The Writing on The Wall

Title:  The Writing on the Wall
Author:  Terri
Rating:  PG-13
Category:  Drama
Pairing:  Hank/Rogue
Verse:  Movieverse
Disclaimer:  I don't own these lovely, entertaining mutants.  Darn!
Archive:  WRFA, Mutual Admiration, Peep Hut - anyone else, please ask!
Feedback:  Please!  Pretty please?  Good, bad, and ugly welcome...........
Summary:  Hank and Rogue get their hearts broken and move out and move on together.
Comments:  First of all, I have to say that this plot bunny has been hanging onto my butt for a while now.  I can't remember who tossed it, but I feel comfortable blaming Keli, who encouraged it ;)  The bunny was for a series that had Hank and Rogue as the romantic pairing and had Rogue *really* falling for Hank and not going back to Logan.  Now I know this isn't everyone's cup of tea, and I tend to prefer L/R myself, but I have a big soft spot for the blue guy.  So consider yourself warned - this will be all H/R (if I can find time to squeeze in another series.......)  One last note - I have Trish issues ;)  And I forgot to mention - How To Be An Artist is written by Sark - check out her books, they're fun ;)


"I'm so sorry, Hank."  Rogue sat at the kitchen table with her best friend, comforting him over his recent breakup.  As it turned out, his girlfriend, Trish Tilby, a local news reporter, had only become involved with him in order to obtain information on the projects he was working on, to get some sort of scoop.

"I should have seen it coming."  Hank blamed himself for not figuring it all out sooner.  Several of the mansion residents had warned him that Trish was up to no good, but he'd been eager to believe that she honestly cared for him.  In retrospect, there were signs - she was very reluctant to move forward with the physical aspects of their relationship, she would not be seen with him in public, and she was more interested in his lab work than in getting to know him. 

"You trusted her.  It's not your fault."  Hank took a little comfort in the fact that Rogue did not think that he was a fool.  Some of his other friends had gently but firmly chastised him for letting himself be led astray by Trish. 

"You know, perhaps it is a sign.  Perhaps I should take that position in Chicago after all."  Hank had recently been offered a very well-paid research job at Northwestern.  It was a prestigious institution, and they were well aware of his mutant status, but made the offer anyway.  He hadn't given them an answer yet, the offer having arrived only two days ago, but he was planning to turn it down.  The truth was, he would have loved to take the job, but there were things holding him in Westchester, things he had no desire to leave.  The woman sitting across the table from him and holding his hand, for example. 

He did not try to deny his feelings for Marie to himself, but he had never made even the slightest advance towards her.  She'd been in love with Logan ever since Hank had known her, and he doubted that even Logan's recent engagement to Jean would change that.  Hank knew well that you can't help who you love. 

"I would hate to see you go," Marie whispered.  "But I - I know how it feels to want to get away from reminders of a relationship gone bad."  She gave one of her sad half-smiles, the kind that always made Hank's heart ache a little in sympathy. 

"You could come too."  He said it in jest, a little, but he saw a flash of interest behind Marie's eyes.  "We could be broken-hearted together."  A happier smile quirked at her lips. 

"Chicago, hmmm?  I could use a change of scenery, and I've never been there."  Hank perked up at the hint of real interest.  "God knows I'd rather not be here for the wedding.  And I bet there are minimum wage jobs in Chicago too."  Hank smiled at that - much had been made of Rogue's refusal to go to college.  She said that it wasn't what she wanted, and couldn't be convinced otherwise, not even by Logan.  The Professor said that she would either have to go to school or work, so she got a job at the local public library.  She enjoyed it very much, and it gave her the opportunity to immerse herself in many different kinds of literature, but Hank knew that most of the mansion residents were baffled by her choice. 

"Indeed.  Rogue - would you - would you seriously think about moving to Chicago?"

She shrugged.  "Why not?  There's nothing really tying me here anymore, and you're my best friend, Hank.  If you move, there's really no reason to stay."  Hank's spirit brightened considerably and a smile crept across his face. 

"I say let's do it.  We can - I can call Northwestern tomorrow and accept.  They've offered assistance in finding housing if I so desire, and we could look for a place together.  I mean, ah, separate places, but looking for them together.  Not - not that I would mind having you for a roommate.  Not at all," Hank hinted hopefully.

"You know what?  I think I'd kind of like that too.  Let's - let's do it.  Let's see what we find for apartments and what might work.  Let's do it."  Rogue was smiling broadly now, and Hank was absurdly pleased that she was considering both moving with him and living with him.  Not that he thought it was indicative of any romantic interest on her part - he was simply pleased by the prospect of cheering her with a change of scenery and at the prospect of having her to himself for a while.  He returned her smile, and began thinking about the move. 

News of the duo's relocation plans spread quickly throughout the mansion.  Logan came to talk to Rogue when he heard.  He was distressed at the thought of having her that far away, and distressed at the thought that she was leaving because of his relationship with Jean.  He cared for her, he told her, and he didn't want her to feel like she had to leave.  She reassured him that it wasn't his fault and said she'd keep in touch.  She pointed out that she wouldn't be out there all alone - she'd have Hank to watch over her.  That did appease Logan somewhat.  Marie wished him luck on the wedding, apologized in advance for missing it, and sent him on his way feeling much better.  Marie, though, spent much of the rest of the day in her room, in tears. 

Hank's arrival after he noticed she had missed dinner lifted her spirits a little.  They talked about their plans and prepared to embark on the long drive to Chicago in the morning. Hank focused on talking about how much fun the drive would be, how exciting it would be to go apartment-shopping, and the joys of getting to know a big city.  By the time they were both ready for bed, Rogue did feel better.  She said so, and thanked Hank for it. 

When they set out the next morning in Hank's Land Rover, Marie cried a little at leaving and so did Hank.  But the tears were over by the time they crossed the state line, and conversation turned to their new life in Chicago.  Rogue had given the living arrangements a lot of thought.  Part of her wanted her own place, mostly to make a clean and decisive break with the past, to really feel like she was beginning a new life.  But the more she thought about it, the more reasons she came up with to room with Hank. 

For one, he was her best friend, and she was quite sure that wasn't going to change.  She'd probably want to spend most of her time with him, and she'd want to live near him to make that convenient.  Getting separate apartments in the same building or on the same block seemed a little silly.  And after all, they'd technically been living together at the mansion already.  Second, the reality of the situation was that it would be more cost effective for her to share an apartment than to pay the rent all on her own.  She had a little money saved, but she was realistic about what her capacity for generating income would be.  She could afford a larger and nicer place if she roomed with Hank.  He'd actually offered to pay all of the rent, and when he told her that his salary would be $175,000 a year, she was tempted to accept his offer.  But she insisted on paying her fair share.  They were still arguing a little over whether that would be half of the rent or some pro-rated portion based on her income. 

"So, we're looking for something two bedroomy, and close to your work."

"Yes.  I believe the neighborhood is called Streeterville and I am told it is a little on the pricey side.  The person from Northwestern suggested that I may want to look into purchasing a condominium, but I think we should reserve that decision until we can take a look around for ourselves." 

"Hmmm.  Sounds good.  But, uh, when you say 'pricey' are we talking, like, a little more than average, or, uh, like triple the average price?"

"Well, for a two bedroom apartment, I am told that rents are in the area of $1500 per month or so."  Hank worriedly watched Rogue's frown and alarmed expression.  "Perhaps that included utilities." 

"I hope so."  She swallowed hard.  "What are condos like?"

"I, ah, believe that a mortgage payment, condominium association fees, and the like would be comparable.  Of course, the difference is that we would be building equity."  Hank often caught himself thinking in those terms - 'we' terms - since Marie had decided to move with him to Chicago.  It seemed natural, and she had never protested his using that language thus far. 

"Oh, my."  Marie sunk back in the car seat. 

"You know, my - my offer to cover rent still stands.  My income will be substantially, ah, larger, and I am the one who is insistent upon living within walking distance to work." 

She frowned a little at that.  "I should pay some rent, Hank, and I really should pay half."

"How about this - we shall - we shall see what the apartment market is like when we arrive.  Once we find one we like, and we know for certain what the rent will be, we can discuss it then."  Hank thought there was a much better chance of getting her to agree to let him carry most of the rent if she'd found and fallen in love with a place to live first. 

"OK, but - but Hank, I don't want you to put yourself out for me.  I mean, you're already - I just really appreciate you letting me tag along with you to Chicago."  Her eyes shone with tears.  Hank was a little taken aback - he knew being able to leave the mansion was something she wanted, but it hadn't quite registered that it meant so very much to her.  "I'm very grateful and I don't want to take advantage of your niceness." 

"You could do no such thing.  I am so pleased that you have come with me, Marie.  I - I honestly do not think I would have moved without you."  Hank hadn't meant to say quite that much, to expose that much of his feelings, but Marie only smiled. 

"I wouldn't have wanted to be all alone either.  I'm glad we're doing this together."  She reached over to give his leg a brief squeeze.  "I suppose we can just go and see and work it out from there.  I mean, I *will* be able to help you with the bills some, and I really need to do that, you know?" 

Hank nodded.  Encouraged by her earlier reaction to his words, and still somewhat under the influence of the leg-squeeze, he ventured, "I think we should look at this as though - as though we are a team.  We will both contribute and we will assist each other."  She smiled at that and he continued, "It shall be a new situation for both of us, but I cam confident that we will do well together."

"Me too."  She rewarded him with another leg squeeze and a smile as they drove on.

They soon found a place to live near Northwestern Hospital, a few blocks off Lake Shore Drive.  It was located in the Playboy Building, a fact which they both giggled over a little, but it was a good spot, with a grocery store on the first floor, lots of conveniences nearby, and a  good view of the lake from the master bedroom, which Rogue insisted that Hank take.  It was a condo, and Hank had made a healthy down payment, but the mortgage and condo association fees still totaled a whopping $1,800 a month.  Rogue was worried, but Hank convinced her that her portion of the monthly bills should be based on her income, and he put off talking further about it until she found a job and they had an actual income to work with. 

While they were waiting to close on the condo, they stayed in a nearby hotel.  The outgoing owner was quite amenable to letting them paint and move things in before the actual close, which Hank found unusually nice.  He asked Rogue to take care of readying the place and obtaining furniture, since he had already started his job.  She was very solicitous of his interior design preferences, and Hank had a great deal of confidence in her work.  The one class she had enjoyed and done well in at school was art, and Hank often thought that, had she desired to go on to school, art would have been a good choice for her.

Rogue worked busily, shopping for furniture and painting the whole place and re-tiling the master bathroom with the help of a do-it-yourself manual.  By the time the closing was completed, she'd finished her work.  The entire time, she'd refused to let Hank see the work in progress, wanting it to be a surprise.  But now, as she rode up the elevator to the twenty-first floor with him, she was a little nervous.  What if he didn't like it?

Hank, meanwhile, stole small glances at Rogue as they rode up in the elevator together.  He thought she looked exceptionally beautiful today, having chosen a scarlet turtleneck that complimented her complexion perfectly.  Her hair fell in soft waves around her face and she was biting her lower lip a little.  In the past four weeks that they'd been sharing a hotel room, he'd found himself falling even more in love with her.  That did give him some cause for alarm, because he wouldn't want anything to upset their friendship or their new living arrangements, but the thought he'd done a good job of hiding his feelings thus far.  And, in a way, the condo would be easier - there was more space to share, and he wouldn't have the temptation or indulgence of falling asleep gazing at her softly breathing form just inches from him each night.

The elevator dinged and the doors opened.  Rogue took a deep breath and said, "Here we are."

"I am sure it will be lovely."  Hank was actually quite surprised that she had managed to paint the entire unit, re-do one of the bathrooms, and purchase furniture for the entire place, plus things like dishes and small appliances, on a relatively modest budget.  In fact, she'd gone under what Hank had allotted to be spent by almost eight thousand dollars. 

"I just hope you like it and - and remember that we can always change it if you don't.  I won't take it personally at all."  They reached the door and she fiddled with the key.  "I mean, we'll have to live here, so we both have to like it."  She swung the door open to reveal the condo.  "Ta-da," she said, a little bashfully.

Hank was greeted with the sight of a foyer.  That in itself was a surprise - the condo had had an entry that simply opened directly into the living room.  Now, he was greeted with a small, tiled floor and a throw rug.  The space was delineated by a periwinkle-painted bookcase that served to also house much of his textbook collection.  Taking a small step forward, he saw that the living room space had been painted the same periwinkle color, and that Marie had not only painted the walls, but also stenciled flower-like shapes on them in varying complimentary colors.  She'd chosen flowing dusty peach curtains and had separated the once-open dining area that served as a pass-through to the kitchen with more of the periwinkle bookcases.  It looked amazing, Hank thought, and it was just the living room.

"Please, Hank, say something." 

Her words made him turn to look at her.  Seeing her *very* nervous expression, he said, "It's marvelous, Marie.  Just - just amazing."

"But do you like it?"  She chewed on her lower lip again and Hank had to work to suppress the urge to plant a big kiss on those lips. 

"I love it.  It's wonderful." 

She saw the sincerity in his words and broke out in a wide smile.  Bouncing up and down on her toes a little, she enthused, "This is my favorite room, and the one people who come over will see first, so I really put a lot of time into it.  I'm so glad you like it.  Come on, let me show you the rest."

She'd done an equally impressive job with the rest of the place.  Hank was especially fond of how she'd done his room - in shades of burnt orange and forest green, with lots of hand-painted accents on the walls.  She'd chosen things like scientific and mathematical symbols, verses from Hank's favorite poetry, and drawings of a few of his favorite things from Westchester - a vase, a favorite mug, even a twinkie.  The fact that she'd known him so well and that she'd gone to so much trouble touched him deeply.  He was out of words of praise by that point, so he chanced a hug.  She hugged him back, and he allowed himself to hold her for a moment.  

"I believe there is only your room left."  She looked down a little as she pulled away from him.  "What?"

"Oh, I just didn't do much with it.  I mean, I painted a little and stuff, but I spent most of my time on the other rooms."  Hank thought that was quite like her - she'd focus her energies so much more on others than herself. 

"Let's see it," he suggested, and she led him down the short hall to her bedroom.  She was right, he thought, she didn't spend much time here.  The walls had been painted - a quite pleasant purplish color - but there were no stencils, not much furniture, and just a few nondescript accents.  "Hmmm.  Are you planning on spending some more time on it?"

"Oh, I don't know.  Maybe I'll use up the leftover paint or something, but I didn't want to spend a lot of money or time on it.  This and the laundry closet kind of got a little short-changed, but we can always work on those later, once I start making money for us too."  Much to his surprise, she walked over to him, then put her arms around his waist and leaned into his side.  "You know, I really think we did the right thing.  I really think this is going to be a good move, a good place for the both of us."

"Mmm-hmmm."  As far as Hank was concerned, it already was.

"It's our first holiday in Chicago, of course I'm excited!"  Hank had been teasing Marie about the level of her Halloween enthusiasm most of the day.  She'd decorated the house to the nines, and, even though the property manager had informed them that trick-or-treating was not customary in the building, Marie had to have some Halloween candy around the house as well.  This year, the holiday fell on a Sunday, and Marie furthermore insisted that Hank forego his usual three or four hour foray to the lab to spend the whole day with her, celebrating.  Hank didn't put up much of a fight. 

"You know, there have been other holidays - Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippour, to name two."  Marie frowned and crinkled her nose, looking distinctly put out at not having taken the opportunity to celebrate.  "Alas, we are not Jewish, but still."

"Next year," she declared firmly, plopping down on the couch beside him.  She'd scheduled a day of football, then scary movies.  They were watching the late afternoon game, and had been sharing the comforter from Hank's bed.  Both of them liked to keep the apartment cool - Hank because his fur was a natural, constant blanket and Rogue because she was used to wearing many layers of clothes.  Hank noted with great satisfaction that she'd become comfortable around the house in only 'normal' clothing - she would often forego gloves and scarves, and touched him with bare hands more and more.  His fur kept him safe and Marie was beginning to trust that, perhaps even like it, Hank thought.  "Who's winning?"

"The Packers."  Green Bay appeared to be having the same weather as Chicago - quite stormy and windy with periods of heavy rain.  Most of the players were well-covered in mud. 

"I'm glad we're not out in that.  It's nice and cozy here."  She scooted over toward him, leaning up against him a little.  "Is this OK?"

"Uh-huh."  Hank was a little surprised by Marie's closeness, but just a little.  She'd been more touchy lately and had done things like this before - laid her head on his shoulder or chest while watching TV with him.  She'd never really cuddled completely up to him like she was doing now, though.  He experimentally put an arm around her and was rewarded with a small wiggle and a scoot even closer to him. 

"This is nice, you know?  Just the two of us, all snuggled up on a cold, rainy Halloween.  I like it." 

"Me too."  Words seemed to desert him when she said things like that.  Oh, sure, he had the usual urges to blurt out that he loved her and that she was beautiful and perfect and kind and good and everything he could possibly ever want, but he couldn't say that. 

"Did I tell you what movies I rented?"  Marie felt rather than saw Hank shake his head no.  "I got Halloween, of course, the original with Jamie Lee Curtis, and Night of the Living Dead.  Oldies, but goodies."

"They sound quite appropriately scary."

"You haven't seen them before?"

"No.  I am not exactly a connoisseur of the genre."

"Oh, I'm sorry.  Did you - did you not want to watch them?"  Marie shifted in his arms to look up at him a little as she asked.  Hank inwardly cursed himself for sounding pedantic.  "We could watch something else if you want."

"No, no.   It is Halloween, after all, and scary movies are requisite.  It will be a new experience.  I am certain I'll enjoy watching them with you."  He felt one tiny hand fall upon his chest and stopped talking before he could no longer trust his voice.

"You know, we don't always have to do what I want to do.  You're - you're really good to me, Hank, but sometimes I think you kind of go along with things just because I want to."

"I want to make you happy," he answered honestly, in a thick voice.  "I am very fortunate to have you in my life."

Her eyes softened.  "Don't you think I feel the same way?  I want to make you happy, too," she finished plaintively. 

Before he quite knew what he was doing, Hank ran a hand through Marie's hair and answered, "You do."  In the split-second between his realization of what he was doing and her response, he felt a sharp pang of terror.  He expected her to react badly - or at least with total confusion - and he feared that in one moment, he'd just ruined years of their relationship.  But with his next heart beat, she smiled. 

"Good," she said decisively.  "You make me happy too." 

He exhaled in relief, gave her a small smile, and slowly withdrew his hand from her hair.  "I am glad."  Marie gave him one last smile and then laid her head back down on his shoulder.   A loud crack of thunder could be heard outside, and the rain picked up.  I love you, ran over and over in Hank's head as they watched the rest of the game together. 

A little less than a month later, just after Thanksgiving, Hank came home to find Marie in tears.  She'd been at work - she had gotten a job as a Visitor Services Assistant and the Art Institute a few weeks after they moved into the condo - and had seen Jean.  That wasn't the tear-inducing part, however.  Jean had been with a man, a man other than Logan, and appeared to be *quite* friendly with him.  She even touched and kissed him in public, right in the middle of the medieval weapons collection.  Marie never let on to Jean that she saw her, but she did debate whether or not to tell Logan.  Deciding that he had a right to know, and would not want to be made a fool of, Marie called.

Logan was disbelieving. He said that Jean was at a conference in Chicago, yes, but she was there alone.  When Marie insisted on what she'd seen, Logan even went so far as to accuse Marie of trying to break up his marriage out of her own jealousy.  He reinforced to her that he didn't, wouldn't, and couldn't ever love her like he loved Jean and, after a few more harsh words between them, he abruptly hung up.

"I j-just don't know wh-why he thinks I'd say something like that if it w-wasn't true," Marie sobbed out as Hank held her tightly to him.  She was shaking and crying quite a bit, and he began rubbing her back to soothe her. 

"I am so sorry."  Hank inwardly raged at Logan.  He'd never looked down on Logan for his lack of education or even basic social skills, but this - this was proof positive that the man had to be some kind of idiot of epic proportions. 

"He knows m-me so well, Hank, he risked his life for me, and this is the k-kind of person he thinks I am?  It h-hurts.  It hurts s-so much."

"I cannot imagine what he could possibly be thinking, Marie, but I know that you would never do the kind of thing that he is accusing you of.  I am so sorry."  He doubted Logan would ever give her an apology, and he was trying to make up for it. 

"Oh, Hank, I just - I'm the one who sh-should be sorry.  Here you are, expecting to c-come home and go out Christmas shopping together, and I'm just a mess."

"It's all right," Hank soothed.  "We don't have to go out if you are not feeling up to it.  We can order some dinner in.  Perhaps Giordano's?"  Hank knew it would take a lot more than Rogue's favorite pizza to cheer her up, but perhaps that would be a start. 

"No, no."  She pushed back form him a little and looked up at him through red, puffy eyes.  "I'll go take a shower now.  It'll just take me a minute.  I'll get ready and we'll go."  She struggled out a smile, and Hank returned it. 

As he watched her depart back to her room and heard the water begin to run, he paced their living room, hoping to burn off some of his anger and frustration.  After a few minutes, the phone rang.  He answered with his customary, "Hello, this is Hank and Marie's."

"Hank?"  The voice on the other end of the line was Logan's.  Hank could not have been more shocked.  "Is Marie there?"  Hank's usually friendly features drew into a scowl and his fangs bared themselves a little. 

"Now look here, you have upset her enough already for one day, and I - "

"I called to apologize."

"As well you should!  I don't know what manner of lunacy or delusion could have possibly caused you to think that Marie would deliberately attempt to harm your marriage.  You, sir, are either the most stupid man ever to walk the face of this planet or the most cruel.  Do you suppose that it was easy for her to make that phone call to you, hmmm?  Have you not told her enough times that your grand passion is for Jean, not her?  And do you honestly think so highly of yourself as to imagine that a woman who cheated on her fiancee with you is incapable of cheating on you with someone else?  You - you should be ashamed of yourself."

"I am," Logan admitted.  "Jeannie, ah, I mentioned what Marie said.  I didn't say no names, but I said someone saw her and she slipped up a little then finally admitted to it."

"How charming that you value the word of your unfaithful wife over Marie's.  I'm sure she will be ever so glad to hear that," Hank spat out.

"Look, is she there?  Can you just let me talk to her?"

"She is in the shower," Hank said reluctantly.  He didn't want to let Logan have another chance at saying something to hurt Marie, but he knew Marie would want to talk to him and would probably be thrilled that he called to apologize.  "I shall get her.  Hold on."  Hank set the phone down on the table and didn't try too hard to modulate his voice when he sputtered out, "idoit" on his way to the bathroom. 

As he approached, he could hear that she was still sobbing a little.  He knocked on the door and called out to her.  "Marie - Marie, Logan's on the phone.  He has called to apologize to you." 

"I'll be right out."  Hank caught the surprised tone in her voice, but noted that it wasn't exactly a happy tone, not the one he'd have thought she would have.  He retreated to the living room and stood beside the phone until she emerged wrapped in a towel, dripping wet, conditioner still in her hair.


"Yeah, kid, it's Logan."  Hank could hear well enough from where he was standing.  It wasn't so much that he was consciously eavesdropping as it was that he had a strong urge to remain right by Marie's side.  "Look, I'm really sorry about before.  I - I guess I just got upset with what you said and I didn't wanna believe it.  But I talked to Jeannie, and I know it's true."  Hank winced a little at that and Marie did too.  "I'm sorry about before, really."

"OK."  Marie looked uncertainly at Hank and he was surprised to see tears still falling from her eyes. 

"Look, I know you're mad and all, but I really, really shouldnta said those things and I'm sorry.  I don't - you know I never apologize to people, Marie.  But I'm sayin' I'm sorry to you." 

"OK," she sniffled. 

"Wouldya say somethin' besides 'OK'?"

"It's fine, Logan, I understand.  Don't - don't worry about it."

"It ain't fine, is it?"

"It hurt.  You hurt me a lot.  I don't think - I don't think you ever could have really known me, you know, as a person, to think that I'd ever do some of those things.  That hurts, because I thought you did.  I thought you knew me at least a little.  But I wasn't - I wasn't - "  A heaving sob cut her off. 

"Darlin', I'm - I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to hurt ya.  I was just - you caught me off guard and I was mad, that's all.  I didn't mean those things I said."

"But how am I supposed to know that?  How am I supposed to know that for sure?  How do I know if you mean what you're saying right now? If - if you mean some of the things you say and some of them you don't, how am I supposed to tell which is which?"

"I do mean it now, I promise, Marie, I do.  I - I don't think that you'd do that to me, I really don't."

"But you did, it was what you thought of right away when I told you."

"I was wrong.  It's my fault - I fucked up, OK?  I just - I don't wanna hurt ya, kid.  You're the one good thing I got in my life and I never, ever wanna fuck that up or lose it."

"OK."  Hank could tell she was crying harder and harder and that her voice wouldn't remain steady much longer. 


"It's OK.  It's fine.  I - I have to go."  She handed the phone back to Hank and practically ran back to the shower.

"Goodbye, Logan."  Hank hung up the phone without waiting for the other man's response.  He waited until he heard the shower turn off and heard Marie go back into her room before approaching her.  He waited a few moments before knocking, giving her time to dress.  "Marie?"  She opened the door, wearing her thick, fuzzy robe and still crying.  "Oh, my."

"I'm sorry, Hank.  I ruined your whole evening.  I - I'll get dressed and we'll - "

"Marie," he interrupted softly, taking his hand in hers.  "Why don't you put on some pajamas?  I'll call Giordano's and we'll stay in and watch TV.  We can curl up on the couch and eat pizza and talk, all right?"

She nodded, but said, "I'm sorry."

"Do not be.  It is not your fault."  Brought her hand to his cheek, caressing it briefly, then letting it go.  "I will change into my pajamas as well.  It will be a pizza and pajama night."  She smiled a little at that and even if it didn't reach her eyes, Hank was glad.  "I'll be out in a moment," he assured her as he went back to his own room. 

Focusing on controlling his own anger and reminding himself that he needed to support Marie now, he changed and phoned for pizza.  Marie took a while, but finally emerged tear-free and duly pajama-ed in the living room.  Hank had brought out his big down comforter, and they both crawled under it, while Hank flicked on the TV with the remote.  "Can we watch hockey?" Marie asked plaintively, and Hank selected ESPN2.  He knew that her love of that particular sport had originated with Logan and he wondered if watching a game now was in some way a comfort to her.  "Thanks."

"You're welcome.  Do you wish to talk?" 

Marie pursed her lips and nodded.  "Have you ever had something happen that just kind of - something that just made you say - 'whoa, this is totally not the relationship I thought I had with this person?'"

"Yes.  In fact, many times."  Usually, it was only an acquaintance, and that feeling was usually prompted by some offhanded remark about mutants, but Hank could relate to her situation. 

"I spent so long thinking that he knew me better than anyone, better than you, even, and on some deep, spiritual level," she sniffled. "But he thinks I'm a totally different person than who I am.  Or who I hope I am, anyway."

"Perhaps he simply spoke out of anger, or shock.  Perhaps he was not making an assessment of who you are as a person at all."  He wasn't eager to give Logan the benefit of the doubt, but she seemed so disconsolate at his judgment of her character that he thought it might cheer her a little. 

"Maybe.  But - but that's not a whole lot better.  I can understand why he'd be upset and be like - 'no, that can't be true' - but I don't understand why he'd turn around and say mean things to me, start attacking me just because I was the one to tell him."

"Perhaps he was hurt and simply lashing out."

"But does that make it OK?"

"No," Hank replied solemnly, "it does not." 

Marie's eyebrows knit together and her lips turned down.  "Something just broke.  Something just died in our relationship right there, when he did that.  And even if I know he's really, truly sorry and even if I know he didn't want to hurt me - you know, in the sense of 'yes, today I will make Rogue feel awful' - something's just *gone*."  She gestured outward with her hands to illustrate the point, and Hank caught sight of her shocked, blindsided expression.  "I didn't think that anything could ever change the way I feel about him, but that did.  I still - I guess I still love him, I do, but - but something's just not there anymore.  I don't want - maybe I'll always love him, but I don't really want to have the relationship I used to want to have with him.  And I don't mean sex or love or any of that.  I just - I don't want to have that deep relationship with him or the same relationship.  I don't really know how to explain it except to say that something between us died right there."

"I am sorry, Marie."  Hank didn't quite know what else to say.

She frowned a little and snuggled herself into him.  He obligingly put his arm around her.  "It's weird.  And sad.  But - but it's there."  Hank silently stroked her hair.  "I'm so glad you're here, Hank.  I really - I really need you right now."

Those words warmed him, and he held her until the pizza delivery came. 

They'd decided even before the Jean Incident, as it came to be known, that they were going to stay in Chicago for Christmas.  After what had happened, Hank was even more glad that it would be just the two of them for the holiday.  Logan had called several times after the Jean Incident to talk with Marie, and they did seem to be repairing their relationship a bit.  However, Hank thought that what Marie had said that night was correct - something was gone from that relationship.  Now, instead of the deep, intense bond that they shared, they seemed to have a less extreme, but still quite close relationship. Even so, Hank suspected that seeing Logan would be a little too much for Marie at the moment.  He was also looking forward to what in some ways felt like his first 'real' Christmas in a long time.  Christmas at the mansion was always festive, but there was something just not quite right about having fifty people around the tree.  This time, it would be just himself and Marie, and that made him quite pleased. 

In fact, the only thing plaguing Hank now was what to get Marie for a present.  He wanted it to be something wonderful, something she would love instantly, but yet something that wasn't too showy or too 'big' for a friendship kind of gift.  Things had been going quite well between them recently - Marie even crawled into bed with him one night after a nightmare, something she'd *never* done before, and had let him hold her until she fell back asleep.  Hank, in his more hopeful moments, thought that perhaps, over time, she might learn to love him a little.  There were signs that this might be so - she'd taken to holding his hand sometimes, and last night, after he'd made some joke to get a smile and a laugh out of her, she kissed him on the cheek in gratitude.  He felt a little silly, but he'd been careful not to wash that spot when he prepared for work this morning. 

He passed by several Michigan Avenue shops.  Cartier would be too showy.  Tiffany too.  The Pottery Barn was too common and Banana Republic didn't have anything Marie-worthy.  Bloomingdales, Nordstrom's, and Sax Fifth Avenue had all similarly failed him.  Finally, half in desperation, he wandered south on Michigan, across the bridge and away from the Magnificent Mile shops.  As he drifted toward the Art Institute - perhaps he could surprise Marie, pick her up at the end of her shift and take her to dinner - a small print shop caught his eye.  He knew that Marie's love was art and a print that she would like could potentially be the perfect gift. 

He sorted through dozens of pieces before coming to the one that spoke to him.  It was a Chagall, who he knew Marie liked, but it was one of his lesser-known works.  He ordered a frame for it, and was assured that it would be ready in time for Christmas.  Feeling very pleased with himself, he was just on his way out of the shop when he noticed a card rack.  Something about one of the cards caught his attention, and he purchased that as well.  What he was planning to do with it would take some arranging on his part, but he liked the idea even better than the print. 

Hank devised a plan to get Marie out of the condo on Christmas Eve Day.  He enlisted the support of her co-workers in getting her to fill-in for a shift at the Art Institute at the last moment. That would give him about six hours to complete her gift.  He knew there was no way he'd get her out of the house under any pretext on Christmas Day, and he didn't think she'd mind getting one of her gifts a little early.  He put on some paint clothes - even water-based paint was hell to get out of fur - and set to work.  He finished a half hour before she arrived, just in time to clean up and be waiting when she came home. 

She entered, already apologizing for the last-minute change of plans. "Hank, I'm home - I'm so sorry about the stupid work thing.  I really wanted to spend the day with you but I was the only one who could - oh, hi."  She caught sight of him sitting on the couch, with a mischievous look on his face.  "What?" she asked, smiling.

"I have a surprise for you," he grinned.  "An early Christmas present, as it were."

"An early present, huh?"  She was most definitely enjoying this already.  "I guess I could open just one on Christmas Eve.  You did get me more than one present, right?" she teased.

"Absolutely."  Hank grinned even more.  He was so pleased she was happy with this.  "Follow me.  It is in your room."  Marie dutifully followed until they reached her door. "Close your eyes," Hank instructed, and Marie obeyed, the smile still playing on her lips.  Hank opened the door and guided her inside, turning her to face the wall that adjoined the door.  That's where her present started.  With a final prayer that she'd like the gift, Hank let go of her and said, "Open your eyes, Marie." 

She gasped at what she saw.  Hank had painted her room!  Well, it had been painted purple, but with no embellishments, not like the other rooms had.  He'd painted her room with words - all in different colors, most in stenciled letters, but some in his handwriting.  "It starts there," Hank instructed, and pointed out the phrase painted above the door that read, "How to be an Artist." 

"Oh, Hank!"  Marie squealed excitedly.  "I - I have to read it!"

"Go ahead," he encouraged, smiling at her approval. 

"Stay loose."  She read the phrases aloud, following them with her eyes as they curved and looped and flowed along the walls.  "Learn to watch snails.  Plant impossible gardens - hey, is that some kind of crack on my herb garden?"  Hank shook his head no and affected an innocent look.  Her black thumb had been the subject of much teasing between the two.  "Invite someone dangerous to tea.  Uh, not Magneto, OK?"  Hank chuckled a little at that.  "Make little signs that say 'yes!' and post them all over your house.  Make friends with freedom and uncertainty.  Look forward to dreams."  Marie's eyes teared up a little at that one, and Hank moved to rub her back.

"Sorry.  I - I didn't think about the nightmares."

"No," she whispered, turning to him a little, "it's sweet."  He accepted that with a small, apologetic grin.  "Cry during movies.  OK, no problem there."  Marie wiped away the tears and the smile was soon back on her face.  "Swing as high as you can on a swingset, by moonlight.  Ooh - we definitely have to try that one."  Visions of Hank pushing Marie on a swing beneath the stars danced through his head.   "Cultivate moods - heh - no problem with that one, either. Refuse to 'be responsible' - well, I think we can see a pattern here."

"You're very responsible," Hank countered.

"Do it for love.  Take lots of naps.  Give money away.  Do it now.  The money will follow.  Believe in magic.  Laugh a lot.  Celebrate every gorgeous moment."  She paused to cast a warm look at Hank.  "Take moonbaths.  Have wild imaginings, transformative dreams, and perfect calm.  Well - that last one could be tricky."  Hank had to work to keep himself from blushing as she winked at him to punctuate her sentence.  "Draw on the walls - that one's perfect for us, Hank!  Read every day.  Imagine yourself magic.  Giggle with children.  Listen to old people.  Open up.  Dive in.  Be free."  Marie gently took Hank's hand in hers as she continued reading.  He held her hand gently, rubbing at her knuckles with his thumb.  "Bless yourself.  Drive away fear.  Play with everything.  Entertain your inner child.  You are innocent."  Tears threatened again a little there, but Marie bit them back.  "Build a fort with blankets.  Get wet.  Hug trees.  Write love letters."  She turned to face Hank when she finished.  "Thank you for this one."  She leaned up on her toes to plant a kiss on his cheek.  "It's the best present I've ever gotten, Hank, I love it."  He could only smile in answer.  "I didn't get you anything nearly this good." 

"You've already given me so much, Marie," he whispered, with difficulty.  "It's like Christmas every day."  Tears formed in her eyes again, but joyful ones this time.  She let go of his hand and gave him a tight hug.  He couldn't restrain himself from kissing the top of her head as she held him. 

"I really love you, Hank.  I can't imagine my life without you."

Even though he knew that the words were meant in friendship, not love, they heartened him enough to reply.  "I love you too, Marie.  And I never want to imagine my life without you either." She pulled back from him a little and slid a hand up to caress his cheek. 

"I'm so glad I can touch you.  I like being close to you like this so much.  Nobody else in the whole world can give me that, Hank, just you."  Her eyes met his and locked onto them.  "There's a lot of things like that, not just touch.  There's a lot of things that you give me, all the time.  I'm so grateful for that, and I want you to know it."  Hank could only nod, and Marie lay her head back down on his chest.  They stayed that way for several long minutes, and spent most of the rest of the night talking and cuddled beneath the covers in her room. 

Hank awoke to a very nice Christmas present - Marie lying with him, gazing down at him with affection, stroking his cheek and temples.He let out a moan of contentment and Marie smiled.  "Merry Christmas," she said. 

"Merry Christmas," Hank replied lazily.  He'd had dreams like this, and he wasn't at all convinced that this wasn't one. 

"You're really cute when you sleep, you know that?"  This *definitely* had to be a drem, Hank thought.  Marie never looks at me quite that way.  "Can we talk about somethinng?"  Hank nodded - he feared that him talking might interrupt his very nice dream and he wasn't quite ready to leave it yet.  "That was an amazing present you gave me last night."  One finger traced his forehead.  "It made me feel.........really special.  Hank, I want to know - do you have feelings for me?"

That woke him right up.  His eyes blinked wide open and he began to stammer out an answer, "I, ah, I - I - "

Marie's eyebrows knitted together at his reaction, and she interrupted gently.  "The reason I'm asking is because I'm starting to have those feelings for you.  You know, those non-friendly feelings.  Those more-than-friends feelings.  And if - if you don't think that you could have them for me, I totally understand, but I kind of need to know now before I let myself get carried away."  Her body was close enough that he could feel her tremble a little.  Even though he could scarcely process the words she'd said, his immediate urge to comfort her prompted a response. 

"Let yourself get carried away."  He moved both hands to her hips.  "I have so many feelings for you, Marie, so many deep, good feelings. I - I love you.  I have for a long time."

She tilted her head to the side.  "How long?"

Hank let out a small grin.  "Since I met you.  I remember the day I came back to the mansion and I saw you for the first time.  You were standing outside in the snow, just standing in it as it came down around you.   You were all bundled up in this - this big coat, with a hood, but you turned after a moment and I saw your face.  I thought you were the brightest, most beautiful woman I'd ever had the good fortune to see.  And then you caught sight of me, and you smiled.  Your first reaction to seeing a huge, blue, furry, spectacle-wearing mutant in a lab coat standing in the kitchen and watching you through the glass sliding door was to smile.  I fell in love with you right then."

Marie seemed pleased by that, and she resumed caressing his cheek.  "I remember that day.  I came inside and said hello.  I thought you were so interesting and so smart."  She let out a soft laugh.  "I remember thinking your ears were really cute.  I still do."  She drifted a few fingers up to caress his pointy ear.  "Why didn't you say anything before?"

Hank's eyes slid away from her gaze.  "You were in love with Logan.  And - and I know that you still are, that a part of your heart will always belong to him.  But it hasn't been until recently, until we moved out here and lived together for a while, that I thought that perhaps there could be room in your heart for another."  Her gaze softened immensely at those words and she shifted her body closer to his beneath the covers.  "And, I didn't know if - if I was someone you could be physically attracted to.  My mutation is severe and my appearance is - is rather unusual.  Even if those were things that you felt comfortable with, there is a considerable social stigma attached to being seen in public with such an obvious mutant, not to mention the danger of - "

"Hank," Marie interrupted right then.  "You're the man who moved out of the mansion with me, the man who painted my room for Christmas, the man who comforts me when I cry and who makes me laugh when I'm feeling sorry for myself.  How could I not be attracted to you?"

"But physical attraction is a different thing." 

Her nose scrunched and she sorted out her thoughts before speaking.  It gave him a moment to chastise himself for talking her *out* of liking him.  When exactly, he wondered, had his brain deserted him?  "Part of why I'm so attracted to you on that level is because I can touch you with bare skin, and because you feel *so* good when I do touch you.  Your fur - there's nothing else like it on earth, and I love how it feels under my fingers.  Sometimes I look at you and think - I want to hold him, I want to kiss him, I want him to touch me.  Physical attraction *is* different, and I've never been physically attracted to anyone quite like I am to you."  She paused briefly, still caressing his face.  "But so much of that is coming out of who you are and how good you are to me.  You're always so considerate of me and so loving that I can't help but feel like I want to love you back and I want to show you that.  I'm not - I'm not really explaining it right, but I don't want you to worry about those kind of things."

"OK," he answered simply.  She smiled at that.  "I love you."  It felt so good to say it, Hank thought, and even better to see her smile grow wider when he did. 

"I'm going to fall in love with you too.  Totally, head-over-heels, birds-are-singing, the hills-are-alive-with-the-sound-of-music love."  She slowly lowered her face to his and for a moment, he thought she might kiss him.  He wouldn't have minded - his lips were just about the only non-fur-covered surface on his body and her mutation surely would have kicked in, but he wouldn't have minded at all at that moment.  But she didn't kiss him.  She turned her face to the side and slowly and very sensually rubbed her cheek against his furry one.  It was an intimate gesture, an affectionate one.  Hank basked in the feel of it until she gently drew away.  "Come on.  Let's go open our presents.

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