Rogue was tired. More than tired, actually. Exhausted. Who knew Jean’s powers would be so all encompassing? All consuming? Ms. Munroe’s power had been a lot. So had Sabretooth’s. Hell, the thought of absorbing Ms. Munroe again terrified her.
But Jean? Jean was something else entirely. Telekinesis and telepathy, power so huge that it overwhelmed everything else and all she wanted to do was scream. It’d taken hours for it to wear off. Hours before she wasn’t hearing the thoughts of all of her housemates. And some of them were awful. She hadn’t realized how sex-addled most of her housemates were until there was nothing else for her to focus on.
Now, just after dawn, Rogue found herself staring at the ceiling, laying on the couch in one of the living rooms. She couldn’t get back to sleep. Couldn’t force herself to close her eyes and go back to the dreams. Images of a life she’d never lived, only absorbed. Friends she’d never spoken to, people she’d never kissed. Duncan Matthews’ hands on her shoulders, her hips, his mouth on hers. But none of it was hers.
Rogue pressed her gloved palms to her eyes and closed them, trying to force herself back into her own head. She was so tired. What time she hadn’t spent digging through these new memories had been spent on a computer, researching all sorts of things she didn’t understand. Words she hadn’t known existed until now.
The door opened behind Rogue before she could think any further, and she didn’t need to look to know it was Jean. The smell of her shampoo, this sweet rose scent that Rogue was going to be smelling in her dreams for weeks to come, was clue enough.
“Couldn’t sleep, either?” asked Rogue. She let her hands flop to her sides and stared at the ceiling.
“No, not really,” said Jean. Her voice was slow, unsure, and Rogue pushed herself upright to squint at Jean over the back of the couch, because she almost couldn’t believe those words had come out of her. Not in that tone.
“You all right?” asked Rogue. She leaned against the back of the couch and flipped her hair out of her face. Jean looked as tired as she felt. The beginnings of bruises under her eyes, which were somewhat bloodshot. The nervous twitch of her shoulders and fiddling of her hands. She glanced away from Rogue. Reached up to move her hair from her face, then dropped her hand before she did.
Huh. That was usually Rogue’s move.
“I…” Jean frowned and hugged herself. Was she trembling? She looked like she was trembling. “How much of my life did you see, when you touched me?”
Rogue blinked. Oh. Jean’s fear made a lot more sense now. Of course she’d be worried. With how well they got along – that was to say, not at all – she was probably thinking that Rogue would tell the whole world her little secret. The one that might get her more hurt than being a mutant.
Rogue knew how to keep secrets. Almost hurtful to think Jean would assume otherwise.
“A lot,” said Rogue. She turned back around and patted the spot next to her on the couch. Jean circled the couch and sat in the chair across from her, leaning forward and clasping her hands between her knees. “And I reckon I saw the thing you’re worried I saw.”
Jean bowed her head; her hair turned into a curtain that hid her face, her thoughts, from Rogue.
Rogue swallowed. “Listen, I don’t want you to think you’ve got anything to be worried about,” she said, waving her hands in front of her even though Jean couldn’t see. “I didn’t understand at first, but I did some research in the library and I think I got most of it sorted out in my head, now.”
Still, Jean said nothing. Rogue half wished she still had access to Jean’s powers, at least at will, just so she could know what Jean was thinking.
“I understand being scared of people finding out you’re different,” said Rogue. “Maybe not in the same way, but I do.” She drew her legs up onto the couch and hugged them, resting her chin on her knees. “And I saw – felt – a lot of what you went through, figuring stuff out, and a lot of what you feel, about people finding out.” She stared at her socks. They were mismatched, because Kitty always loved when she did that.
She thought it was fun. Rogue tried to be fun, sometimes.
“I’m not gonna tell people that you’re transgender, Jean. I promise,” said Rogue. Her words were low, just barely loud enough to be heard, just in case.
Jean let out an audible exhale, trembling and weak. “Okay. I… I trust you. Thank you.” Rogue looked up and met Jean’s gaze as Jean brushed her hair from her face. “I’m still not totally okay with how you know, but I guess it’s better than you finding out and freaking out or… or something.” She licked her lips. “I guess.”
Rogue frowned. She hated this. Jean was untouchable. Miss Popularity and all that. And until she’d touched Jean, until she’d gained access to all those feelings and memories, Rogue had never known just how much Jean felt the pressures of her popularity, how much she feared having it ripped away.
New York was liberal, and Bayville was pretty liberal too. But not nearly to the extent that New York City was. Hell, she’d seen some of the looks Evan got, for being black. That Ms. Munroe got, for daring to sound “foreign” on top of being black.
Even Kurt got it at times, when he opened his mouth and revealed an accent.
She couldn’t imagine what it would be like, if Jean were outed.
She’d probably run for the hills.
She’d probably have good reason.
“Does anyone here know?” asked Rogue.
Jean shrugged, staring at the floor again. She wore a nightie, purple, with pajama pants underneath, purple with white polka dots. They were cute. Something Rogue would have worn, if she thought people wouldn’t think less of her for it.
“The professor, Ms. Munroe, Logan.” A pause. “Scott.”
Rogue’s eyebrows went up. “Yeah? They all cool with it?”
Jean nodded, a little smile flitting onto her face. “Yeah, actually. The professor knew when he came and got me, because I uh, had just started HRT at the time.” Jean looked up at Rogue and pinked. “Sorry, you probably don’t care about all that.”
“No, I do,” said Rogue. She unfolded herself and crossed her legs, resting her gloved hands on her covered ankles. It was a pose more familiar on Kitty, but hey, when in Rome and all that. “I mean, I know some of this stuff, but getting context is nice.” Rogue bit the inside of her cheek. “And this is important to you. And it’s interesting. Learning ‘bout a world I’ve never been part of.” Rogue managed a little smile, trying to look encouraging. “Keep going.”
Jean’s smile returned, broader this time. “O-okay. I um, HRT is hormone therapy.” Rogue nodded. She’d read about that, but didn’t know the details. “Between puberty blockers, which are exactly what they sound like, and HRT, the only puberty I ever went through was the right one.” Jean sat up and gestured to herself. “I got lucky. I look like my mom, and I, you know, never had much to fight.” She shrugged and drew one leg up on the couch, hugging it. She rested her chin on her knee. “I told the professor, because I wasn’t willing to stop HRT, not even to come here. He was understanding.”
Rogue nodded. “He seems the type.”
“He is. Ms. Munroe used to help me with my shots, because I was terrible with needles, and Logan had to drive me to the pharmacy outside of Bayville a few times, so that’s how he found out.” Jean looked at Rogue’s furrowed brow and bit her lower lip. “I get it outside of town because it’s less likely anyone who knows me will be there.”
Rogue hadn’t even thought about that. “Makes sense.” She waited, but Jean didn’t say anything. “What about Scott?”
Jean grimaced. “We were the only two in the Institute. He got curious as to why I kept disappearing and why I got more attention from the adults than he did.” She shook her head. “He… followed me, into my room one day. I did the shot on my own. He freaked out, thought I was taking drugs, ran to tell the professor. I ended up telling him when I caught up with him.”
“He take it all right?” asked Rogue.
“After he stopped freaking out, thinking I was doing drugs, yes. He was much happier to learn it was estrogen.” Jean’s mouth twitched upward. “He did a lot of research, weeks of it, trying to make it up to me. And he’s always been a willing ear if I needed to talk.”
Rogue nodded. “I know I don’t exactly know much about this stuff, but if you ever wanna talk.” Rogue shrugged. “I at least understand it more than some people, just being in your head a bit.” Rogue grimaced a little. “I mean, if you don’t have anyone else you’d rather talk to, that is.” She stared at her socks. One had ducks, the other, foxes. Kurt had bought them for her.
“I don’t, actually,” said Jean, voice quiet. Rogue lifted her head, brow furrowed. “No one else at the Institute knows what it’s like, you know? And apart from online, I’ve never met anyone else like me.” Jean hugged herself tight. She sniffled. “It’s lonely, you know? Being me. And even before you got my memories, you struck me as one of the only people I know that would understand that sort of loneliness.”
Rogue’s chest ached at the thought of Jean being as lonely as her. Turning things down and watching people scoff and huff about it. Whispering being her back while they tried to figure out why. Fearing relationships, fearing connection, because of what it could mean if someone got too close.
Differences, but similarities, too.
“I really am sorry, for how I found out,” said Rogue, quietly.
Jean shrugged, hair sliding over one shoulder as she did. “I’ll get over it, but thank you.”
“No,” said Rogue, straightening up. She tucked her legs up under her and lifted her hands, gesticulating with them. “I found out something really personal, probably your biggest secret, and you didn’t get a choice in that. And this ain’t like our powers – that’s a give and take thing, ‘round here. But…” Rogue hesitated. She had an idea, but it was probably stupid. “I can’t give you a secret like I took from you, but what if I told you something ‘bout me that I don’t tell people?” She bit the inside of her cheek. “Something I don’t think anyone in here, or out there, knows about?”
Jean watched her with a curious look. She reached up and twirled a strand of hair around her fingers. “You’d… you’d do that for me?” Her words were low, soft.
Rogue nodded. “Yeah,” she said. She swallowed against the lump in her throat. “It might not make us even, but it’d level out the field a bit more, ya know?”
“You don’t have to do that,” said Jean, still quiet.
“I know,” said Rogue. “But I’m offerin’. If you want.” Her heart thundered in her chest. It was a miracle Logan wasn’t busting into the room, claws out, demanding to know who was in trouble. Maybe he was used to fast heartbeats meaning different things.
Or else things ‘round here would be a lot more awkward.
“I… I’d really like that, actually,” said Jean, quietly. “Not as blackmail or anything, I mean—”
“Because it’d make us equals, again,” said Rogue. “Right?”
Jean smiled, small. “Yeah. That.”
Rogue took a deep breath. Okay. Time to spill her guts to a girl she could barely stand, a few days earlier. Great idea.
“My whole life, I’ve been raised like I was gonna get the power I did,” started Rogue, fiddling with a stray thread on her grey gloves. Her sleeping gloves were thinner than the others, so they didn’t overheat her as much. “So, I don’t know exactly when they happened, outside of that party. Maybe they came in days earlier. Not like I would’a noticed.” She stared at her glove. “Because o’ that, I never got much affection, growin’ up. Not a lot of hugs, or pats on the shoulder, or anything.” She rubbed her wrist with the tips of her fingers. “When I got here, that changed, y’know? And I didn’t expect that. People would grab my arm, or my hands, or my shoulder, or my back. And that was nice. But…” She hesitated. This was the secret part. “Being here, seeing y’all around each other, seeing how y’all hang off each other, and seeing how ya touch me, I’m just so aware of how different it is now.”
Another deep breath. “And I hate it. I get it, y’know? I get why people don’t hug me, or ruffle my hair, or lean on me, or any of the thousand things ya do with each other, but I hate it. It’s like I finally got a taste of what I was missing, and now I know I’m starving.” She clenched her hands into fists and took a deep breath. “I’ve never wanted to be hugged, and held, and loved more in my entire life than I do living here. And I know it’d hurt people, and I know it breaks my image, but I’m just so lonely, Jean. I’m so lonely, and I’m so cold, and I would do anything for someone just to hold me. Just once, you know?” Her vision blurred. “Or a kiss, just once. Just so I know what it feels like. But I’m scared that if I get it once, it’ll be even worse, and I’ll just end up worse off than I started.”
She grimaced. “I know it’s not the same. I mean, I can’t give you something like what I took from you. But that’s what I got.” She brushed her hair back from her face. “Sorry.” She looked up at Jean and stopped, eyes wide. Jean was crying. Tears gathered in her eyes and slipped, one by one, down her cheeks. “Jean?”
Jean sniffled and wiped away her eyes. “Oh. Sorry, I uh, lost it for a second.” She cleared her throat. “You’re right, it’s not the same, but it’s powerful, and it’s a secret, and it’s important to you.” Jean gave her a watery smile. “Thank you, Rogue, for sharing that with me. It really means a lot to me.”
Rogue shrugged. “Yeah, well, I had to try.” She cleared her throat, rubbed her hands together, and got to her feet. “I’m gonna try and get some more sleep before school. Night, Jean.”
“Goodnight, Rogue. Thank you,” said Jean. Rogue shrugged, ignoring the heat in her ears as she hurried back to bed.
Sharing secrets with Jean. Man, what had she become in the last day?
An hour and a bit later and Rogue’s alarm dragged her out of bed and down to the kitchen, where others were already scrounging up their motivation for the day. She forewent breakfast, still queasy from the mind shift, and took up vigil at the coffee pot, waiting for the drips to form enough of a pool to down black and hot.
Logan shifted in and eyed the coffee, but he vanished when Rogue growled at him. After her night, she was getting the first cup. Everyone else could wait their damn turn.
She sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose with one hand and wrapping her other arm around herself.
Behind her, noise of the door opening.
“Morning, Jean,” came Amara’s voice from the table. “Hey, what are you holding?”
Rogue didn’t turn. She’d check when she got her coffee.
Something soft draped over her shoulders, Rogue’s only warning before a pair of warm arms snaked around her middle, from behind, and pulled her backward into a loose hug.
“Morning,” said Jean’s voice, not far from her ear. Rogue froze, eyes wide, staring at her blurred reflection in the coffee pot. Jean was hugging her. From behind. Loose, but their bodies still slotted together from hip to shoulder. The thin fabric was a shield of some sort, a scarf, maybe. One of those fashion ones that had to be folded to do anything useful.
Except for now.
“I—” Rogue couldn’t find the words. She wasn’t hurting Jean. Someone was holding her without being hurt. Half of Rogue just wanted to melt into the embrace, lean into it, relish it, because this might be the only hug she ever got. The other half wanted to push away, demand answers, maybe hide in her room for the rest of the day. “I—”
“Can I get the second cup?” asked Jean, still smiling.
Rogue opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again. What should she say? How should she react? Her hands fell atop Jean’s, at her bellybutton. She looked down and saw something else that took her breath away. Jean was wearing gloves. Thin purple ones that looked out of a magazine.
Gloves. Just like Rogue wore. Gloves, because she was hugging Rogue. Maybe? Gloves, that Rogue had to wear, but Jean was wearing by choice.
Jean released her and Rogue could have cried out from how much the sudden loss ached. But she pushed it down and let Jean pull the fabric from her. Turned – it was a fashion scarf, a purple one with white flowers – and watched Jean fold it over and tie it around her waist with a smile. She was already dressed for the day.
“Can I?” asked Jean, nodding to the coffee machine.
Rogue didn’t need coffee anymore. She needed to breathe.
“You can have it,” mumbled Rogue. “I need to… get dressed.” She hurried passed Jean, passed Amara’s wide-eyed stare, and bolted up the stairs, passed others, and dove into her room, slamming the door shut behind her. Back pressed into the wood, she slid to the ground, head in her hands.
What the hell was that? A hug? Why? Was Jean trying to make fun of her for what she said?
No. She wouldn’t. Would she? No. Not after last night. Not after what they’d shared with each other. So why do it? Why go to all that trouble for one stupid hug?
“Rogue?” Kitty’s voice. “I’m coming in.” Kitty fell through her, stumbled a step, and turned, solidifying. “Hey.” She sat down across from Rogue, cross-legged, and rested her elbows on her knees. “Are you, like, okay? I saw you run upstairs. And Amara was in the kitchen and she said you freaked out?” Kitty cocked her head. “What’s up?”
“Jean—” started Rogue, but stopped abruptly, shaking her head and pressing her lips together. This wasn’t real. Jean wasn’t trying to be her friend, was she? Was it some ploy, to win her over so she wouldn’t talk?
But no. Everything Rogue knew about her – inside and out – said that Jean wouldn’t do that. Said that Jean only did things like that to be genuine.
Which meant the hug was genuine.
“What did Jean do?” asked Kitty. “Did she say something? Do something?” Amara hadn’t told her. Neither had Jean.
“She hugged me,” croaked Rogue, half-disbelief, half-whisper, mostly into her hands. “She hugged me.”
Kitty was silent for a minute. “Um… okay? Is that, like, a bad thing?”
Rogue lifted her head to stare at Kitty. What was she supposed to say? That no one had ever hugged her like that before? That she was used to being the pariah in the room? The ‘person is lava’ sorta thing? Would Kitty even understand, or would she protest that she hugged Rogue all the time? Which wasn’t true. At all. She did, but it was different. Way different.
“No,” said Rogue, slowly. She lifted her head from her hands and looked Kitty straight on, rather than up through her hair. “I just… I’m not used to it. Much closer hug than I’m used to, you know?”
Kitty nodded. “That makes sense. I mean, I guess most people are trying to hug you without touching you, y’know?” Yeah. Rogue knew. She knew all too well. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jean hug you before, or get all that close to you. Is everything okay?”
Jean was making an effort. Was it because of what Rogue knew? Because they were getting along better? Because they felt closer – or at least, Rogue did – than before? She didn’t know. But that hug was nice. It was amazing. And Jean had made sure to be safe and give her a hug without it feeling like she was trying to be safe. It just felt… natural.
“I don’t know,” confessed Rogue, head pounding with the possibilities. “But I’m not upset about it, I don’t think.”
Kitty shrugged. “That’s great! So, let’s get ready for school, c’mon.” She hopped to her feet, danced around until Rogue got up, then darted through the door.
Rogue sighed and took a second to collect her thoughts, then headed to her dresser. She wondered if Jean would try to hug her again. And, if so, when.
Nothing was weird for the rest of the day, until lunch, when Jean pulled Rogue aside to talk at the edge of the courtyard.
“Hey, are you okay?” asked Jean, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “You’ve been acting kind of freaked out since breakfast, and I know that’s my fault, so I wanted to check in.”
Rogue hugged herself. It felt nothing like being hugged by someone else. Something she hadn’t been fully aware of, outside of faded memories from other people, until today. She wasn’t sure if she hated that knowledge or not.
“You hugged me,” said Rogue, gaze flickering down to the ground. “Why?”
“I…” A pause. A sigh. “I was thinking, last night, after you went to bed. You said you can’t tell people how you feel, because it would ruin your image, and there’s nothing they can do.” Rogue frowned. Where was this going? “And that’s not that different from how I feel. But I realized, I might not be able to safely tell everyone, or talk to everyone, about who I really am.” Jean’s voice was low, barely above a whisper. “But I can talk to the Professor, Ms. Munroe, Logan, and Scott, and, well, you.” Another pause that Rogue didn’t try to fill. “And you may not be able to touch everyone the way we all can, but that doesn’t mean you can’t touch a few people that way. If we know how.”
Rogue snorted. “So what, you’re just gonna take on that burden, by yourself? Without asking?” Rogue stared at Jean’s shoes. They were sneakers. No heels allowed today, because of gym.
“Well, if you want to put it that way, I guess so,” said Jean, voice softer than before. “But the thing is, Rogue? I didn’t think of it as a burden. The most thought I put into it was trying to find something in my closet thick enough to work as a barrier, but thin enough that it wouldn’t dampen the sensation anymore than it had to. I probably spent the whole hour and a half before breakfast going through fabrics, actually.” She gave a little laugh. “And then it occurred to me – fashion scarves.”
Rogue raised her gaze and realized, with a jolt, that Jean was wearing the scarf from this morning as a belt. Looped through her jean belt loops as if it were an everyday occurrence. It looked good, on her. But then, Jean made everything look good.
“I’m sorry that you see it that way, and I’m sorry I jumped you,” said Jean. Rogue raised her gaze further, to Jean’s face, and found Jean smiling, her green eyes gentle and warm. “But I mean it. It’s not a burden to me, Rogue, and I don’t want to put anything more on you than you already have to deal with, anyway. If you don’t want to try, I’ll stop, but, I enjoyed our hug, this morning.” She tucked her hair behind her ear, again, her smile shy. “And I’d like to be a better friend to you than I have been, if it’s all the same to you.”
“You got any ulterior motives?” asked Rogue, shifting her self-hug to hands on her hips and a raised eyebrow. Part of her mind was screaming, begging Jean to be telling the whole truth, while the rest couldn’t believe her. This had to be at trick.
But Rogue still had enough of Jean’s mind in hers to know that it wasn’t. To know that wasn’t who Jean was.
“Not unless you count wanting to get to know you better,” said Jean, a shy tone to her voice. “Because I’m starting to realize what a great person I’ve been overlooking.”
Rogue sighed. “O-okay.” Her voice wobbled. Someone wanted to hug her. Someone wanted to be close to her, in a way no one else was. “I guess we can make that work.” A pause. “Just be careful.”
“I know,” said Jean, beaming. “But you’re not a burden, not anymore than I am. And I’m going to prove it.” With that, she practically skipped back to lunch and Rogue was left to stare after her, confused.
“Hey, Rogue,” said Risty, walking up. “What was that about?”
Rogue sighed. “Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
The second hug came a few days later. It was post training, Rogue dressed in her favourite hoodie and sweatpants, slipping into the kitchen for a late evening snack of popcorn, and she stepped into the space to see Jean already there. She had a different scarf than before tied around her waist, one of four that Rogue had seen her wearing in the last few days.
She kept waiting for something to happen, every time she saw it. Now, she was just convinced it was Jean’s new wardrobe choice.
“Hey, Rogue,” said Jean. “C’mere a second.”
Rogue turned from the cupboard and saw the scarf float up to her. Again, it was her only warning. It draped across her neck and fell over her shoulders, down her back, just before Jean slipped forward and pulled Rogue into a tight hug.
Rogue froze, hands lifting but not doing anything else, as Jean pulled Rogue to her. Chest to chest, hip to hip, legs bumping together and shoulders too. Warm. She was so warm. Rogue’s eyes fluttered as Jean’s arms tightened around her back. Slowly, shakily, she wrapped her arms around Jean’s back and rested them just above her hips, gloved hands splayed on Jean’s covered back. She dropped her forehead to Jean’s shoulder, breathing deeply, cheek far enough away not to touch Jean’s skin by accident.
“Better warning this time?” Jean murmured, voice close to her ear. Rogue hummed, eyes closing and entire body sagging into Jean’s. With what she now knew, it was easy to slip into comfort, to enjoy it for everything it was. A hug from a friend who knew more than most. She smelled like deodorant covering sweat, but Rogue didn’t mind. She never got close enough to smell people.
Was it weird? Maybe.
She didn’t know.
Didn’t much care.
She never wanted to let go, but noise beyond the door had her jerking back from Jean and yanking the scarf from herself, hiding it behind her back just as Bobby and Sam tumbled into the room. They laughed and joked, snagged a pair of ice cream sandwiches, and then were gone.
Jean turned to look at her, smiling. “You okay?” Soft, like she was talking to a wild animal.
What was it Kurt had said, a couple weeks ago when they’d found a box of feral kittens and taken them to a local shelter? All cats were born feral, and it was only through touch that they learned how to be domesticated again.
That was how Rogue felt. Like a feral cat getting its first taste of human touch and learning just how nice it might be to be someone’s pampered, needy house cat.
“Yeah,” said Rogue, voice matching Jean’s. “Thanks.” Her cheeks burned. Stupid.
Jean’s smile widened. “You’re welcome,” she said. With a little giggle, she added, “You don’t need to thank me for hugs, Rogue, but if you want to, I certainly won’t argue.” The oven dinged. “Oh! My mozzarella sticks are ready. Want some?”
Rogue exhaled, almost as if for the first time since the hug. “Sure. That sounds great.”
The third came the next morning, when Jean ambushed her coming out of her room. With a cheerful “good morning” and a brush of fabric, Rogue was engulfed in a hug. She jolted, surprised, and stumbled a step, and Jean laughed, following after. Rogue ended up pinned between her closed door and Jean’s body, and she took the opportunity to lean into Jean, cheek resting on the fashion scarf that did nothing to hide the warmth of Jean’s shoulder, and the gentle give of her skin.
“Morning—Oh.” Scott. Scarlet, Rogue jerked back from Jean, hands pushing off her stomach and making Jean stumble back a few steps. The scarf floated, slow, to the carpeted floor. A symbol of her guilt. Rogue swallowed hard.
“Morning, Scott,” said Jean, tucking her hair behind one ear. “Did you need something?”
“Uh.” Scott turned his head, looking between Rogue and Jean. He pursed his lips and wrinkled his brow. “No? I’m… good. Is everything else good?”
“Yeah, we’re great,” said Jean, beaming. “Right, Rogue?”
Rogue nodded, not quite trusting her voice. Her ears and cheeks burned hot and she was probably bright red. Why was this so weird? Everyone else got hugs. Everyone else in this place hung all over each other. Why was she being singled out for it?
She knew why. She just didn’t like it.
“O-okay, great,” said Scott, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’m uh, gonna get breakfast.”
“Great, we’ll join you,” said Jean. The scarf lifted into the air, Jean wrapped it around her wrist, and grabbed Rogue’s hand to pull her along. Rogue curled her fingers against Jean’s.
She could get used to this.
After school Jean and Scott had track and field. Rogue was getting a ride from Scott, which left her and Risty lingering on the bleachers, watching.
“You seem a tad more chipper these last few days, darling,” said Risty, smiling at her. “What’s gotten into you?”
“Oh,” said Rogue. “Nothing.” She brushed her hair back from her face, a little smile on her face. Risty leaned into her, barely brushing her, and Rogue couldn’t help but wonder if Jean would have just leaned all the way in.
“Mm, nope, I don’t believe that,” said Risty, shaking her head. “You’re happy. Not that you’re always glum, but you’re certainly happier than last week.” She wiggled her shoulders, grinning. “What happened? Did you finally ask out Scott?”
Rogue grimaced. “No. It’s… it’s nothing like that. I’m just… enjoying my life, I guess.” Scott was out of bounds, by a long shot, and Rogue couldn’t help but think about this morning, when Scott had stared at Jean and Rogue, confused.
Would Scott make that same effort, if he were dating Rogue? Or even if he just knew?
She didn’t know. She hoped so, though.
“Well, whatever it is, I’m glad for you,” said Risty. She wound her arms around one of Rogue’s and grinned. “Now, come on, let’s go shopping! There’s this new shop I want to check out with you, and I think you need some winter colours for your make-up.”
Rogue cast her glance back toward the fields. Scott was jogging around the track while Jean was stretching in the field.
“Yeah, all right,” she drawled. “Let’s go.” She let Risty drag her from the bleachers and to her car.
Days passed, hugs continued, and bit by bit, Rogue found herself anticipating those hugs. Jean kept something on her at all times to ambush Rogue, she’d noticed, and she didn’t always use it. But a routine started to form, and Rogue took comfort in it.
Touches on the shoulder, arms around her waist, hands grabbing hers. Jean wearing gloves when it was just cold enough to justify them, brushing against Rogue’s face to push back her hair before she talked to her. And hugs. Every day, Jean hugged Rogue at least once, and those hugs stretched out until Rogue found herself reaching out for Jean when Jean pulled away, embarrassed at her own neediness.
Jean saw, once, probably two weeks after it all began, and with a quiet laugh she’d reached out and taken Rogue’s hands and pulled them back together.
“You can just ask, you know,” she said, half into Rogue’s shirt, as she squeezed Rogue against her. Rogue gripped Jean’s shirt and closed her eyes. She hummed, not saying a word, worried something would break this new world apart.
“I’m thinking of breaking up with Duncan,” Jean murmured against her shoulder. Rogue blinked her eyes open.
“Yeah? Why?” asked Rogue.
Jean shrugged against her. “He’s been hinting around that he, uh, wants to take our relationship further.”
“Duncan can hint?” Rogue snorted.
“No, not really,” replied Jean. She sighed. “He can’t find out about me. I know he’ll take it terribly, and, as much as I enjoy the whole ‘being normal’ thing…” She trailed off. Rogue could almost feel her frowning.
“You know it’ll end badly,” replied Rogue, voice soft.
“Yeah.” Jean nuzzled her a little. “Besides, I don’t think I’ve liked Duncan for a while. I just like the attention.”
“Does it bother you?” asked Rogue, sliding one hand up Jean’s back. “That you have to break up with him over this? That you gotta think about this kinda thing when you date?”
A hum. “Yeah, if I let myself think about it. I try to take it day by day, or else I can end up in a really bad mood.”
“Maybe you’ll find someone who doesn’t mind,” said Rogue. She caught herself inching toward Jean’s neck and was pretty sure that was off limits. You didn’t bury your face in your friend’s neck and sniff them, scarf or no scarf.
Jean stroked her back. “That’d be nice. Until then, I’m good with just having friends.”
“Me too,” mumbled Rogue.
They stayed like that for a while. Rogue wasn’t sure how long. Found she didn’t much care.
The others in the Institute were definitely noticing the changes between Jean and Rogue. It was kinda hard not to, considering they’d gone from being at each other’s throats half the time to hanging out pretty much every spare second. It was weird, but Rogue liked it. As it turned out, she and Jean had a lot of the same interests. They both loved classic literature, the sounds of the ocean, and sighing over cheesy romance novels. While their taste in clothing and make-up wasn’t the same, they liked each other’s well enough to offer a decent amount of advice.
“What do you think?” asked Jean, modelling a dress with patterned tights underneath to Rogue. She’d brought home a bag from the mall, apparently having gone with Taryn, and dragged Rogue up to her room. “Too much?”
It was dark purple, a colour that Rogue saw more on herself than on Jean, but despite the unfamiliarity of it, it looked good. The long sleeves of the dress made Jean look older and more sophisticated.
Jean turned this way and that way, looking at herself in the mirror. Her hands went from her hips to her shoulders and then hung at her sides.
“It’s nice,” said Rogue. “You look like a celebrity.”
Jean blushed and twirled a strand of hair around one ear. “You don’t mean that.”
“I do,” said Rogue, leaning back on Jean’s bed. She had nicer pillows than Rogue. Maybe Rogue could ask her where she’d gotten them. “I didn’t know you could pull off turtlenecks.” Hell, she hadn’t known anyone could pull off a long-sleeved, past the knee, turtleneck dress and not look like a box or an old woman, but Jean made it look like the next fashion trend.
Jean smiled at Rogue via their reflections. “You’re sweet.”
Rogue shrugged. “I’m just telling the truth.”
A quick knock at the door before Kitty leapt into the room. “Jean, you’re never gonna—” Kitty stopped, staring at Rogue. “Um. Hey, Rogue.”
Rogue lifted her chin. “Hey Kitty.”
“What’re you doing in Jean’s room?” The confusion in Kitty’s face and voice would have been funny if it didn’t have Rogue so on edge.
Rogue swallowed, tensing. “Looking at clothes.” She nodded to Jean, who watched them both with her arms folded over her chest. She looked smaller than normal, like she’d been caught doing something she wasn’t supposed to. Rogue looked away. Was Jean ashamed to be seen with her? “Jean bought some new stuff and wanted to show me.”
“Ooh,” said Kitty, flopping onto the bed at Rogue’s feet. She bounced on the mattress. “Show me, show me! I can tell you the hot gossip while we look at your new clothes.”
Jean hesitated. “Okay, okay. But you’ve gotta promise not to stick your head in my closet while I’m changing.”
Kitty put a hand over her heart. “Scout’s honour.”
“That’s not how you do that,” said Rogue. She watched Jean, brow furrowed. Jean hadn’t said that to her, but she probably figured Rogue wouldn’t do something like that.
Kitty rolled her eyes. “How am I supposed to know that?” She turned her gaze back toward Jean. “Anyway, I’ve been hearing all over school that you and Duncan broke up. What happened?” She propped her chin in her hands and grinned at Jean. “Deets! Deets!”
Rogue looked at Jean, who grimaced and looked away. Was that today? Jean hadn’t brought it up. Not that Rogue thought she had to bring it up. They hadn’t been friends for that long. Jean didn’t have to tell her everything.
Still, it put a pit in Rogue’s stomach and she shifted, uncomfortable.
“Yeah, we uh, we broke up,” said Jean, hugging one arm with the other. “I broke up with him this morning, before class.” She reached up and tucked a strand of hair behind one ear. “I was going to tell you.” Her gaze darted to Rogue and lingered there on the last words.
Rogue swallowed, ears hot.
“Why?” asked Kitty. “I thought you were like, totally into him.” She tilted her head to one side and her bangs hung in her face. She was just far enough away from Rogue that all her bouncing and shifting didn’t put the two at risk of touching each other. Maybe a foot apart. Rogue stared at that foot of distance, eyes narrowed.
“I just wasn’t into him, anymore,” said Jean. Rogue looked up and saw Jean turn away from them, putting her back to the bed. Her shoulders tensed up near her ears and her back was bunched up. “It’s no big deal.”
Kitty scoffed. “That’s not what Duncan’s saying. He’s making a huge deal of it.” Kitty looked at Rogue and made a disgusted face. “He’s saying you’re like, a huge prude and told him you thought you were too good to have sex.” Jean tensed further. “Which is crazy. I mean, I totally thought you guys were already sleeping together. I mean, everyone else does.” The bed creaked.
Rogue looked to Kitty, half glaring. “Just because people say something doesn’t make it true,” she snapped. She flipped her bangs and glanced at Jean. She was trembling. Shaking. Hard enough that Rogue could see it from here. “Maybe you should talk to Jean before you start making assumptions about people’s lives.”
Kitty frowned and sat up. “I didn’t say there was anything wrong with Jean having sex with Duncan, just that I thought she was. I wasn’t gonna ask.” She wrinkled her nose. “That’s totally rude.”
“As opposed to making assumptions and blabbing them all over?” Rogue glared. Kitty glared back.
“Since when are you so defensive about Jean?” Kitty tossed her ponytail. “C’mon, Rogue. You never thought that was why Jean came home so late some nights?”
Jean’s mirror shattered, the glass exploding outward and erupting onto her dresser and the floor. “I never had sex with Duncan!” she shouted, spinning back around to face them both. “I have never had sex. I don’t even let guys put their hands up my shirt.” She glared at Kitty, clutching her hands close to her body. “I hate those rumours and I can’t believe you ever listened to them.” Tears gathered in her eyes. “I thought you knew me.”
Kitty faltered, mouth falling open and expression flashing to shock. “I—I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. Jean, I’m so sorry.” She sounded it, too, but the damage was done. “You’re right, I should have talked to you way sooner and not like, acted like I knew everything.” Kitty got to her feet and reached out to Jean. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Jean put her face in her hands and let out a shaky breath. “Can you just… leave me alone? I need a break from all this.”
Kitty nodded. “Okay. C’mon, Rogue.”
“No,” said Jean, before Rogue could respond. “Rogue can stay.”
Kitty looked between the two, brow furrowed, and nodded. “Okay.” She swallowed, throat bobbing visibly. “Okay. I’ll see you guys at dinner then.” She slipped, silent, out of the room, passing through the door.
A few seconds passed, then a few more. Jean lifted her hands from her face and looked at Rogue. Tears slipped freely down her cheeks.
A month ago, Rogue would have had no idea what to do. Now, she knew. She got to her feet and hurried forward, throwing her arms around Jean and hugging her tightly around her midback. She pressed her face into the front of Jean’s shoulder and rubbed her back, slotting them together as carefully as she could.
“I got you,” whispered Rogue into the soft fabric of Jean’s dress. “I got you.”
Jean let out a broken sob and pressed her face into Rogue’s hair. Rogue tensed, waiting for the transfer, but none came.
Her hair was thick enough to act as a barrier.
“It’s not like I don’t want to have sex,” whispered Jean. “I’ve thought about it. I’ve thought about it a lot. I just don’t know anyone who’d be interested in me that wouldn’t freak when they knew about the real me.”
“This is the real you,” said Rogue, tightening her hold on Jean. “Anyone who thinks otherwise can answer to me.”
“Thank you,” whispered Jean.
Rogue was reaching for the pancakes when Evan spoke.
“So, you and Jean, huh?”
Her hand froze, entire body going rigid at the implication of his words. Why? She couldn’t tell. She only knew the fear that seized her at the idea.
“What?” she managed.
Evan grinned at her, waving his syrupy fork in her direction. “You guys are like, buddy-buddy now. It’s cool. Totally never would have expected it, but you seem to really balance each other out. I dig it.”
Rogue relaxed. “Um. Yeah.” She brushed her hair back from her face before grabbing some pancakes. Around the table, other students listened in or else continued on with their own conversations. Kitty watched them from across the table, looking curious.
“Our resident introvert and our resident queen of popularity as BFFs?” asked Kurt, leaning across the table next to Kitty. “Oh, that sounds scandalous.”
Rogue narrowed her eyes. “Why don’t you mind your business, blue boy?”
“Why are you so defensive about this?” asked Kitty. “You were like that last night, too. No one’s judging you and Jean being friends. You gotta chill out about it.” She reached up and brushed her hair from her face. “We’re happy for you, okay? Stop acting like we’re attacking you. Please.”
Rogue grimaced and slumped in her seat. A bunch of the Institute kids were staring. Rogue slid further in her seat. She tugged the neck of her turtleneck up higher.
“Honestly, I think it’s just proof of how awesome the Institute is,” said Bobby, leaning forward in his seat. “Outside of the Institute, when would two people like Rogue and Jean be friends? They’re from two totally different worlds.” He stuffed a piece of pancake into his mouth and kept talking. “And it’s not just them. I mean, look at Ray and Amara. You’ve got street smart, wise-cracking, sailor mouth, and then basically a princess from Brazil.” Bobby shrugged. “It’s totally awesome. If we weren’t mutants, we’d never talk to each other. But because we’re mutants, we’re all friends, and we all help each other, and we all get to learn about these worlds we never would have known, otherwise.”
“Well said, Bobby,” said Jean, leaning in the doorway. Rogue smiled at her, entire body relaxing. She pushed back up in her seat and nodded to the empty one next to her. Jean smiled at her and slipped over to Rogue to sit next to her, squeezing her shoulder as she went. “But, I would appreciate if we stopped putting so much emphasis on this. I know this is strange to a lot of people, but Rogue and I being friends isn’t the weirdest thing to happen here. Let’s let it lie, please.”
“Agreed,” said Ms. Munroe. “Now, why don’t we talk about school?” Plenty of groans went around the table. Jean looked at Rogue and winked. Rogue smiled at her, letting out a quiet sigh of relief.
At least that was over.
“Rogue!” Rogue looked up from where she was sitting with Risty. Jean waved, standing with Taryn and a couple other girls. Rogue cracked a tentative smile and lifted a hand to wave back. Jean beamed at her, said something to Taryn, and scurried over to Rogue’s table.
“Mind if I sit with you?” asked Jean, looking from Rogue to Risty. Risty raised an eyebrow at Jean, then at Rogue, who shrugged, smile turning awkward.
“Nah, sit down,” said Rogue. Jean sat down across from Rogue, setting down her tray, and drummed her fingers on the table. Behind her, still standing in the aisle, Taryn rolled her eyes and stalked off to a table with the soccer players. Rogue winced. Yeah, that was gonna come back to bite her in the ass.
Do not cross cliques, lest you be punished for straying from your path.
“What brings you to our side of the world?” asked Risty, twirling her fork through her salad. She cast a sideways glance to Risty. “Rogue forget her homework again?”
Jean shook her head, smiling. “No, just felt like spending time with her.” She shifted, foot bumping against Rogue’s under the table. Against her better judgement, Rogue pressed her foot back against the side of Jean’s. “Plus, I hear you are a gossip queen and I have some gossip to share.”
Risty grinned. “Yeah? You gonna clear the air about you and Duncan?”
Jean rolled her eyes. “Duncan can say whatever he wants. I know the truth and so do my friends and that’s all that matters.” She twirled a finger through her hair, a little smile on her face. “Besides, Duncan wasn’t wrong about everything.”
“Oh?” asked Risty. Rogue narrowed her eyes. She hadn’t heard this part.
“One of the reasons I broke with him, one of many,” Jean gave Risty and Rogue a flat look, “was because I am starting to, well, maybe have feelings for someone else.” A light blush crossed her cheekbones and the tips of her ears. Her smile turned wistful, her eyes far away. “And that feeling is stronger, and sweeter, than anything I’ve ever felt for him.”
Rogue swallowed hard around a sudden lump in her throat. She nudged her food away from her, appetite gone.
“Girl, seriously?” Risty bounced in her seat. “Tell, tell. Who is it? Who’s the cutie? Do I know him?”
“’Scuse me,” muttered Rogue, getting to her feet. “Gotta… bathroom.”
“Rogue—” started Jean, but Rogue kept going.
Why was she so upset? She didn’t have a right to be. It wasn’t like Jean wasn’t allowed to keep secrets. They weren’t that close.
But the idea of Jean being with someone else, of things going back to the way they were, made her stomach churn. She’d just gotten Jean. She didn’t want to give her up.
Rogue managed to avoid Jean for a couple of days, coming close to her only during training, when she didn’t have much of a choice. It was lonely, because Kitty was busy with the newer students, Jubilee, Amara, and Rahne, and Kurt and Scott were basically glued to each other. Evan was hanging out with kids from school, and he and Rogue had never been close.
It was… weird. Just a few weeks ago, Rogue has cherished her time alone in the Institute. Now, tucked up with a book in Ms. Munroe’s attic garden, Rogue craved the quiet, gentle attention of Jean. The way she’d wear long sleeves and maybe a thin blanket and press herself in close to Rogue so they could both read. The way she’d hug Rogue without a care in the world. The way she laughed, like bells, in Rogue’s ear.
Rogue groaned and dropped her face into her book. Oh no. No, no, no. This wasn’t happening. She wasn’t waxing poetic about Jean Grey in her head. She had to have touched someone, recently, that liked Jean that way. But no, the only person she’d even grazed, since Jean, had been Scott, and all she’d gotten was his big fat crush on Kurt.
Cute, but not what she was feeling.
Which meant this sickeningly sweet feeling, this twisting knot in her stomach that was like, but also dissimilar, to what she’d felt for Scott up until the last two months, was her own.
Did Rogue even like girls? Was this because she’d been spending so much time around Jean? Maybe Jean’s self-love had rubbed off on Rogue in a weird way, because of her powers. Their powers. The combination of the two.
And Jean had a crush on another guy. Some guy that made her smile and giggle like all the teenage girls at school who didn’t have to worry about superpowers and identities. Someone that made her feel confident.
Rogue couldn’t compete with that.
Couldn’t even try.
No. Rogue didn’t have a crush on Jean. Rogue didn’t like girls. She’d never had a crush on a girl in her life. Her subconscious was a bigot, reading Jean’s closeness and identity as something that could circumvent Rogue’s own identity. She needed to beat it back, remind herself of who Jean was, and get rid of this.
It wasn’t simple. Jean kept trying to get Rogue’s attention and Rogue felt worse and worse trying to avoid her. Whether it was at lunch, or at school, or around the Institute. Rogue took up as much mentoring as she could for training sessions with the ‘new mutants’, as they’d dubbed themselves, just to avoid being alone with Jean.
Her feelings, whatever they were, weren’t going away. In fact, the longer she stayed away from Jean, the worst they got. She caught herself staring across the courtyard at school, across the front and backyards of the Institute. So many little details about Jean that Rogue had never noticed before were now all Rogue could think about – the way the light caught Jean’s hair, the way her laughter carried across the wind and lifted Rogue’s mood, the way her smile made Rogue’s chest tighten, the way Jean’s hands and hips moved and swayed when she walked, and the gentle smiles she gave people when she was trying to make them feel better.
No amount of distance could make those feelings fade, and as the days turned into a week, then two, Rogue wanted to beat her head off every hard surface she could. Because, if she didn’t, she feared Jean would realize Rogue’s feelings, if only from how badly Rogue knew she was projecting her thoughts and feelings.
The professor had already tried to talk to her once. Rogue wasn’t dealing with that, if she could help it.
So, it wasn’t simple, but Rogue had a rhythm, a way, and then Jean had to go and ruin it.
It was after training, one day, and Rogue had been almost running from the hallway, trying to get to the elevator before Jean could close the distance.
And then Jean had used her telekinesis to hold the door open and slipped in after Rogue, leaving the two alone as they rose to the bedrooms.
“Rogue,” said Jean, voice gentle. She always looked so much smaller in her X-Men uniform. More vulnerable despite how powerful she’d become. “Hey, can we talk?”
Rogue hugged herself and turned away, putting one shoulder to Jean. “You can talk.” Didn’t mean she had to listen.
Jean sighed and bowed her head, tugging at her long, brilliant hair. “I’m sorry.” Rogue started. What? “I don’t know what I did, but clearly I’ve upset you. I want to apologize, and to find out what I did, so I can make up for it and make sure I don’t do it again.” Rogue looked at Jean, eyes wide. “I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry I upset you, I’m sorry I hurt you, I’m sorry I did something that made you feel you had to distance yourself from me.”
Rogue blinked a few times and met Jean’s eyes. They were moist with tears and oh, Rogue never wanted that. She never wanted to make Jean cry.
“Can you please tell me what I did?” asked Jean, her voice as small as Rogue had ever heard it. Jean bowed her head, hair hanging in her face. “I miss you.”
Rogue blinked, rapidly, trying to clear the words and the growing tears at once. None of this was working. It was just making them both miserable.
Against every instinct she had, Rogue reached forward and pressed herself to Jean, face in her shoulder, arms wrapped tight around her. Jean hugged her back, tight and warm and firm against Rogue. Rogue’s entire body cried out in relief, begging her to never let go.
“I’m sorry,” whispered Rogue into Jean’s shoulder. “You didn’t do anything. I’m just an idiot.”
“Being upset doesn’t make you an idiot,” whispered Jean in return. “What did I do?”
Rogue huffed, shifting her arms. “I keep thinking we’re closer than we are, and that I should know things I don’t. When you broke up with Duncan, and got a crush, and I didn’t know, it… bothered me.” The words hung in the air.
“We are close,” said Jean. “And okay, I can fix that. I promise, if I’m going to do anything about my crush, you’ll be the first to know.”
Rogue nodded. She could handle that. “Okay.”
“Yeah,” said Rogue with a huff. “’Course.”
Things returned to normal, insofar as things could be ‘normal’ between Rogue and Jean. Jean hung onto Rogue, Rogue kept close to Jean, they talked about everything they could, they did their schoolwork together, they read together, they trained together.
The weather was unseasonably warm, the breezes soothing and cool, and Rogue found herself, often, spending time outside with Jean, under the shade of the large, old trees. Her head in Jean’s lap, Jean’s gloved fingers in her hair, Rogue’s voice soft and drawling as she read a book aloud for them both.
It was the Shakespeare play they were working through, Twelfth Night, and while Jean was just as capable of reading and parsing Shakespeare as Rogue, she’d said she liked the way it sounded in Rogue’s voice.
The memory made Rogue blush, but she tried to ignore it. She didn’t like girls. She was just confused. She was just a jerk. She was just lonely. She’d never had this sort of relationship before with anyone. Her mind was confusing two different feelings as one and the same.
They laid together under a tree, currently, the peace broken by the laughter and shrieking of the newer students. Jean’s fingers, in their thin, silky gloves, glided through Rogue’s hair and Rogue shifted her head one way, then the other. Small, gentle motions that let Jean’s fingers slide firmer against her scalp, tugging lightly at her hair.
“You look like you’re about to fall asleep.” Jean’s words were quiet, a light giggle in her voice as she spoke. Rogue cracked open one eye and squinted up at Jean, who smiled down her. Above Jean, the canopy of leaves broke up the late afternoon sun, reducing it to a thin light that couldn’t quite break through the shade.
“Maybe I’m just at peace,” said Rogue. She shrugged, a barely-there motion that didn’t disturb their connection.
Jean let out a soft sigh. “Yeah, I can understand that.”
“Head’s up!” came Bobby’s voice. Rogue tensed, eyes flying open.
A football flew toward them, fast and spiralling. It froze in midair, neither of Jean’s hands moving from where they were curled on Rogue, one in her hair, one on her arm.
“Bobby,” said Jean, narrowing her eyes, “don’t throw footballs near people who aren’t playing.”
He rubbed the back of his neck as he approached. Most of his cohorts approached behind him. Rogue shifted, slightly uncomfortable, but Jean’s fingers in her hair didn’t falter.
“Sorry Jean,” said Bobby, his face splotchy and red. “Didn’t mean to interrupt you two.”
Roberto grinned. “Come on, Bobby.” He jumped into the air and grabbed the ball where Jean had suspended it. “Let’s leave the girlfriends to their snuggling. I think we’ve interrupted their date enough.”
Rogue sat up, barely missing Jean’s head with her own.
“Hang on a second,” said Rogue. “It ain’t like that.” And it wasn’t, even if Rogue imagined it more and more, and even if she sometimes forgot they weren’t dating, if only for a split second when she let herself. Then reality, and her own internal turmoil, came crashing down. Cold and harsh and forcing her wide awake.
“Really?” asked Amara, sticking her head over Bobby’s shoulder. “Because it sure looks like you two are dating. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I mean, you know, gay people are cool.” She ducked her head, face flushing as dark as it could.
Bobby snickered. “Yeah. You two are like, totally the it-couple of the Institute. I think Scott and Kurt are jealous.”
Rogue’s face burned and her heart pounded in her ears. “Yeah, you should give that title back to Scott and Kurt.” She flicked her bangs out of her eyes and shoved herself to her feet. “We ain’t datin’. We’re just friends.” She pushed passed them all, aware of the inches of open air she left between herself and everyone else, and stomped back to the Institute. Jean called after her, but Rogue didn’t pause or listen.
They weren’t a thing. They weren’t. And she carried that thought with her all the way inside.
Rogue’s internal turmoil didn’t last long. Jean caught up with her not long after Rogue buried herself in her bed and tried to pretend she wasn’t thinking of Jean.
“Rogue?” Jean’s voice was quiet and hesitant, a tremble in the vowels that made Rogue wince. Great. She’d upset Jean. Again. With her own stupid feelings. Again. This was a really bad habit to get into.
“Yeah?” asked Rogue, pulling herself out of her blankets just enough to squint at her cracked open door. Jean shuffled into it, hugging one arm and frowning at the floor. She scuffed one sock-clad foot against the wood floor and nibbled on her lower lip, hair hanging half in her face.
God, she was beautiful.
Rogue shook off the thought.
No. She wasn’t—She couldn’t—She was just—
“Why—” Jean hesitated and frowned. She took another step into the room and the door clicked shut behind her. Jean hadn’t moved her arms. “Should I know something?” She furrowed her brow and lifted her head. Despite the worry, something like anger flicked through. “I know you’re all right with…” Another pause. “With me.” Her nose wrinkled as she spoke. “But do you have some sort of a problem with gay people? Because Scott—”
“No!” Rogue’s voice came out loud and too defensive. She winced. Stupid. “No. I don’t, Jean. I really don’t. Scott’s great and I love him.” And she did, and thank God not in the way she once thought she had. Because being in love with a gay dude who was one of her best friends would just be the icing on the shit cake of her life. As it stood, her current struggle was pretty awful. “And Kurt. I don’t got a problem with either of them. Hell, Tabitha and I have hung out plenty. I just…” She hesitated. What was a good way to say this? There wasn’t. Nothing she could say would make this sound less bad or less bigoted. Not unless she wanted to explain her complicated thoughts to Jean about Jean.
“You just what?” asked Jean. She crossed her arms over her chest. Had she always had such a nice figure? Long hair that accented a sharp face and round hips that drew her eye when Jean cocked one to shift her stance.
Rogue shook her head.
“I don’t want people to assume that just cuz we’re close means we gotta be something else,” muttered Rogue, hugging her knees. “There’s nothing wrong with dating girls, but I don’t think it’s for me.”
The words felt wrong in her mouth. She tried not to think about it.
Jean slumped. “Okay.” Her voice was quiet. She brushed hair from her face. “I guess that’s fair. I just…” She grimaced and shook her head. “I guess it was stupid, to think you’d think there was something wrong with the idea of dating me.”
“No! Of course not.” Rogue got off her bed and tossed her blankets aside as she crossed the room to Jean. “There ain’t nothing wrong with the idea of dating you. I just—I’m not into girls.” The words twisted bitter against her tongue. Don’t think about it. “And you’re a girl.”
And she was. A beautiful, radiant, smart girl who was way too good for Rogue in every way that mattered.
Don’t think about it.
“Thank you,” said Jean. She gave a quiet giggle. “You’d be surprised how nice that makes me feel.” She smiled at Rogue, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. She was still upset. Why? Had Rogue offended her?
Was Jean… not straight?
How many ways was Rogue going to fuck up before this day was over?
“Do you wanna go get some ice cream?” asked Rogue. “My treat?”
Jean’s smile lifted to her eyes. “Sure. Sounds great.” And the two left the room, leaving Rogue’s turmoil amidst the blankets piled on the floor.
Don’t think about it.
Jean twirled in her new skirt in front of all the girls in the Institute, showing off the ruffled layers and pastel tie-dye colours. It was perfect for her. And all Rogue could think as the girls gasped and cooed over the new clothes they’d all bought that day was how beautiful Jean looked, laughing and twirling and illuminated by the midafternoon sun.
She smiled at Rogue and Rogue’s breath caught in her throat.
Don’t think about it.
Jean waved to Rogue in the outdoor cafeteria. Rogue stared, Risty’s words in one ear and out the other as Jean beamed and hurried over to them, sliding in across from Rogue. Their legs bumped together under the table and Jean pressed the sides of her feet against Rogue’s.
“Rogue?” Risty’s voice.
Rogue snapped out of her reverie and looked to Risty. “Yeah? Sorry, I totally spaced.” She bit the side of her tongue at the words. More Kitty than her, but she’d touched Kitty yesterday in training.
“No worries,” said Risty. “Hey, Jean. Are you going to the dance with anyone?”
Jean rested her elbow on the table and twirled her hair around two fingers. “Hmm, I have someone in mind but…” She wrinkled her nose. “I haven’t asked yet.”
“Oh come on, now, why not?” asked Risty, slapping a hand on the table. “You could have any guy in this school. You know that, right? ‘Specially now that you’ve ditched that Duncan fellow.”
Jean hummed and was it just Rogue’s imagination or was Jean staring at her. “True,” she said, voice faraway. “But…” She sighed. “It’s complicated.”
How? Was it because—
No. Don’t think about it.
“Rogue! Watch out!” Rogue tucked and rolled across the Danger Room floor, coming up against one of the low walls that served as a barrier between the X-Men and the spinning metal balls that zipped across the space.
“Nice call out, Jean,” called Scott. He came up next to Rogue and yanked off one of his gloves, holding out his bare hand to Rogue. “Here, touch me.”
Rogue stared. “What?” Her voice cracked. Why would he—
“We need more firepower and you need a ranged attack,” said Scott. “We know I can handle this. So, nick my power, cover me in the second it takes me to recover, and let’s take this home.”
Rogue glanced at Jean, who twisted and flew through the air, throwing out her arms and catching the balls against invisible walls. Regardless of how many she took down, they just kept coming.
Rogue nodded. “Okay.” She pulled off her own glove and, with a brief hesitation, she reached out and tapped her fingers to Scott’s.
The pain was instant, the half-second jolt before it settled into a whole sucking feeling. Then, it all flooded in. Sternness, concern, anxiety, plans. The heat of his powers and then warm affection, flashes of Kurt twirling in his arms, the feel of fur against her mouth and hands.
Rogue yanked back, cheeks warm before she got more than a brief glimpse of a tail pressed against her thigh.
Scott had a hand to the side of his head.
“Guys?” called Jean. She wobbled in the air. Rogue bounced to her feet and let her eyes heat and burn. She fired off blast after blast, taking out the balls that got too close to Jean and the wall. Between the two of them, they had a chance at getting to the spot where Kurt and Kitty were pinned down. Evan zipped around, bouncing on his feet like some kind of kangaroo.
Kurt ‘ported behind Rogue, caught Scott, and ‘ported away. Kitty dove through a wall.
It took another two minutes before they were done. They won, somehow. Scott and Rogue pushing in on the sides while Jean kept up the barriers. They hit the buzzer. They won.
Jean pulled Rogue into a hug and Rogue remembered at the last second that she was still only wearing one glove.
Jean was glistening with sweat, her hair wild like a forest fire. She grinned at Rogue and Rogue’s heart stopped in her chest.
Don’t think about it.
Don’t think about it.
Jean, Rogue, and the rest of the X-Men sat around the cafeteria table at lunch, all of them chatting about different things. Scott had an arm around Kurt, who was half-leaned against Scott while he ate his burrito. Scott, despite the mess on Kurt’s face, was still staring at him like he’d hung the sun in the sky.
It’d be cute if it didn’t make Rogue’s stomach clench and her head hurt. Not from anger, no. Jealousy? Frustration? It had to be. She wanted what they had.
But she’d never have it.
“I’m just saying,” said Evan, waving his milk carton around, “if we had more free milk at school, I wouldn’t have to drink it all back at the Institute.”
Kitty gave him a hard look while Jean slid her milk over to Evan.
“Is that your excuse for drinking it straight from the carton this time?” Kitty rolled her eyes. “Why can’t we just, like, give you your own carton? Just write your name on it. Then you can be gross and the rest of us can drink it like normal people.” She wrinkled her nose.
Rogue snorted. “It’s funny you think he’s the only one who does that.”
“It’s funnier she thinks it’s only the milk,” quipped Scott. “Pretty sure I saw Kurt chugging the orange juice from the bottle last week.”
Jean giggled. “Only pretty sure?”
Scott shrugged, the tips of his ears turning red. “He distracted me.”
“Gay,” quipped Evan. At everyone’s look, he raised his hands in mock defense. “Hey, I say this as a fellow queer dude, uh, dudes.” He shrugged. “I’m just not super into dating.” Evan picked up Jean’s milk carton and stabbed a finger at Scott and Kurt. “And being into dudes, as a dude, is kinda gay. I say this in an awesome, totally positive, totally relating to it way, though.”
Rogue stared. “You’re not straight?”
Evan looked down at himself. Fake horror slipped into his voice as he spoke. “Oh god, what part of me looks straight?” He ran his free hand over his clothes. “Help. I need to change it immediately.”
“So this is what you left me for?” Rogue tensed. Duncan Matthews. And no one had seen him or his goons approach. “A bunch of fucking poofs?” Rogue looked up at him, grinding her teeth. Without Jean on his arm, he looked even more like an asshole. Stupid hair, stupid smile, stupid teeth.
“What do you want, Duncan?” asked Jean, twirling her fork around her salad. She had her other hand on her cheek, head propped up and expression flat and bored. “Or are you just here to insult my friends?”
Duncan scowled. Rogue curled her gloved fingers tight around her fork and tried not to imagine stabbing Duncan in the face with it a hundred times or so.
“I came here to find out if the rumours are true,” said Duncan, jutting out his chin.
Jean raised an eyebrow, clearly unimpressed. “What rumour would that be?”
Scott’s eyebrows dropped behind his sunglasses and he visibly ground his teeth.
“That you left me to be some fucking lesbian.”
The stillness around the table suffocated Rogue. Her fork dropped back to the table and she stared down at it, at the stupid plastic, at her half-eaten lunch. Face hot, heart pounding in her ears.
A few weeks ago, this wouldn’t have bothered her so much, but after her conversation with Jean, and with these feelings swirling up inside her like nothing she’d felt before, it struck close enough to hurt.
“No, Duncan,” said Jean, pushing herself to her feet. “I left you because you’re a pompous, arrogant, self-centered asshole who wouldn’t understand the word ‘no’ if I tattooed it to your face.” She glared at Duncan. Rogue lifted her head. The ends of Jean’s hair waved the way they did whenever she used her powers. Wind or Jean? Jean or wind?
Please be wind.
“Not to mention, you smell terrible, you don’t care about my interests, and you’re so jealous you can’t see past your own insecurities.” Jean rolled her eyes at him. “So, no, I didn’t leave you to become a lesbian, but frankly, if dating guys means dating ones like you,” she wrinkled her nose, “then I’ll be happy to never date a guy again.”
Duncan scowled. “So, you are—”
“Shut up,” said Jean. And Duncan’s mouth snapped shut. Was Duncan that cowed by her or was Jean using her telepathy?
Powers or no powers, Rogue knew not to fuck with a pissed off Jean Grey.
“I don’t care what you think about me, or my friends,” said Jean. “Or what you think about my supposed sexuality, either. Scott is my best friend and if you want to give me something in common with him, then by all means, feel free.” She pushed away from the table, turned, and strode off, chin high and hands clenched into fists at her sides.
“Man, you really are a loser,” said Evan, laughing.
Duncan growled. As one, Scott, Kurt, Rogue, Kitty, and a handful of the New Mutants at the next table got to their feet.
Duncan looked around at all of them, eyes wide, then glared and growled at Scott, fists clenched at his sides. His three goons looked smaller, now, in the face of all the Institute kids.
Scott grinned, crooked and feral. “Mine’s bigger,” he said.
“This isn’t over,” muttered Duncan, before turning and stalking off.
“Yeah, I think it is,” said Kitty.
Gloating, as great as it was, wasn’t really Rogue’s jam, so she swung away from the table and hurried after Jean, just to check on her.
Rogue caught up with her in the parking lot. Jean leaned back against the hood of Scott’s car, head bowed and hands pressed to her face.
“Jean?” Rogue slowed her steps as she approached. “Are you all right?”
Jean lifted her head. Her face was spotted red in places. “Oh. Rogue. Yeah I’m…” She tucked a strand of hair behind one ear. “I’m okay. Just a little overwhelmed.”
Rogue stopped a few feet in front of Jean and gripped one arm with the other hand. “Yeah, I get you.” She blew at her own hair. “That was pretty intense.”
“Yeah.” Jean hesitated. “Listen I—” She stopped and grimaced, looking away. Rogue waited. “I don’t care what Duncan thinks, and god knows I’ll say anything to shut him up.” Rogue nodded. She understood. “But I do…” A pause. Jean’s face flushed red. “I do like them. Girls, I mean.”
“Oh,” said Rogue. “You do?”
Jean nodded. Despite the hunch of her shoulders and the nervous flicker of her eyes, she was smiling. A small, private thing that Rogue felt strange seeing.
“I do,” replied Jean. “It’s recent, but I do. And I don’t care if Duncan knows, but…” She looked up. “You’re my friend. And I wanted you to know.”
Rogue nodded. She smiled despite the flip-flopping of her heart and the nervous butterflies that swarmed her stomach. She stamped them down and focused on Jean. This couldn’t be easy. Make it easier.
“That’s great, Jean. I’m proud of ya for figuring more out about yourself,” said Rogue. She stepped forward and rested a hand on Jean’s shoulder. “And thanks for tellin’ me. It means a lot.”
Jean smiled at her. “Always.” She pushed off Scott’s car. “We should probably get back to the others.”
“Yeah,” said Rogue, watching as Jean started off toward the cafeteria.
She took a deep breath.
Rogue knocked on Kurt’s door and leaned against the wall, waiting for him to answer. She’d seen Scott downstairs only minutes before, arguing with Bobby about whether or not soda counted as part of your eight cups of water a day – Bobby said yes, Scott said no – so she knew he wasn’t busy with anything that’d scar her.
The door opened and Kurt squinted at her. He was wearing one of Scott’s sweaters, too big on him but kind of adorable, and he cocked his head, pointed ears wiggling when he saw Rogue.
“Rogue!” He beamed at her, sharp teeth flashing. “What’s up?”
Rogue scuffed a sock against the floor and crossed her arms behind her back. “Hey, Kurt. I was hoping I could talk to you, um, privately?” She cast a glance down each side of the hallway.
“Uh.” He blinked. “Sure, come on in.” He ‘ported from the door onto his bed. Rogue stepped into the room and closed the door behind her, leaning back against it afterward. She frowned, pressing her lips together, and stared at the floor.
After a few seconds of silence, Kurt spoke. “Rogue? Is everything okay?”
“Have you always known you were into guys?” asked Rogue. She looked up at Kurt in time to see his concerned look shift into confusion.
“Uh…” He tipped his head and his ears twitched again. “No. Not really. I didn’t know until a little while ago.” Rogue nodded and went back to looking at her feet. Her socks had four-leaf clovers on them. Jean had bought them for her.
“How’d you know?” asked Rogue, her voice small in the space.
Silence for a few seconds. Then, “When I started to have feelings for Scott, I think.” Kurt spoke slowly, deliberately. “At first, I thought I was just admiring him, or that I wanted to be like him. But the more thoughts I had, the more I realized it was more than that.”
Rogue swallowed around the lump in her throat. “Yeah?” Her voice cracked.
“Yeah,” said Kurt. “I couldn’t stop thinking about how handsome he was, and how kind he was, and how much I wanted to spend time with him. I caught myself wanting to be close to him all the time, and thinking about what’d be like to hold his hand, or touch his hair, or kiss him.” He stopped. Rogue looked up. Even through his fur, he was blushing. A deep blue, almost purple, and he’d ducked his head. “Sorry, that’s probably kinda too much.”
“No,” blurted Rogue. “It’s perfect. It’s—” She stopped, face burning.
Kurt squinted at her. “Is there a reason you’re asking me all this?” His tail waved behind him. Rogue tried not to think about the memories of Scott that still lingered near the surface. “You can tell me anything, Rogue, I promise.”
Rogue swallowed. Her heart pounded against her ribs and threatened to choke her.
“I think…” She hesitated. Why was this so hard? Kurt wasn’t going to be upset. He was just like Rogue. They were both outsiders dealing with things they hadn’t dealt with before.
Except Kurt had gotten what he wanted and Rogue hadn’t.
Except Kurt could touch the object of his affection.
“I think I like Jean,” said Rogue, softly. “I dunno about girls as a whole, but…” She swallowed. “I like Jean, Kurt.” She looked up and met his yellow gaze. “I like her a lot.”
“Oh,” said Kurt, voice soft. “Wow. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Rogue stared at Kurt with a flat look. “Really?” The whole damn Institute was convinced they were some kind of love story. Kurt might’ve been a good liar, but he wasn’t that good, and she’d glare at him if it got the truth out.
Kurt winced. “All right, so I’d heard the rumours, and I’d seen you two together, but I wasn’t going to make assumptions.” Kurt rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. “I remember being that close with Scott and not wanting people to jump to conclusions.” He frowned, his fangs flashing. “And I know that close friendship isn’t always like that.” He tilted his head. “Like me and Kitty, or Evan and Kitty. Kitty’s close with lots of us, but she doesn’t want to date us.” He shrugged. “It seemed rude to make assumptions.”
Rogue slumped against the door, head hanging a bit. “Oh.” Her voice was soft, like an exhale that turned into a word.
Kurt patted the bed next to him, firm and loud enough to draw Rogue’s eye. With hesitant steps, she shuffled across the room and settled onto the edge of his bed, just inside arm’s reach.
“Tell me about it,” said Kurt. “What made you like her?”
Rogue twirled her white hair in her gloved fingers and pressed her lips together. What made her like Jean? Her smile. Her laughter. Her way of being. Her empathy and her anger in equal parts.
But that wasn’t where it started.
“She broke the boundary,” said Rogue, staring down at her other hand in her lap, clenching and unclenching. “Everyone here holds me at arm’s length. You might grab my arm, or touch me, or hang on to me in a training sim, but you don’t hug me, you don’t hold me.” She blinked, frustration bubbling up at the tears burning in her eyes. “Before Jean, do you know how long it’d been since someone had held me?” She looked up at Kurt and found him blurry. “I was a kid, Kurt. A kid. And I’d missed it. And when Jean made that step and tried to make it so I can do those things without being scared, it…” She hesitated. “I dunno… it changed something in me, I think.”
Kurt ducked his head, frowning. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize we did that – that I did that.” His accent grew thick with his frustration. “I always thought that was how you preferred things.”
“Everyone does,” muttered Rogue, hugging one leg to her chest and frowning. She rested her chin on her knee and scowled at the wall. “No one ever bothered to ask, until Jean.”
“If you feel so strongly, why don’t you tell her?” asked Kurt, tilting his head. He wrinkled his nose and Rogue blew out a breath. “Jean’s great. Even if she doesn’t feel the same way, she won’t hurt you. She likes being your friend, doesn’t she?”
Rogue held her breath. Yeah, Jean liked being her friend. She went out of her way to spend time with Rogue. They spent way more time together than Jean did with anyone else, and Jean sought out Rogue most of the time to start it. And… would Jean reject her?
She’d never seen Jean reject someone before. She’d only seen the arguments with Duncan and heard the aftermath of their break-up.
“I dunno,” said Rogue, squeezing her leg tighter to her chest. Her heart thundered against her ribs, pounding against her leg. “I… I know how I feel, but I’m scared, Kurt. And… I’ve never really felt this way before. What if I’m wrong?” The words fell before she could stop them, but they were true.
What if her feelings weren’t real? What if she was just infatuated with the idea that she could be with someone who wasn’t scared of her power?
Hesitation. Silence that felt heavy with whatever Kurt wasn’t saying. Rogue waited.
“I hate to ask, because you’re my friend and I love a good romance,” said Kurt, “but… it sounds to me like maybe these feelings are from your close friendship, and not from romance.”
Rogue bristled. How dare—but no. She’d just been thinking the same thing, hadn’t she?
“How do I tell?” asked Rogue, looking at Kurt with a tight frown.
Kurt leaned back on his hands, tail swishing around him. “I guess…” He paused. “If you woke up tomorrow and everyone did what Jean did for you, how would you feel? If you weren’t just with Jean in that way, but everyone, would you still like her?”
It was something she’d never thought about before. But Kurt had a great point. Was this because of contact? Was this because her life had changed so much when Jean started pursuing her friendship?
If Rogue woke up tomorrow and everyone wore gloves and sleeves and touched and held her the same way as Jean, would her feelings change? Would she stop staring after Jean if Jean wasn’t the only one giving her this contact?
The realization struck Rogue under her ribs and she let out a slow breath. Yes, her feelings had started because of this contact, because of this relationship born of the two sharing secrets. But that wasn’t why they developed, or why their relationship had survived past those initial secrets and midnight bonding.
Since Rogue arrived at the Institute, there’d been a gap between her and the rest of the students.
Jean had closed that gap. And now it felt like that gap was smaller and shrinking every day, until Rogue and her friends would stand on the same side of the bridge Jean had built between them.
Yet that, too, wasn’t why she felt the way she did about Jean. She felt the way she did because… well, because she was Jean.
Jean was… Jean. Brilliant, beautiful, and optimistic. Friendly, caring, and sweet. Kind without giving ground. Comforting without pity. She laughed at bad jokes, she snorted soda out her nose when she got carried away, she had a temper that could move mountains and an empathy streak wider than the Nile. She was smart and athletic and endlessly helpful.
And she was beautiful.
Her smile, her hair, the sway of her hips, the way her eyes caught in the light. God, how had Rogue ever thought her attraction to Jean was some misguided, subconscious bigotry leaning into a connection to a gender that Jean had never been? There was no mistaking Jean for anyone other than who she was.
And Kurt was right. Rogue had to tell her. But not because Jean would find out, sooner or later – either through Rogue’s missteps or Jean’s telepathy – but because if there was even the slightest chance that Jean felt the same way, then Rogue wanted to see that first glimmer of change when Jean found out their feelings were mutual. The first shift of a smile, the first catch of light in her eyes, the first widening of her joy.
And if she didn’t get that, then so be it.
Kurt was right. Jean wouldn’t turn her away. A week ago, Rogue might not have been confident in that, but knowing that Jean wasn’t straight, on top of everything else, gave Rogue that faith. Even if Jean didn’t feel the same way, she wouldn’t toss Rogue aside.
Or so she hoped.
“Rogue?” Kurt’s voice drew her back to the present. Rogue blinked a few times and cleared her vision, returning to the real world.
“Yeah?” Her voice was soft, low. Just like Kurt’s voice, and just like his three-fingered hand upon her arm.
“What are you thinking?” he asked, his accent thick on the last word.
Rogue swallowed, hard and nervous despite the firmness of her thoughts and the strength of her conviction.
“I’m thinking I need to find Jean, and tell her,” said Rogue. She looked at Kurt and he beamed.
“Then I will wish you luck, fair maiden.” He gave a sweeping bow and his fangs peaked out of his grin. “Godspeed.”
Rogue got to her feet and hurried from the room, pulling open the door and moving on fast, silent feet to Jean’s room.
She could do this.
Jean wasn’t in her room. Nor was she in the library, nor in the kitchen, nor in any of the common spaces. The others asked where Rogue was going, why she was looking for Jean, but Rogue never spared them words or thought.
She had to find Jean, now, before she lost her nerve.
Eventually her search led her outside, toward the cliffs that overlooked the ocean. Jean stood near their edge, arms folded loosely across her chest. Her dress billowed around her in the wind and her hair turned to firelight as it blew. The scarf was in her hair, today, a brilliant green that matched her eyes.
Rogue stumbled, footsteps slowing as she neared Jean. The damp grass from the previous rain soaked her socks, but Rogue didn’t pay attention to it.
It didn’t matter.
“Jean,” called Rogue, and Jean turned to her, and Rogue lost her breath. Jean’s smile was radiant, and the setting sun turned her face rosy and her eyes into pools of light. Words and phrases from romance shows and novels that Kitty was always giggling over filled Rogue’s mind until they overflowed and threatened to fall out of her mouth.
How had she ever worried how she felt about Jean?
“Rogue.” Jean turned fully toward her. She reached up and brushed some of her fiery hair out of her face. “What’re you doing out here?”
Rogue swallowed. “I was looking for you.” Her nerve wavered in the face of someone she used to think was in a completely different world than her.
But these last few months had proven that they weren’t. Jean, who Rogue once thought of as untouchable, was just as human, just as vulnerable, just as scared as anyone else.
And it was in that vulnerability that Rogue found herself falling.
“Oh?” Jean tilted her head, brow furrowing and nose wrinkling. “Why?”
“I—” Rogue swallowed around a lump in her throat and licked her lips. “I wanted to talk to you about something. Something important.”
Jean stepped toward her. She seemed to glide on the grass, like she wasn’t really touching the ground. With the shifting of the light wind, her hair lifted one way, then the other. Almost the same way it did when she used her powers.
Like a goddess come down to earth. Was it against her upbringing to think of Jean that way?
“Sure,” said Jean. “You know I always have time for you.”
Rogue took a deep breath, steeled her nerves against the fire that was Jean Grey, and started talking. “I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about you and me, and about you telling me secrets about you, and me doing the same about me, and how we’ve gotten so close.” She was rambling. Focus. “And I… I wanted to tell you that I… I mean you’re amazing, and you’re funny, and you’re smart, and you’re beautiful, and—”
“Rogue?” Jean’s brow furrowed further. “What are you saying?” Was that hope in Jean’s voice or was Rogue just projecting?
Rogue took a deep breath again. She could do this.
“I like you,” said Rogue, standing there in an oversized sweatshirt and soaking wet socks. “I like you a lot, Jean, in a way I didn’t think I could like someone, with how I am, in a way I never thought I could like a girl. And I was scared, so scared, but the more I think about it the more I feel like this is right.” She clenched her hands into fists at her sides. “This feels right, the way I feel, and no matter how you feel, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
The echo of her words hung in the air for a long moment. Jean stared at Rogue with wide eyes and parted lips. Rogue held firm. She’d said everything. And she was tired of running.
And then, Rogue saw what she’d wanted to see all along.
The light blooming in Jean’s eyes, the slow stretch of a dazed smile on her face, the rosiness in her cheeks burning bright red. Jean laughed, bright and happy and startled. She stepped forward, once, then again, and the scarf she wore around her hair like a headband flew up between them.
For a second, Rogue had no idea what Jean had planned, then the scarf pressed against her face – from her chin to the tops of her cheekbones – and Jean reached out, cupped Rogue’s covered cheeks in both hands, and kissed her through the fabric.
Had her powers activated? No. This spark was something else entirely. Rogue stepped forward and kissed back, clumsy from a lack of practice but eager, so eager. She slipped her hands onto Jean’s waist and held fast. Through the fabric, the warmth of Jean’s lips upon hers. Through the fabric, the dampness spreading between two pairs of lips.
It didn’t matter that it wasn’t skin to skin. It was good and more importantly, it was real.
Rogue exhaled shakily as Jean pulled back from the kiss, her entire face tingling but mostly her lips.
“Wow,” breathed Rogue, before she could stop herself, and she flushed at her own word.
Jean giggled. The scarf shifted, a piece of it wrapping back around to rest against Rogue’s forehead. Jean pressed their foreheads together. Warm. Firm.
Rogue leaned into it, eyes fluttering. The only part of her face uncovered.
“I like you too,” said Jean, her breath tickling Rogue’s nose through the sheer fabric. “I have for a while.”
The person Jean had a crush on. The person she wanted to ask to the dance.
It’d been Rogue.
Rogue’s face heated at the realization.
“Cool.” Rogue’s voice was barely a whisper. “I… cool.”
Jean brushed Rogue’s hair back with her fingers. She wasn’t wearing gloves. Rogue didn’t tense.
Jean knew where her skin was. And Rogue trusted her.
This close, it was hard to stare at Jean’s eyes without her own crossing, but Rogue tried, regardless.
“At the risk of overwhelming you,” murmured Jean, “do you want to go to the dance with me?”
Rogue had never been to a dance with a date before.
“Yeah,” said Rogue. “I’d love to.”
Jean smiled. “We’ll get matching gloves.”
And it didn’t sound like a compromise. It sounded natural. It sounded like the simplest, sweetest thing in the world. Like the gloves, and the scarf, and everything else, were a natural part of Rogue’s existence, and not the burden she’d thought of them as for so long.
Rogue leaned in and kissed Jean again, fabric and all. And the fabric didn’t matter. Nothing but the contact of warm lips and warm lips mattered. Nothing but this moment, where Rogue and Jean took this step together mattered.
And it was good.
And it was real.