The Imaginary Girl
by Juanita Dark

"Who's the Goth girl?"

That was the general comment when Illyana first arrived.

Rogue was the first to admit that Illyana looked like death warmed up - and it didn't help that she'd disguised her blonde hair (badly) with what looked like a home experiment in dying your hair black. Rogue thought what spooked everyone was that she wasn't shy, when she talked to you (and Rogue hadn't talked to her personally but she'd seen it done) she didn't break eye contact - and it was a little disarming.

Jubilee said that when they shook hands she'd gotten chills, which piqued Rogue's interest because everyone was dying to know what Illyana's mutant power was but no one had seen her use it. Maybe it was a skewed version of Bobby's ice powers? Or something to do with air moisture, like Ororo? Rogue wasn't going to hold her breath though, whatever power the girl had it was probably embarrassing, problematic and best not talked about. And she knew what that was like from personal experience.

Kitty seemed to like her, though. She kept hovering around like she wanted to ask her a question but never did. Which was weird behaviour for Kitty, who seemed chipper by nature, and mature enough to put the first and best foot forward making others feel at home away from home.

However, the girls in the dormitory had democratically and arbitrarily concluded that Illyana's weird aura of disturbance - the one that made everyone feel ill at ease around her - was in fact her mutant power.

"She's the scaredy girl," Siryn announced one night - upending her torch in the dark of the dormitory so that it glowed eerily under her face.

"Yeah!" Agreed Simone, Siryn's enthusiastic partner in crime, and a nascent telekinetic.

"Shut up," shot back Kitty. "Before I 'scaredy girl' you both to death."

Rogue blinked at this before turning on her side and placing her pillow over her head to blot out the rest of the debate. Simone rattled objects whenever she was excited, and really, Rogue was tired of hearing about it anyway; they were probably never going to find out. The only other person Illyana seemed to hang around was Peter and they'd only just found out that Illyana was in fact Peter's sister - which put paid the rumours of a romance between them.

This latest revelation, though doing nothing to put a dent in the general gossip, seemed to at least make people think twice before opening their mouths; and even in passing snatches of conversation small pockets of Illyana defence were popping up everywhere. Most of the girls - and the boys (though what they talked about in their dormitary was anyone's guess) - still remembered Peter helping them out of the school when it was ambushed by Stryker's tactical team, and likewise they felt indebted to him. Naturally, Illyana inherited some of their grudging respect by proxy.

"What do you think of her?" It was the first time Rogue had dared to ask Bobby about it though she didn't know why she did it; he was obviously preoccupied.

Sitting with her on a hill below the Westchester grounds, Bobby dug his heels into the grass, emptying his pockets of lint - he usually cracked jokes when she showed an interest in other students.

"I think she's one of us and we shouldn't be giving her such a hard time."

But then, Rogue realised he wasn't really thinking about Illyana. He was thinking about when John left and how there had been whispers about it for weeks afterward; and how it was still awkward to talk to his parents on the telephone now that they knew he was a mutant.

Rogue decided not to say much more after that, and let the silence well up between them like a fissure slowly widening.

Looking away from him she could sense the ambivalence coming off him in waves. Staring off to her left (Bobby sat on her right), she saw the subject of her question, sitting by herself under a small tree with her legs crossed Comanche-style. She looked like she was meditating - which made Rogue smile and think of floating pencils and heavier objects. I am as light as a feather, as light as a feather. That probably wasn't what Illyana was thinking but Rogue allowed herself the speculation. At least no one was harassing her.

Suddenly Bobby stood up beside to her, patting down the back pockets of his jeans:

"I'm going to head back."

And when she made no move to follow him he added: "I'll see you later."

"Later," Rogue echoed, not sure how long his brooding was going to last and sure that there would not, in fact, be a later.

She stared at his retreating form, and then back over her shoulder at Illyana.

The girl, who no longer had her eyes closed or legs crossed, was staring back at her.

Very slowly, Rogue waved a gloved hand - more due to being caught out than out of any sincere desire to be friendly.

Illyana didn't wave back, she just smiled. Rogue had never seen her smile before. Taken with its newness - a gesture that probably took some effort - Rogue smiled back, at the same time raising a hand to her eyes as the sun came out from behind a cloud. And just as she did it, Illyana disappeared.

Startled, Rogue sat forward on her knees. It took her a second or two for her to process that she had just seen what her brain had informed her she had just seen. And as she took in this amazing - and interesting now that she thought about it - information, she felt a crawling chill pass up her back compelling her to turn around.

Behind her, Illyana stood like a small tree that had suddenly sprung up between Rogue and the not-quite-gone-yet Bobby who was still making his way down the hill. She extended a hand to Rogue, which Rogue shook gingerly because she was still in a rather personal kind of shock.

"Hey," Illyana's voice was low and husky - like she hadn't used it in a while. "Nice gloves."


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