Taryn and John were still wandering around -- their fingers, to their most pleasant surprise, hadn't yet turned blue. Taryn, however, refused to walk alongside John at the moment, her brow furrowed in a mix of annoyance and restraint. They were walking over the frozen lake, the only walking space that was clear enough to walk through.

"You know," Taryn said quietly, "It's not really as cold as it was earlier. I thought that --"

"TARYN!"

John yelled loudly as the smaller girl went crashing through the ice -- it was slowly, slowly melting away beneath them.

"John!" Taryn shrieked, thrashing wildly in the freezing cold water, which felt at least ten times colder than the air above it.

He knelt down by the large crack in the ice, trying to swipe up her hand with his his, and failing miserably. "Don't go under- just stay up --"

"I can't!" Taryn shrieked, cut off by a slight gurgle as some water passed over her mouth.

"Taryn--"

John was interrupted, however, by the sound of jet turbines above him as the Blackbird stopped, just feet above them. John was plucked from the ground, an Taryn out if the water by an unseen force, and pulled into the jet.

Immediately, everyone on board began doting terribly over Taryn, whose lips had begun to discolor from the cold. Warren in particular knocked rather unceremoniously past everyone, kneeling down next to her as she coughed slightly and forced herself to sit.

"You!" Warren said, turning accusingly towards John and beginning to round on her. "You let this happen to her --"

"Warren, stop." Taryn snapped, grabbing hold of the crook of his arm and pulling him firmaly backwards, away from John -- neither knew quite how to react. She'd just protected John, the same John she'd pushed away just days before. "He tried to help me --"

"You scared the living daylights outta me," Warren said, changing track abruptly as he turned to face her, cupping her face with his hands. Behind his back, John couldn't resist a snigger at his watered-down, all-American-boy cliche.

"Well," Taryn laughed quietly, "I was pretty scared myself."

"Taryn." came a voice from behind everyone. She turned around and found the Professor waiting to speak to her. She obediently backed a respectable distance from Warren and awaited whatever he had to say. "I need you to focus and teel me if you sense anything wrong."

Taryn blinked in a mild bout of confusion, then understood his directions. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply for a few moments, trying to detect any sign of disturbance. "Something..." she muttered. "Drop Force, he -- I can't quite -- ugh, I'm useless!" she groaned, opening her eyes and throwing her hands up in exasperation. They needed her to be able to know what the man was doing, and she couldn't even do that. She ran her hands through her hair, giving it a stressed tug at the roots near her forehead, beginning to pace.

"Taryn." Xavier said in an authoritative tone, causing her to snap back into some level of composure. "This is of utmost importance. Now, I need you to focus."

Taryn nodded, closing her eyes and beathing again, tryng to expand her consciousness of her powers to a consciousness of everything around her. She felt herself regain the metaphorical grasp over her abilities that Xavier had always taught her, and slowly, the sensations began to clearly focus and process.

"Drop Force," she said quietly. Attention in the jet was rapt upon her. "Drop Force is bringing the planet closer to the sun with every minute." She opened her eyes slowly, brow furrowed in concern. "He's doing it without me -- I don't understand. If he could do it on his own, why did he bother bringing me --"

"Perhaps," Magneto said, clearing his throat and drawing his attention to his spot in the back of the jet, "This particular turn of events is relevant to Mr. McGarridy's excursion to Jamaica Bay. When's the last you've heard of your friend, Jean Grey?"

"She's dead." Taryn replied quickly. "She's dead."

"Legends speaks of an indestructible entity known as the Fiery Phoenix," Magneto continued, appearing not to heed Taryn's reaction. "Stronger than any human, any mutant, stronger even than death and reality itself --"

"No way!" Taryn burst out, forcing herself to her feet, not an easy task with the wobbling motion of the jet -- this information was more than she was willing to stomach. If this really was Jean Grey, she would never destroy the world she loved so dearly. They'd lost her, their encounter with the Phoenix was over... "She can't just -- she wouldn't --"

"That body cannot be destroyed," Magneto said, glancing pointedly at the shocked, blubbering young girl. " It is the chosen host of the Phoenix, a force that is neither good nor evil."

"Dr. Grey's still in there, then?" John interrupted, raising an eyebrow slightly.

"Somewhere, yes." Magneto replied. "Deeply suppressed, most likely irretrievable."

At that moment, the jet landed at the location which Charles had pinpointed the energy to be originating from. As the door opened, everyone began filing out, except for Taryn, who had sat back down on the floor of the jet.

"This is insane!" she said in a slightly desperate voice. "I don't want to be an X-Man anymore, I just want to be a person! People don't just

die and come back and die and come back and die and --"

Warren took a step towards her, attempting to coax her out of the jet. "Taryn --"

"I won't go!"

"We need you," he said, grabbing her hand and pulling gently. "We need all the help we can get --"

"She's not ready for it, you idiot." John said in his normal, stony tone. He walked back into the jet, swiping a set of communicators off of the supply wall and handing Taryn one of them. He was going in -- whether they wanted him to or not. If anything, he'd prove to Taryn that he wasn't a villain. "Take this." he said quietly. "If anything happens, I'll come running back for you, I swear."

Taryn paused for a moment, letting his words sink in as she locked eyes with him. She gave him a tight hug, then stepped back. "I know you will," she said quietly as he back away. She watched as the rest of the team rushed off into the distance. Only when they were out of sight did Taryn turn around and realize that Warren had remained behind. "It's not what you think," she said quietly.

"I thought you chose me?" he asked, shifting his weight as his expression narrowed, as if he'd in the last few seconds become completely lost.

"I did! I'm with you!" Taryn said in a shrill, defensive voice. "But I can't throw John completely out of my life --"

"I don't want to have to constantly be competing with him for your attention --"

"You don't need to compete with him," Taryn said in exasperation. "You're amazing. Everything you are knocks me off of my feet -- but when I was with John, that was when I actually figured out who I am --"

"That's not who you are anymore, Taryn," Warren said, stepping towards her and placing his hands bracingly on her shoulders.

"If only that were true," Taryn laughed sadly, shaking her head. She pushed away from him slightly and began pacing back and forth silently, not allowing him to get any closer to her. She didn't speak again for a good few minutes. "Being a mutant has ruined everything. I could've had a better life. My parents would've loved me. I could have gone to high school and done normal things that --"

Taryn was interrupted by a crackling noise from the communicator in her hand, and she jmped slightly, nearly dropping it. She lifted it to her face and pressed the button, calling loudly into it. "John?!" she said, receiving no answer. "John, can you hear me? JOHN!"

She threw the communicator down and shook her head fervently. "Something's going wrong in there," she said quietly. "I can't just stand by and --"

She let out a huff of breath, not even looking back at Warren, as she stormed out of the jet, running off and following the others' footprints for what felt like ages, until she reached what appeared to be a flaming fortress. 'What the --"

"You had your chance."

Taryn wheeled around and looked up, seeing Drop Force, standing with his arms crossed, a cruel smirk on his face. Taryn felt herself being raised into the air, despite any attempts she made to bring herself back down. The man in front of her merely smiled wanly. He'd trapped the rest of the team inside, and he was holding her back from reaching them. She was going to fail her friends, all because she hadn't come sooner --

"You can't beat me."

"Watch me," she growled, focusing her powers sharply and causing a wall of gravitational pressure to close in on him from all sides, so quickly that within seconds, all that was left of him was a bloodstained crater in the snow. She landed back on the ground and turned on her heel to run into the maze of desolation when she found herself standing in front of a woman with an angular face, harsh eyes, and wild red hair.

"Jean?"

"You're a powerful creature," she said in a distant voice, shutting her eyes and focusing mildly as Taryn felt a presence enter her mind. "And now, I'm going to give you the on thing you want. A new life."

Taryn's mouth opened silently, attempting to responds, but finding no combination of words appropriate. The Phoenix merely continued speaking.

"Everything you know, everything you cease before you, will cease to exist," she said, reaching out and placing a hand on Taryn's head. "The life you desire will be yours."

Taryn suddenly felt a sharp sense of being tugged away from the world, being erased from one reality and written into another one.

Meanwhile, eighteen-year-old Taryn Lawson awoke in her warm four-poster bed in her parents' house, swiping at the alarm clock and rolling out from under the covers.


A/N- Aren't alternate realities fun? Hee! Sorry I haven't been updating lately -- I'm now engaged, AND a college student, so life is quite a bit busy. But I'm trying to get updates on all my stories! Anyway, just to clarify, the next couple chapters are going to be in an alternate reality. No mutants, no Xavier's School -- Taryn gets everything she thinks she wanted. Wonder if it's all she had it built up to be? Stay tuned!