rogue melted against the back of her shower with a dreamy smile on her face, offering yet another mental thank you to whoever had invented the flexible shower massage.

Now that that particular tension is gone, she thought to herself, I can worry about the rest of my body. She closed the drain, then switched the water flow from the shower head to the faucet. Sitting down in the tub, she took a washcloth and scrubbed at her chest, removing the last of the adhesive. She then poured in some bubble bath and relaxed, closing her eyes as the water and bubbles surrounded her.

Once she had decided that she probably looked like a prune, she opened the drain and stepped out of the tub. She toweled herself off, feeling a sensuousness in the act that she hadn't experienced in a while. Slipping into a robe, she brushed her hair and put on a minimal amount of makeup. She decided on a turtleneck and jeans for the day, but paused as she searched through her underwear drawer. She decided to take advantage of the freedom that the removal of the bandages gave her, and chose only a pair of panties for the day. And if she could put Will off balance again by doing so, she thought with a grin, so much the better.

Will was reading the paper when she met him in the kitchen. "Can I have the comics?" she asked him.

"Here you go," he said, handing them to her.

"You don't have to wear the gloves today. I'm wearing mine."

"I want to get into the habit. If we both wear them, then we shouldn't have any problems."

She nodded, sitting down. "What's for breakfast?"

"I'm not hungry, so it's your decision."

"French toast?"

"Coming right up." He stood up and got started. She noticed that he avoided looking at her.

"Are you still edgy about that dream?" she asked.

"Sort of," he hedged.

"Would it help if you talked about it?"

He turned around and leaned against the counter, thinking. "It wasn't like my usual dreams - the type where I'm in tune with the Chorus, I mean. I really wasn't in control of this one, like I usually am. It was more like I was playing some kind of role."

"I was tired, like I'd been up for days. I remember being in some kind of uniform. It wasn't my team uniform, but it was still grey. I was wearing a sword, but it wasn't my sword." He frowned in concentration for a moment. "I think it was a sabre."

Rogue felt a chill for a moment. "Like a Confederate uniform?"

He nodded, not noticing her reaction. "That might be it. That would explain how you were dressed. You were wearing what looked like a ballroom gown. And you were in front of a house that looked like something out of a Ted Turner movie."

"It was a moonlit night," Rogue informed him. "You rode up to the house, dismounted, walked up to me, and said "Ma'am, I have returned."

"And then you said "Welcome home, sir. Welcome home." He looked at her. "Are you saying that..."

"...We both had the exact same dream," she finished. "I woke up just before you kissed me. What happened after that?"

"Well, the kiss went on for a long time. Then you bought me inside the house, got me out of the uniform and..."


"Made me take a bath. After that, I stuffed my face at a huge meal, and went to bed exhausted."

Rogue found that she was faintly disappointed. "That's it?"

"What were you expecting? Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara? He raped her on their wedding night, for God's sake. I've never seen how people can call that scene romantic."

Rogue conceded to him on that point. "I'm still spooked, though. How could we have the same dream?"

"Maybe it was because we were in such close proximity," he mused.

"Has it ever happened before?"

"I've never slept with someone before." He frowned. "Maybe I should rephrase that."

Rogue waved that aside. "I know what you meant." She then looked at him in surprise. "You mean you're..."

He shrugged. "I was never close enough with anyone to have the opportunity. And it's not exactly something that you advertise."

She decided to drop that line of conversation. "Could the fact that you're still recovering have had something to do with it?"

"I don't think so. My shields are back up to full strength." He came over to the table and sat down. "There's another possibility."

"What's that?"

"I've been making an effort to let you in - to drop my old defenses. Maybe I succeeded too well. It's possible that my defenses have decided to make an exception in your case, and you got sucked into my dream - or vice versa."

"Could both possibilities be true? I was able to get close to you because we were close to one another physically, and then your defenses let me in because I was familiar to them, so they didn't see me as a threat?"

"That makes sense," he said, after considering it for a few seconds. "Think we should tell Xavier about it?"

"I don't think it did either one of us any harm, so I can't see how it's any of his business."

"I can agree with that." He stood back up. "We can talk about it later. Let me finish making breakfast first."

She nodded, and read the paper while he prepared her meal. "Are you up for a shopping trip?" she asked after leafing through the Times.

"Is there a big sale somewhere?"

"Not really. I just feel like getting out for the day. And now that I've got a clean bill of health..."

"Moria warned you to take it easy," Will reminded her.

"I'm planning on walking around, not juggling pickup trucks."

He nodded, chuckling. "Point taken. We'll clue Xavier in once he wakes up."

"He is up," they heard from the hallway. Xavier floated in, dressed in a blue turtleneck. "I have no problem with your leaving the grounds, as long as you can be reached."

"You still have my cellular number, don't you?" Will asked.

Xavier nodded. "You'll have it on you?"

"I'll keep it in my jacket pocket. By the way, that reminds me... has Forge come up with anything to counter my disruption field yet?"

"He's got a few ideas on the table. Why?"

"I'm hoping that he can make some adjustments to a personal data assistant. Between my business contacts and the information that you've been feeding me since I got here, I'm starting to get a bit overwhelmed. I need some way to keep track of things, because I'm starting to get worried that I might let something about the X-Men slip during a business meeting, and put the team at risk."

"I think that a laptop computer would be a better choice," Xavier suggested. "It would allow two-way communication."

"Are your data channels totally secure?"

"No channel is totally secure," Xavier admitted, "but we do try to stay three steps ahead of the opposition. We use a special kind of chip in all of our communication gear that was developed by Reed Richards. They're all set to an atomic clock, and they change frequencies according to a mathematical equation which is so complex that it simulates randomness. There are a few hundred thousand permutations, so the probability of someone getting lucky is almost nil."

"You get these chips directly from Richards? There's no middleman?"

"Bishop took the last batch directly from Richards' hands last month."

"And I'm safe in guessing that your laptops are something that you won't find in an Officemax."

"They have a capacity of 200 terabytes."

Will whistled. "I think you may have finally developed a computer that won't slow down under Windows 95."

Rogue and Will decided that since they would be purchasing things in the city, driving there made more sense than utilizing teleportation or flight. Rogue realized, however, that the only vehicle available was the school's old van, which hadn't been used since the poker game. "I'm not looking forward to parking," she told Will.

"We'll make do," Will replied. "I think I can afford to pay for a parking garage."

They ran into a bit of traffic on the way to New York, but nothing very severe, so they arrived at a reasonable hour. "Mind if we hit the Met before lunch?" Will asked. "The afternoon crowd tends to be pretty tight. All we'll run into at this hour is kids on school field trips."

"Okay," Rogue agreed. "How's the museum restaurant?"

"I don't know, I've never eaten there. They should have the menu posted."

They left the van at a Fifth Avenue parking garage and walked to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. True to Will's prediction, the lobby was filled primarily with schoolchildren and teachers. Will paid for two passes, and they went to the Egyptian wing. "We may as well start from the beginning," Rogue explained to Will.

"Just steer clear of the modern stuff, please."

"No problem."

They killed about two hours at the Met, then had a light lunch of gyros and baklava. They spent the afternoon shopping at various stores. Rogue bought herself several new outfits, while Will spent time in a bookstore, followed by a stationary store, where he purchased a fountain pen.

"I didn't know you wrote with those," Rogue told him.

"I got one as a gift when I was a kid. I liked writing with it so much that now I use them for everything except carbon paper and automatic forms."

"I've never used one," she confessed. "I got most of my education with Mystique and Destiny while we were on the run, and almost everything that I've learned with the Professor has been by computer because of the weird schedules we all keep."

Will gestured towards the cabinet which displayed the pens. "Pick out one that you like," he told her.

Rogue shook her head. "Oh, I couldn't..."

Will laughed. "Pick one of the cheap ones, then. The insides of the things are pretty much the same. What you're paying for is exterior finishes." He walked over to one of the salespeople. "Excuse me, Ma'am? What would you recommend to my friend as a first fountain pen?"

The saleswoman, a matronly woman of middle years, engaged Rogue in a conversation about her writing habits and style. After a few minutes, they were able to decide on a simple, black matte pen with gold accents. Rogue took Will's advice regarding the advantages of bottled ink over cartridges, and bought both black and green ink. Will assured the saleswoman that he had enough experience with fountain pens to be able to show Rogue how to fill, clean, and maintain her new purchase.

"Just remember," Will told her as they left the store, "don't carry that on the Blackbird. The loss of air pressure would make the ink leak out. I don't think that indelible stains on your jacket will improve your image."

"That's one of the reasons you want a laptop, isn't it?"

"That's right. I figure that I can get some more work done that way. I'm hoping that I can deal with some of the load that my business dealings are taking up, and maybe give Xavier a hand with the Underground if he needs it."

Rogue was surprised at that. "I'm not sure if he'd be willing to risk the possibility of a security breach."

"I was thinking more along the lines of a way of expanding the Underground into my business interests. I've got my fingers into enough pies to make an impact if we want to stage an economic coup."

"That sounds like Hellfire Club thinking."

"A good idea is a good idea, no matter who it comes from. I'm not talking about world domination, just a gesture that would raise awareness about how much economic clout the mutant lobby has at its disposal."

"That would send a message," she mused. "The trick would be to make sure that the press got the news ahead of time."

"Just run it through the Fantastic Four or the Avengers. They have a street level credibility that we don't."

"That's true. And I think you could get some support from Janet Van Dyne, Reed Richards - and Iron Man might be able to influence Tony Stark. Combine that with your money and the Professor's, and you'd be able to blow Wall Street away."

"It's a last resort, even if we could get everyone involved to go along with it. I'd prefer to work along with the super-rich heroes, making ourselves so indispensable to the economy that governments would be afraid to shut us down. They'd have to make some sort of peace with us just to stay solvent."

Rogue thought about that for a moment. "Could you acquire a monopoly on something essential?"

"It's too risky. If the technology changes, we're left out in the cold. We're better off getting a cut from a lot of different sources, so that we can stay flexible as the market changes."

"I think I'm going to review the economics notes I took way back when. Things should be getting very interesting soon."

"As the man said, 'I don't want to rule the world. I just want to own it.' I, however, have a new twist."

"What's that?"

"I want to charge everybody a user fee."

The ride back to Salem center was uneventful, and they picked up some Chinese food for Xavier. Will had leaned more towards Vietnamese food, but Rogue felt that they should play it safe. "He may have traveled all over the world, but he doesn't eat everything in it."

"If you say so," Will decided. "This isn't exactly going to break my bank." He pulled out his cellular and dialed the mansion. "Hello, Xavier, it's Riley. We're on our way back - I'd say twenty minutes or so. We bought you some dinner, so you won't have to heat anything up. No, we already ate. Is there anything else you need? Okay, then, see you in a while. Riley out." He turned off the phone. "No surprises back home. He says it's been quiet."

"Good. He needed a day alone."

"We've been staying out of his way."

"Yeah, but sometimes you need to be completely alone to be alone. You can't relax all the way if you know that someone can walk in at any time."

"That's a good point. I've been enjoying being part of the X-family, so I've kind of been toning down my anti-social tendencies."


"In the literal sense, not the psychological one. I'm not about to go pathological on anybody. I just mean my tendency to become a hermit every once in a while."

"I haven't seen you do that since you joined."

He looked at her affectionately. "You've been giving me a reason to go out and face the world."

"That's sweet. It would make a horrible opening line, but it's still sweet."

"I think we've gone beyond the opening line stage, don't you?"

"Yeah, I think we have. It's just..."

"Just what?"

"Never mind."

Will was silent for a moment. "Come on, Rogue," he said quietly, "out with it."

"Will, If I ask you a question, do you promise to give me a straight answer, and that you won't be offended?"

"Rogue, you can surprise me, delight me, and I admit that sometimes you can confuse me, but you cannot offend me. What's your question?"

"Why do you stay with me?" she blurted out. "You know there can't be anything physical between us, so why do you even pretend?"

Will looked at her for a moment, shocked. Then his face hardened. "Pull over," he ordered her sternly.

Rogue sighed and slowed down the car, stopping on the shoulder of the road.

"Look at me," he told her. She did so.

"I think I have to correct myself. You can't offend me - but you can, and just did, insult me."

"How did..."

"Do you really think so little of me?" he interrupted. "Do you really think that I place so little value on you, your feelings, and our relationship that I'd just toss you aside and go for the next bimbo who bats her lashes at me? That I have so little self-awareness that I can't deal with the physical desire that I have for you? If that's the case, Rogue, then you don't know me at all." He unbuckled his seat belt and got out of the van, slamming the door angrily. He then started walking down the road, muttering to himself.

Rogue stared at him for a moment, utterly speechless. She had not expected such a strong reaction to her question, which was more a reflection of her doubts regarding her desirability than any lack of faith in Will's commitment.

She decided that it would be best to resolve the issue quickly, before Will decided to fight the entire East Coast single-handedly. She put the car back into gear and followed him. Pulling alongside as he walked along the shoulder of the road, she rolled down the passenger side window. "Will?" she called. "Will, please get back in here. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to insult you. I'm just... I'm just scared."

That stopped him in his tracks. "About what?" he asked skeptically.

"Can we talk about it in here?"

Will sighed, slumped his shoulders, and got back in the van. He leaned back in his seat, closing his eyes, then opened his left one, pinning her in a steady gaze.

"I'm scared about my feelings too," Rogue confessed, "and I'm afraid that if they become too strong, I might not be able to control myself - that I might try to... express them in some way that could be dangerous to you. And... I'm scared that my dreams mean that I'm setting myself up for a fall. I've had enough chances to have a normal life that were taken away. I don't think I can put myself through it again."

Will took her hand in his. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

"It doesn't help that I've been keyed up all day." She winced, silently cursing her loose tongue.

"Why's that?" Will asked, not noticing her expression.

Rogue blushed furiously, then decided that honesty certainly couldn't hurt at this point. "After I woke up from that dream we shared, I went right back to sleep, and continued it from where it left off. It got kind of... intense. That... intensity carried over into the next morning, after breakfast." She exhaled in frustration. "Okay, okay. I was horny as hell, and I took care of things while I was in the shower."

Will blushed as well. "Oh. Would it make you feel any better if I told you that I did, too?" Noticing Rogue's startled look, he shrugged. "I'm not ashamed to say it. I told you back when I saw that picture of Apocalypse that you were the most attractive woman I had ever seen. Did you think that I wouldn't have fantasies?"

Rogue couldn't help laughing. "What's so funny?" Will asked.

"We make quite a pair, don't we?"

He squeezed her hand affectionately. "That we do, my dear. That we do."

They reached the mansion fifteen minutes later. Xavier met them in the foyer. "Did you enjoy yourselves?" he asked them.

"It was an eventful day," Will told him. "We got you Chinese for dinner. How did your work go?"

Xavier smiled blissfully. "I've actually caught up on everything. I'm rewarding myself by going to bed early. Logan called, by the way. He'll be back tomorrow night."

"We'll be hitting the sack soon ourselves," Rogue told him. "We have to clean up around here before everybody starts tramping around again."

"Good idea. At least we have a chance to stay ahead of the damage." He sighed. "I'm getting morbid. Will, if you'd be kind enough to get me a soda, I think I'll just eat in my room."

Will concentrated for a moment, and a can of root beer appeared in his right hand. "Here you go," he said, handing it to Xavier.

"Thanks. Both of you can sleep in if you want. I really don't think that I'll be good for anything before noon tomorrow. See you then." He turned his chair and headed for the elevator.

"I'm still a little hungry," Rogue told Will. "Are you up for a snack?" Will nodded, and they went to the kitchen, where Rogue dished out rather generous portions of tin roof ice cream, topped by hot fudge and pineapple.

Will leaned back in his chair as he finished off his serving. "Well, that ruins my diet," he concluded.

"I think you'll live," Rogue told him as she placed her own bowl in the sink.

"I'm wiped out," he confessed as he added his bowl to the dirty stack. "I think I'm going to follow Xavier's example and get to bed early. It's been a very busy day."

Will sat up in bed, reading a collection of poems by W.B. Yeats which Henry had donated to the Institute's library. He was tired, but not yet weary enough to go to sleep, and he thought that reading would be a good way to wind down.

He was still disturbed by the events of that afternoon. I have no idea what to do, he thought to himself. If I back off, she'll think I'm going to leave her because of her power. If I get too aggressive, she'll panic and back off completely, then be so skittish that she may never risk intimacy again. If I just stay the course, then she gets more and more frustrated. He put the book down and removed his glasses, then rearranged his pillows so that he could lie down.

The light went out before his hand reached the switch. "Great," he muttered. "Guess it's back to candles for me."

"You didn't do that," a voice said in the darkness.

Will turned, focusing his vision towards the infrared spectrum. "Hi, Rogue."

"Hi," she said softly, as she walked towards him, stepping into a spot of light which had sneaked through the shutters. She was wrapped in a white bed sheet, covered from her head, which peeked out from a hood formed by one corner of the sheet, to her ankles, leaving only her bare feet exposed.

Will felt his mouth go dry. "Um, if you're an angel," he said in an attempt at levity, "I think there may be a mistake in my paperwork. There's never been any proof that I was involved in that massage oil incident..."

"Shush. Don't talk. Just listen for now, okay?" She paused a moment, waiting for Will to nod in reply.

"We've got feelings for each other. We want to act on them, but we can't. We want to be as close as a normal couple, but we can't. So, tonight, I want to get as close to you as I can." She hesitated, then breathed deeply. "Slide over, and pull the covers up to your neck."

Will's mind was reeling, still going over his inner dialogue of moments before, so his body responded for him. He obeyed, moving to the far side of the bed.

Rogue lay down on the bed, staying on top of the sheets, and turned so that her back was to Will. "If this is the most I can ever have with you," she said in a soft voice, "then I want to have it now, before everybody gets back - when it can be a private moment, one that's just for us."

Will was silent for several seconds. "Are your arms still covered?" he asked in a dry whisper.

"Yeah," she whispered back. "So are my hands."

She felt him move around on the mattress. A moment later, his arm wrapped around her in a gentle embrace, drawing her close to him. She felt his warmth through the fabric as he curled his body into spoon position with hers.

"Are you okay with this?" he asked her.

"Oh, yes. This is wonderful," she told him as she relaxed her tense muscles, sinking deeply into the mattress and leaning into him. "Will..."

"Hush. Don't talk. Sleep, and dream."

They slept, and dreamed, together.


Continued in Chapter 30


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