by Alicia McKenzie
DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Marvel, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is set two days after X-Men #98, and includes spoilers for said issue within. I was meant to be reading for my comprehensive fields today, but I walked from the comic book store back to the library with the phrase 'She STOPPED HIM!!!' ringing incessantly in my head and this fic idea trying to throttle me. Thus, weak-willed as I am, I gave in. ;) Feedback would be much appreciated.
She could feel the heat of the tea through the thin china of the cup where it sat between her hands, but it didn't warm her, couldn't pierce the numbness that had wrapped her like a shroud since Ororo had led her onto the plane and they'd flown home from Egypt. Since Scott had. . .since. . .
Cold. She clung to it, and hated it, all at the same time. It was the same cold that filled her empty bed, the same icy numbness she faced when she woke up and remembered Scott was gone, and she was alone.
"Jean? Would you like some breakfast?"
Jean forced herself to look up at Ororo, but reinforced her shields at the concern in those intent blue eyes. She didn't want to feel how worried Ororo was about her. She didn't want to feel anything. The woman she'd been, the one who could empathize with the people around her was. . .gone? Dead? No. Not dead. Dead would mean admitting that Scott was gone, that she hadn't sensed him there, lost inside Apocalypse. That she'd made a mistake. That she'd. . .
"Jean!" A graceful hand fell on her shoulder, and Jean shuddered, drawing away instinctively as Ororo sank down into the chair next to her. "Goddess, Jean," her friend murmured, eyes glittering with tears. "It has been two days. Say something. . .please. We cannot bear to lose you as well."
Was that true? Had she not spoken for two days? She couldn't quite remember. . .couldn't remember anything clearly, really. She remembered the plane. Remembered lying in bed staring tearfully at the empty space beside her. Remembered sitting on the porch, listening to Logan. . .not hearing what he was saying, just listening to that rough but soothing voice. . .
"Jean, please. . ."
She raised her cup, sipped at the tea. Ororo gave a shuddering sigh, and took her hand off Jean's shoulder. "I will make you some breakfast," the windrider whispered, and moved over to the other side of the kitchen.
Jean continued to contemplate the tea. She set the cup down and turned it ninety degrees, calmly ignoring Kitty and Kurt when they appeared and went about their morning routines.
"Hi, Jean," Kitty said softly, coming over to the table with a glass of orange juice and sitting down. Jean rotated the cup another ninety degrees, and then picked it up again.
"Sheisse!" Kurt swore half-heartedly. "If I catch the person who left a mouthful of milk in the carton. . ."
It escaped Jean before she could help it. . .a short, painful, half-hysterical laugh. All three of them immediately turned to her, their expressions almost comical in their worried intensity, and she continued to laugh, ignoring the eerie wildness of the sound.
"Milk. . ." she finally gasped out, between laughs, as Ororo came swiftly to her side again. "Death to the milk bandit. . ."
There was a crashing noise from above, from one of the upper floors, and she flinched, the urge to laugh dying instantly. The others all jumped, as well.
"Gott in Himmel, what. . ."
"I'll check!" Kitty said swiftly, beginning to air-walk up to the ceiling.
Jean blinked, and for the first time in two days reached out telepathically. It wasn't any kind of an attack. . .or an accident. . .
"No!" she said sharply, or tried to; her voice was rusty and hoarse. The laughter hadn't helped; she felt like it had torn something in her throat. Kitty still froze, however, looking back down at her in surprise as she sank back to the floor. Jean let go of the teacup, and stood. "It's Nathan," she said, her voice a little stronger.
Kurt looked alarmed. "Jean. . ." he started hesitantly. "Perhaps you should let one of us. . ."
"No." She knew what they were thinking. . .what they were ALL thinking. She'd seen the memory of her confrontation with Nathan back in Egypt in half a dozen minds, re-experienced her own decision to stop him from killing the helpless Apocalypse - *from killing SCOTT!* part of her mind insisted furiously - from all those different viewpoints.
None of them understood. They'd all just stood there and watched, holding back. Respecting the symmetry of it. Letting the 'Chosen One' do what he'd been chosen to do.
Only it wasn't that simple.
"I have to talk to him. Alone." She turned and left the kitchen without a backward glance.
The door was locked. Not a surprise, and the pointed silence from within as she knocked wasn't anything more than she'd expected, either.
#Nathan. Open the door.#
No answer. Something sparked inside her, some flicker of real feeling. . .of ANGER, hard as that was to believe. #Damn you. . .OPEN THE DOOR! I don't care what you want to do when I get in there, Nathan Christopher, but I won't be ignored!#
The door flew open of its own accord. Swallowing past that traitorous lump of rage, she stepped in, and looked around.
The heavy antique chest of drawers that had sat in this room for as long as she'd been an X-Man was lying in pieces scattered across the room. That had been the source of the noise, then. Jean walked over, knelt down and picked up one of the elaborate carved knobs. She held it for a moment, tracing the elegant pattern gently. Pieces. Pieces of something that had once been beautiful. She. . .felt a weird kind of kinship, at the thought.
Nathan was standing at the window, his back resolutely to her. He was gripping the curtains with both hands, the flesh-and-blood hand white-knuckled with tension. She could see it in the way he held himself, the rigid stillness coupled with faint muscle tremors, as if there was a war being fought inside him. Stillness versus movement. Composure versus violence. She took a step forward. . .
#Don't come near me.# His voice was cold, so terribly cold, and Jean hugged herself involuntarily, shivering. She knew that cold.
His mind was totally closed off, as if he'd wrapped himself in seamless armor and thrown away the key. "Nathan," she said aloud. "I. . ."
#I don't want to hear it.#
She jerked, as if he'd struck her. "Hear what?" she whispered, feeling herself on the verge of. . .anger, again. A place she didn't want to go. "You don't know what I'm going to say."
"I don't want to hear it." His voice sounded ravaged, far less impassive than his telepathic words had been. "Whatever it is. Any of it."
"So that's the way it's going to be?" Jean asked, her voice roughening with pain, tears springing to her eyes despite her best efforts. Too close. . .*oh, damn you, Nathan, don't do this to me. . .if I feel any of this I'll go insane. . .* "You don't want to hear anything I have to say?"
"Should I just. . ." She glanced across the room to where his psimitar stood in a corner, bringing it to her hand with a flicker of telekinesis. "Should I take this and stab myself through the heart with it, Nathan? Would that make you happy?"
His techno-organic hand clenched further and then opened, the gauzy material of the curtains sliding through his fingers with a soft whispering noise as he let go. "Happy," he murmured, one mocking word.
Jean bit her lip until she tasted blood. "Say it," she whispered tautly. *Don't say it. . .* a wiser part of her whispered desperately.
"Fine. Are you happy?"
Match to tinder, and she was lashing out before she knew what she was doing, her telekinesis snatching Nathan's tall form away from the window and slamming him into the wall beside it, harder than she intended, hard enough to wring a choked noise of pain from him.
#HOW DARE YOU!# she shrieked at him. He didn't answer, didn't even try to struggle. #What do you think? How dare you, you don't understand, you WOULDN'T understand, Scott was. . .#
#DEAD!# Nathan suddenly shouted back at her, breaking her telekinetic grip with a sudden, overwhelming brutality, enough to send her staggering backwards, leaning on the psimitar for support. Nathan wavered a bit on his feet, one arm cradling his ribs awkwardly, but he glared at her unflinchingly as he advanced, his mismatched eyes burning with the fury coming off him in wave. #He was DEAD, Jean, and you STOPPED me from killing the motherless flonq who killed him, the MONSTER who's going to turn the next two thousand years of history into a living hell!# He stopped for a moment, swaying, but then his gaze locked on the psimitar. #Give it back!# he snarled. #You don't have any right to touch it, you doomed everyone else who'll ever carry one and billions of others to suffering you can't even imagine!#
Golden light lashed outwards, tugging at the psimitar, and she parried. #You sanctimonious. . .you would have killed him!# she screamed back as their minds strained against each other like wrestlers locked together, seeking leverage. #Your own FATHER!#
#He. . .was. . .DEAD! Can't you get that through your head? Do you feel anything along the link, Jean?# Something darker, crueler, edged his mind-voice. #You think I don't know? That I can't understand?# he almost hissed. #Don't you think I've faced that same emptiness every day of my flonqing life since Aliya died? I WENT ON! I did what I had to do!#
#You would have done the same thing I did, if it had been her! Don't tell me you wouldn't have!# Jean shot back, and gasped as he stabbed at her telepathically, the attack nearly buckling her shields in a blaze of pain. She focused, rebuilt them, and hit right back. He gasped, stumbling back against the wall, a trickle of blood running from his nose. He pushed himself back upright, shaking his head, and she laughed wildly. #Lying, you're lying. . .you HYPOCRITE. . .if you'd had any chance to save her you would have said 'to hell with everything else' and done it!#
Someone was shouting. Several someones, sounding very loud and agitated, screaming at both of them to stop, to 'let the shield down'. . .
#Jean! Nathan! Stop this immediately!#
"Sweet Goddess!" Ororo cried. "Jean, Nathan, drop the shield! Stop this!"
"Red!" Logan shouted hoarsely, flinging himself against the barrier that glowed gold one moment and rose the next. "JEAN!"
Charles Xavier ignored them both, ignored the whole crowd of frightened, noisy X-Men, and tried desperately to reach out and separate the two telepaths caught in this terrifying battle.
"I'll try and phase through. . ."
#No, Katherine!# Charles snapped, and Kitty froze, looking back at him in shock. He ignored her, and reached out again. *My God, the way they're entangled!* So passionately trying to hurt each other, and yet so desperately clinging to one another, the conflict visible on the astral plane like a Gordian knot of color and light, pulsing frantically. #Nathan! Jean! Listen to me, you must stop this. . .#
Nathan took a shaking step forward, and fell to his knees. Laughing, laughing as wildly as Jean had been laughing. #I did, Jean. . .I did have the chance, and I didn't take. . .that's the future he showed me, one with Aliya in it, he gave her back to me and I left her, I gave her up. . .it hurt so much but I did it, and you SHOULD HAVE DONE THE SAME!#
Anguish flared within the tangled psionic skeins. Nathan's, touching off a reaction in Jean, and she screamed aloud, a sound of such pain that Logan flung himself cursing against the TK shield. #Not real,# she sobbed, #it wasn't real, not the same. . .#
#IT FELT THE SAME! And I let her go, I didn't have any choice. . .STAB your eyes for being so selfish, he made his choice, made his sacrifice and you threw it away because you couldn't let him go. . .#
#He was alive, damn you, ALIVE! Your father, my husband, alive, if you'd just helped me instead of trying to kill him, listened to me. . .#
The energy in the room was building to dangerous levels, the psimitar Jean was still gripping somehow amplifying them even further. The power began to lash outward, like coiled snakes of rose and gold, and some of the X-Men in the hall ducked instinctively. Charles ignored it and kept struggling to reach them, desperation lending him strength.
*No, not this way. . .for Scott's sake, I can't let this happen. . .no, Jean. . .*
"For fuck's sake, Chuck!" Logan screamed. "Do something!"
#. . .love him, DAMN YOU! couldn't let you do it, don't you know what love IS, heartless, so cold. . .#
#. . .not ENOUGH. . .not IMPORTANT. . .more than love, so blind not to see it. . .HATE you for this, damn you to hell. . .#
#. . .not dead, won't let go, WON'T. . .#
#. . .failed, lost, could have ended it, saved them all, stopped the dying, stopped the nightmares, your fault, blood on your hands. . .#
#. . .LOVE him. . .#
#. . .never forgive you, NEVER. . .#
They were moving towards each other, staggering through the waves and waves of visible psionic energy, and a cry of denial escaped Charles as he watched the final moments of this hideous drama play out.
One combatant staggered, defenses falling.
One combatant seized the opportunity, launching a deadly attack. . .
#NO!# Outrage, denial, fierce protective love flooded up and overwhelmed him, and he reached out and stopped the battle, the only way he could.
Cable staggered, the color draining from his face, and crumpled without a sound.
Jean, on her hands and knees, blood running from her noise, looked up with a ragged gasp. "No. . ." she whimpered, crawling forward, pulling Cable into her arms. "Nathan. . ." Tears were pouring down her cheeks. "Nate. . .Nate, wake up, Nate. . .NATHAN!"
Charles didn't breathe. Couldn't breathe. He sat there in his chair. Frozen. Praying, begging whatever Gods that were for intervention as the TK shield fell and the others rushed into the room.
*What have I done. . .Scott, forgive me. . .*
"Nate," Jean wept. "Nate, I'm sorry. . .Nate, don't, please. . .don't leave me, please. . .don't leave me alone. . ."
A flicker of gold flared in the path of Charles' seeking mind, and the Professor took a deep breath that was more than half-sob as Cable stirred, eyes fluttering open and focusing on Jean.
"Redd," he whispered weakly. She broke down, sobbing almost hysterically, and he sat up, his arms going around her protectively, holding her close. "Redd. . .I didn't mean it, please don't cry, don't. . ." His shields down, Nathan was affected almost immediately by Jean's emotions, and he began to weep as well, holding her more tightly. "I'm sorry," the scion of a religion that didn't believe in apologies murmured brokenly, broad shoulders shaking with the force of his grief. "I'm sorry, Redd, I'm so sorry. . ."
Tears blurred Charles' vision, and he reached out to both of them, sending a wash of healing energy into their battered minds and drawing a protective shield around them tenderly as he moved his chair forward into the room. As dangerous as the precipitating event had been, they both needed this. Badly. To keep all of this inside would have destroyed both of them, in the end. They needed to let it out. Needed each other. And more, perhaps. . .
It was Ororo who moved first, kneeling down beside Jean and stroking her hair soothingly, murmuring words Charles couldn't quite make out. Surprisingly enough, Logan followed, laying a hand on Nathan's shoulder and squeezing tightly, his jaw set but his eyes full. The others followed more slowly, hesitantly, a circle of comfort and desperate caring forming around the two grief-stricken telepaths, trying to ease boundless pain and wrenching despair.
And mother and son clung to each other like two souls finding the only shelter they could.
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