AN: This is a repost. It was written for the het_challenge community at LiveJournal originally, brought to ffnet in 2007, deleted in 2008, and now polished up a bit and brought back again. Hey, it's starting to sound like a Jean Grey plot!
I'd say this takes place sometime after Phoenix: Endsong, slightly AUish.
The wind chimes are singing.
The door creaks as he steps onto the front porch of the house he's been renting for the last two weeks. Night has cooled the planks beneath his feet. It seeps between his bare toes, whispers across hairs and skin. Crickets and dogs fill the silence, and above the hazy glow of the city, the stars blink down at him.
Down the street, a car door slams, followed by another, followed by a pair of laughing voices. As the voices fade through the door of a house, from the corner of the porch, a single note chimes, as sweet and clear as—
He sniffs the air and immediately finds the cigar trapped between the fore and middle fingers of his right hand. A breeze shakes by, carrying with it the red-gold scent of autumn. His nostrils twitch, and his mind recoils from the red-gold memory it resurrects.
This used to be his favorite time of the year. He frowns at the row of maples across from him, getting ready to shed their green for something fiery.
But maybe not this year, he thinks, and taps the ash from his cigar before going inside.
Morning stretches itself around the curtains and into his eyes.
The carpet's pebbly and worn beneath his feet as he drags himself from the bedroom to the hallway. In the bathroom, he starts up the shower and steps to the mirror while he waits for the old pipes to groan to life.
Wind chimes sing. The sound breaks over his ears as the showerhead bursts to life. He turns, claws out to confront whatever's making his senses prickle, but finds nothing. Maybe he's losing it. Maybe his head's puking the sanity out. Or maybe—
The bathroom sink, which hadn't been cleaned in weeks, has a new shine to it. Gone are the whisker shavings, the mounds of old toothpaste, the matte-on-gloss streaks down the side of the bowl. The white porcelain gleams up at him with pride. Even the drain edge has been seen to.
"Show yourself," he says to the room. "I'm too old for these games."
I'm sorry. I wasn't sure if you'd be happy to see me.
He claws retract. He knows that voice filling his head. It trickles down his throat and pools in his heart like a spill, something that will surely stain. He closes his eyes, whispers, "Jeannie," and sees—
A picnic. Dandelions against the grass. Sun in a blue sky. And red—so much red. He wants to take a drag of it and memorize the way it flows through his fingers.
Logan, she says. Or is it James now?
"I'm what I've always been, darlin'." He's missed calling her that.
"Me. Call it anything you like." He sniffs the room, but only finds the soap and steam from the shower. "Where are you?"
I'm where I'm supposed to be, unlike you. Why are you so far from home?
"I could ask you the same thing," he says.
Home is where the heart is. Isn't that what they say?
"Doesn't explain what you're doing here, in my bathroom."
I can hear you, you know.
"Hear me what?"
Calling for me. Galaxies away and I can hear you like you're next to me. The voice is almost accusing. Why?
The man in the mirror refuses to look guilty. "I can't forget you. Sue me."
There's a big silence in his head. He can feel her there, though, trying so hard not to get comfortable.
You should move on, she says. It's not good to dwell on the past.
Then she's gone and all that's left is a man and the sound of running water.
He dreams of Silver Fox.
They're back in the wilds of Canada. She stands before an old pine tree, dressed in the yellow and green of HYDRA, with feet nearly buried under dried needles and dropped cones. Her face is a mask of indifference. When she speaks, her words are white vapor.
Love deceives, she says. It makes us believe all kinds of untruths so we can feel good for a little while.
As he watches, her hair falls out, becoming dark strands upon her shoulders and in the needles and cones at her feet. A white fox's tail replaces it, like a silly topknot.
It turns us into fools, she says. She folds her arms across her chest, challenging him to disagree. As he deliberates, her fox's tail begins to bleed and bleed, until all the white is covered in red.
You're right, he says. It made me believe in a cabin.
Her laughter follows him out of the dream. It echoes in his ears until his heart shivers. When he opens his eyes, the ceiling is staring its silent judgment down at him.
"It's true," he tells it.
The phone's ringing when he returns from the laundromat.
He dumps a bag of three weeks' worth of laundry onto the faded sofa in the living room and makes his way to the hallway. An old rotary dial phone sits in a scalloped-shaped nook carved into one of the walls. He's used it twice since he's been there: once to call Hank McCoy, once when Hank McCoy called him back. He likes the way it rings—loud, unapologetic for being a throwback to a different era.
The handset is weighty and solid in his fist. "Yeah?" he says.
"Logan, it's Scott Summers."
He immediately wants to hang up. "What do you want?"
"Listen, Emma's picking up some odd things."
The man obviously hadn't learned from Madelyne that nothing filled a Jean-sized hole except for Jean. He remembers the last time he saw Scott, with a blonde where a redhead should've been. It's been over a month. He wonders if Scott's hand has scabbed up nice and pretty.
"If you called to talk about your sex life, Summers," he says, "you're barkin' up the wrong leg."
"I see your little vacation hasn't sweetened your disposition any," Scott replies. "I'm tempted to say the hell with it and order you back to the mansion—'leave of absence' or no."
"You could try, yeah. But we both know that ain't going to happen."
The response is angry breathing. And guilt. The line's filled with it. "Tch," Scott finally says. "I didn't call to fight, Wolverine. Like I said, Emma's picked up some...things. Serious things."
"What things?" It's almost a growl. He wishes Scott would get to the point.
"Jean things." There's a wobble when Scott says his dead wife's name. "If you should happen to hear or see anything unusual—more unusual than normal, that is—we expect you'd let us know. Though, this call is more of a precaution. We don't anticipate her singling you out."
He wants to ask, And why not? He wants to reach through the line, shove a fist down Scott's throat, and pop his claws. But instead, he says, "Who's this 'we'? Royalty now, Summers? Or do you mean you and Charley? Or maybe...you and Frost?"
"Leave Emma out of this."
He likes the transparent stretched-outness in Scott's voice, like the man could snap at any moment. "You sound a little nervous, Summers. You forget phoenixes don't stay dead?" When Scott doesn't answer, he chuckles. "You, of all people... What a mess you've landed yourself in, Scotty-boy."
"Shut up, Logan," Scott says. "I didn't ask for your opinion. Just...let us, the team, know if you experience anything Jean-related—that's an order. Oh, and one more thing."
"Your vacation's over in two weeks. Just thought I'd remind you." The phone line goes dead.
Logan laughs to himself, then sets the receiver down on the cradle. He stands there for a few moments, digesting, until he remembers the bag of wrinkled laundry waiting for him on the sofa.
When he returns to the living room, the laundry bag on the sofa is empty, like a deflated balloon. His clothes are neatly folded, sitting in organized stacks on the floor. The hushed music of chimes drifts through the air like a perfume.
"Jean," he says to the room. "That was your husband on the phone."
The room doesn't comment.
He dreams of Mariko.
They're in her garden again, but it's dying. Insects eat at the papery leaves. Worms lie shriveled on the parched soil. The scent of cold cherry blossoms fill the air. Each inhale makes him think of pink and poison.
Mariko stands in the middle of it under a ginko tree, hands hidden within the sleeves of her kimono. Love never dies, she says, beautiful. People do, but love never does.
His head bows. You're wrong, he says. I've seen it happen. It died, and then she died.
Mariko's voice is serene. That's not love. Love never dies. Her sleeves slide back and reveal hands stripped of skin and muscle, holding a small scroll. Her thin, gray bones clack against the rollers as she unfurls it. The characters written on it are red and elegant against the parchment: It can become something else.
He sits up in bed, clutching at his chest like he could tear the beat from it. The curtains over the only window in the room are slightly drawn, and through the wide slit he can see the moon is still bright in a dark sky.
"Everything dies," he says to it, sliding his hand down to his lap. "I've seen it happen too many times."
The bathroom light above the mirror is a harsh white. It washes out the hues in the patterned wallpaper, in the speckled blue linoleum floor, in his old skin. His age appears with cruel, stark clarity; every fault line in his face is delineated. He feels weathered and tired under the mirror's scrutiny.
He lathers his cheeks with shaving cream and the lines disappear. He could cover his entire face with it, he thinks. He could make everything disappear. He could part his hair on the side and pretend he's—
The clanging of wind chimes stops him. He rinses off the excess cream from his fingers and concentrates on being himself.
"Been three days, Red," he says, dropping the sink stopper into the drain. "What took you so long?"
I was busy.
"Yeah?" He turns the hot water tap on. "Doin' what?"
What I do best. Dwelling on things I shouldn't be.
He waits for her to elaborate, but she doesn't. So he shuts the water off and picks up his razor from the edge of the sink.
Don't use that.
That razor, I can see it's dull from a billion light years away. May I?
A line of tiny flames suddenly appears under his nose. A part of him thinks he should be startled, because the man in the mirror sure looks surprised, but he's too aware of a fire that doesn't burn, too aware of a touch that's almost a caress, to notice anything else.
Shhh. I've never done this before. As he watches, it licks a clean strip through the lather. You might want to hold still.
His senses tingle with her perceived nearness. When he closes his eyes, she's right there next to him, touching him, leaning into his arm, whispering into his ear until every nerve ending sizzles with her name. His Adam's apple makes a trip up and down his throat. He's missed her so goddamned much and she's probably thinking about someone else.
No, I'm not. I'm concentrating. As she says this, the flames disappear from his newly smooth upper lip and settle at his cheek.
Watch the 'chops, darlin'.
The line narrows into the width of a fingertip as it carefully navigates between the corner of his mouth and the hair at his cheeks. He wants to tell her he'd let her take all the hair from his face and shave him bald if it meant having her touch for a little longer. He wouldn't throw her away. Then he remembers—
A long-overdue confrontation. The stirring of metal and muscle beneath his skin. The highway roar in his ears. The keys to a rental house in his hand. Wind chimes.
"I wouldn't throw you away," he murmurs.
A sigh. You shouldn't be so hard on Scott. He really hasn't done anything wrong.
Hasn't he? Tell me something, Jean. You happy with current events?
Logan, please. It's not his fault. The flames at his chin clean off the last of the shaving cream then flicker out. Not totally.
He takes a moment to explore the strange edge to her voice. When it comes to him, he doesn't want to believe it. Love deceives.
"You, Jean? Your doing?"
Just a push. She sounds distressed. Because the future needed it.
Her confession is like a Juggernaut-sized punch in the gut. It sends a surge of resentment straight into his veins. "So you pushed Scott at Emma because 'the future needed it.' Well, that's just fuckin' dandy, Jean. We'll make a mercenary out of you yet."
Don't you dare judge me, Logan! There's no joy in what I do. I make sacrifices for everyone, and in return, I get to become a memory.
He bangs a fist on the sink. "Then come home! Remind everyone who you are."
What if I don't want to? What if I like it up here? Things are so much easier from a billion light years away, Logan. Up here, the Emmas, Madelynes, and Betsys don't matter. Up here, I can't go back to Scott and he can't take me for granted and nobody gets hurt. Nothing hurts. I'm untouchable.
"You're a goddamned liar," he says. "Otherwise you wouldn't be payin' me these 'helpful' little visits. You need to feel. Jean needs to feel."
And you're a goddamned liar too, Logan. I know why you're here and not in Salem. I know why you're calling me. But if you don't have the guts to tell me yourself, then you're just as bad as Sco—
"Watch it, Jean," he growls. "You know where I stand on the subject of you. I ain't never hid it from you. Or him. You're the one hidin' up there in Never Never Land like you're so above it all."
He regrets the words as soon as his mouth closes. There's a long stretch of silence to make him feel even worse.
I need to go.
"Jeannie, I'm sorry." He wants to say more, but an ache in his throat stops him. So many things he's still not sure he has the right to say.
He feels her slip away, leaving a man alone with his reflection and guilt.
He dreams of Rose.
He's back in his parents' bedroom. The fireplace is cold. The bedclothes are scattered. A vase is overturned and a puddle lies on the floor beneath the table. The room is quiet and gray.
Rose stands in the doorway, a dark silhouette against a bright light. Love protects us, she says in her bright, lilting voice. And it makes us protect others. You'll see.
There's blood on the rug. Three luminous, horrible stains glow in the dark room. When he looks closely, he realizes they're in the shape of his heart.
But it doesn't, he says. He's young again, helpless, a frail boy unable to stop trembling. You died. Mariko died. Fox died. Jean died. I loved you all.
But there are only three stains, James, Rose says gently. You're holding onto one.
The little boy in him sulks, angry at being found out. So what if I am?
It's time to be brave, James, she says.
"It's time to be brave," he mouths in his sleep.
The alley behind the house is strangely peaceful. The moon is half full. The wide expanse of stars is broken up by thin strands of clouds. It reminds him of a boathouse and a private lake full of lacy sky.
First time she'd seen a shooting star. He teased her about it, even though he knew he'd be robbed of her pretty blush in the darkness. They followed it across the water's glassy surface and then they made their wishes.
He remembers his. He remembers time slowing down until each blink of her eyes was an important event. The bloom of her smile lasting a full five minutes instead of seconds. Her laughter lighting up his world.
But there's no boathouse. There's no lake. There's an alley, a cloudy sky, and a man who's putting his trash in a garbage can.
The high, chiming notes of metal meeting metal follow him up the back steps, and when he enters the house, the coffeemaker's running. The smell of it hangs in the air—heavy, warm, misleading. It makes him think he's sharing a house with somebody who loves him.
"Jeannie?" he says.
"Just making sure." He crosses the kitchen to wash his hands at the chipped enamel sink, then settles a hip against the counter to dry off his hands on a dish towel. "Been waitin' long?"
Only a little bit, she says. But I don't mind. Trash happens.
He absently hangs the towel from a cupboard knob. "Thought you were mad at me."
I was, but I like the smell of coffee. Sue me.
A fly buzzes around the fluorescent light overhead. The coffeemaker sputters. The steady trickle becomes a weak drip, and finally a full pot. Then there's silence, until the loud ticking of the clock on the wall steps in to fill it up. It reminds him of his wish.
"I'm leavin' tomorrow," he announces. "Vacation's up. Gotta go back."
"Yeah." He rubs the back of his neck. "Just thought I'd let you—"
You were right about why I come here, Logan. She sighs. I do miss things.
His hand pauses. "Like what?"
Little things. Like coffee. Trees in autumn. Cleaning up after people. You.
Me. The ghosts in his heart retreat a little to hear it. "I ain't little," he growls. "I told you that before."
Her laughter ambushes him. He waits for the world to light up again, for the ghosts to vanish completely—and then it does and they do, and it's as bright as ever. For the first time, he can see everything so, so clearly.
I think I should go. Thanks for indulging me, Logan.
She's like glass, he thinks, so afraid to shatter she refuses to shine. "Jean—" He wants her to stay. He wants to tell her things. He wants to say that even though he knows her wish was about a different man, he'd give anything to have those five minutes back.
But it's too late; she's gone and she's taken the light with her.
He dreams of Jean.
She's sitting on the side of his bed, hair tucked behind her ears, staring down at her hands. It's what he's been waiting for, to see her again, and he's glad it happened before he returned to Salem.
Love is funny, isn't it? she says. The mattress doesn't dip under her weight, the sheets don't wrinkle when she twists to look at him. It makes us bold. It turns us into cowards.
She's beautiful in a way that breaks heart, lungs, bones and muscles. To look at her is to shovel down deep into himself and free old wants from their cages. He balls his hands into fists to keep himself from reaching for her.
Her smile is bittersweet. I felt you so much today. Here. She presses a hand to her chest and a muffled glow ripples outward from her heart. It hurt.
Jeannie. I— The ache in his own heart stops him from saying more.
You have to understand, she continues. Scott— He's like my favorite sweater. I know how he fits—I love how he fits—and he's been fitting me forever. You, you're like a dive off a cliff, and even though the ride down might be the most thrilling thing in my life, I don't know what's at the bottom.
I'm at the bottom, Jean, he says. He reaches for her hand and she takes hold of him. I'm there, like I always been. Waitin' to catch you and keep you.
And what if it's the Phoenix you catch? she asks. Her grip on his hand tightens. What if it's death and eternity you lie beside each night? Will you still keep me?
Doesn't matter to me what colors you're wearin', he says. Even if you're married, even if I never get to see you again, even if you never love me back, I love you, Jean Grey. For better or worse, no matter what.
For a long moment she stares at him like she's never seen him before. Then she blinks and sends thin trails of fire streaking down her cheeks. A small flame clings to her jaw for a long, precarious second then evaporates into a faint wisp of smoke. She wipes the rest away with a hand and smiles.
Catch me, Logan.
Jump, he says. He opens his arms to her. I'm right here.
She lunges. The force of it takes him by surprise. They tumble back on the bed in a sprawl of arms and legs. The weight of her body on his undoes him. When her mouth finds his, he thinks, Oh, God, she's real!
She smiles down at him. "It's time to be brave."
When he wakes, the bedroom is a weak shade of pre-morning. It's raining outside. He can hear it thudding against the roof and running through the gutters.
Sheets rustle as he pushes himself into a sitting position against the headboard. His first thought is of the dream, and how good bravery tasted. But then he sees her at the window, wearing one of his faded old button-downs. It's big on her—it hangs to her thighs, her fingers peek out from the undone cuffs—but it doesn't matter. All that matters is that she's in her body, in his world, at last.
"Mornin', darlin'." His eyes are greedy. They drink up the sight of her so much that he's half-afraid there will be nothing left when he blinks. He sniffs the air and her scent explodes in his nostrils. He takes deep lungfuls of it, storing them up for the winters that are bound to come.
She smiles. "Morning, yourself."
"Whatcha doin' over there?"
"Thinking." She shifts her weight to one side and scratches the top of a foot with the toes of another. "I think it's time for you to go home, Logan."
"I know," he says. "I wish I didn't."
She shakes her head. "You shouldn't. It's where the heart is—isn't that what they say?"
"My heart's with you now," he says.
Her smile brightens the room. "Then I've found home, too." She turns her face to the window. "But there are some things I need to take care of first." Her gaze grows distant as she trails off. "Wait for me, Logan?"
"Been waitin' for you a long time, Jeannie. It's what I'm the best at."
"That's what I'm counting on," she murmurs. Then she turns and gives him a look he's sure Scott's never seen. "Blaze of glory, Logan. You and me. Just like you said."
"Just like I said."
He smiles to the sound of wind chimes singing, then watches as the woman he loves disappears in the sunrise.
Comments are appreciated!