"You do deserve a second chance, Charles. I just don't know if I'm ready to give it to you." Jean pulled her arm from his grasp as he stood. "I know it makes me a hypocrite," she continued, turning away from him, "and I wish I could just get over it and move on and do what I know you think is 'right' and 'best' and 'healthy'; but I can't. Not yet anyway."
She paused and looked back. "Why not? What else is there to say right now?"
"I want to help you, Jean. I want to do what I couldn't do before. All you have to do is stop being so hostile and let me. Is that really so much to ask?"
"What would that accomplish?" she demanded bitterly. "I wasn't hostile before, when I needed you, Charles. When I was desperate for your help and you just left."
"If I remember correctly, it was you who left first," he pointed out. "You ran off to Greece without so much as a word of explanation to me."
She was silent for a moment, unable to dispute what he had said. "I left for the same reason you did - there were too many painful memories. And...I thought that you didn't want to have anything to do with me, that I just made it worse for you. I was afraid to ask you for help, afraid of what you'd think, or do. So I convinced myself I could handle it alone."
"And that is my fault?"
"Yes, damnit!" She raised her voice, frustrated. "You don't have any idea how hard it is to talk to you, do you? Even when the world's not crashing down around you it's unbelievably difficult; and it was impossible for me back then. You've known me since I was a child, Professor, you should have known what the deaths of my teammates, my friends, my lover, my family, would have done to me. You should have known that I don't ask for help easily. You should have sensed that I needed you to reach out to me. That I was so scared and so alone that I couldn't even begin to talk to you about what was troubling me."
"Be rational, Jean. You could have said something. Given me a hint that things were that serious." He rubbed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, wondering when things had become so complicated. Or had they always been this way, and he just hadn't noticed until it was impossible not to?
"I couldn't," she breathed, her voice starting to break, though whether from sorrow or anger he couldn't tell. "I just couldn't. I couldn't. And you should have known." She turned and ran from the room, pushing past Moira who was just entering.
"Well," the doctor said cheerfully, "that went well."
Wearily, Charles shook his head in disagreement. "Well? It was this close to a disaster."
"No, no, not at all. You're both still alive and in one piece, aren't you?" She put her arm around his waist as they left the room. "Chin up, Charley. Be honest with yourself and the lass, and it'll all come out right in the end."
She slammed the door violently and flung herself on the bed in her old room; her fury intensifying as she picked up the psychic residue surrounding her, the intrusive, foreign emanations that had been left behind by the last occupant. It was everywhere, clinging to the quilt, the walls, hanging in the air; oppressing her with it's inherent sorrow and loneliness and struggle.
She punched the pillow next to her face in frustration. He couldn't help her, but he could help a terrorist, a member of the Brotherhood? What the hell was wrong with him? What was wrong with her?
The door swung open and Scott entered, crossed the room purposefully and flipped her over onto her back, looking down at the disheveled hair and furious eyes with amusement. She threw the pillow at him and he batted it away, catching her wrists lightly in his hands. "Aren't you a bit old for temper tantrums?" he questioned, raising an eyebrow.
"I'm not throwing a tantrum," she insisted as he let go and she slid off the bed, stalking over to the window, the sunlight glinting off her hair, imbuing it's fire with streaks of gold. "He just makes me so mad! Why can't he assauge his conscience without torturing me?"
"Exaggerate much?" he asked good naturedly, realizing again how much he had missed every little thing about her, even scenes like this. "I hardly think he's torturing you, Jean."
"It certainly feels like it sometimes." She placed her hands on her hips, daring him to contradict her. "I don't need or want his help now, Scott. Doesn't he understand it's too late? Why is he always so stubborn?"
"I hate to use cliches; but you calling Charles stubborn is like the pot calling the kettle black. You're both going to have to be reasonable if you're going to work this out."
"I'm angry. I don't want to be reasonable," she answered crossly, her bad mood starting to subside into petulance. "I don't want to talk about Charles any more either."
"All right, we won't. There's no need to rush things. As long as you realize that you will eventually have to talk about him and to him," he said as he joined her by the window.
"I know. It's just..." She looked up at him and was suddenly very aware of the proximity of his body to her own, of the heat that coursed between them, strong, as if she had never been gone.
He bent his head and brushed his lips to hers, a soft and tender barely-there-kiss, the brief contact both sweet and electrifying, leaving her lightheaded and exhilerated, as if she had just been kissed for the very first time. "I'm sorry," he said quietly and genuinely apologetic. "I shouldn't have done that. We haven't talked --"
"We'll talk later. Kiss me again."
The feel of his mouth against hers was exquisite, achingly familiar and brand new all at once, sending a tingly warmth through her limbs and down her spine, a heavenly sensation that heightened her awareness of herself as well as of him; blending them in a way that no psychic ability ever could. And for just a moment, the first since her ressurection, she had no doubts, no worries.
Logan returned to the now nearly empty common room, a cup of coffee in one hand, and seated himself comfortably on the big, dark blue sofa; his calm, almost laidback demeanor successfully hiding the thoughts that were pounding through his brain. "What's that you're readin'?"
Kitty looked up from where she was sprawled on the floor, paperback in hand. "Rappachini's Daughter."
"Do you like it?"
She scratched one denim clad leg with her sneaker. "It's interesting; but I'm not sure of all the symbolism yet. Maybe the Professor will postpone the test, since so much has happened..." she trailed off hopefully.
"I doubt it," he snorted, taking a gulp of his strong drink. "Chuck's not goin' to cut you a break for this one. You're not even involved."
"Of course I am. All the hours I could have been studying this afternoon, I spent in here, talking about her."
He looked down at the curly head with sudden affection. "You wouldn't have been studyin'. You would have been watchin' that X-Files thing you've been talkin' about."
"That was on today?!" she choked in something akin to horror. "I missed the marathon!" She tossed the book down and slumped, defeated, on the rug.
"Don't worry, darlin'. I taped it for you."
"You did? Oh, Logan, I love you!" she exclaimed, eyes shining happily.
He chuckled. "All the times I've saved your skin, and this is what you're thankful for."
"I thought being thankful for stuff like that went without saying." She jumped to her feet as the phone began to ring. "It might be Doug," she explained. "Hello, Xavier's School For Gifted Youngsters."
"Hi, Kitty, it's Stevie. Is Kurt around?"
"Just a sec." She put her hand over the mouth piece. "KUUUUURT, TELEPHONE!"
"Yell a bit louder, darlin'," Logan grimaced. "I don't think they heard you in Yonkers."
"Sorry." She put the reciever down and flopped back onto the floor as Kurt picked up an extension. Logan nudged her with his foot.
"So, what's the deal with you and the Ramsey kid?"
She squinted up at him. "Nothing. We're just friends. Why?"
"I'm just takin' an interest. He seems nice enough. Smart, not too polite. Enthusiastic. An honest face an' smell. I can understand what you see in him."
She laughed. "You make it sound like I like him."
"Yes; but not that way. I told you, we're just friends. Besides, I love Peter. Doug knows that."
"Lovin' one person doesn't stop you from lovin' another," he told her. "All it does is cause complications and heartache. No one wins in a situation like that, an' everyone gets hurt."
She propped herself up on one elbow, her interest piqued. "So it's happened to you?"
"Your deduction skills get more astoundin' every day. Yeah, it happened to me. A long time ago, before I fell for Mariko. That's all you ever need to know."
"Geez, it was just a question. You don't have to bite my head off."
He paused before answering, his tone softened. "Sorry, darlin', didn't mean to snap at you. Jeannie's return has got me on edge."
"You are not the only one, my friend," Ororo announced from the doorway, clad in a long pale blue dress that matched her eyes. "Her presence will take time to become accustomed to; but I am sure that eventually things will be as they once were."
Logan raised an eyebrow, exhaling smoke. "You're very optimistic, 'Ro."
She shrugged. "My friend is alive; and I am happy."
"I'm happy too, we all are; but things ain't that simple."
"Why can't they be, Logan? Why must we anticipate problems where there are none?"
He stared at her. "Because that's what we do, all the time. Especially you, bein' team leader."
"This situation has nothing to do with my leadership abilities," she bristled. "It is purely personal. If Jean were going to be rejoining the team immediately, my feelings would naturally be quite different."
Kitty scrambled to her feet and stood between them. "Come on, you two, don't fight."
"We're not fighting, kitten. We're having a difference of opinion." She looked past the girl to the man. "Logan, I did not come to argue with you - only to ask if you would be staying for dinner tonight."
"Sure, I'll stay." He finished his coffee and stood. "I want a chance to see Jean, talk to her again, before I leave."
"I hate to interrupt, kids, but I've got to jet."
Jean reluctantly broke the kiss and turned from Scott to Misty, who had poked her head inside the door. "Do you?" she asked, her face conveying her disappointment. "Can't you stay the night?"
"Sorry, Red, I would if I could. I managed to get out of this afternoon's commitments but I've got plans for tonight that can't be broken. Don't hesitate to call me though," she continued. "Any time, for any reason at all. Stay in touch."
"I will, promise. I hope your coming up here doesn't cause you any trouble."
"It shouldn't. If Colleen doesn't accept a close friend's return from the dead as a legitimate excuse for disappearing for hours on end, I'm never going to be able to please her. Take care, Jean," she said as the two women embraced. "I'll see myself out."
After she had gone, Jean took a deep breath. There was no use prolonging the inevitable. "Scott," she asked, "after my death, did you and Colleen see much of each other?"
He shook his head. "No. Actually, apart from one or two chance meetings, I haven't seen Colleen in the last two years."
She hesitated briefly before continuing with her questions. "Is there a woman in your life right now?"
A pause. Please let him say no, she prayed, please, please, please, I love him so --
"To be completely honest, there is. Her name's Aleytys Forrester - Lee. A couple months ago we decided to start seeing other people because once I moved to Alaska we were rarely able to see each other; but we're still close. I still have feelings for her. She's a wonderful woman."
Her face fell slightly. "Are you in love with her?"
"No. At least I never was in the way that I was --"
He nodded silently.
"That kiss didn't feel like your feelings for me were in the past."
He took her hands in his, hating the pain he saw in her eyes and the defiant tilt of her chin. "Jean, you have to understand something. I know that you don't feel like you've been gone for very long; but you have. Things are different. I'm different. I've grown, Jean, grown as a person, as a man, because of you, and because of your death.
"God knows, I still love you. I always have and I always will, no matter what you do or I do or what happens between us or to us or around us. For better or for worse, whether we want to be or not, irregardless of how perfectly we fit together or how often we fight -- we are bound together forever. I can't stop loving you; and you'll never be able to stop loving me, no matter how hard we try."
"You want to stop trying?" She couldn't decide whether to slap him or kiss him.
"No; but I don't think we should rush into things. I can see us clearly now, in a way I never could before. I understand that I can't just take you in my arms and forget everything that's happened, even though that's all I want. I can see that if we become involved, especially now, it could bring more pain than happiness. I can't knowingly plunge headlong into that depth of anguish all over again."
"It doesn't sound like you've changed very much at all," she told him in a low voice as she looked away. "You don't know what's going to happen in the future. Why do you automatically assume we'd crash and burn? You're scared; and so you do what you always do when you're scared. You rationalize why you can't take a chance. Why you can't live."
"That isn't true. I'm not scared to live any more - thanks, in large part, to you. I am still afraid of being hurt; and I don't think that's an unreasonable fear," he explained with conviction. "Jean, all I'm saying is that I think we should take it slow, one step at a time. We can't pick up right where we left off, with marriage proposals and psychic rapports. We have to start over, build from scratch. See if this is what we both really want and need at this point in our lives. I think it would be unfair to the both of us to assume we should be together now, simply because we were before."
After a minute's silence she met his eyes again. "I agree."
"Yes. I may not like it; but I suppose you're right. It's a very logical argument, although I wonder how long you'll stick with it." She smiled suddenly, the change in her expression lighting up the whole room and he briefly but very seriously considered throwing her back on the bed and ignoring everything he had just said.
"So," she continued, "you want to start over? From the beginning?"
"I think it would be for the best."
"In that case, would you like to take me dancing Friday night?"
"You're asking me on a date?"
"That's generally how one begins a relationship."
He returned her smile. "All right then. Dancing it is."
It was past nine when they finished eating what had been a relaxed meal with plenty of laughter, wine, and a careful avoidance of serious topics. As she helped Kitty carry plates into the kitchen, Jean felt mellow and at ease, with only one thought at the front of her mind - it was good to be home.
"So, Jean, what did you think of the next generation of X-Men?" Kurt asked as he came into the room behind them and began helping Kitty load the dishwasher. Jean hopped up on the counter and emptied her wine glass as she considered her answer, thinking about the children that she had just met.
There was Dani Moonstar, a tall and self-possessed Native American girl of about sixteen, who co-led the junior team with Sam Guthrie, a polite and towheaded boy who had not quite gotten the hang of his gangly limbs. She had been favorably impressed with both of them. Rahne Sinclair, a petite snubnosed redhead, had taken an immediate and obvious dislike to her but had said nothing(although she had caused a commotion during the meal by distraughtly excusing herself upon Sean's announcement of his intentions to marry her guardian, being torn between her desire to see Moira happy and near hysterical that the object of her affections was a Catholic). Next was Roberto DaCosta, a sauve, sophisticated, and flirtatious boy who was no doubt as ambitious as he was charming, a good thing as far as Jean was concerned. She had also taken an instant liking to the hotblooded Amara Aquilla, who exuded royalty and narcissism from every pore. Illyana Rasputin came last, a troubled young girl who bore no resemblence whatsoever to her older brother, either in body or mind. Jean wasn't sure what to make of her yet.
"I can't make a judgement as to how they'll do as superheroes; but as people they seem to be a pretty good bunch."
Kitty made a face. "Illyana's terrific. The rest of them are a bunch of bratty babies."
Kurt laughed. "Kitty has issues with them," he explained.
Jean smiled back. Plain, old-fashioned jealousy no doubt. The baby of the team wasn't the baby any more. She remembered feeling much the same way when Lorna had appeared on the scene - no matter how often she had complained about being the only girl or how much she had resented being treated differently than the other members, there was a part of her that cherished that separation. She was distinct, special, doted upon, and then suddenly there was someone else to share that attention with. She hadn't liked it one bit, and she didn't blame Kitty at all for her reaction. There was probably some degree of hostility on the part of the New Mutants as well; to them, Kitty was an outsider, someone their age that they couldn't relate to, someone they couldn't confide in or trust because of her relationship with the adults. A sad situation for all involved, but understandable.
Kitty transferred her look to Kurt. "I do not have issues with those jerks."
"Of course you don't."
"I don't. What did Stevie want?"
"Oh, Stevie." He paused in his cleaning efforts. "She wanted to know if she could give my name and number to a friend of hers that works at the Book Nook. I had a run in with the woman this afternoon, and she wants to make up for her clumsiness by buying me a drink. Stevie says she just went through a messy divorce and isn't looking for a relationship, only a friend; but even so, there's Amanda --" he shrugged.
Jean spoke up from her perch on the counter. "Scott and I are going out next weekend....a 'first date' kind of thing. You and this woman are welcome to double with us if you want."
"I wouldn't want to intrude."
"Nonsense. It would actually be helpful. We're trying to take things slow and I have a feeling they'll go slower if other people are around."
"In that case I'll think about it," he replied as Logan joined them.
"Can I borrow Jeannie for a minute?"
"Go ahead, she's not helping anyway," Kitty responded good naturedly.
"Let's go outside," he suggested, handing Jean her coat and opening the back door where a thin boy with tousled blond hair was waiting, his hand in mid knock. "Evenin', Ramsey. Kitty's inside."
"Good evening, Mr. Logan." He nodded a welcome to Jean and ducked past them, exuberantly announcing his news to his friend. "Kitty! Guess what! I got a letter of acceptance to the Massachussett's Academy from Ms. Frost herself!"
"Ms. Frost?" Jean hissed in disbelief as Logan dragged her out into the chilly night air and closed the door behind them. "Emma Frost?!"
"One and the same." He pulled a cigar from his inside jacket pocket and cupped his hand against the wind as he lit it.
"But she's dead."
"Hate to break it to you, darlin', but you're dead too. Seems Frost faked her death back when the two of you went head to head."
"Oh." She remembered that fight vividly, how good it had felt to slowly tear the woman to pieces, how unbothered she had been when she thought her adversary had committed suicide as an escape. She shivered. "Is...is Jason...?"
"As far as we know, he's still out of commission in a psych ward somewhere. You did quite a number on him."
"Why the long face?," he asked, slowly and carefully blowing a ring of smoke out into the air. "He deserved it. Besides, a lady as lovely as you shouldn't ever frown."
Her spirits lifted as his words brought her back to their first walk in this garden, a literal lifetime ago. She shoved her hands into her pockets as they walked down the hill towards the lake, veering slightly into the woods which were black and silent. "What did you want to talk about?"
"What about me?"
"I just want to make sure you're okay and that you stay that way. I'm goin' to be keepin' an eye on you."
"I don't need you to do that," she replied as she quickened her pace. He had to jog slightly to keep up with her longer strides. The grass was slick with dew, causing him to stumble slightly, and he wondered how she was possibly maintaining her balance in heels.
"I think you do; and there's nothin' you can do to stop me," he countered.
She came to an abrupt halt about five feet from the edge of the woods and faced him, her eyes, more silver than green in the moonlight, narrowed. "I wouldn't be so sure."
The cloak of shadows she wore drove home her words, and for a brief moment he wondered if he shouldn't just leave her alone in this regard. "Is that a threat, darlin'?"
"No, it's a warning. Don't mess with me, Wolverine."
"Or what? You'll go Dark Phoenix on me?"
"Shut up. You heard Moira. That's not going to happen again."
"I believe you believe that. Maybe not deep down - because you'll always believe, in your soul, that it will happen again - but on the surface you do. I even believe that you don't want it to happen again. I don't believe that it won't. I know you, Jeannie, better than anyone, includin' yourself at times. We're two of a kind, remember? Both of us got the beast within, both of us like lettin' it out. When I let go of sanity and reason, sometimes people die. When you do, people always die. Lots of people. I don't want to see that happen again."
"And you think I wouldn't do everything I could to prevent that?"
"Up to a point, I think you would. But it's not in you to watch every little thing you do or say. You're not the type who thinks about the ramifications of her actions beforehand, or considers every possibility. Isn't that one of the reasons why you killed yourself? You knew you couldn't deal with that kind of pressure? You didn't want to have to deal with it?"
"Yes," she whispered.
"I don't want to control what you do, darlin'. I wouldn't ever want you to tame what you've got inside, it's what makes you special. I just don't want it to destroy you again. I want you to be able to be yourself without havin' to worry every second, without havin' to keep yourself in check every moment. That's no way for you to live. You wouldn't be able to do it."
"So you're going to help me keep an eye on myself?"
"Exactly. And I'm goin' to teach you that you can use and enjoy your power without havin' it rule you."
She laughed. "You? The little berserker is going to teach me the finer points of self-control?"
Her met her eyes again, which were no longer threatening but sad and humorless. "Darlin', the man in me has been winnin' the fight for a long time now. Let me show you how."
He undressed in the dark, careful not to make a sound. She knew he was there anyway.
"Logan? You are very late. I was worried."
"I'm sorry, Mariko," he said as he slid into bed beside her and kissed her hair which was silken and smelled of wildflowers. "There was a lot to take care of."
"Yes. X-Men business. An old friend returned. We had to decide what to do about it." He closed his eyes and took her in his arms.
"You made a right decision." It was a statement, not a question - there was no doubt in her mind as to his goodness. Such belief made him feel both elated and guilty.
"Go to sleep now, darlin'. You need your rest." She snuggled against him like a child, content and trusting, and he was panged by sudden remorse, even though he had done nothing wrong.
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