Always in Mah Mind

Part 1 - The Slap Heard 'Round the World

They heard the slap from the other side of the mansion. Logan was watching an action movie he'd seen a hundred times. He found its violence soothing when he was in the kind of mood he was in now, so he once again turned to the mind-numbing explosions in an attempt to settle his nerves. Ororo Munroe sat on the couch next to him flipping through a magazine. She hated these kinds of movies, the way they glorified violence - she had seen more than enough battle in her life - but Logan had been restless lately, and as he often responded better to actions than words, she had decided to keep him company in the living room. But the sound of the slap reached them over the volume of the TV. Logan quickly hit the "mute" button and they listened.

"But chere..."

The only answer the plea received was the mainsion-shaking slam of the front door.

"I have a feeling the door needs to be replaced," Logan grumbled, turning off the television and getting up.

"You're going to do that now? It's almost dark."

"Nah," he replied, stretching. "I'm goin' after her."

"And you're going to find her how?" Ororo asked, also getting up.

"With this nose and these ears, nothin' to it. Besides," he continued as he put on his leather jacket and gloves, "I have a pretty good idea where she went."

Ororo followed Logan to the front hall, where they found the front door broken off its hinges and slightly crooked. Logan just shook his head as he picked up the door, walked outside, and replaced it the best he could for now.

His motorcycle sprung to life at the same time as the sound of cards flitting from hand to hand reached Ororo's ears. She turned around to see her friend at the top of the stairs absently passing the deck from one hand to the other. He was oblivious to her presence, staring into space deep in thought. But as she climbed the stairs, his face lost its blank look.

"Ah, petite, pick a card, any card," he grinned, fanning out the deck face down and offering it to her.

"Gambit..." she began, but he held up his free hand, cutting her off.

"No talkin' 'til de trick is complete," he protested. She let him do his trick, and as usual, he found her card with no problem.

"Wanta go again?" he asked, but she shook her head no. "Then what can I do for you, Stormy?" He leaned against the wall and looked at her directly...that's when she saw that the right side of his face and the bright red hand print blazing under his ever present stubble.

"First we should get you some ice for that," she suggested.

He touched the spot on his face that stung like no slap he had ever received...and he had gotten some pretty good ones in his day. "For what, dis? Dis is nothin'. A love tap, dat's all."

Despite his words, he let her take a closer look at his cheek. "Coming from Rogue, that is just a love tap. You're lucky she didn't take your head off."

"Feels like she almos' did. I'm jus' lucky she hit with her left hand...don' want a' know what she'd do with her stronger one." He paused and smiled. "Maybe she likes dis ol' thief after all, neh?"

"Maybe she was in a better position to swing with her left hand."

"Aw...dat's not nice. What's with you ladies tonight? Don' no one like me no more?"

"Come on," she said, leading him down the stairs. "Let's get some ice on that before it gets any worse. God knows the bruise is going to be bad enough as it is."

"But I gotta go after her..."

"Any girl who can almost rip your head off without effort can take care of herself. Besides, something tells me she needs some time to cool down..."

~

"So much for mah vacation," Rogue thought to herself as she sipped her beer. She could feel the cold mug through her gloves...she was wearing her favorite pair, black leather driving gloves Logan had given her ages ago. They made her feel like a bad girl.

She liked this bar. It was more of a pub than a bar, really, a quiet, classy place with candles in little red jars on the tables. But she was at the bar, purposely sitting apart from the few people who were there. Although she was friendly with the owner - she had prevented a robbery a few months back - who happened to be tending bar tonight, he had been doing this long enough to tell when a person wanted to talk, and when they wanted to be left alone. He kept his distance while she tried to drink away her problems.

Unfortunately, not everyone was as astute as the owner. It was not long before a slightly inebriated business man sat on the stool next to her. "Buy you a drink, beautiful?"

She hardly thought she'd get hit on tonight, looking like she did. Jeans and a white t-shirt concealed by a hastily thrown on sweatshirt didn't exactly make for an attractive outfit. And her hair was probably a mess too. "Thanks, sugah, but ah'm fine."

Her would-be suitor wouldn't give up so easily, though. "Come on, baby, give a guy a break."

She really wasn't in the mood for this crap. If he only knew how close he was to getting a little shove through the wall. "Not tonight, sugah. Sorry."

But this guy just didn't get the hint. "Baby, I..."

"The lady said no, bub, so why don't you back off?" a gruff voice said behind them. Rogue need not turn around to identify the voice, as his was one of the voices running around her head.

The man jumped off the stool to face his competition. "I don't know who the hell you think you are, but..." He was promptly cut off by the sudden appearance of metal claws on the back of the other man's hands. As annoyed as Rogue was with this apparent rescue, she had to smile at the snikt of Wolverine's claws and her suitor's hasty exit. The owner raised an eyebrow, but did nothing more. He didn't care if his patrons were red, green, purple, mutant, normal, or whatever as long as they didn't cause trouble.

"Want some company, kid?" Logan asked as he took the now unoccupied stool.

"Do ah have a choice?" She picked up her mug and went over to a booth in the corner. Wolverine ordered himself a cold one and slid in across from her.

"You know, ah don't need to be rescued, ah can take care of mahself."

"Maybe it wasn't you I was rescuin'...maybe I was worried what you might do to that guy, especially after seein' what you did to that poor innocent door." He took a swig of his beer before continuing. "I know you can take care of yourself, we all do, but just because you can doesn't mean you have to."

"You offerin' to look after me, sugah? That's sweet, but..."

"Sometimes you put so much energy into bein' tough and buryin' your emotions that you forget that you have friends who want to help you." He touched her gloved hand with his own. "You can be tough and feel too. There's no shame in feelin'."

She smiled slightly and squeezed his hand before taking her own back and touching her head. "Ah have a headache."

"That's not what I meant..."

"Ah know what you meant, Logan, and ah'm tellin' you how ah feel. Ah have a headache."

Logan felt like she was talking in code...he didn't understand what she was trying to tell him. "Ok..."

"Why don't any of you get it? Ah have a headache!"

"Tell me about it," he said sincerely, taking another drink and trying to look like this all made sense to him. She put her head in her hands while Logan motioned to the bartender to bring her another beer. After a newly filled mug was placed in front of her and she took a long deep drink, she finally spoke.

"Every once in a while ah get these headaches...maybe headache is the wrong word. Ah'm not really in pain, ah'm bein' bombarded by a constant flow of memories that don't belong to me. It's like ah'm in a room full of TV sets that are all on different channels that ah can't turn off.

"And all ah can think about is how ah've stolen these moments from others. Ah've taken somethin' precious from so many people, and ah can never return it Ah'm like a psychic vampire, ah suck souls dry."

Logan knew that Rogue felt guilty about her power, but he was unaware of the occurrence of these "headaches." He could only imagine what it was like to for her to be reminded of her "curse" of a power in such a way. Of course, not all of his memories were particularly accurate...some of them weren't his either. But he hadn't taken what wasn't his, they were forced on him. Then again, she hadn't "stolen" all of the foreign memories that haunted her so.

"Rogue," he began softly, and she looked up at him. "Some of those memories weren't taken, they were given to you. When you were dyin', I chose to give you all I had to give to save you. I know my memories are not...pleasant, but I had to help you heal, and it's all part of the same package. But it was a gift, one I would gladly give again."

She was touched by his words, but it was not enough to give her comfort. "Ah know that, and it was the best present a girl could get, but it was only one time out of who knows how many..."

"But I'm not the only one...Gambit..."

Her green eyes glittered with rage in the flickering candlelight. "Ah don't want to hear that name again...that gumbo eatin', thievin', swamp rat of a Cajun..."

"Dat's the second time I've been put down today," Gambit complained as he leapt over the seat, landing skillfully next to Rogue. "Or third, come to t'ink of it. An' dose are de insults I know of." He pulled out a bouquet of flowers and held them out to her. "Dese for you, chere."

All Logan could do was roll his eyes and wait for Rogue to explode, a response Gambit certainly wasn't expecting.

"Are you kiddin' me? You think flowers will fix everythin'? Come on, Logan, somethin' smells in here..." She scooted out of the booth and walked out the door.

"I jus' don't understand dat girl, mon ami," Gambit said after a pause.

"That one? I don't understand any of 'em," Logan replied, finishing his beer.

"You're close to her, Wolverine, maybe you put in a good word for me? I know I mess up, but..."

"You comin' or what?" Rogue growled as she reentered the bar. She walked up to the booth, grabbed the flowers out of Gambit's hand, and threw them in the trash on her way out.

"Bes' be goin'," he sighed after Rogue's second departure. "If you don' she might take your motorcycle herself, an' trust me," he managed an evil grin, "if you love your bike, you don' want dat girl drivin' it."

"I don't know much about women, LeBeau, but the one thing I've learned is that there are times to follow one, and times to leave one alone. Maybe you should learn to distinguish between the two." With that he threw a crumpled $20 bill on the table and left the master thief to ponder his next move.

~

"Where we goin'?" Rogue yelled into the wind.

"What?" Logan asked, turning his head towards her slightly while keeping her eyes on the road.

"Where?" she repeated as loudly as she could.

"Surprise," he replied and sped up. He was a hands-on kinda guy, with both friends and enemies. Although he wasn't into the mushy stuff, there were times a pat on the shoulder or brief hug were the only ways to express himself, and he wasn't above doing either. That's why he always made sure to wear gloves around Rogue...he didn't want her mutation affecting their relationship. Conversely, when facing off against the bad guys, he threw himself into the battle. While many of his fellow X-Men had the luxury of being able to fight from afar, his skills required that he get up close and personal. Not that he'd have it any other way. He and Rogue were similar in that way. Even though she was occasionally able to call upon powers that she had previously absorbed, it was always a last resort. She too loved a good fight. So that's exactly what he was going to give her in an attempt to cool her off and get her mind off things.

He almost missed the turn because he was lost in though, but he managed to make a quick right onto the dirt road without tipping his bike or losing Rogue. After five minutes, the road became little more than a narrow path through the woods, but Logan kept going. Rogue's hold on him was firm, not too tight as the "road" got bumpier. They drove for about five more minutes until the trail ended at a large open field.

He stopped the bike and they both climbed off. "Well, this is it."

Rogue took off the helmet Logan had insisted she wear and shook out her hair. "Ah'll never understand what guys see in these things." She hung the helmet on the handlebars and looked at Logan.

"Maybe it's the closest thing we can get to flyin'," he said as a means of explanation.

"Ok, ah'll buy that." She put her hands on her hips and looked around. "Now what are we doin' here?"

"We're goin' to let you fight off all your frustrations," he replied, taking off his jacket and draping it over his bike.

"You're kiddin' me, right? Ah'm likely to put you through a tree..."

"You'll just have to use some restraint then, huh? I'll make a deal with you - I won't use my claws, and you don't go flyin' all over the place and try to keep your strength in check."

She smiled and crossed her arms. "You're crazier than a fox tryin' to sneak a chicken past a host of armed farm boys."

"You southerners always have some wise ass thing to day, don't you?"

"Always, sugah." She decided to accept his offer, after all even if she did hurt him accidentally those super-fast healing powers of his would fix him right up. The night was warm, so she took off her sweatshirt and hung it over his jacket. Her gloves stayed on, however, and she was relieved to see that Logan's clothes covered his arms and legs entirely. He had also kept his gloves on. That made the chances of her inadvertently absorbing his powers slim. She'd have to stay on guard, though, as would Wolverine. But he knew the risks, and she was sure he'd take the proper steps to avoid skin-on-skin contact.

"This may take all night," she warned, walking towards him. "Ah have a lot on mah mind."

"I've got all the time you need," he promised. "Now quit stallin' and give me all you got!"

Gambit watched Rogue rush Logan as the mock-battle began. The full moon allowed for excellent visibility in the field, even for an observer sitting up in a tree. Back in the bar, he decided that Logan was right, there were times to follow a woman, and times to let her go. But he wasn't the type to just let his girl go. So he followed them, and unlike Wolverine, he did miss the dirt road the first time and had to turn around. He left his bike back where the road became a path and went the rest of the way on foot, so as to escape notice. He wasn't entirely sure he had succeeded, not when one of the people he was pursuing had the heightened senses of an animal. If he hadn't noticed Gambit behind them, he should be able to smell the Cajun now. Logan did glance in his direction once, but was tackled by Rogue almost immediately. He gave no other indication that he detected anything amiss, so it seemed that even if he did know, he wasn't telling.

Gambit's plan was simple - he'd tail the pair, but he wouldn't engage them. This mission was simply reconnaissance - he would observe only. Maybe he'd learn a thing or two.

Wolverine and Rogue fought for what seemed like hours. The moon had climbed high in the sky and begun it's decent when Gambit finally gave into his craving and lit a cigarette. He breathed deep and exhaled a puff of smoke that writhed into delicate wisps like so many ghosts and disappeared. If only the real ghosts in his life could do the same.

That's when the familiar snikt of Wolverine's claws brought his attention back to the fight below. "Dat's not fair, Wolverine, you made a deal," he said quietly.

"You're gettin' a little too good," Logan said with a bit of an edge to his voice. "Maybe I need these."

Rogue swooped down from behind him and picked him up by his upper arms. They rose to great heights quickly, her victim kicking and fighting with all his might. Gambit had to chuckle. "Dat's right, chere, you show 'em who's boss."

"I was just kiddin'," Logan said, relaxing in her grip.

"Ah know," she replied as she began her decent. "Ah just wanted to teach you a lesson." She let him go a few feet above the ground. "You know you shouldn't..."

But he jumped up and grabbed her ankle, slamming her to the ground before she could finish. He straddled her, holding down her arms, waiting for her next move. They were both breathing hard, covered in dirt and sweat...Logan knew she had two choices, either she would yield, or more likely, throw him off her. Instead she began to laugh and pushed him off. "Get off ya big lug...you're gonna crush me with all that weight. I can only lift so many tons, you know."

He lay next to her, looking up at the night sky until her laugher subsided. "Feelin' better, kid?"

"You sure know how to chase the blues away, sugah, and you can make a girl laugh. Too bad my heart's already spoken for..."

He looked over at her. Though he was known for adopting some of the younger members of the X-Men from time to time, this is not the type of relationship he shared with Rogue. She was more his equal, not so much someone for him to guide, but rather someone that would give as well as receive advice. He could see so much of himself in her - the short fuse, the fierce dedication, the preponderance to be a loner - that he saw her as something more akin to a sister than a daughter. And though he considered all of the X-Men to be his family, there was something sacred about the bond between brothers and sisters. "I'm too old for you anyway, darlin'."

"How old are you anyway?" she asked, propping herself up on her elbows and eyeing him curiously.

"Older than you can imagine." He suddenly felt as old as his years, not that he was really sure how old that was...but he wasn't in the mood to talk about it, so he changed the subject instead. "So, you gonna tell me what happened?"

Gambit perked up in the tree. This is what he'd been waiting for, some clue to where he went wrong...

She sighed. "It wasn't really one thing, it's a lot of little things that have been accumlulatin' for a while..."

"Like..."

"Like the fact that datin' me is such a challenge," she began angrily. "What the hell is that supposed to mean? Am ah such a cold fish? Is that why ah'm a challenge for a charmer like him...does he want to win me over so he can display me like a trophy? 'Look what I got here, I landed myself a Rogue. It was a struggle, but in de end, I won...' Ah ain't Mt. Everest, ah'm not somethin' to conquer just to do it."

"I'm sure he didn't mean..."

"Or maybe ah'm a challenge because he can't touch me. As if ah don't have to deal with that every day of mah life." She paused and looked up at the sky. "Sometimes ah feel like ah spend all my time calculatin' how likely it is that ah'll accidentally touch someone, 'cause there's always a chance, no matter how small. An' as much as ah don't want anyone else runnin' 'round may mind, that's not what scares me. Ah just don't want to hurt anyone else."

"It's one helluva cross you got to bear," Logan agreed, "but we can't choose what we are, just who we are. Accidents happen sometimes, and anyone you didn't mean to absorb knows that. And as for the Cajun..."

"The Cajun can kiss my grits! Do you know what he said to me tonight?" She didn't wait for him to answer. "'You ain't no lady, chere, you a Rogue...'"

"Dat's it? Dat's nothin'," Gambit said up in his tree.

"Nothin' he hasn't said before...in fact, I've heard him say worse. That boy always has somethin' to say."

"Maybe that's the problem. He's always so busy talkin'...he never stops to listen."

That was all Gambit needed to hear. Apparently he'd been doing everything wrong. He stole away into the night skillfully, without a sound.

Almost.

Rogue jumped at the sound of a Harley in the distance, but Logan assured her that it was just a passerby on the road. She accepted his explanation after a moment's thought, and lay back down on the grass.

"No offense, but it seems like you're bein' touchier than usual," Logan finally said. "Gambit's been talkin' like that since before he joined us, and it never bothered you before.

"Ah know," she said softly, touching her right temple. "Ah guess ah just have a lot on mah mind."

"Or in your mind."

She nodded. The voices had grown quieter, their wills weaker, but there were still there. "Lately ah don't have a moment's peace. Before ah'd get one a mah headaches a few times a year...now ah feel them all the time...an' the headaches themselves are much worse."

"Why haven't you told anyone? You know you can trust us."

"Ah want to deal with it on mah own."

"Why don't you at least tell him?"

"'Cause maybe he has enough to deal with without mah hearin' voices all the time."

"Why don't you let him decide that for himself?"

"An' what if he decides ah ain't worth the trouble?" she asked, rolling to face him.

"Then he doesn't really care about you, and you don't need him...but that ain't gonna happen. Everyone's seen the way he looks at you. Besides," he grinned, "He loves a challenge."

She smiled back and they both got up. "Thanks Wolvie...for everything." Rogue threw her arms around him and he hugged her back affectionately.

"Any time Rogue...I mean that."

"Ah know. An' ah appreciate it." She jogged over to his bike and grabbed her sweatshirt. "Do ya mind if ah leave ya here? Ah think ah have to sit down an' have a little chat with someone. Unless ya wanna come with me."

"Nah, I'll stick with my own brand of flyin'."

"'Night," she said as she disappeared into the darkness.

Logan walked over to one of the trees and bent over to examine the extinguished cigarette butt. He knew Gambit had witnessed much of his exchange with Rogue...he only hoped the Cajun got something from it.

When Rogue returned to the mansion, she raced up the stairs to the room Gambit occupied. The lights were off, but the door was ajar.

"Remy...?" she whispered, her voice so low that he almost didn't hear it.

"Door's always open for you, p'tite."

She slipped into the room and found him laying on his bed staring at the ceiling with a cigarette in his mouth.

"Ah didn't mean to wake you."

"No worries, chere, I wasn't sleepin, I was jus' t'inkin'." Thinking about everything he'd overheard that night, first in the bar, then in the woods. His feelings about her words were jumping all over the place. First he was amused, then annoyed, then hurt. Now he was upset because she was right. He was always so busy coming up with the next clever remark that he wasn't thinking about her at all. Maybe if he'd paid better attention he would've noticed her change in attitude. No wonder she had to go confide in someone else.

"Listen, ah want to talk to you about a few things..."

He reached over and turned on the light next to his bed. When he turned to face her, both of them were shocked at what they saw. While Rogue gasped in horror at the bruise she had left on his cheek, Gambit laughed long and hard despite his mood.

"What are you laughin' at?" she demanded, hands on her hips.

"You look in the mirror lately, river rat? Or is dis a new look you're tryin' out on Gambit?"

She glanced down at her clothes, covered in sweat, dirt, and grass stains. She could only imagine what her hair looked like between her fighting, flying, and wearing a helmet.

"Ah didn't realize..."

"S'ok, I t'ink you look good. Don' change a t'ing."

"Your face, Gambit, ah'm so sorry," she said, sitting on the bed next to him.

"Maybe I deserved it, neh? Dis ain't de first time my mouth got me in trouble, you know."

She fingered the bruise gently. "Ah didn't mean to hurt you."

"I know."

"And ah'm sorry."

"I know."

"So anyway, ah came to tell you..."

He took her hand and removed it from his face. "I'm tired, can this wait 'til tomorrow?"

As soon as the words had escaped his lips her realized that it was the wrong thing to say. He should know better after what he'd seen tonight, that his words could hurt her as much as her hand had hurt him. But he didn't want to have this conversation right now, he had too many things he wanted to figure out first.

"Sure...no problem, sugah. Ah guess ah'll see you tomorrow then. G'night."

"Sweet dreams, sweet," he murmured, but she was already gone.

 

Part 2