Scott has seen this movie before.
He doesn't remember the name -- something with subtitles. Hank brought it home to the mansion one night. The film showed a lot of people living in an old dormitory, somewhere in rural Japan. Only as you watched it, you realized they were all dead, and waiting to move on to the next life. The catch was, before they could go, each had to choose one memory that they could relive, a single moment that they could carry with them forever. It took a while for Scott to understand exactly what was going on. As soon as he did, he thought of the desert, the colors of the sunset, Jean's hand on his face and his eyes open against her skin.
Scott got to his feet, walked out the door and, when he was alone in the private bathroom, bent over and puked his guts out.
This story shouldn't surprise anyone who knows him. They might tell him to get a grip, call him a basket case or worse, try to diagnose him with some condition that had too many syllables and started with "post".
Here's the stupid part. This happened while Jean was alive. It happened before Apocalypse, while they were married, at a time when, if anybody had asked (though who would ask? They were Scott and Jean) he would have said they were happy. Until he stood up and walked away from the movie, Jean was sitting next to him, in the dark, with Hank and a handful of the older students.
So he pulled off his T-shirt, wiped his chin, swigged and spit mouthwash, lay down on the bed with his eyes closed, and waited. He knew she would give him a few minutes, listen in the hall, then slide through the door and say. . .
"Sweetie? Tired?" He raised his head a little. She stepped closer and perched on the edge of the bed. With a sympathetic smile, she said, "Bored?"
"Try 'sick'." He made a face. "Probably something I ate."
Jean's lips twitched as she leaned down toward him. "We've been over this. Delicate stomach." She flicked a finger against the skin right below his navel. "There is no reason to get in a meat-eating contest with Logan. Because you will lose."
He showed her a smile. "Actually, I think it was that sushi Hank brought in. Oh, shit –" Scott started to get up. "He's going to think he offended us." And not just because of the sushi. "I ought to tell him – what if I say reading the subtitles hurt my eyes?"
"Only if they can hurt my eyes, too!" Jean answered, with feeling. "Did you see what he rented? Some of it was in Russian. You are not leaving me alone with Henry McCoy and twelve hours of Tarkovsky." Jean put a hand across his chest and guided him firmly back to the mattress. "Also, it's a bad lie because you've seen The Seven Samurai twenty-three times. Most of them with Hank."
"It's not like I have to read the words every time – all right, it's weak. Still, I should – he'll think –"
Scott tried to rise again, but Jean held him down. He could have resisted her hand, but he knew that look. "It's not Hank I'm worried about." She slipped out of her shoes and lay on her side. As her body settled against him, he could feel the cautious probing at the fringes of his psyche. It would be so easy to open up and let her in. It was always easy. "Trust me," he said, turning his face away. "What's going on in my head isn't very interesting."
"Fair enough –" Scott felt her slip out of his mind, like a hand that had been playing at the edge of a glove and now let it drop. But while she gave him this mental release, her fingers slid down his arm and clasped his hand. Pressing her palm firmly into his, she said, "I didn't want to watch the movie either. I've been dead. It wasn't like that."
"Not funny," he grunted.
Jean raised her free hand, two fingers apart to signal, A little. "If anybody gets to joke about it, I do."
"I wasn't joking."
"I know." She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. "So, Mr. Summers. Speaking very seriously, as we are. What's your one great moment of true happiness?"
"I guess. . . Our wedding day." His lips brushed her chin. "Wedding night." It sounded like what he knew he was supposed to say.
Jean raised her head. "Honestly?"
He swallowed. "No."
To his relief, she smiled. "I know. I was there with you." Her hand moved to his face, thumb grazing his cheekbone as her fingers touched his eyebrow, then closed around the sides of the lens.
"Jean –?" he said uncertainly.
"Hold still." She leaned close and kissed his forehead. "It's something the Professor's been teaching me."
He jerked away and looked her. "The professor what?"
Jean flicked his chin with her finger. "Telepathy, you dork. We're working on shared visualization. Now --" She touched his jaw and steered his head back onto the pillow. "If you just focus on the memory. Are your eyes closed?"
Scott nodded and braced himself as she pulled off the glasses. Her hand slid down his forehead, until her palm hovered over the lids. "Now keep them shut," she said. "You can keep your eyes closed and still see." From the empty pulsing red before him, the scene shifted. He was staring at a sunset with all its colors, the sharp day's heat going to evening in a southwestern desert. Her arm draped around him, chin nestled at the junction of his neck and shoulder; night chill moved in with the sunset, and a sharp wind whipped her hair against his face.
He was living it all again, there and real, yet at the same time he was on his back, in the bed, wrapped in his own sheets with Jean's lips against his. He kissed her in the vision, and tasted her in the moment. In his mind, he stood braced against the wind; at the same time, he felt her thigh cross over his hip. His body started to respond, and he raised a hand the small of her back, pressing her closer.
On the bed, Jean rocked slowly against him. His breath quickened. In the desert, she leaned harder against his shoulder. He put his hand in her hair, which glowed as brightly as the setting sun that colored the horizon, its rays reaching out – and out – until the sun itself shifted away from its shape, bright light erupting into tendrils of flame resolving into wings and an arched neck, a form he didn't want to know that he knew and then. . .
. . .the vision was gone. Scott was on his back on his mattress and no one was touching him and everything was red. "Jean?" He reached out blindly, his hand shaking.
Her voice, when it came, sounded small. "I'm sorry." Then she was pushing his head back onto the pillow. She pressed a finger to his temple, and the glasses slipped back. Scott opened his eyes, and felt a brief release, before the lens caught the rays again. When he looked up, Jean sat on the side of the bed with hands on her forehead. "I'm sorry," she repeated. "I thought I could but –" With a shuddering sigh, she said, "That probably wasn't the best memory to start with."
"It's all right." Scott circled her wrist with his fingers and gripped her tightly. "I shouldn't have asked."
She smiled. "You didn't."
"Maybe not." He ran the back of his hand up the underside of her arm. Jean giggled and turned her head. She was ticklish there. "Sometimes with you and me," he said, "wanting isn't all that different from asking."
"Yes, I suppose –" A smile played at her lips, and he felt himself flush, because he was still aroused and she must have been sensing that. "Are you sorry for what you want?"
"No, but –" Her tone had been playful, but he turned his head, couldn't face her as he said, "Maybe. Shouldn't I be? I want to remember that, but it isn't even your memory."
"It is!" Scott looked up at her, startled at the insistence in her voice. She lay the flat of her hand on his neck. When he swallowed, his Adam's apple moved against her skin. "Maybe I wasn't in this body, but everything that has happened to me is part of me. All of it. I remember it, and so it's my memory." Her hand moved up to his face and her green eyes smiled down on him. "Not necessarily my best memory, of course."
"Of course not," he answered, feeling like more of a jerk by the second. What Jean would remember was having her brain invaded by a power-tripping pervert and a destructive cosmic force, at the same time – and here he was getting sentimental about his goddamn eyes, a memory of a time that only felt innocent because he had been too slow to understand what was really happening, that it was already too late.
"Stop beating yourself up, Mister Summers," she said. "That's not what I meant. It's only that I have a better candidate for my perfect moment. If I may advance a radical suggestion --" She squeezed his hand. "How about now?"
"Now?" Scott laughed. "What, you mean now now? The Brotherhood's on the move, the Blackbird needs a new engine, Hank's got the TV tied up with the boring film festival, and my mouth still kind of tastes like vomit now? That now?"
"You tell me," she said, sliding down into the bed beside him. "When's it going to be better?"
"I've seen this movie before," said Emma. "Come zip me up."
"Huh?" Scott tore his eyes from the television and set down the remote.
"Zip. Me." Emma tapped a finger to her spine, pointing Scott to the back of a gown whose price tag could probably have fed one of their students for a year.
He moved instinctively, but snuck a quick look back at the television. "You wouldn't like it," Emma pronounced. "Subtitles. No samurai. Bunch of mystical Buddhist crap." Scott hooked the last eye on the dress – she had assured him that the gala would raise enough money to feed fifty students for a year -- and Emma turned to examine his wardrobe. "Darling, is that a full Windsor?" She brought a hand to his throat and purred, "My, but the boy does clean up." Her eyes moved over his shoulder. "Honestly, Scott. If you must see the news, that is one thing, but gratuitous television in the bedroom – is that really something you want to watch?"
"No." He picked up the remote. "I was just flipping channels." And, as long as he didn't let her suspect that anything was amiss, Scott might just be able to keep Emma from jumping into his mind to examine the denial.
Quickly, casually, Scott turned off the movie. He allowed himself only the passing thought that Jean, as always, had been right.
A/N: The movie they're watching is Wandafuru raifu, a Japanese movie called "After Life" in English.