Note: This story may be understood to have taken place sometime in the month that elapsed between X1 and X2. This is a stand-alone, based on no previous work I've done, though it assumes an orphan's background for Scott.
"I don't know if I can do this anymore."
The words were spoken late one evening while Jean stood irresolute in the doorway to their bathroom. She was dressed in a nightgown and robe, her arms crossed beneath her breasts like a wall, but whether to keep herself in or to keep him out, he couldn't have said.Nor could he have said her words came as a surprise. He might not have expected them this night in particular -- a Tuesday when they both had to get up at six the next morning -- but he'd expected them. They'd been walking around each other on tip-toe since Logan had left. Really they'd been walking around each other on tip-toe for months before that. Maybe for years.
Their rough spots came and went, and he'd wondered before if she were going
to leave him, but she never had, and after a while, his concern had worn
old and thin. One could maintain emotional vigilance only so long. "I think
I suffer from mild depression," she'd admitted once, and he'd replied (in
what he'd hoped was a supportive tone), "Why don't you go see a psychologist?
There's medication." But she'd never done that, either, and he hadn't nagged.
He hadn't wanted to nag, and he'd felt out of his depth. He could brood, to
be sure, but he rarely became as dispirited as Jean could get, doubting everything
about herself. It might have been surprising, given the trauma of his early
life, but he thought his resilience owed to that even disposition. In any
case, Jean wouldn't be the first person in a high-stress professional career
to suffer from depression, and God knew, that would affect their relationship.
Yet in the back of his head, he'd wondered (late at night when he couldn't
sleep) if there wasn't more to it? And since Logan had departed, he'd wondered
that a lot. Before, his fears of Jean leaving him had been a passing thing.
He was a Nineties kind of guy, and trusted his girl. Possible depression had
provided a neat excuse for her blue days (or blue months, really).
But after Logan, he'd been forced to re-evaluate. And that scared him.
Just now, though, he'd been getting into his sleep pants, ready for bed, and her announcement had stopped him with one leg in and one leg out. Caught with his pants down, literally, and he doubted Logan was ever caught with his pants down unless he intended to be."What are you talking about?" he asked her -- though he knew of course. He just wanted to make her spell it out instead of offer frustrated generalities.
She edged into the room and the light from the bedside lamp fell on her recently cut (and re-colored) hair. "I can't pretend anymore. It's not that I don't love you, or respect you --"
"But what? You respect him more?" He didn't need to name 'him.'"This isn't about Logan, Scott."
"The hell it's not." He'd finally gotten his other leg into his pants and grabbed a cardigan, intending to leave the room."Stop," she said, ripping the cardigan out of his hands telekinetically to lift it across to her own hand and drop it on the desk chair. But that seemed to exhaust her defiance and she said nothing else. Her face was very white, scared, and he might have felt more pity if he hadn't been just as scared as she was of this thing between them.
Still standing on the other side of the bed, he crossed his arms and said, "All right, so if it's not about Logan, what the fuck is it about?" He knew his voice was sharp and defensive, but he wasn't going to apologize.She paced away from the desk a little, then back again, her hands smoothing the dark wood top nervously. Yet she also seemed more resolute than she'd been in a while. Her jaw was set. "There have always been certain things we've done well for each other, completed in each other. And we've known each other a long time. We watched each other grow up."
Well, she'd watched him grow up. She'd already been a woman when he'd met her.
"But some things . . ." She took a deep breath. "Some things we don't do so well for each other." She flashed him a glance, then turned back to an examination of the desk top littered with the details of their united lives -- papers to grade, bills to pay, a book she was reading, a pack of recently developed photos. Her head was tilted to the side; she did that when uncertain."I love you, Scott. And I respect you. You are an . . . amazing person in so many ways you don't even see . . ."
He felt hot, burned by a flame all under his skin, but it didn't come from pleasure at her words. He waited for the other shoe to drop and wished for something solid to hold onto. He was adrift standing still in the center of his bedroom."But something's missing," she said. "Something's just not there for me. You'd probably say it's contempt of the familiar, and maybe it is. But I don't think it ever was there for me."
And inside his chest, his heart spun into free-fall. He'd thought he'd known how this conversation would go, more or less. He had known her a long time, and they could predict each other with frightening ease, but she'd just taken a sharp left. "What?" was all he could say.She took another breath and pulled her shoulders back, turning to face him. "I love you, but I'm not in love with you. I'm not sure I ever was."
"What?" he said again, like a broken record.
She scrubbed at her face and he could see that she was crying. The light
from the bedside lamp flashed off her wet cheeks. His own eyes were open,
so he couldn't cry, and in any case, he felt pierced, not sad. Stunned, like
a bull struck on the head before the slaughter.
"We've been dancing around this for a while," she went on. "Not speaking because we've never been very good at saying unpleasant things, have we? I didn't want to hurt you. But it's always been there."
She'd never been in love with him?"We've become roommates, Scott, not lovers. Good friends. Best friends, once. But I need more than a best friend, and I'm not sure you can be that for me."
No, he wanted to say. They'd been having problems, yes. She'd been depressed, yes. And it had been a while since he'd felt the spark of a crush himself, it was true -- but that happened in relationships, didn't it? Nothing stayed the same. And if they didn't have sex as much these days as he'd have liked -- hell, they didn't have sex much at all -- well, he could live with that. He just reminded himself that depression interfered with sexual desire, and he loved her; he wasn't going to push himself on her when she wasn't in the mood. He had a hand.Yet she'd never been in love with him?
What he'd feared was that she'd fallen out of love with him. That
she didn't love him anymore. He'd never imagined this. He'd never
imagined that she hadn't loved him at all. And what did one say
to that? There just wasn't anything to say to that.
She went on, relentless. "I know women who'd call me insane for even saying
this because you're such a good man, Scott. But I think that's the
problem. Not that you're good, but that I let that be my reason for getting
involved with you. We clicked intellectually, we held the same opinions about
things, and we had fun together. We shared the same interests. You were so
easy for me to talk to, confide in -- my very best friend. I thought
that was enough."
"No!" It was emphatic. "No, I took you because you were good. That's what I'm saying. You were good for me in so many ways."Yet he shook his head, not quite understanding. Or not wanting to understand. He felt as if he were hearing it all from some great distance and he wasn't quite in his body. Pressing the palms of his hands to his temples (to be sure his head was still there?), he said, "It still sounds to me as if you're saying I was safe."
"Maybe that was some of it. I'd been up and down with guys before you, and I was tired, emotionally. Being with you wasn't like that. You were steady, predictable -- a relief. But that's the problem. I need . . . feeling . . . somewhere in my life. I need someone to complement me, make my pulse beat faster -- not be my double. I want the yin and yang. I want the rush of feeling, emotion, passion. God knows I don't get it in my job. That's all up here." She rapped on her skull and her words were growing more animated, as if she'd finally figured out what to say and her mouth was having trouble keeping up with her thoughts. "My work is all about my mind. My gift is all about my mind. Everything's in my goddamn head. And this relationship, too . . .it's been too much in my head. Even in bed, I constantly think -- I can't let go and just feel!"
He turned beat red. "I'm sorry."
"I'm not saying you're a bad lover, Scott. You're not. But I'm always afraid I'm going to do the wrong thing and you'll freeze up, or see me as a . . . a slut. I can't let go. There are things I might want to try, but I'm afraid even to suggest them to you.""I'm not a prude," he said, but she was still talking and her words ran right over his.
"I knew all this going in, I knew you had certain buttons, but dammit, it bothers me. And I hate that it bothers me -- I feel so unbelievably shallow -- but it still bothers me. You can't even flirt with me, Scott. You've never flirted with me."Angry and frustrated and humiliated at once, he shouted for the first time. "I don't know how! I'd look stupid!"
"I know." And she'd gone from impassioned to sad. "You're just not that kind of person, and I know that -- I've always known it. You are who you are. I've tried to tell myself that wanting more from you was unreasonable and insensitive. And maybe it is -- probably it is. But I can't wish myself out of the wanting. I just wound up resenting you. That's not fair to you.""Or to you," he said bitterly, because he thought that was what she really meant.
"Or to me," she agreed without getting mad. "It's not fair to either of us. And that's what I meant. In some ways, we're very good for each other. But I wonder if -- in the ways that make a relationship work -- we're not good for each other at all?"He glared at her from behind the glasses and held his eyes resolutely open. He would not cry. "And you think Logan would be? He makes you feel."
"I told you, this --""IS about Logan, Jean! Dammit, it's all about Logan!"
"No, Scott." Her voice was quiet and she moved away from the desk, coming over to sit on the foot of the bed and play with the blanket. "I've been unhappy for a while. I've been so unhappy these last six months that I lost fifteen pounds. Did you even notice that? I haven't been able to sleep, I've been sick with one thing after the other -- most of it psychosomatic. I haven't been able to concentrate on anything but how unhappy I am. You thought it was the Senate hearings, but that was just a distraction. I've hated myself for how I felt, and what I haven't said, terrified of telling you the truth. But I had to. Finally, I just . . . I had to." She laughed; it was breathless. "Like that old Eagles song, you know. About the woman who married the older man for all the wrong reasons and then slipped out at night to meet her younger lover across town?"
"'Lying Eyes,'" he said.She flittered her fingers. "I keep thinking about that song. I mean, it doesn't fit us at all -- you're not old and you don't have cold hands -- but it does. I don't want to be that woman; I don't want to stay with you for the wrong reasons and cheat on you behind your back. You don't deserve that, and I won't do it."
"So what exactly are you saying? You want to break things off because you don't feel passion for me anymore? Passion goes away, Jean. It always goes away. It would with Logan, too.""Maybe. I mean, yes, I know it does. But . . ."
She trailed off, yet he could guess what she'd meant to end with. "But you never felt it for me in the first place," he said. It wasn't a question."No, I didn't." She turned to look at him and her eyes were sad, shining behind tears. "I'm so sorry." She reached out a hand towards him.
He didn't move forward to take it. "You lied to me? All these years? You lied to me about the most basic thing of all?"She dropped the hand. "No, Scott. Not like you mean."
"Yes, like I mean. If that wasn't a lie, then what was it?"She had to look away again, down at the blanket, and her fingers went back to pilling the wool. She frowned delicately. He'd never wanted to hit her before, but he wanted to hit her then. He wanted to knock that pretty frown right off her pretty face, and the violence of his own thoughts terrified him, holding him frozen in place.
"I don't know," she said, as he'd known she would."What am I supposed to do? I don't have a fucking clue what to do!"
"I'm not sure there's anything you can do. You are who you are. This is about me."He just blinked behind his glasses and his brain made an inappropriate connection to a Seinfeld episode about classic breakup lines. 'It's not you, it's me.' He almost laughed.
"If Logan had any role in this," Jean said, "it's that he made me realize I've been too motivated by affection, not by passion. I don't want Logan, Scott. I know you think I do, but I don't. I don't think I even like him much sometimes, but yes, he made me feel something I hadn't felt in a long time, and it wasn't something I've ever felt for you, even though I love you dearly. But it's not . . . it's not that kind of love. It's not passion."She looked up again. "I thought affection and liking and respect could make up for what wasn't there, for the things you couldn't give me, couldn't make me feel. No one is ever the perfect partner; my mother's said that to me often enough. So I told myself the same thing, but I guess it boils down to what I'm comfortable giving up -- and I think I gave up the wrong things. Wrong for me. More, I'm tired of feeling guilty for wanting those things. It's not good for me -- or for you. I just resent you and it spoils everything we had that was good. Is good."
A disbelieving laugh caught in his throat. "So you're telling me after all this time that you want to be just friends?" And he turned away, all the consequences starting to fall in on him. The stupid mundane details of breaking up a long-term relationship. Which of them would move out? And how could they begin to separate all the things they'd acquired across the years? What would they tell the students? 'Sorry, kids, 'Mom' and 'Dad' just don't love each other any more'? Would the students take sides? Could he and Jean keep themselves from wanting them to? Could they still work together on the team? The school depended on them, Xavier depended on them.She spoke. "I'm not sure yet what I want. I'm not leaving you tonight. And I am going to see a counselor, starting next week. I called yesterday and made an appointment."
He turned back around in surprise, and she pushed hair behind her ears with shaking fingers. "I've got some things to get straight in my own head. I have stuff to deal with that I've been avoiding for years, stuff that doesn't have anything to do with you. Maybe I'm having my mid-life crisis five years early, I don't know."But I didn't want to just drop all this in your lap one night and pack up the next day. I owe you more than that. Better than that. There's so much . . . there's too much --" She stopped and rubbed her face. "You don't just throw away nine years." He wondered who she was talking to? Him, or herself? Dear God, nine years. She'd been lying to him for nine years. It was unbelievable. How had he been such a blind idiot for nine years? "I think . . . I'm afraid I know how this is going to end," she went on. "But I'm not making any sudden changes. I do love you, Scott. And I admire you, like I said. I'm not going anywhere immediately."
He hated himself for the wave of relief that hit him. "Maybe there's something I can do. . ." He scratched the back of his head. "I'll do whatever you want. We can get marriage counseling, if you want. Or I'll go to a counselor again myself." He sounded pathetic to his own ears, but he couldn't keep from saying it."Maybe you should," she told him. "I don't know. That's the problem. I don't know what you can do or should do. You can't be someone you're not, or change your past. I just don't know." She rose from the bed, graceful as always, and walked over to him, taking his hand. "I do love you," she reiterated, as if that could make it all better.
"But you're not in love with me." And she didn't deny it or even reply. She was crying yet again. He still wasn't. But at least she had the good grace not to ask him if he was in love with her. It would've been the last humiliation, because he was. Still. Desperately. Instead, she hugged him and he let her, even hugged her back because he needed the contact so much. He just tried to pretend it was the old Jean, the Jean from half an hour ago, before she'd broken his world with a single sentence. She'd never been in love with him. Yet her arms were tight around him and it was almost awkward, hurting his back. Finally, he pushed her away."Are you okay?" she asked. It seemed like the most incredibly stupid question in the world, but he found himself replying, "Yeah, I'm okay," because what else was he supposed to say? Should he pitch a temper tantrum? It wouldn't change anything.
"I'll go down to the lab for the night --""You don't have to --"
"Yes, I do. Could you really sleep in the same bed with me tonight?" He watched while she picked up a few things for the evening and prepared to go downstairs to the lab. "I'm not sure I can sleep in the same bed with you," she admitted a moment later.She took her briefcase, which looked odd when she was dressed in a nightrobe, but she didn't pack any clothes because she wasn't actually leaving. Tomorrow night, they probably would sleep in the same bed. Or at least lie awake in the same bed. He doubted he was going to be sleeping well for a while now, either.
"I'll see you in the morning," she said, and left, but didn't kiss him on the way out, and he was oddly grateful for that. She wasn't pretending anymore -- even while another part of him wished she would pretend, just a little.When she was gone, he sat down on his side of the bed they'd shared since he'd been nineteen, his hands clasped between his knees. He sat there a long time. Dimly, he understood that the shock he felt signaled the beginning stages of grief for a terminal relationship, even as he knew he'd stick around, stick it out as long as she would. Maybe if she'd spoken five years ago, he'd have asked her to leave, even ordered her to leave. But not now. He'd poured too much of himself into this almost-marriage, and -- as she'd said -- one didn't throw away nine years. The process of unhooking themselves from one another daunted him, even if they weren't married yet. He'd thought the reason she'd never pushed for a formal wedding was because they were as good as married anyway. They even shared a checking account. Yet he understood at last that her reluctance had been her one honest act in the whole mess. She'd never given him a vow that she'd subconsciously known she'd break.
"She said she's not leaving you," he whispered aloud. In fact, she'd said she was going to try to work it out, was even going to a counselor at last. And he'd let her try, too, and be grateful. Yet she'd said, 'I'm afraid I know how this is going to end,' and did it really constitute trying when one entered into the effort with the assumption it would fail? There was nothing he could do to make her feel what she didn't.And that made him realize something. She'd spoken the one unforgivable truth. He could have forgiven her many things, including cheating on him with Logan. Human beings made mistakes and adultery was among the more common. But she'd committed the one sin he couldn't forgive.
She'd told him she wasn't in love with him and never had been. She'd lied to him from the start, betrayed him in a way far more fundamental than anything she could have done with her body. She'd betrayed his perception of reality, broken the foundation on which he'd built the house of himself. How ironic. She'd finally been honest with him after nine years, and he couldn't forgive her for what she'd said.Oh, he wouldn't leave any more than she would. Not yet, anyway. He was the 'good man,' after all. He'd stick around, stick it out, until she threw in the towel, either because he was stubborn, or stupid, or plain lazy and didn't want to face up to a divorce in essentials if not in fact. Or maybe his heart and mind just needed more time to process that not only was this the end, but there had never been anything there in the first place, at least not for her.
Yet leave? He couldn't leave. Part of him still loved her and that part would hang on until the relationship stiffened in rigor mortis. Feelings didn't turn off any more than they turned on just for wishing it. Not even to save his pride.There was, though, a new feeling that had taken up residence inside him, ripping him open to bleed dark and spoilt, like an infected wound. Hate. He hated her now as much as he loved her. And whatever happened, whether she went or stayed, whether she decided he wasn't a bad choice after all and he learned to pretend she hadn't said what she had -- whatever happened, he wasn't sure he could ever forgive her for this night.
Their relationship hadn't broken. But his trust had. He thought that might
be the greater loss.
Endnotes: I freely admit this story might better be seen as a conversation Jean and Scott could (or should) have had, rather than one they did have, since the viewer gets the feeling -- watching X2 -- that Scott and Jean haven't been communicating very well. It's also not very complimentary to Jean. I've resisted writing Jean at fault for the problems in their relationship because of a tendency in too much movieverse fic to portray Bitch!Jean, who acts more like a spoilt sixteen-year-old high school princess than anything remotely resembling a 30-something professional woman. Yet watching X2 again several times left me increasingly frustrated with her character. Granted, this has to do with script and even camera-angle choices, but despite her professions of love for Scott, she seemed unusually fixated on Logan, and I found it harder to view that sympathetically than after X1. Nonetheless, one can still give an honest portrayal without it necessarily being sympathetic, and whether the reader thinks Jean should stay with Scott or leave him probably reflects personal opinions about the nature of love and relationships. We don't all see it the same, and ultimately, that may be Scott and Jean's real problem.
Feedback always welcome (of course).