A Hand Full Of Ashes
by Tigerlady

(idiom: soon in time; imminent)

She smiles at Willow, just drinking in the beautiful presence of her lover. Glossy red hair spills around a pale face, dusting the top of the white blouse that has just recently covered those creamy white shoulders. They had more than indulged themselves. Tara still has a slight burn deep inside, and the muscles of her thighs ache like she has been riding bare back. Which she has, she thinks with a smirk. Then she decides she has been spending too much time around Xander, to think such a thing.

Willow starts forward, a matching smirk creeping onto her lovely, lovely face. She truly glows. Tara is glad she decided to throw caution to the wind and return to Willow. She ignores the churning in her bowels that says nothing is so easy; now is not the time for such concerns.

Willow stops as a loud crack sounds from outside. Tara stares in consternation as a dark stain blotches the perfection of Willow's shirt, appearing as if by magic.

"Your shirt," she blurts.

And then time stops.

The room spins crazily, as if she is falling down but standing up at the same time. A buzzing rushes past her ears, but everything else is silence. Colors flash, red orange green purple red and then the room swims back into focus. She is staring at the back wall, the one with the framed pictures from the good days. She shakes her head, trying to understand what has happened. She turns to ask Willow.

Her mind skips over the hole in the window as she sees the red-head kneeling on the floor, shoulders shaking as sobs fill the air.

Tara finds herself on the opposite side of the room, back to the window as she absorbs what is in front of her. Her body, cradled by Willow's thin arms, both of their blouses marred by a dark run of red.

She is dead.

As the realization sinks in, she feels a pull, centering somewhere over the crest of her hips, as if a rope is encircling her and tugging her gently in the direction of the holder. She is supposed to go now, yet she resists. She needs to know that Willow will be okay.

She looks back at her lover, her best beloved, and reaches out a hand. Willow's head snaps up, and Tara thinks she has reached her, until she sees the eyes. Willow's eyes are darker than a raven's feather, the whites burned to black. Tara feels her hope burn to ash as well.

The tugging increases, but again Tara resists, trying to move forward against the drag. She has to reach Willow, help her see that it is okay, that she is still loved and treasured. Tara concentrates everything in her existence on the feel of her right hand, pushing it forward to touch Willow's cheek. The moment she meets Willow's aura she is tossed across the room, her vision once again spinning through the colors of the rainbow. She would be sick if she had a body. The tugging sensation snaps free and she finds herself pressed against the window.

A new energy is in the room. A deep thrumming vibration tickles her ears, blocking all other sounds. The vibration numbs her from her toes to her chest, making her wonder if she is fading away. Her vision returns for the second time, and she almost wishes it hasn't.

A deep blackness fills one side of the room, taking over the ceiling and billowing outward. Sparks of energy lick the air of the room. A face out of time and memory peers angrily from the murky borders. Tara finds herself at its side, drawn despite her fear. This is Osiris, keeper of the dead. She can go with him, choose an afterlife from within his hallowed kingdom. Tara smiles in anticipation and turns to bid Willow goodbye.

The smile freezes on her face as Willow screams, a wake of power pouring from her mouth to strike at the god. Tara opens her own mouth to scream, but an arc of energy catches her in the chest, tossing her back, back, back, across the room and through the window, past the sky and into the deep blackness of space. And then all is black.


(idiom: by or through the agency of)

Drifting. Lost. Cut off, nowhere to go. Voices, whispering and screams, lies and cries and so much pain.

I'm not coming back. I didn't want to leave her alone. Bored now.

Pain, everywhere pain. Cold and fire, licking her insides and out. Why couldn't she find herself? Stars streaming, so far away, no doors opening to let her back in.

There's no one in the world with the power...Wrong.

Whirling, up and down and all around. She should be somewhere, somewhere else, she knows this, but she's cut off, lost, spinning in nowhere-land.

Yellow crayon. Shut up. I'll still love you.

I'll still love you, Willow.

Pain, pain, pain. Why is this happening? She is supposed to be somewhere good, somewhere happy.

There. A light, more voices. Laughter. Someone stretches his thoughts, looking for others like himself, ones he can protect and call his own.

She reaches out, wanting that protection.

She falls.


(noun: guardianship of)

White. Bright white light everywhere, filling her up and pounding her brain, screaming in her ears. Softness whispers across her retinas, little ivory kissed touches gentling her. Confusion, lost, terrified, afraid. A hand. She has a hand, and she tries to lift it.

The light shifts, and suddenly she remembers you see with your eyes, hear with your ears. Something soft touches her hand, drawing her eyes down to where she knows that hand is, trying to pierce that brightness, make some sense of herself. She blinks, she remembers how to blink, as two hands appear in her vision. One is small and pale, the other large and wrinkled, lightly covered with hair.

She blinks again, and a name pushes up, demanding to be acknowledge. She is Tara, a girl, a woman, and something is wrong.

She tries moving the hand again, and the large one catches it, caressing lightly with a strong thumb. The brightness has receded some. She follows the hand up to a grey-suited wrist connected to a grey-suited arm. The suit rides across shoulders to open up to a white-collared shirt with a deep red tie. A face hovers above the collar, bland and kind with a high forehead blending into a bald crown. Tara blinks.

"Well hello there. It's good of you to join us. How are you feeling?"

The voice is warm and low, promising home and hearth and happiness. His aura matches the voice, though there is a spot of dark sadness hidden deep near his heart. Tara licks her lips and swallows, trying to remember how to speak.

The bald man just smiles at her efforts and pats her hand.

"Don't fret about it just yet. I can see your confusion. It will pass. Right now let's get you somewhere more comfortable." The man settles her hand across her stomach and then backs away. For the first time Tara realizes he is sitting down, sitting in a wheeled chair.

"Logan, can you get our newest guest down to the infirmary, please?"

"Got her," a deep male voice replies, and Tara manages to turn enough to see a dark-haired face bend over her. A powerful aura crashes up against her own as powerful arms lift her up. Anxiety clenches her muscles, but the dark is calling again, and she lets her fear slip away as she slips back under.


(noun: physical assistance)

Tara wakes to the sound of a repetitive beep and cold air blowing on her face. She opens her eyes to see a hospital room, though it is different than any of those that float in distant memory. The room is large and coldly metallic, equipment filling two-thirds of the space. She is in a narrow bed near the center, the heart monitor next to her beeping merrily away. A hissing comes from behind her. She cranes her neck against the thin pillow to see the bald man from earlier wheel into the room.

"Hello there. Are you feeling any better?"

Tara nods, and then finds her voice.

"Where am I?" she croaks.

The man lifts a small blue cup with a lid and holds the straw to her lips. She sips at flat, tepid water. When she is finished he sets the cup back down.

"You are in the infirmary of a private school, of which I am the headmaster. My name is Charles Xavier. Do you remember your name?"

"Tara," she answers, and then frowns as she realizes something should come after that. A last name, something to place her in the world.

"Good, Tara. Do you remember what happened to you?"

She shakes her head. There are fragments of images, but nothing that makes sense. A red-haired woman with pitch-black eyes. A group of smiling people, laughing and joking in a small living room. A small blonde woman kicking a snarling man. An older woman with curly blonde hair and a sweet smile. A sense of longing and sadness comes with that last, and she thinks the woman might be her mother. No other images coalesce.

The headmaster is staring at her, his brows drawn together in concentration. He shakes his head and smiles a little.

"No, I don't suppose you do. No matter. It may come back with time. For now, be assured that you are safe and well, and we will take care of you. Rest now."

He pats her hand again and backs up. Tara tries to say something to stop him, but the words get tangled in her throat. She lets her head fall back to the pillow, a few tears dripping down her cheeks as she drifts back to sleep.


(noun: one who is part of a group or crew)

"You're looking much better, Tara. I'm glad to see you up and about."

Tara shifts in her seat, uncomfortable in the wheelchair. She and the headmaster are nearly a matched set. She is mostly certain she could have walked, but the attendants were insistent, and she doesn't want to upset her hosts.

"Good to see you too, P-professor," she stumbles. Her cheeks heat; she wasn't sure how to address him, so she tripped on her choice. The professor just smiles at her.

"I wanted to meet with you here before we moved you to a room for several reasons. First of all, let me assure you that you have a place with us as long as you might wish."

Tara doesn't know how to take that. Is she supposed to stay here? Is she homeless? The professor is looking at her expectantly, so she nods.

"Good. Secondly, we have taken the liberty of starting an identity search, including fingerprinting. I hope you forgive the invasion of privacy, but we had hoped to find you some answers. Unfortunately, we have found no reports of a missing person of your description. We will keep trying, I promise you."

Tara looks down at her hands. It is starting to sink in, what this means. What having no memory means. She is alone, without identity or purpose. She has no money and no clue how to get any. She doesn't know what she wants to do, to be. She just simply is. She is simply existing, like an uncomfortable chair in the corner of a room.

"What am I going to do?" she asks, still staring at her hands. She wonders what those hands are good at, what they have done. The right seems more real to her, to have more control and finesse. She must be right-handed.

"Whatever you want to do," the professor placates. "For now, you can stay with us, regain your strength and your sense of self."

The rapid heat of irrational anger catches her by surprise, and she is speaking before she can monitor the words.

"What if I never remember who I am? What if I don't get it back?" The thought tightens her throat, making it impossible to continue.

"Then you don't remember. You will cope. No matter what happens, the core of you is still there. Remember that."

Though the words are little more than empty platitudes, Tara feels better. Professor Xavier truly seems to care about what happens to her. She pulls up a half-hearted smile and waits to hear more. Xavier smiles back, his dark eyes reflecting the dim light from the Tiffany lamp in the corner.

"Shall I continue?"

Tara nods, which seems to be her favorite means of self-expression.

"Now we come to the matter of this school. I want you to keep an open mind about what I am going to tell you. Can you do that?"

Her stomach tightens and her heart beats faster, but she nods anyway. She will do what is necessary to make a place for herself.

"Have you heard of mutants, humans who may look different than others, or can do things beyond normal?"

Tara starts to shake her head, but then stops as tattered fragments of images catch her attention. She closes her eyes to focus better. Again she sees the girl with bright red hair and pitch black eyes, radiating power like a nuclear reactor. There is the tiny blonde, kicking a man so hard he flies across a street. She knows there are more images, flirting with the edges of her thoughts, but they pull away as she grasps at them. She opens her eyes to see Xavier's almost smiling face.

"I see that you have," he says, and she jumps a little when she realizes he hadn't moved his lips.

"Maybe," she replies out loud.

"Tara, I bring up mutants for two reasons. This school is a harbor, a safe house if you will, for young people just coming into their abilities. Most of the residents here have mutations of some form, including myself."

"You're a telepath," she exclaims, and then wishes she hadn't. It is such an obvious statement. Again, the Professor ignores her blunder with a smile.

"Yes, I am. I want you to know I try to keep out of other's thoughts unless absolutely necessary, such as it was when we first found you. You were unconscious without a trace of injury, and I had hoped to discover the cause."

Tara nods with little concern. Her memories began at that point: a vague sense of bright light broken by a warm voice and a strong hand. The professor's intrusion into her mind seems a small thing compared to his calming presence in that sea of confusion.

"The other reason I brought up mutants concerns yourself."

Tara looks up sharply at that.

"It is possible that you yourself are a mutant, though the lab results were inconclusive. Someone may have left you here for that very reason."

The professor is watching her kindly, as if expecting an outburst, or tears, or some other violent reaction. Tara just shakes her head slowly, trying to find a solid idea in her increasingly unstable existence. How could she be a mutant? The idea sounds crazy, bizarre. The professor awkwardly reaches across his desk to pat her hand.

"It is only a possibility, Tara. I merely brought it up so you can be prepared in case you start manifesting signs of mutation."

Tara takes a deep breath and pushes all signs of anxiety down deep. She will face these things later, when she has time to herself to fall apart. The professor is regarding her with that same bland smile as when she had entered the room.

"I'd like to introduce you to some people. They will be able to assist you in whatever your needs may be."

A small click behind her announces the opening of the heavy wood doors. Tara twists in the chair, so that she can see three people glide across the room to stand next to the professor's desk. She thinks she recognizes one, a tall man with a mess of dark hair. He is dressed casually in a white t-shirt and a denim jacket, and power hums through his aura. The second man is slightly taller, wearing a blue cotton oxford and khakis and a sadness that nearly overwhelms the warmth of his presence. He looks strikingly normal except for the red-lensed glasses that cover nearly a third of his face.

"I'd like to introduce Scott Summers, one of our teachers here at the school," the professor says as he lays a hand on the second man's arm. "He is also called Cyclops, as you may hear on occasion."

Mr. Summers barely nods at her, his arms crossed in front of him. Tara has little time to puzzle out his manner because the professor is moving on.

"You may remember Logan, also called Wolverine. He brought you up to the house the day you arrived."

Logan nods at her, his hands hidden in his jacket pockets as he leans against the corner of the professor's desk. He doesn't seem friendly, but neither does he seem hostile.

"Come forward so we can see you, Rogue," the professor calls.

Tara catches her breath as a young woman steps forward from where she had been hovering behind Logan. Her rounded face is framed by streaks of white, offset by a long mane of chestnut. Her lush body is displayed by tight black slacks and a low-cut maroon blouse. A black chiffon scarf around her neck and long black satin gloves make her look chic and mysterious.

Tara blinks. Apparently, she is gay. Good to know.

"This is Rogue. She has just finished her studies here, and I believe she will be excellent at helping you adjust to the new environment. Her own introduction to the school was quite abrupt, as well."

Rogue smiles at her, full lips just parting over bright white teeth.

"Hi," she says, the vowel drawn out by a breathy voice.

Tara catches herself staring. She mentally kicks herself.

"Hi," she finally responds, and wishes she could think of more to say. The professor clears his throat, drawing her attention.

"Logan and Rogue will see you settled in. We'll talk again soon."

He nods once and Logan steps forward, grasping the handles of the chair and steering her toward the door, which Rogue is holding open. Everything in this place moves so quickly, faster than she can think to respond. They are halfway down the hall of dark polished wood before she works up the nerve to speak.

"I can walk," she says, but it comes out as a whisper. She swallows, preparing to try again, but Logan is slowing to a stop.

"You sure about that?"

Rogue turns back a the sound of his voice. "Sure about what, Logan?"

Tara merely nods, still unsure of her voice. Logan walks around to the front of the chair, squatting beside the footrests.

"She wants to walk," he says as he starts to release the metal blocking her path.

"Think that's a good idea?" Rogue asks, worry evident in her tone. It warms Tara irrationally to hear it. The pair pay her little attention, though. Rogue is watching Logan intently, who is moving the second footrest out of the way with easy movements. He rises, looks back at Rogue.

"Girl wants to stand, I ain't gonna get in her way." He turns back to Tara and extends a hand. She squares her feet and scoots forward in her seat before she takes his hand. Again, she feels the sensation of his power, both dark and light. She ignores it and concentrates on standing. Her knees are a little wobbly, and there is a strange hitch in her left hip, like it isn't gliding quite smoothly in the socket. She manages to stand anyway. She shuffles her foot forward, pleased when it firms her stance.

She looks up to see Rogue smiling warmly at her and Logan watching closely for a misstep. It is an oddly triumphant moment, for all that she had been sure of her ability to walk earlier. She moves the other foot forward on the varnished floor, clearing the chair. The motion is easier.

"I think you got it," Rogue says.

Tara blushes and looks back at her feet as she tries a few more steps. She isn't really weak, just stiff and wobbly from several days in bed and Goddess knows what before that. Logan releases her hand, though he steps up close behind her. Rogue starts walking backwards slowly, matching Tara's own slow steps.

"It's not too far, just down the next hallway. You won't have to even worry about stairs," she says. Tara looks up gratefully. She may not be weak, but neither is she strong. Stairs might just be her undoing.

"I bet you got a lot of questions. I know I did. You'll be in the guest hall. You're our only guest right now. Well, Logan has a room in this section, but he's not a guest," Rogue rambles.

"And stay out of it," Logan growls from behind her. Tara's shoulders hunch instinctively, but Rogue just rolls her eyes.

"Quit scaring her, Logan."

"Not all little girls have your abilities, Marie," he returns quietly. The exchange interests Tara. It hints of history between them, speaks of unmentioned powers and a new name. Tara watches Rogue carefully, but only the palest pink touches the young woman's cheeks in response.

"Anyway. If you need something from Logan, knock first. He can be all scary-like if he's surprised. If you want to find me, I'm usually in the common room during the day. That's back down this hall and to the right."

Tara looks back over her shoulder, but it is too dark to make out many details.

"My room is upstairs at the end of the hall. I have a couple of roommates, but they're cool."

Rogue turns around as they reach another corridor. Tara follows her around the corner, Logan still hovering close behind. A few more steps and they are in front of another dark wooden door, which Rogue opens.

Tara follows her inside to find a good-sized room. A queen bed rests against the back wall, and she can see a white porcelain sink through the open door next to it. There is a desk and a dresser, both in heavy wood, and a couple of stained-glass lamps fill up the space. Rogue walks over to the dresser and opens the top drawer.

"We got some stuff together for you, clothes and toothbrush and stuff. The Professor said we could go shopping once you feel better." Rogue is obviously looking forward to such an expedition. Tara feels rather ambivalent about the prospect, but appreciates the gesture anyway.

"Thank you," she blurts. Everything is overwhelming, but she is grateful for all that has been done for her. Her memories might be gone, but she knows that people aren't always this generous.

Rogue shuts the drawer and smiles.

"No problem. The professor has lots of money, and he likes to take care of us," she replies as she walks to the door. "We'll let you be for now. If you'd like I can come get you for breakfast."

Tara nods. Rogue slips through the door, and then Logan leans forward to grasp the knob.

"Night, kid," he says and then shuts the door.

Tara is alone once again. She crosses to the dresser, her legs responding almost normally. The top drawer holds underclothes, a pair of pajamas, and several toiletries. The second has two pairs of jeans and several t-shirts and blouses. She changes into the pj's, wondering what to do with the demure shift she had worn in the infirmary. Finally she just drops it on the floor.

It doesn't take long to explore the rest of the room. The bathroom is small, but it has a shower, which is of the good. She also discovers several books on the desk, and she grabs one before climbing into the down-padded bed.

Tara pauses before opening the book, wondering what to make of her situation. Her emotions feel distant, almost disconnected from reality. Mostly she is lost and confused, unable to draw any conclusions about her situation because she doesn't have enough information to plug into the equation. A feeling of deep mourning undercuts everything, as if she has lost something beyond measure. She thinks it may be a good thing that she has lost her memory.

Tara turns the book over in her hands, enjoying the feel of the embossed leather. There is another emotion, one she is just now understanding. A sense of excitement has been building since she met with the professor earlier this evening. The school is a good place, an interesting place, and the people seem to be good people. She thinks she may be able to build a life here.

A giggle escapes and she claps a hand over her mouth. Perhaps her brain had been injured and the doctors hadn't noticed. She rolls her eyes at her own absurdity and opens the cover of The Once and Future King.


(noun: lateral direction indicated according to the way in which one is facing)

A mass of food stares up at her from a faded plastic tray. Scrambled eggs and bacon mash up against the edge of two triangles of dry toast, while pancakes steam in the center on their own plate, maple syrup threatening to spill over to the rest of the tray. A mound of fresh fruit takes up the rest of the space, strawberries and grapes and little balls of melon. Two clear glasses sit to the upper left, one filled with orange juice and the other with milk. She looks across the table to where Rogue is bent over a bowl of some pink cereal. Tara had been unsure what to choose from the cafeteria line, so Rogue had chosen for her. Strange, that she could remember what bacon and eggs were, but not whether she likes them or not. They smell okay, so she takes a tentative bite. Not bad, but not great.

"So, I was thinking about what to do today," Rogue speaks up. Her bowl is already half empty. "Maybe we could hang out, I could show you around the place. You can get some of your questions answered."

Tara swallows a chunk of the scratchy toast and then washes it down with orange juice so she can speak.

"Okay." Again, she gropes for something to add, but Rogue jumps into the pause and continues her plans.

"I thought you might be overwhelmed by too many people, so we'll hang back, keep our distance unless you want to meet somebody. But don't worry, I'll tell you all about everybody, the good stuff, too." Rogue winks as she says the last, and Tara laughs. The other woman is bright and cheerful, and taking her role as guide quite seriously. Tara feels lucky.

Rogue looks around the room like she is planning something, so Tara returns to her breakfast, finding the fruit quite appealing. Maybe she was a health nut in her former life. She looks up when Rogue's foot nudges her own under the table.

"Hey. See that guy to your left, at the big table by the juice machine? The one with the black hair? His name's Jordan, but everybody calls him Snotman. He can produce this stuff like crazy glue, whacky shit."

Tara looks over to see a fairly normal teenager laughing with several other students, some of whom don't look normal at all. One has hair that looks like white goose feathers. Another has a red face and arms, red like a just-ripened strawberry. She turns back to see Rogue wearing a devilish smile.

"About six months after I got here, Snotman decided Cyclops needed to loosen up. So he sneaks into their bedroom in the middle of the day, and glues all of the legs of Scott's dress pants together. He had to wear jeans until the next time they went into town. Boy, was he ever pissed."

Tara's eyes widen as Rogue giggles.

"Mr. Summers? Why would anyone do that to him? He's so sad."

Rogue stops giggling immediately, and looks down at the soggy cereal in her bowl. She starts stirring it in lazy circles. "You noticed that, huh?"

Tara nods, but Rogue is still intent on the mush she is creating.

"That happened before, when Jean was still alive," she continues. "Jean was his fiancee. She was great; smart, beautiful, a great doctor. She sacrificed herself to save us all."

"S-sacrificed?" Tara asks, wondering what could have happened to pose such danger. Rogue finally looks back up, letting the spoon dangle above her bowl of pink goo.

"That's a really long story. You want the recap now, or can we go somewhere else for the extended version?"

Tara looks down at her tray. She considers trying the pancakes, but she isn't hungry anymore. Besides, she doesn't want to disturb their perfect round symmetry.

"I'm finished," she says. They pick up their trays and return them to the slot in the wall. Rogue opens a door near the back of the cafeteria, bright sunshine and a light summer breeze spilling through the frame. Tara follows her out, wondering how this new revelation will affect her life.


(noun: agency in transmission from one person to another)

Her sandaled feet scrape against the rough brick of the short wall as she sits on top, kicking her legs lazily. Children play about twenty feet away, driving a soccer ball around a grassy field. She can feel Rogue's gaze, searching for some response. The things she has been told are frankly unbelievable. A group of people with superpowers, fighting to save the world? Yet she has to believe, because she has seen the sadness choking Scott Summers' aura, and she has heard the sincerity–the pain and fear–in Rogue's voice as she told her tale.

Tara looks up at Rogue through the shade of her hair, not quite ready to face her directly. The other woman is perched with her back to a rising section of the wall, her knees drawn up with her red-gloved hands clasped around them.

"So does this sort of thing happen a lot?"

Rogue shrugs. "Just the twice since I've been here, about three years now. But we stay prepared, just in case. I'm one of the X-Men, now," she finishes, her voice firming on the last. A small smile ghosts across Rogue's lips, her pride evident.

"Oh. Um. But aren't you afraid?" Tara herself feels like a coward. She can't imagine going through the things Rogue has been through, like leaving loved ones behind, like having someone invade her mind. Tara wrinkles her nose. She wonders if she has left loved ones behind, whether they are worried about her now.

"Oh, I get scared all the time," Rogue says, pulling Tara from her wandering thoughts. "I never thought there were so many different ways to be afraid. I think the worst I was ever scared was when I got sucked out of the jet." Rogue shudders, and Tara pulls her own arms around herself in sympathy. "But the one I hate the most is when you're scared for yourself, but you're more scared that someone you care about is going to get hurt trying to save you."

Rogue is playing with the fingers of her gloves as she falls silent, tugging as if to pull them off, and then setting them aright again.

"Like Logan," Tara asks, wondering if she is prying to much.

Rogue nods. "I know it's silly. I mean he heals anything, right? But I still worry. And who knows. This skin of mine is pretty damn powerful."

She watches Rogue staring at her hands like hated objects. Tara feels her eyes tightening, like she might cry at any moment. Goddess, she is such a mush. Blinking back the tears, she reaches out to cover Rogue's hands.

"I-I'm sure everybody feels like that sometimes, sweetie. It's not just you and your skin."

Rogue looks up at her with wide brown eyes, and then looks back at their hands. She squeezes Tara's hand once before pulling free.

"Thanks, that's nice of you to say that." Rogue jumps down from the wall and stretches, her tight shirt pulling in a most interesting way, gliding over full breasts and exposing just a little strip of pale tummy. "So, you want to finish the tour?"

Tara slips down onto the sidewalk. Despite their heavy conversation, Rogue seems cheerful, happy to be continuing her role as tour guide. Tara paces beside her, listening to her warm patter of words.


(noun: evidence of craft or artistic skill)

A single pale green leaf drifts down, spiraling like a top as the air currents catch on its rough edges. The smooth bark of the tree is cool and comforting beneath the thin cotton of her shirt as she leans back against it. Green ash, her mind supplies from its mysterious depths. It has been like this all weekend, her mind coughing up bits of knowledge randomly. She discovered a familiarity with pop culture last night when she joined Rogue and her friends in front of the television, watching a rerun marathon of Star Trek. Tara thinks that is a good indication that she is a geek, but maybe not. The others seemed to enjoy the show just as much, and they are the cool kids.

Still, for all the information she gains, none has been memories of herself, of her life before this. Some things carry connotations that make little sense, that may hint at memories. Pancakes are joyful yet full of despair and grief, and she doesn't think it is because of dietary woes. Maybe she had been a cook at International Pancakes, delighting in her job until a jealous ex-lover turned all stalkery, making her life a living hell. Perhaps she is on the run right now, and the amnesia is a protective mechanism to guard her from her former life. Like on a television show, where a super spy is hiding out from the government. Only without the spies or freaky government. And with pancakes.

Tara giggles a little. At least she is finding something in her life that is amusing. She sighs and lets her head drop back against the trunk of the tree, enjoying the light breeze that rustles through the canopy, lifting and dropping leaves so the sun darts across her face. It is a beautiful day, warm but not too hot, with a dusting of cirrus clouds far off in the blue, blue sky. Several of the older students and younger X-Men are playing kickball on the lawn next to the wood, laughing and yelling encouragement to each other. Rogue's ex-boyfriend is up next, his light blond hair catching the sunlight and reflecting it like a nova. She closes her eyes against his brightness, content in her own shady haven.

"Look out!" The shout startles her alert in time to see the ball racing straight at her head.

"Stop!" The cry bursts from her lips as she holds up her right hand, adrenaline surging up through her chest and out.

The ball stops.

It hovers in the air, just beyond the edge of her palm. There is a thickness to the air, and she can feel a warm energy radiating from her hand to the ball.

The sound of running feet makes her look up. The ball drops to the ground as she lets her hand fall to her lap. Several of the players pull up in front of her, Bobby and Rogue among them, their faces full of concern and wonder.

"You okay?" Bobby asks. "It was a curve ball, it just got away-"

"She doesn't care about that, stupid," Rogue breaks in. "That was something, the way you stopped it."

Tara just nods.

"Did you know you could do that?"

Tara shakes her head, though the sensation had been familiar. For some reason, she smells roses.

Rogue is smiling at her. "Cool. I guess you're one of us, now."

Tara looks up at the ring of people pressing in around her, pushing at the edges of her aura. She has a sudden urge to push it outward, to push them away. She pushes the urge down instead. They are only concerned, and curious. She blows out a breath, puffing up the hair above her forehead.

"Yeah. Cool." And maybe it is.


(noun: a round of applause to signify approval)

An infinity later she is installed in front of Professor Xavier's desk, glancing around the room and trying to puzzle out the books and knickknacks that line the shelves. Tara tucks her hands under her skirt, shifting around on the uncomfortable chair as she waits for the professor. She feels like she is in the principal's office awaiting punishment. The thought makes her frown. How would she know what that feels like? Maybe she was a troublemaker in her youth.

The door behind her clicks open. Out of the corner of her eye she sees Professor Xavier roll into the room. He settles behind his desk, glancing at a piece of paper on the surface before looking up at her. He leans forward with clasped hands.

"Hello, Tara. I understand you had an eventful afternoon."

Tara nods. Even knowing that she is not in trouble, her hands are sweaty and her throat tight.

"Can you tell me exactly what happened?"

Tara takes a deep breath and squares her shoulders before she begins her story.

"I was, I was sitting beneath one of the trees by the front lawn. I had my eyes closed when someone shouted `look out'. I opened my eyes and the ball was coming straight at me." Tara swallows, searching for the right words to describe the experience. "My heart sped up and I shouted something, and I held up my hand. I could feel energy pour out of me, and the ball stopped." Tara licks her lips. The professor is watching her intently.

"Very good, Tara. It sounds like you have some telekinetic ability. Now tell me, have you ever thought you heard people's thoughts, maybe knew things about them that you shouldn't have?"

Tara shakes her head. The professor relaxes back into his chair. He looks off to one side, bringing a hand up to stroke his lips. She shifts again, bringing her hands back into her lap. The professor looks back at her with a small smile.

"Forgive me. I was considering the best way to approach your situation. I think it would be beneficial to work on your abilities together. I may be able to assist you in developing control. How does that sound?"

Tara nods. "G-good," she finally gets out.

The most genuine smile she has seen from him yet crosses his face, the wide laugh lines creasing his cheeks making him look paradoxically younger. He leans forward again to place a heavy gold pen on the desk in front of her.

"No time like the present, then. I want you to remember the sensation with the ball, imagine that feeling in your hand again."

Tara closes her eyes, feeling the power gather in her right hand. It feels familiar, like she has been doing it her whole life.

"Now, I want you to use that sensation to lift the pen from my desk," his warm voice continues.

Tara lets her eyes open to slits, sighting the pen. She reaches out, letting the energy uncurl toward the pen. Her eyes open fully as it actually lifts off of the desk, wobbling a little as it hovers a foot in the air.

"Very good, Tara," the professor says.

She looks up to see his wide smile again, and the pen falls back to the desk.


The professor actually laughs then, deep and low, causing her warm feelings all over. She laughs a little herself.

"That was excellent, Tara. Would you like to continue?"

And so the lessons start, her misgivings shoved down deep as she explores this new side of herself.


(noun: a commitment or agreement; one's word)

It is quiet, the thick walls of the mansion blocking out the always manic sounds of dozens of school children. With the door closed, it is a little stuffy in the room, but not unbearable. Tara sits cross-legged against the carved wooden headboard of the bed, watching her pen and pencil set cavort around the room. Such an amazing thing. She almost feels guilty for playing like this, like it is inherently wrong to take such shortcuts, but the professor has encouraged her to practice in her spare time. He said her gifts could prove valuable, and Tara wants to be valued. So she practices. A knock sounds on the door and the writing utensils come crashing down. Bugger. She still needs a lot of work on her concentration.

"Come in--no wait," she calls, and reaches out toward the door. The knob slowly twists, and she pulls back when she hears the latch click. The door bangs lightly against the stop. Oops.

"Now come in," she says to Rogue, who is smiling on the other side of the doorway.

"Hi there. That was awesome," she says as she walks to the bed and then plops down beside Tara. Tara blushes a little at the compliment.

"Wasn't it? The professor thinks I can do a lot more with practice."

"I guess that's why I haven't seen much of you lately," Rogue chides.

Tara looks down at her hands. A hangnail on her left thumb is looking kind of ragged. She is surprised Rogue missed her.

"I'm sorry. I thought you'd be glad to have your life back to normal," she says.

Rogue laughs.

"Oh, darling, I'm never normal. And besides, we're friends, right?"

Tara nods, more than happy with the announcement. She has a friend; it is the first step to a normal life. "Right," she replies, and then looks around the room, searching for something to say.

"Um. What are you going to do now? I mean, are you going away to college?"

Rogue shakes her head and pulls her legs up. She is wearing a silky blue turtleneck today, and she lays her cheek on her folded arms.

"Huh-uh. Well, I'm supposed to be taking correspondence courses, but I'm staying at the school. There's a lot of training left for me to be a full part of the X-Men."

Tara thinks about that as she chews on the hangnail. She stops as soon as she realizes what she is doing.

"Don't you want to see new things, get out in the world?"

Rogue lifts her head, a wry twist to her lips.

"I done that already. Besides, it's better here, where people understand what I am. Not all of us have a cool power you can turn off."

Tara flushes and looks back at her bare hands. Sometimes she forgets how difficult it must be for Rogue.

"I'm sorry, that was-" Rogue starts.

"No, it's fine. I mean, I know it's hard for you. I just forget sometimes." She looks up to see Rogue smiling at her.

"I know. That's one of the things I like about you--you don't treat me any different. Everybody here is really great, just they all have this edge around me. Like I'm going to strip naked and fling my deadly body parts at them."

Tara snorts. Rogue starts giggling softly. Then they are wheezing, laughing, barking mad as the silliness grabs ahold. Rogue collapses backwards, rolling around a little as she tries to catch her breath. They finally quiet, and Tara has to wipe tears from her eyes.

"I'm sorry," she gasps, her lungs still aching.

Rogue waves her hand from where she is sprawled across the bed.

"For what? It was funny." They fall silent except for the small sounds of heavy breathing and an occasional giggle that escapes control.

"Is that why...I mean, you don't have to talk about it, but you and Bobby..." Tara trails off. It's not the sort of thing you ask a new friend.

"Is that why me and Bobby broke up?" Rogue guesses.

Tara nods, letting her hair fall in front of her face.

"Partly. It's hard to have a relationship when you're afraid to touch each other. At first Bobby was real brave, all caught up in the romantic notion that our love could conquer all. Then I zapped him a few too many times." Rogue snorts. "He got tired of it. He said it didn't matter, but I had him in my head. I knew it did matter."

They fall silent again, Tara unsure what to say and Rogue lost in thought.

"You said partly," Tara decides to prompt.

"Yeah. Bobby was jealous. Of Logan. He couldn't get off the idea that I'm in love with the Wolverine. Hell, everybody thinks I'm in love with him."

Tara looks over to where Rogue has rolled to her side, plucking at the surface of the quilted bedspread.

"D-do you? Love him?"

Rogue rolls her eyes.

"Of course I love him. He saved my life twice, more if you count how often he's helped the others. He was my only friend when I first got here. How can I not love him?"

Rogue looks up at Tara then, a twitch playing with the corners of her mouth.

"Plus, he's really hot, you know?" Rogue laughs.

Tara can see that Logan is an attractive man, but he is too...brutish for her tastes. And with too much equipment.

"But everybody here thinks I'm a naive little girl. I know Logan thinks of me as his little sister. I've got him growling around in my head, so I'm pretty sure about that. Besides, I like our relationship the way it is. We're best buds, we hang out and stuff. He sneaks me a beer every now and then."

Tara smiles at Rogue. She can sense the sincerity of the words; Rogue has given her feelings a lot of thought. The other woman props her head on her hand and smiles back.

"And now I have a best girlfriend, too."

Tara can't stop the wide grin that spreads across her face at the words, but then reality returns to her brain.

"What about Jubilee and Kitty?"

Rogue shrugs the shoulder that isn't holding her up. "They're great, but we aren't much alike. Not really. I have fun being all girly and stuff with them, but that's all they care about. I never told them that stuff about Bobby. They just assumed they knew why we broke up."

Rogue sits up and sticks out her hand, all the fingers curled under except for the pinky.

"So, bestest girlfriends?"

Tara grasps the finger with her own pinky.

"Bestest girlfriends," she answers.


(noun: a player or participant in a card game)

It is early afternoon on a slightly overcast day, and Tara looks around the empty courtyard uneasily. It looks like a basketball court, but the baskets are missing. The space is empty except for a table beside her piled with orange clay tablets.

She is waiting for Mr. Summers. Professor Xavier has decided that she is ready for more difficult exercises. They have been working together for several weeks, and her concentration is good enough that she can levitate something while carrying on a conversation. But surprises are still of the bad. The exercise today is supposed to help with that.

Dress shoes scuff across the soft asphalt and then Mr. Summers appears to her left. He is dressed as he was earlier, for classes, in a grey turtleneck and black slacks. Tara would be hot in an outfit like that. She herself is wearing low cut jeans and a pink-flowered cotton top that leaves a bit of skin showing. Rogue and her roommates had quite a time last Saturday rushing her around the mall, picking out completely outrageous outfits. Her own tastes are quite simple.

Mr. Summers barely nods at her as he walks up, holding himself more stiffly than his usual cat-like grace. Tara's stomachs squirms. She isn't sure she is up to this.

"Here's the deal. The professor wants us to practice, so we'll practice. I stand on that side, you fly these pigeons down to me, I shoot them. Got it?"

Tara has barely nodded before he is stalking away from her. He pivots as he reaches the far side of the court and waves impatiently.

Tara swallows the great big lump in her throat. She tells herself this is the same as the exercises she has been doing with the professor, but she doesn't believe herself. She lets her hand hover over the stack of discs, imagining power pooling around her fingers. A disc lifts, and after a brief pause she sends it toward Mr. Summers. It isn't very fast, but it makes it to the end. He just stares at it. Then he plucks it out of the air, making her palm tickle until she releases the energy.

"Again. Higher, and much faster," he calls.

Right. Higher she can do. Faster is questionable. She takes a deep breath and calls the power again. Another disc lifts, and she flings her will out. It hurtles down the length of the court, arcing up above Mr. Summer's head. Suddenly, a bright red light shoots out and the disc explodes. She jumps. The description of his powers did not prepare her for the reality.

"Again. Keep them coming as fast as you can."

Tara complies, jumping each time the ray shoots out. Her arm begins to tire, and her head hurts from the noise and her continued concentration.

"Come on. You can do more than one at a time."

Tara squares her shoulders and pours even more effort forth, bringing her weaker left hand up for reinforcement. A swarm of clay pigeons rises up and flies toward Cyclops. He starts blasting away, but her control slips, and the discs start flying all over the place. He keeps blasting until one shot comes close enough to knock her off her feet.

"Hell!" he shouts. "What do you think you're doing?"

Tara gets into a crouch, watching as Cyclops hurries towards her. He doesn't look happy.

"You have got to pay attention, keep control. You are going to get yourself killed if you don't know your abilities."

Tara looks away as tears flood her eyes. Her chest and cheeks are burning a bright red. She isn't sure what to do. Professor Xavier has always been gentle, coaxing her in ways to hone her abilities. Cyclops seems to have a different philosophy.

"Hey! Don't look away. What are you going to do if you get in a dangerous situation, just sit there and whimper?"

Suddenly he picks up one of the pigeons and hurls it at her head. She squeaks and falls to the side, the disc whizzing past her head.

"Use your power! Defend yourself!"

He starts throwing more discs. She just gets a hand up, barely deflecting several more of the heavy clay pigeons. Her breath comes fast, tears are streaming down her cheeks. She feels panicky, but an edge of anger is growing below it. He has no right to treat her this way.

As Scott winds up for the next toss, a calmness creeps over the base of her brain. She lifts her hand higher.


The disc doesn't stop. It explodes in flame, nothing left of it but a pile of ash on the ground below.

She looks up at Scott, who is staring back at her. His jaw is clenched tight, the muscles above it jumping and twisting. He spins in place and walks away without a word.

Tara collapses back to the ground, sobs bursting from her throat. It is too much. It is all too much. Everyday there is something new to learn, to cope with. New people, new ideas, new things about herself. She has been fooling herself to think that this new life is exciting, something to look forward to. She wants something old, something to call her own. The professor keeps saying to give it time, that her memory might yet come back, but she can see the lie in his eyes. He has been in her head, and he knows as well as she that there is nothing left to come back.

Tara rolls to her side and curls in the smallest ball she can manage. The ground isn't comfortable, and her side aches from her falls, but she can't bear the thought of dealing with anything else right now. There is such a thing as too much input. Tears continue to roll down her face as she drifts to sleep, alone in the middle of a school full of people.


(noun: the degree of immediacy of a source of information; degree of reliability)

Tara slowly opens eyelids gummy with dried tears, trying to make out the world around her. It is dark, and her body aches from the hard ground beneath her. Her face is a mass of swollen tissue, and she has to breathe through her dry mouth because her nose is clogged with snot. Overall she feels like total crap. She sits up, debating whether to head back to her room. It would relieve some of her physical discomforts, but not the emotional ones.

She jumps as she realizes she isn't alone. Cyclops is squatting not two feet away, watching her with a blank face.

"It's okay, I'm not going to hurt you." Her face must show disbelief, because his lips draw down in that wry way of his. "I'm not going to get off that easy, am I?" He sighs and sinks to the ground, folding his long legs in front of him.

"Listen, I've been thinking about how to make this up to you, but I haven't come up with anything. I owe you an apology so big I don't know where to start."

Tara looks at him, completely lost for something to say. `It's okay' leaps to her tongue, as it always does, but really, it's not okay. Not anywhere close. He has treated her like crap, and she doesn't understand.

"Why...I mean, did I do something wrong?"

He sighs again, and looks past her shoulder.

"Other than existing, you mean?"

She pulls back, feeling like she has been slapped. He must have seen because he holds up a hand.

"I didn't mean that the way it sounded. This whole situation, your power, it reminded me of someone."

Understanding dawns.

"You mean Jean."

That wry smile is back. "Rogue has a big mouth." He turns to face her, and she imagines his eyes on her own.

"Yes, I mean Jean. She was a telekinetic, too, and we used to practice this way when we were young. When we were young and falling in love."

It makes sense now, and she feels two feet tall. She can't imagine what it would be like to have to go through the exercise again with a stranger.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean-"

Scott waves her to a stop. "It's not your fault, it's mine. Actually, the Professor had a hand in it as well. You got caught up in one of his well-meaning plans. He's not always gentle when he thinks someone needs a kick in the pants."

Tara wipes her face with her sleeve, though it doesn't seem to do much. Scott is looking off in the distance again.

"It must have been very difficult for you, coming out here," she says softly.

"I was furious. I knew what he was doing, trying to push me to deal with things I had been avoiding. I was so sure I was handling things just fine." He looks back at her, a different smile on his face, this one a little rueful rather than wry.

"The thing is, he was right. I didn't realize I was still angry with her. I thought I was past it, that I had forgiven her decision. But some was still there, and it came out at you. I'm so, so sorry."

"It's okay," she says automatically, and now, it is. She understands now, and while it makes her a little angry with the professor, she can forgive both of them. Scott smiles at her, and if it's not completely happy, it's better than before.

"And hey, that's some new ability you've got there."

Tara blushes. "I'm sorry, Mr. Summers, I could have hurt-"

"Don't. You were defending yourself. You have no need to apologize for that. In fact, if anybody ever tries to hurt you again, you burn their ass." She nods at him, starting to smile.

"And call me Scott, okay?"

"Okay, Scott." The ache in her heart is receding, though she still feels a little lost. She has a lot of thinking to do.

Scott rises gracefully and holds out a hand.

"Come on, let's get you some food. I'm pretty sure you didn't sneak down for dinner and then come back up for a quick nap."

She takes his hand and he lifts her easily to her feet. She brushes the grit off her jeans and blouse the best she can, and then they walk back toward the school. A strange mixture of hope and despair fills her heart.


(noun: the strength or force of one's position)

It's Wednesday morning, a school day, so for once the lawn in front of the mansion is quiet. Tara leans back against her favorite tree, the green ash where she discovered that she is a mutant. It is another beautiful day, and she is enjoying the sunlight dappling her skin. This is a good place to think. Soft clumps of grass make a good seat, and the roots of the tree branch off to either side of her. Bees are buzzing over a patch of white clover to her left, though she can't smell the sweet flowers today. Her nose is still clogged and swollen from her crying fit yesterday. Not her best day ever. But her mood is better now, helped by Scott's apology and a good night's sleep. She still has lots to think about, and out here the quiet songs of the birds and the warm sunshine sooth her soul. She closes her eyes, letting herself drift.

"Hey there."

Tara opens her eyes to see Rogue in front of her, twisting her fingers like she is nervous.


"Am I bothering you?"

Tara shakes her head, and points to a good spot on the ground to sit. Rogue flashes her bright white smile as she plunks down.

"Logan said maybe I should find you, that Scott gave you a hard time yesterday. You okay?"

"We worked it out. It's just. Just most of the time, I'm going along fine, happy to be here with nice people and good opportunities. And then something happens, and I realize I have nothing. Whatever life I had is gone, and I don't even know what I'm missing." Tara falls silent. It feels petty, wanting something she knows nothing about. She really does have it good here. Rogue is playing with her gloves, a habit she has when she is deep in thought.

"Memories are funny things. Look at us, you with not enough memory and me with too much. But we're still us."

Tara smiles at her effort. "I know. I just keep wondering if I really am me, or if I'm missing something vital. If there's something important I should be doing."

Rogue looks off into the distance, chewing on the ends of her hair. She spits it out and looks back at Tara.

"You should talk to Logan. He doesn't have any memories past twenty years ago."

Tara's eyebrows shoot up in surprise. Rogue hasn't mentioned this before.

"Wow. Is that why he's so..."

"What? Growly? Surly?" Rogue asks with a smile. "Nah, that's just him. But I think he would talk to you if you caught him alone."

"You sure? I wouldn't want to upset him." The thought makes her more than a little uneasy. Her encounter with Scott had been bad enough, and he doesn't have metal claws and a notoriously bad temper.

"Well, no. But he's actually a really nice guy. It might help if you brought beer, though." They both giggle at that. Wolverine is notorious for stalking through the halls at night, grouching about the lack of beer.

They fall into an easy silence, the birds chirping above them and the wind whispering through the leaves. Tara feels calmer now, more settled with Rogue nearby.

"The professor says that mutants often take new names after they come into their abilities, as a sign of rebirth," Tara says, surprising herself by breaking the silence. Rogue nods.

"I did it when I left home. I wanted something mysterious, something that reflected how dark and alone I was. Thus Rogue."

Tara turns her head against the tree, taking in Rogue's quiet form.

"You're not dark or alone."

"I know that now, but I was." Rogue looks down at her hands, and then back at Tara, her white locks obscuring part of her face. "You can call me Marie, if you want."

Tara is touched by the shy offer. She reaches out, carefully brushing the long hair back behind Marie's ear. "Marie. What a pretty name."

Marie smiles back at her, her eyes big pools of brown.

"So what about you? You going to pick a new name?"

Tara levitates a small twig off of the ground, letting it hover above her palm, and then incinerates it with a thought. The powdered remains drift into her hand.


"Ash? That's a little dark too, isn't it?"

Tara shrugs. "Maybe I'm a little dark. But ashes can be a good thing, if they're used as fertilizer. And it's the color of my hair, ash blonde." She settles more firmly against the bark behind her, feeling a deep connection to its living presence. "Besides, I have a thing for trees."

"Ash. I like it. Ash and Rogue, the twin terrors of mutant kind."

Tara smiles, and then reaches for Marie's gloved hand. "But I like Tara and Marie better."

Marie smiles back at her, squeezing her fingers.

Tara relaxes back against the tree, content with the warmth of the sun filtering through to her face and the warmth of Marie's hand filtering through her glove. Her old life may be little more than ash, but there are good things here, and she thinks she might just be ready to rise to the challenge and give them a go.


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