Marie told herself she had come back to that bar in Laughlin City as a way to hit the “reset” button on her life. After all, it had all gone screwy, for good and ill, starting here, so maybe if she backtracked to this point and went a different way…
Maybe she could get a job serving drinks, or selling cigarettes and liquor? Something that would let her disappear and re-emerge not as Marie or Rogue, but as a new woman. Her woman.
It’d be exciting, like back in the days of the frontier. Well, that’s what she’d told herself, anyway. She wouldn’t have had the will to make it up here otherwise.
She walked through the door, fingering what was in her pocket. The cage was still there. Why wouldn’t it be? After all, it hadn’t really been that long since she stood here last. Certainly not long enough for the human species to become disinterested in blood and violence.
Whether because of the aging that only stress could bring or because of the hair, the barman treated her like a stranger.
She asked for whiskey, in the hopes that a real burn in her throat might distract her from the metaphorical burning in her pocket.
There were two groups in the bar: the lost and damaged ones, like her, and the predators. Marie was suddenly keenly aware of her vulnerability: she had learned some combat techniques at the Mansion, of course, but she didn’t know how to use a knife or a gun. And she wasn’t Rogue anymore.
This was really stupid, wasn’t it?
She nodded her head in response to herself.
You damn well better do what you came for then.
She pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of her pocket. This had been the dumbest and least-considered plan in the history of plans, but she was here, so what the hell?
She angled her seat to get a full view of the cage and spread the paper out in her hand.
The man on the stool next to her shifted too.
“What’cha doing here, pretty girl?”
Marie felt the panic pulsing along her neural pathways and she stopped breathing for just half a second too long. Fortunately, the man was so drunk he could barely stand.
For a moment, she considered answering him honestly. But how would that go? Well, I’m here because I read a fancy poem—but enough about me, what brings you here?
No. Silence was golden. Silence was strength. She just rolled her eyes at him, and he turned back to the barman for another drink.
Marie looked down at the paper, where she had scribbled “deities or mortals” and “men or gods” at the top. Like a college student whose biggest concerns were keeping at least a 3.5 while still being seen in the right places at the Grove on a Saturday morning.
Would I be in college now? Yes, that seemed right. She couldn’t help herself: she laughed. What an absolutely unimaginable absurdity.
But was it really any less absurd that seeking out this bar—this cage—because of a Keats poem?
She’d read it in Great British Poems, which she’d found in a bookshop somewhere not far from Chicago.
She’d gone to the bookshop for a warm place and something to eat the morning after one of her little encounters. That time it had been with a Northwestern med student. He’d been nice enough. Hell, almost all of them had been nice enough. He’d touched her gently and really tried to connect with her, but she’d faked most of her pleasure. Like always.
That morning, Marie had wanted privacy, so she’d taken her coffee and gone to the poetry section. As she often did on these mornings after, she began mentally beating herself up for taking the Cure. She’d destroyed a part of herself for touch, but touch hadn’t been as mind-blowing as advertised. It only left a longing for a deeper satisfaction—a pleasure that always seemed just beyond where her lovers could get her—and a permanent sense of emptiness.
At some point, an employee came to put more books on the shelves. Marie pretended to browse. And that’s when she accidentally grazed a finger over Great British Poems. The type of poems Professor Xavier would have taught students at the School. Professor Xavier, who had wanted to help her. Professor Xavier, who might have been able to find her and bring her back if she hadn’t take the Cure.
And if he wasn’t dead.
She’d started to read some of the poems. They hadn’t really been much to her liking, honestly, but she had persisted. For the Professor.
She was rewarded when she read a poem about a Greek vase. A Greek vase whose figures—beautiful animals and plants and people—were all the more magnificent precisely because they could never be touched. She’d actually slammed the book shut in shock. She’d never thought of her mutation in that way before, as a special and good thing, and she had to go to the bathroom to softly curse and cry and rage about the cruelty of fate. If there had been more time—if there hadn’t been all the chaos—the Professor would have helped her see. He would have helped her see. And then she would have stayed.
She bought the little book and read the last lines of that poem over and over again on the train to Shelby. Beauty was truth. Truth was beauty. That was all she needed to know.
Beauty was Logan. Logan in that cage.
And that’s why she’d come back to Laughlin City and why she was drinking bad whiskey in this bar. She had to look at the cage again because there were details she couldn’t remember—details that got confused with other, admittedly delicious, images from different moments in time. Like Logan in black leather. Or Logan in that white undershirt, arms extended, muscles pulsing as he skewered and tossed away those two soldiers the night they'd invaded the school.
Oh, thinking about that was enough to make her flush, but it also made her uncomfortable. She couldn’t separate the heat she felt when she imagined what it might have been like to break away from Bobby and John and run to him, to feel the sweat from his arms sink into her nightgown, to touch his shoulders, to even—how embarrassing—run a finger down one of his claws, from the terror and the death and the bloody violence of the night.
The night she saw him fight in the cage had been different. Yes, it had been violent, but also exciting in its own way. The problem was that Marie had been too young to have the words to accurately describe what she had seen or to allow herself to acknowledge what those funny little jabs she’d felt in belly (oh, but not really in her belly) might have actually been. She could have told you Logan was shirtless and that he'd won and that he'd been scary-but-not-really...but she had a hard time being more specific.
That’s what she was doing here: coming back to the scene, so to speak, to help her remember the details. Then she could create her own Grecian urn in her mind, where Logan, her god-like marble man, would be preserved forever, inspiring thoughts and dreams that stirred more heat and life in her than the real touches of other, lesser men ever had.
She had to get this right. Because she took the Cure, she’d never be able to look Logan or any other mutant in the face again. This was all she was ever going to have.
She looked back at the entrance and then closed her eyes so she could recreate herself in that green hooded coat. She did remember this: a man had been dragged past her as she joined the crowd around the cage. At the time, she’d been horrified. Now, given what she’d seen, she dismissed the battered man as irrelevant.
The promoter was in the center of the ring. But over his shoulder, barely visible over the heads of the crowd in front of her…
Logan’s bare back. Oh God, it was just a huge expanse of muscle. To Marie’s older eyes, that back was begging to be touched in more pleasurable ways. Jeans that could have been made just for him. Had she been so innocent back then that she had been incapable of imagining how it would feel to have one of those denim-clad legs pressed against her, pinning her? Or had some part of her that used to feel shame, that wanted to be a “good girl,” stopped those thoughts from registering?
Not long after coming to the school, Marie had overheard one of the other girls admit that she wanted to “climb Cyclops like a tree.” It hadn’t made sense to her at the time, but as she allowed the memories of Logan’s back and shoulders and muscular arms to wash over her, it made all the sense in the world.
She forced herself to order another drink to break the vision, to stop breathing so hard, to stop blushing, to stop attracting attention.
When she had calmed down, she looked at the two fools who were in the cage in the here and now. They both reminded her of that man with the ridiculous muscle shirt, the one who had challenged Logan after they dragged the other man away. She remembered that shirt well: the silliness of a badly drawn angry dog against an American flag with the caption “The Strong Survive” was precisely the type of thing her seventeen year old brain had been capable of processing.
He’d gotten in the early blows, and Logan had ended up pressed against the frame of the cage, on his knees (oh!). The wood and metal had creaked, like they were creaking now. She had never been so close to a man like…that. The curves of his back, the hardness and flatness of his chest. His arms. (Marie liked arms and shoulders.) Feral and raw weren’t the right words. Too brutish. Sexy was too tame. Erotic sounded like an English class vocabulary word.
Logan had been carnal that night. Watching the lumbering, graceless men currently in the cage helped her remember how balanced and agile he was. How perfectly his arms had flexed when he punched that man. How easily he had knocked him out with a headbutt. How his shoulders and his chest had heaved. She’d felt such strange things when he took a drag on that cigar and the smoke framed his body.
All the precious visuals and details that she had either never registered or somehow repressed—the way his belt hung around his hips, the hair on his arms and his chest, the haughty way he stared down the vanquished—were being prepared for this vase in her mind.
She was ready to paint her scene. Logan just leaving the cage. Still shirtless. His hand extended toward her (oh, that glorious, tensed arm!), gesturing for her to come to him. Herself, still in the crowd, but having shed the coat. Smiling, but still in the same spot. The very moment before she decided whether she was going to obey and come to him like a good girl. (She loved the idea of being Logan’s good girl.)
The scene allowed for every possibility the world. Maybe she would be coquettish and make him chase her. Maybe she would still be too shy, and he would have keep on trying to persuade her. Maybe she’d beckon him to come to her and he’d “punish” her by roughly kissing her right there at the bar.
Marie leaned back a little into the bar, imagining that Logan was pushing her back into it, so she could mark the tactile sensation for later. She audibly gasped, and realized this was too much for her. She leaned forward slowly, so she could get the pressure against the seat just right and the waves of a release she didn’t realize she needed coursed through her body. It was better than anything those other men had given her.
What a world. She’d taken the Cure, in part, because she wanted to chase the pleasures of the flesh. However, in a great ironic twist, it seemed the truest way for her to chase those pleasures was to forego touch and retreat into her mind. So be it.
No more touching? Marie asked herself.
And then the epiphany struck her: she’d been building to this ever since morning she found that book. Wanting to stay connected to the Professor had finally allowed her to come to a kinder understanding of her mutation. She understood how working with it instead of against it could have given her a mission and a larger purpose, which, along with Logan, was what she missed most of all. But, if she observed and honored her mutation (a strange way of putting it that actually made sense to her), even if she was no longer really Rogue, she could still have that larger calling. She could be the caretaker of possibility and dreams and fantasies and of all the tantalizing hope in the moments before a touch.
A foster-child of silence and slow time.
Of course, if she hadn't taken the Cure and still had Logan and his powers rattling around inside of her, she might not have been caught so off-guard by what was about to happen.