Stinging Velvet

Downstairs the furnace swells
Safe from all the horrors in your stinging velvet arms
And I surrender, surrender.

i. burning

Sometimes, after New York, Jean wakes up and knows she was supposed to have died.

There is no immediate rationale for this thought, no half-riddle of a prophecy or scrap of paper from one of Irene Adler's diaries. She just knows it, deep down in the marrow that clings to her bones, bones that are still strong and whole and not rotting in silence beneath the frozen ground outside. Each slight murmur of air against her skin makes her want to scream, and the muted light that snakes through the curtains feels like it is burning her eyes.

In the darkness she feels the Phoenix. It whispers and murmurs words in a language she does not speak, but understands.

((we will not die))

But I will, Jean thinks at it, and she feels the slight brush of its ancient wings, stretching out like waves, touching against her mind.

((not yet. calm.))

Jean likes to think that the Phoenix saved her, but she knows it's not true. The Phoenix would burst forth, screaming in pain and rage, if its mortal coil was broken. It would cast forth into the sky and shriek its terrible song, and it would find someone else for a host. If it grieved for Jean, she would never know. And maybe in in the end it was Phoenix, motivated by purely selfish reasons, because what else drives a creature with no soul, no conscience?

I should ask Emma, Jean thinks, and when she can't sleep she lies in the dark and pictures her, Emma, winter-wheat hair and eyes that shine like clear blue glass. Emma, who seems to suffer no guilt at all over anything she's done. Maybe the Phoenix would like Emma. Like calls to like. If Jean had died, would Emma have both Jean's husband and the Phoenix?

Jean lies in the darkness and stares at the shadows, thinking about burning.

ii. frozen

Emma thinks, uncharitably, that maybe it would have been better if Jean had died.

At night she paces the length of her room, feeling the darkness around her like a trap, like a tomb. Ever since Genosha she has hated the thickness of total dark (sound like the world ending and breaking and glass breaking and stifling thick dark too much too long can't see), and that is why she forces herself to endure it, night after night, when she cannot sleep.

Scott sleeps alone, in the room down the hall that he once shared with Jean. Since they came back from New York, Jean does not sleep with him. They barely look at each other. Scott teaches and runs drills in the Danger Room, and he and Jean sit next to each other at dinner and do not look at each other. Everyone notices; the students, the staff, even Wolverine. Emma tilts her chin up and does not dignify the things she hears with a response.

Did you hear? Mr. Summers and Ms. Frost were having an affair and Mrs. Grey-Summers totally caught them!

Which was almost true, except the affair wasn't real. If Jean had died in New York, perhaps Scott would have come to her in truth. And now they were both miserable, and Jean's hatred for Emma burned so hot that Emma could taste it on her tongue, acrid and thick like the ashes she remembers from Genosha.

Somewhere down the hall, is Scott awake, thinking the same? Is Jean?

Emma lies awake and stares at the shadows, and shifts her body to diamond. She feels nothing, nothing at all.

iii. trapped

Scott sleeps, for a few hours at a time, and wakes up with the covers tangled around his legs. He reaches for Jean before he remembers she's not there; and for a moment his heart beats faster and he thinks about New York and imagines that she's dead, and he's lost her again.

She's not dead, though. She's just down the hall, refusing to sleep with him because of what happened with Emma. They don't speak beyond necessities, and at breakfast, he sits and feels them staring at him; Jean's eyes, full of recrimination and hurt, and Emma's, cold and aloof and angry.

He dreams about them both. Emma, her cool limbs wrapped around him, lips pressed to his neck.Darling, she whispers, and her voice tickles against his skin,Are you going to pretend you don't want me just because now she knows?

Jean, warm and burning-hot beneath him, staring up at him with challenging, knowing eyes. Scott, she purrs in her honey-soaked voice, Are you going to pretend you don't want her because now I know?

His dreams of them are tangled up together; a blur of pale hair and green eyes, fiery hair and eyes of pale blue. He wants them both, and he knows it's wrong, because now he can't have either. He should go back to Jean and tell her he's sorry, but it won't matter, because he loves Jean so much and he wants Emma, and Jean will always, always know.

This has to end. The tension between the three of them is growing thicker, stronger, and is going to break.

One way or another.

iv. fragile

Despite Scott's resolve to see things fixed between them, it begins with Jean.

"I can't take this anymore," she says, storming into Scott's (their) bedroom, hands on her hips. "I love you. I've always loved you. I want you, and I can't--" she looks away, and while he wants to reach out and hold her, draw her into his arms, he can read don't you dare as clear as day on her face. "I can't just forget that, Scott. I keep trying, but I can't."

"I don't want you to," Scott says, and he's sitting on the bed, face stoic and set, trying not to think too loudly about how much he misses her, how much he loves her, how he's sorry for what happened, he didn't mean it--

"You're not," Jean says, eyes narrowed, shaking her head. Her hair tumbles around her shoulders, shifting like flames. Her eyes are too bright, edged in white. "You're not sorry. Maybe that you got caught. But you want her. You still want her, even now."

And you still want Logan, I just can't tell because I can't read your mind. He thinks it before he can stop it, and he knows by her sharp, indrawn breath that she's heard.

"That's not fair. I didn't do anything, never betrayed you." Her voice catches, and she looks away. Something is there that isn't quite the truth, but she won't share. That she has the luxury of hiding things bothers Scott, though he knows that is unfair. "Scott. I think--I think I have an idea."

When she starts talking, he wants to laugh. It's the most absurd thing he's ever heard. It'll never work.

v. seeds

"That's the most absurd thing I've ever heard. It'll never work."

Jean tries not to do what she wants, which is to reach out and tangle her fingers in Emma's hair and pull, watch her face tighten in pain while she tightens her hand and pulls the other woman's throat back, slowly--

"Darling, those thoughts are not exactly conducive to the plan you've described to me." Emma raises a brow at her. She's shielding tight, but not tight enough, and Jean is a better telepath and can sense Emma's sudden, sharpened interest despite her attempts to appear disinterested.

Jean wants Scott, and Emma wants Scott. Scott, by his own admission, wants them both. This is known, this is not secret. There is something else, though, between the two women that has nothing to do with Scott.

Jean leans forward and kisses her. Emma tastes cool, like peppermint. She's surprised, Jean can tell, and then Jean puts her fingers in Emma's hair and pulls just like she'd imagined.

Emma makes a sound that is not one of pain. Jean's hands slide up her neck and squeeze, lightly, and Emma's eyes are wide. "Do you see?" Jean asks, and she's straddling Emma in the chair (when did that happen, Jean doesn't remember, and Emma is softer than Jean would have thought, softer and warmer) and her mouth is pressed lightly against Emma's neck. Jean breathes out and Emma shudders beneath her, and Jean feels the Phoenix purr, pleased by the sudden glut of lust and fear.

Emma reaches up and tucks Jean's hair behind her ear. Her face is flushed. Her pupils are dilated, making her eyes look like obsidian ringed in ice. "Yes," Emma breathes, and Jean feels hot fingers slide up her shirt, over the muscles of her back. "I see."

Jean leans down to kiss Emma again. She bites the other woman's lip. It is surprising how much Jean likes this, how good it feels; Emma's wariness and slight fear and undeniable interest.

Scott, Jean calls simply, licking Emma's neck. Emma's skin is smooth and slick, and Jean likes the way it tastes beneath her tongue. You should come in here.

When he opens the door, it takes Jean and Emma both a moment to notice. For a long time he just watches, wary and unsure, and his loud thoughts convey he is convinced this is a trap or a dream or both.

Jean has her hand beneath Emma's top, fingers moving over Emma's full, soft breasts. Scott is standing next to her, and she takes his hand and kisses it. She places it on top of her own, on Emma's breast covered in smooth blue satin, and looks up at him, aroused and determined.

Scott's fingers tighten on her own. Emma gives a breathless little laugh.

Emma's hips are moving beneath Jean's body, eager and seeking. She looks up at Scott, then back at Jean. He wants this. Both of us. He's always been afraid to admit it.

Jean smiles at Emma. It feels sharp, her smile, and it makes her want to bite; just there, on Emma's upper arm, where it will hurt and leave a bruise. She gives in to the urge--because isn't this what it's all about?--and does it.

So have you. So have I. Let's stop being afraid.

vi. saplings

The arrangements are the hardest part; who sleeps where, who gets what night, what do they do on holidays?

Scott is very good at details. After it is clear that this is more than just a few nights of frantic sex, when it is clear that despite all evidence to the contrary they actually intend to try and make it work, he starts a calendar on Google. It is password protected and he sends them all the password. There are colors for each of them: red for Jean, blue for Emma, and yellow for Scott. Emma and Jean read the calendar and the attached email and start laughing.

"Look, you have three hours blocked off, and I only have two. Is that because it takes you longer to come?" Emma giggles like a schoolgirl, perched on Jean's knee.

Scott is sitting across the room, his arms crossed over his chest. He's never quite sure how the two of them--they still don't really like each other, even he can tell--are so much more comfortable with this than he is. "I didn't mean the blocks to be actual time," he says, and he's feeling a little disoriented by the fact Emma (his girlfriend) is sitting on Jean's (his wife's) lap. (Are they girlfriends? Scott likes to pretend they are, but Jean just laughed at him when he asked). Jean has her hand around the back of Emma's neck, lightly, not a threat but maybe the promise of one.

"And I don't take that long, Frost. You're just getting the hang of it, still. Scott wouldn't need that long."

"Um," Scott says, clearing his throat, staring at them both. "Could we get back to the less-distracting conversation?" Sometimes he wonders exactly how this happened, and then decides he doesn't want to think about it too long. Things are definitely a bit weird, but they're better than they have been in months. Jean smiles now, at him, without that fine-edge of tension around her mouth.

Jean pushes Emma off her lap--none too gently, which is both amusing and somewhat arousing--and stands up. When she stretches, her muscles pull and shift in a slow, sensuous gesture. It amuses Scott that he's not the only one staring; despite the slightly miffed expression on Emma's face, she's watching, too. "Scott," Jean says, walking around the desk. She puts her arms around him, smiling. "Stop being so regimented. Let's just try and be a little more easy with this, okay?"

"Okay," Scott says, but it makes him nervous to think of all the potential for hurt feelings, all the things that could go wrong. "I just think we need guidelines, or something."

"And we'll have them. But this isn't Big Love," Jean jokes, smoothing his hair back. "I think we should just move in one room, to start, and work out the rest later."

"The students--"

"We can easily hide this from them," Emma says with a shrug. "You have two of the most powerful telepaths in the world living under one roof." She raises a brow at Scott's look. "Unless you'd like them to know the sordid details of our littlearrangement?"

"Whose room, then? Ours? I mean--" Scott doesn't know what to say. Jean never did move back in, even after they made up. "I don't think we'll all fit in a queen bed."

"We'll get a king-sized bed and move in that empty room down in the corner, the one with all the windows."

"That's the Professor's room," Scott protests, but weakly. It's a nice room, big enough for a king-sized bed, and it has a bathroom with two sinks. The thought of sharing a bathroom with not one but two women, one of them Emma Frost, is somewhat daunting.

Jean kisses him, slow and sweet, and Scott stops thinking.

When the women have left the office, however, he goes back to the calendar. If it's not just about sex, they'll need time for other things. He reworks the calendar and does a little research on the web. He orders a few books that have titles he'll never live down, if Logan finds them. The Ethical Slut.A Practical Guide to Open Marriages.

The Professor used to teach that knowledge was power. Scott wonders what he would say if he knew exactly how Scott was following that particular lesson.

vii. bloom

It isn't easy. Nothing worth having ever is.

Sometimes Emma wants to forget about the whole thing, because as much as she loves Scott (and she does) she still isn't sure what it is she feels about Jean. A powerful attraction, certainly, but there is something between them that is cruel and Emma doesn't think that will ever change. She doesn't really want it to, precisely, which is something that unsettles her if she thinks about it too much.

Scott wants them to be friends, Emma knows this. And they are friends, of a sort. Sometimes they shop together, sometimes they go out and see a movie. But that isn't what they are to each other, not really, and it isn't really what each wants the other to be.

The sleeping in one room arrangement lasts for a month before they have to re-evaluate the situation. Three people in a bed is not as comfortable as one would think, even if it's a California King, and Jean and Emma fight more about space in the bathroom in those first few months than they do about Scott. So Emma moves in the adjacent room and they discretely hire workers to add a connecting door.

Emma and Jean do not often share a bed the whole night. They have sex that is quiet but menacing, edged with sadism, and it makes Scott uncomfortable on occasion to watch it. Emma will have bruises or scratches down her back in the morning, and they burn in the shower beneath the hot water. And that is what she needs from Jean, and it is what Jean needs to give to be comfortable with Emma. Sometimes Emma sees something swimming behind Jean's eyes, something terrible and ancient, and Jean's fingers burn where they touch her. Jean seeks to punish and Emma seeks atonement, and somehow they make it work.

On Emma's birthday, Jean and Emma have sex in the middle of the afternoon. Jean's nice and only leaves a few bite marks on Emma's inner thigh, because she knows it turns Scott on to see them. That night, when Scott and Emma return home from dinner, Emma shares a psychic link with Jean and Jean watches while Scott fucks Emma. He licks the bite marks Jean left and Emma stretches beneath him, smiling with half-slitted eyes, enjoying Scott's touch and the memory of the bites.

On Jean's birthday, Emma takes her to a spa for the day. She wards the room and they have sex in the large submerged tub, and Emma has to hide the scratches on her back when the woman comes in to give them their hot mud treatment. They are lying on tables next to each other, and Emma turns her face towards Jean and lets her watch as she hisses in pain, as the oils touch the scratches that only Jean can see.

That night, Jean goes out to dinner with Scott. She does not share the rest of it with anyone but her husband, and Emma spends the evening watching a movie and painting her nails.

Scott's birthday, of course, is predictable.

viii. garden

After a year, it's the secret that everyone knows.

They stop hiding it, somewhat; they give gifts at Christmas with tags that say To Scott, from Jean and Emma (disregarding how many arguments it took to find a gift they would both agree on) that sit beneath the tree with all the others, they go out together to celebrate their "anniversary" (Scott finally had to pick the restaurant, Jean and Emma could not agree on which was appropriate), they take a vacation to the South Seas together (there is a picture on Scott's desk of Jean and Emma drinking tropical drinks, scantily clad in their swimsuits, that the students always try to sneak a peak of). Sometimes, Jean will walk in a room and catch the students whispering about it, but soon it becomes just another facet of everyday life, no longer quite so salacious if not still a bit scandalous.

If the parents know, they never mention it. They have greater things on their mind in this growing culture of anti-mutant hysteria than the love lives of their students' headmasters.

Emma and Jean still fight. There are jealousies because it is impossible not to have them. Emma can still be a bitch when she feels slighted, and often she feels that she is. Jean feels on occasion that Scott likes his girlfriend better because she is new, because the curves of her body are a recent discovery, not known and familiar like Jean's. Scott is a man who is in a relationship with two strong-willed telepaths. He thinks (quietly, when they're out of "earshot") that he has it the roughest, really, trying to be a partner to them both.

Then he sees the two of them in his bed, Jean's mouth teasing up the inside of Emma's thigh, and wonders if maybe there are benefits that make up for it.

There are quiet moments that mean a great deal to each of them. There are joys and sorrows and trials and triumphs, and there is the fear that they could leave on a mission and one of them never return. Emma and Scott are convinced that Jean will wake up one day and end it (because she is the one who began it, and they all tacitly acknowledge her power to say when it is finished), but as time passes, it becomes less and less of a fear.

Despite all evidence that would have suggested the contrary, it works, and it keeps working.

ix. sunlight

At night, sometimes, Jean still dreams she died in New York.

"You're here, sweetheart," Scott murmurs, after she finally whispers to him about the dream that woke her. Jean lets him hold her close and rub her back, and lays back down, letting Scott's embrace and the warm caress of the Phoenix lull her back to sleep.

"Go back to sleep, Grey," Emma murmurs when it is her beside Jean, her skin cool and silken like rain against Jean's flushed body. "I have enough nightmares of my own."

When she wakes up alone and there is no one next to her, Jean will stretch full out in the length of the bed, and feel the Phoenix rise to the surface and do the same. She will think about the sun, sometimes, but she no longer dreams that she is burning.

x. frost

Emma still dreams about Genosha. She remembers the sudden vast emptiness in her head, where before had been the endless chatter of a million thoughts. She remembers the darkness pressing in like the grave, the sound of the world dying above her, trapped and helpless and shrouded in hard gleaming diamond.

Scott likes to sleep with his face in the curve of her neck. She lies in bed and feels his breath on her skin in the darkness; living, even, constant. She does not wake him, but she falls asleep listening to his breathing. Alive.

"I know all about genocides," Jean tells her softly, her hand wrapped in Emma's long hair. Emma sees the softest glow of white in the darkness of the bedroom, a light breaking the shadows. The sight of it, and the slight pain, makes her close eyes and settle back down into sleep.

When she wakes alone, she breathes in the quiet air and luxuriates in having the bed to herself. Emma realizes that she no longer wants anyone dead, and that before, it hadn't really been Jean she'd wanted dead at all.

She no longer feels numb.

xi. earth

When Scott and Jean were married, one of the things their celebrant had said during the ceremony was they are better people together than they are apart Scott sees them both; the women he loves, the women who love him. They love each other, too, in their own way (a way of thorns and sharp teeth), and they don't tell each other but even Scott knows it to be true.

We are better together than we were apart.

There are a million reasons why it should not work, and the simplest of reasons is why it does.

Scott's pretty sure that Google Calendar has something to do with it, too. They just haven't admitted it, yet.