To the whole of my undoing
Put aside, I put away
I push it back to get through
The grief and terror and lust for the power was so deep and so dark and so all consuming that she thought she would drown in it; but then there was pain, hot and blinding pain that obscured everything but the sickening crunch of bone as Peter's fist shattered her jaw and forced her to her knees, her mind fixing the damage to her body even as she raised her head and suddenly she knew, she knew what she had to do, how it had to end; and she started running away, away from them all, away from herself; but Scott followed her, begged her; and she couldn't do what he asked, she didn't have the strength, she had to make it stop; and then her desperation exploded into fire and light and agony and then....
It was waiting, watching, there in the darkness. It wanted her, it was expectant.
The small whimper of a frightened child escaped Jean's mouth, the unexpected sound in the silence snapping her out of the past. She looked down in confusion at the trickle of blood that oozed from between her fingers, only slowly realizing that she must have cut her palm with her nails, she was clenching her fist so tightly.
Her other hand was open, spread flat on the smooth, cold granite of the grave she was kneeling before.
Alone in the cold, dismal cemetary that flanked St. Stephen's, she traced the name and dates with her fingers, letting it truly sink in for the first time, feeling it to the core of her being.
She was dead.
No, maybe not dead now, alive now; but she had died. Jean Elisabeth Grey, September 24, 19-- ~ September 1, 19--. It was literally carved in stone, a horrible and basic reminder of what had happened. She felt dizzy and closed her eyes, praying it would all go away. Maybe when she opened them she would be dead again, like she was supposed to be. Or maybe she was imagining it all, maybe she was crazy and always had been and this was just a delusion, her life and death and life and death and life had been nothing more than the demented fantasies of a broken mind --
A car door slammed in the distance and she hurried to pick herself up off of the damp earth, hiding her trembling hands in the pockets of her coat and heading quickly for the church parking lot, head bent into the wind.
Ororo was standing by the entrance to the cemetary, concern marring her elegant features. "I know you said you wanted to do this alone; but you were gone for so long that I became worried," she explained.
"I'm sorry," Jean said, avoiding the other woman's eyes as they got into the car. "I must have lost track of time."
"I'm always pale."
"I'm cold," she said, flicking the heater on to give her words credence. "It's wet out there. Listen, Ororo," she continued quietly, "I admit that I'm not okay; but that doesn't mean I need to be grilled about it. I thought you of all people would respect my privacy."
"I do." She started the car and turned on the headlights as the misty drizzle turned into a full fledged shower, fat raindrops splattering against the windshield. "The last thing I wish is to make this more difficult for you," she finished, her words sincere but the underlying tone uneasy.
"Then, please, don't start in on me. I don't think I could bear it," Jean replied, staring out her window at the steadily darkening sky, Ororo's turbulent thoughts guaranteeing there would be thunder before the hour was through. The brewing storm made her think of the confrontation with Logan the night before, of the clash of wills and stubborn, angry words. He was just as pigheaded and obstinate now as he had been then. He made her crazy.
And she still wanted him just as badly.
"--controversial trial of the Reverend William Stryker, which is scheduled to commence tomorrow morning, has already drawn a large number of protesters who claim that the respected evangelical minister and his followers, known as the "Purifiers", are being unfairly treated by the press and the justice system. Allegations of religious persecution and entrapment are frequent; as is the contention that Stryker and his supporters did not murder anyone any more than a veterinarian "murders" a diseased, dangerous, and unwanted animal. Also here outside the courthouse is a small gathering of mutant right's activists, who carry signs reminding us that mutants are humans too, and are entitled to protection by the Constitution - an arguement reminescent of the struggle of African-Americans for recognition as people and not property. Reporting live from Manhattan, I'm Trish Tilby. Back to you, Bob."
"Thank you, Trish. For more on this developing story, please tune in to Action News at 12, 5, 5:30, 6, 11, --"
Charles turned off the radio and sunk into his chair, an empty, punched feeling resonating through his gut. A "diseased, dangerous, and unwanted animal"? How many humans thought of him and his kind in those terms? Resting his chin on clasped hands he wondered - not for the first time - if his was perhaps a fool's dream, if he even had a chance of destroying such ignorance, if it was already too late to make a difference.
A brisk knock on his door startled him out of his brooding despondency and he pushed any doubts about his goal and methods out of his mind. He was doing the right thing. If he wasn't there was no point to anything.
"Come in, Moira." He composed himself as she sat on the edge of his desk and pushed a sheaf of papers into his hands. She watched him intently over the rims of her glasses as he sifted through them, her unintelligible handwriting making his eyes cross. "What are these? Medical tests?"
"Diagnostic examinations, Charley. That infernal Cerebro contraption of yours must be broken. It can't even detect what's sitting under it's very nose." She leaned forward as he looked more closely at the paperwork, struggling to decipher it. "Your young neighbor? Douglas Ramsey? He's a mutant, gifted with the ability to instantly understand and translate any language in creation, be it verbal, written, electronic, mechanical - even body language, Charles! Think about the possibilities, what he could be trained to do, what he could accomplish with such a remarkable power."
"Did Katherine know? She's been spending rather a lot of time with that young man," he frowned.
She shook her head. "No, I don't think she even suspected. She assumed, as he did, that he was extremely intelligent, and nothing more."
"So I take it you've already informed him of the results of these tests?"
"I told him only because he needed to be warned. That White Witch of the Inner Circle is trying to get her claws into him," she said, her contempt for the other woman obvious. "Charles, Kitty has already spoken to him about mutancy in general, as well as this institution. I thought it would be easier on the boy if he heard it from a close friend. I hope you don't mind."
"No, no, I don't mind. However, I am wondering why I was left in the dark about this until now...." he trailed off, unable to finish, as first a wave of dizziness hit him and then the pounding began, his brain feeling as though someone had taken an icepick to it. He cradled his head in his hands, willing the pain away and failing miserably.
The rain slicked streets of Annandale-on-Hudson were much the same as Jean remembered them being, quaint and old fashioned, lined with majestic trees, cast iron lamps, and patches of cobblestones. From the window she glimpsed the square where the Christmas Carolers stood every year, the drug store that sold peppermint sticks for a nickel, the dusty jewelry shop where she had her first job.
She saw the old movie house on the corner of Main and Lincoln and remembered when, sticky with sweat and dirt and popcicle drippings, she and her friends would take leave of their games and join their classmates in the front rows of the noisy, cool matinee, a refuge from the worst of the relentless summer sun. Then she was older and preferring the evening show and the balcony, Nick Vittori's hand under her blouse, his eager lips against her own, the heat inside now.
Nick. Tall, dark, and intoxicating. Annie had had a crush on him; but Jean was fifteen before she felt the first stirrings of what would become an all too brief adolescent infatuation. Growing up next door to each other they had been playmates first by necessity and then by choice; had built tree houses in the summer and snow forts in the winter, stood side by side at their First Communion, argued and laughed about nothing and everything, and, one hot Indian summer night on the bank of the Hudson, lost their virginity. They were sixteen and coltish, clumsy and exhilerated. It remained one of the sweetest experiences of her life.
They were on the outskirts of town now, the Masland's apple orchard on her right, the old dirt road that led to the swimming hole on her left, and then they turned on to Barton Lane. She forced herself to look as they came to the curve, even though she feared the vividness of her memories would continue, that she would see Annie lying there, broken, bloody.
The road was empty. She exhaled slowly as they parked in front of the big white farmhouse, gravel crunching under the wheels. Ororo dropped the keys into her purse and turned to Jean, her voice terse and commanding as she broke the silence they had held since leaving the church. "You are my friend and I do not wish to fight with you; but *because* you are my friend, it seems that I must," she began. "If I feel that there is something I must say, something you must hear, I will not stand mutely by and watch as you sink ever deeper into solitude and self-pity - do not interrupt me.
"I am well aware that you have been through a terrible ordeal, one which know I cannot even begin to imagine or commiserate with you about. But I am doing my best, whether you believe me or not, and I would appreciate it if you did not slam the door in my face every time I try to reach out to you. I will not walk on eggshells around you, not because I do not care about your feelings, but because I am convinced that it would be the very worst thing for you. I hope that you can learn to accept this." Without waiting for a response she left the car and began walking toward the house, her carriage straight and self-assured.
Jean caught up with her as she reached the porch and caught her by the arm, forcing the other woman to face her, challenging her silently, the rain beginning to soak them both.
Ororo turned away first.
A mother and an elementary school teacher, Sarah Bailey more than loved children, she adored them. They were her life, her inspiration, her one true joy in this often dark and depressing world. Still, as Abby let out yet another ear splitting shriek, she couldn't help but wish they would pipe down occasionally. "Tommy!" she yelled, only a little less loudly than her daughter, "I told you to stop teasing your sister!"
"Mom, I'm not," he protested from upstairs. "I'm helping Nana."
Frowning now, Sarah turned off the faucet and wiped her hands on her apron as Abby came hurtling into the kitchen and wrapped her arms around her mother's waist. Sarah knelt and hugged her. "What's wrong, honey?"
"I saw a ghost."
Sarah smiled and stood, picking the child up, saddened by the knowledge that soon she would be too big to be held like a baby. "There're no such thing as ghosts, sweetheart, you know that. We talked about this, remember?" Abby had been scared of her own shadow for several weeks now, all because a friend's mother had made the unfathomable decision to show "Poltergeist" at a slumber party for seven and eight year old girls.
"Mommy," she insisted, "I did see one. I know I did."
"How do you know it was a ghost and not a shadow? Or a cat? Or an Oompa-Loompa?"
Abby smiled weakly. "Because Aunt Jean doesn't look like an Oompa-Loompa."
Sarah's stomach began to churn as she set the child on the floor. "Abigail, you saw your Aunt Jean?"
"I'm afraid I startled her," Jean said evenly, coming into the kitchen, tossing her coat over the back of a chair as she had hundreds of times before. "Hello, Sarah. Miss me?"
"This is ridiculous. I do not need a CAT Scan." Charles tried to hop down off of the infirmary table; but Moira blocked him with her hands.
"And just where did you recieve your medical degree?" she inquired, leveling the bulk of his resistance with her glare.
"It was just a migraine," he said meekly. "I get them all the time. All telepaths do. You're over-reacting."
"Charles, you know as well as I do that migraines do not come on with no warning, last for a few minutes, and then disappear; and if you say that yours do, you're a damn liar."
"Moira," he cajoled, "be reasonable. This body - this perfect, artificially created body let me remind you - isn't even six months old yet. What could be seriously wrong with it?"
"Well, we won't know until we look, now will we?"
He tried a different tactic. "Why don't we compromise? If I have another of these abrupt headaches, no matter how insignificant *I* think it is, I will come to you immediately and let you run all the tests you wish. Until then, just refill my Fioricet, and let me continue with my work. Please?"
She thought about it for a long minute. "Fine. But if you drop dead, you'll have no one to blame but yourself." She busied herself at the drug cupboard while he rolled down his shirt sleeve and put his jacket back on. "Will you do me a favor and try not to run yourself ragged during the next twenty-four hours at least?"
He nodded diligently. "I think I can manage that."
The last time Jean had spoken to her parents she had threatened to kill them, meaning it with every ounce of her being. This time she had lied to them.
And she hated herself for it.
She had spun a tale of trying to kill herself and not succeeding, of being believed dead, of spending the following year and a half recovering both physically and mentally. They had asked not a single question, believing her fully because they wanted to.
She longed to tell them the truth, to have them understand and accept her for who she was and who she had been; but one brief glance at their thoughts had told her that it would be impossible. It was one thing to acknowledge their daughter first as a mutant, then as a superheroine, and finally as a villianess. It was entirely another to believe that she could raise herself from the dead at will. They would not even attempt it, and that hurt.
She was wounded much more deeply by the realization that they wished she was still 'dead', and that this wish was not in their subconscious even, but buried within the layers of their conscious minds. She saw why they would want that - they had mourned her, and now she was back, ripping open old wounds - but it didn't make it any easier, especially when they were keeping themselves at such a distance, emotionally, from her. She should have left them with the consolation given them by the crystal Lilandra had made and not disrupted their lives. She had been wrong to come here.
She could hear their muffled voices and clear thoughts through the wall and fought the urge to clap her hands over her ears, concentrating instead on the task at hand. When she had died, Charles had had all her things shipped here, and so they had not been destroyed when the mansion was. Now she was sitting cross-legged on the floor of her old room, determining what to take.
"That is a magnificent tree," Ororo said from where she stood by the window, the tension between them still palpable but beginning to fade.
"It is beautiful," Jean agreed, looking over her shoulder at the big oak that stood directly outside her window, it's outer branches scratching the glass in the wind. "I used to climb in it all the time. Well, until I fell and broke my arm." She finished packing the second box of clothing, sealed it, and turned to the rest of the stuff they had pulled out of the closet. "We used to use it to sneak out of the house, when we were teenagers. Sarah more than I," she remembered fondly. "Neither of us were ever caught. Imagine my distress when I moved into the impregnable fortress Charles calls home."
"Why did you?"
"Why did I what?"
"Join the X-Men. You were young, and had a happy life here. Charles had already helped you learn to control your powers. Why did you go to him again?" she asked, joining Jean on the floor and sifting through a box of record albums. "Are you going to take all of these?"
"I have original Pink Floyd and The Doors in there. Of course I am," she replied, then frowned. "I did what Charles asked simply because he did ask. I was so grateful to him, so...beholden. I still feel that intense gratitude, although it's been many years since it's been free of resentment. Sometimes I feel like --"
Sarah knocked lightly on the door. "May I come in?"
"Please do, but we don't need any more boxes," Jean said, eyeing the cardboard container she carried. "Are the kids okay?" Sarah and Paul had taken them out on a drive to talk to them about their "dead" aunt's sudden reappearance while Jean had an uncomfortable hour alone with her parents.
Ororo excused herself, touching Jean's shoulder lightly as she stood up. They would be okay.
"Yes. I told them the story you made up," Sarah said, sitting down. "Jean, when you died I remembered what happened during that sailing trip we took. You saved my life. I know what you're capable of, and I have no doubt that you really did die. And I want you to know that I still love you," said said with conviction, wiping her tears away as Jean leaned over and hugged her tightly, burying her face in her sister's stomach. "I missed you every day, honey."
"I missed you too." She sat up, wiping her own tears away, and then let out a gasp of delight. "What's in the box?!"
Sarah grinned. "A present. From Tommy and Abby. They wanted you to have her," she said, reaching in and lifting out a squirming little ball of gray and white fur.
Jean took the kitten and cuddled it against her chest. "She's beautiful," she breathed. "Does she have a name?"
"No, we just picked her up. The kids saw the sign on the way back and wanted to give you a welcome home present. What do you want to name her?"
She lifted the kitten to eye level and studied it as it meowed. "Shekhinah. It suits her. You know, Sarah," she smiled, "maybe I should tell Mom and Dad the truth. The reaction could hardly be worse than it was when they found out I had stopped going to Mass and started studying Jewish mysticism."
"What a crisis that was! But it wasn't nearly as bad as the time you snuck too much to drink at the family reunion and the whole way home in the car you were whispering 'SARAH PLEASE DON'T TELL THEM I WAS DRINKING I HAVE TO PEE AGAIN TELL THEM YOU HAVE TO GO SO THEY DON'T THINK I'M DRUNK' so loud they could hear you perfectly; and you smelled so strongly of rum Mom opened all the windows and you didn't even notice," Sarah dissolved into giggles. "Dad's ears kept getting redder and redder - I thought he would strangle you when we got home."
Jean groaned through her laughter. "He probably would have if I hadn't thrown up all over the lawn as soon as I got out of the car. And what about the fit they threw when you came home your freshman year for Christmas break and announced you were married and pregnant?"
"I thought we were talking about your messes, little sister." Sarah stopped laughing and reached over, pushing a stray lock of hair behind Jean's ear. "However Mom and Dad act toward you, I want you to know that I will never push you away or treat you differently because of who you are or what you've done. Never."
Slipping from his bed, Warren Worthington stepped out onto the balcony that adjoined his bedroom and stretched his snowy white wings toward the heavens, the sun's light bathing his well muscled body and glinting off his tousled golden hair. The early afternoon air over New Mexico was dry, sweet, and warm. Perfect for flying.
The wooden planking was cool under his bare feet as he walked to the railing and gently flapped his wings - once, twice, then a third time - as he prepared to take off; and his anticipation built as he thought of soaring through the sky, the wind caressing his naked body, and the surge of liberty he would experience when he was free of the earth.
"Warren? Telephone - it's Scott in Westchester and it sounds important," Candy Southern called from the bedroom, her sweet, high voice drowsy with sleep. Warren sighed and walked back into the house. Freedom would have to wait a little longer.
He glanced appreciatively at his lover's lush curves and creamy skin as he took the phone from her and cradled it against his ear. "Hello, Scott, when did you get back to Westchester? I thought you'd still be in Alaska," he began jovially, as he tried (half-heartedly) not to be distracted by Candy, who, in an attempt to lure him back into bed, was slowly kissing his chest and neck. As he listened to what his old friend had to say the color left his face and he twisted away from her embrace, motioning for her to leave him. No stranger to the life of a superhero, Candy gave a disappointed "Hmph", slipped on a robe, and went to start the coffee.
When she returned Warren was sitting on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands. She sat down beside him, stroking one soft wing with her fingers, her jet black curls falling over her shoulder. "What's wrong, baby? Is somebody hurt? Dead?"
"No." He raised his head, a bittersweet smile on his lips. "No, no one's dead. Someone's alive."
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