Smoke on the Water

By TheLostMaximoff

Disclaimer: Don't own these characters. Valentine's Day is coming up and I figured I should do something special. R/R as always.

I still feel her touch sometimes. When I awake from my dreams of her it lingers on my skin. After I wake I almost wish to sleep forever so I can always be with her. I feel like it now as I lie in my bed and stare listlessly at the dark ceiling of my room.

"Julia," I whisper faintly. The heavenly name still sounds like music on my lips. I blink and almost see her lying next to me. I shake my head to dispel the ghosts inside it. They will eat me alive some day but until then I have to keep my head above water. I turn the phrase over in my head as I move to open my window. What exactly would happen if I refused to keep my head above water? Would she be waiting for me under that water? Would it be worth it to see her again? I crouch on my windowsill and contemplate it.

Today, or what remains of it, is a very important day. It is February 14th or Valentine's Day. It is a day when people pay homage to perhaps the greatest of all human emotions but this year it is a day that offers me little solace. They say it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I don't believe them. I run my hand over my chest, over the place where the scar used to be. It has long since healed but the scar on the inside, the one that burns deep into my heart, serves to remind me that what they say is wrong.

"No," I tell myself as I take my hand away from my chest, "Not today." I promised myself that I wouldn't cut myself anymore. I used to do it a lot since Julia died. I was mad with grief, clinging to any chance to see her again I could just to keep myself from drowning. So I would cut myself, leave huge bloody wounds over my heart so that the outside would match the inside. It didn't work and it never will. I have given up this insane battle. It's become quite obvious that I'll never win anyways.

"But still," I muse to myself as I turn back inside and reach for my guitar, "I should do something." I cradle the guitar gently as I climb out of my window. I haven't played it much since I came here. Life as an X-Men trainee and a student has kept me quite busy. I find the time to strum a few chords and write some verses but nothing substantial. Nothing like what I could once do. Sometimes I feel cheated, feel angry that my gift seemingly left when she went away as well.

"For you then," I whisper as I feel myself take flight. It is an odd feeling to fly. Were it not for the guitar slung over my back I wouldn't feel any weight at all. It's a freedom, flight. The sky is no longer a limit, no longer some far and distant world. I remember a time before I had wings. Julia and I would lie on grassy hillsides and stare at the sky for hours on end wondering what was up there in its vast reaches. Sometimes I'll go up on the roof and stare into the night sky, wondering the same thing. Is she up there now, up in that far away place that not even my wings can carry me?

I shake my head as I feel my wings carry me over the grounds of the Xavier Institute. The thump of music can still be heard from the ballroom. Since it's not only Friday but a holiday as well Cyclops and Miss Frost deemed it a good idea to throw a dance or formal or whatever you want to call it. So everyone got excited and began asking each other out and whatnot. I decided to skip out on that, too many bad memories. Besides, I'm not a very good dancer anyways.

The music fades as my wings take me away from the school's grounds and towards the woods behind it. I know the place I'm looking for. Having an older brother who practically grew up here, I've heard about all this in excruciating detail. Breakstone Lake, just back in the woods behind the school. It's a nice spot, somewhere you could take your girlfriend for a romantic interlude. I touch down softly on the shore of the lake and stare at the expanse of water before me.

"Hey, pretty lady," I say quietly as I rest my guitar against a tree and walk towards the water's edge, "Can you hear me?" It's foolish to expect a reply. I've heard a lot of tall tales and urban legends but even I know the dead can't talk. But even still, I feel some sort of reply somewhere inside me.

"I think about you a lot," I say as I dip a finger into the cool, clear water and swirl it around absently, "I miss you all the time, Julia." It's funny how inadequate words sometimes are. I could write a thousand songs full of eloquence and depth but when I wish to express my heart this time all my words seem clumsy and ineffective. I sit in silence and stare at my reflection in the water. For a moment I get a flash of a memory. Breakstone Lake becomes a small pond in the mountains of Kentucky. The face I see in its waters is not my own but the face of a goddess, a true angel. For a moment I want to reach in and take hold of her, pull her out of the murky depths and into my arms. Then as quickly as it comes alive, the memory dies and things return to normal.

"I decided to do something special," I tell the depths of the lake, "It's Valentine's Day and. . .I still love you." I return to where I put my guitar and pick it up, gently resting it on my lap as I sit on the grass overlooking the lake. I experimentally run my fingers over the strings, testing the water before I dive in. I close my eyes and try to remember it all, knowing full well I could never forget it.

"For you, Julia," I tell the lake. My fingers move down a path I once knew so well. The road is so rocky now though. I fight to form the strangled chords into the song I know so well. I imagine it now, the night at The View. I saw her waiting tables and I knew it had to be her. So I sang to her that night, sang to her a song of lost love and innocence. There were others in the room but none of them mattered. I sang to her that night and now, months after her death, I still sing the same song to her wherever she may be.

My voice comes next. I struggle to maintain the perfect tone and pitch. It's easy to say you've moved on from something or let something go. It's another, harder, thing entirely to actually do so. The hurt doesn't go away all at once. You lose a little of it each day. Sometimes it comes back, comes at you so fast and hard that you have to fight it back. I suppose it's like a tide. Some days the grief is so strong you almost get overwhelmed by it. Other times it subsides, so much so that you think it's gone completely. Ebb and flow, laugh and cry.

My fingers find their marks easily now, my voice no longer choked or strained. The blurry image of her that night now comes into focus. I can see her standing there, watching me in awe as if I could do something unbelievable. Didn't she know? Didn't she know that I couldn't do any of those things unless I had her to help me? It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful she looked. I feel now what I felt that night. Something deep inside me suddenly erupts. I knew that night that I loved her, loved her more than anyone else I ever met before. She was the only person in the audience that night despite the fact that the place was packed. I could travel around the world and sing to millions of people yet every time I'd be singing only to her.

"I miss you, Julia," I tell the moonlit lake as I finish my song, the first song I ever sang to her, "More than anything, more than words can say, I miss you. Happy Valentine's Day." I let the silence linger as I stare into the night sky. For a moment, I can almost feel her sitting next to me, her gentle fingers placed delicately on my shoulder.

'I know, Josh,' I hear her tell me, 'but you have to stay for me. I know it's hard but please try.'

"Anything for you, my love," I whisper, "Anything and everything for you." I continue staring at the night sky checkered with stars. I'm not one to believe in ghost stories but for a few brief moments I imagine seeing her face in the stars above. A beautiful place for a beautiful angel. As I stare at the sky I can see something else come into focus. As I see her face in the stars, I can almost swear that she's smiling down at me from up there.

'Happy Valentine's Day, Josh,' I hear her whisper, 'and I will always love you.'

"The death then of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world, and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such topic are those of a bereaved lover." – Edgar Allen Poe