A/N: Here we go again. The muse has picked up. "Tangle" is coming along—if not very nicely. I'm getting whopped upside the head by stories I never dreamed of writing. Expect random chapters to pop out of the blue. I'll tackle review replies on the holiday. Too tired and not enough time to sleep.
Please let me know what you think. Even one word reviews are better than the resounding silence I get from time to time ("Requiem for a Thief" being a prime example). If you hate it, tell me (no flames please). If you love it, please tell me. Just please include why.
Like Old Gods
The homework assignment should have been an innocent thing. Research a historical topic of your interest and write a ten-page report with citations on how it could be applicable or relevant today. Ororo thought little of it. She wrote about the history of intertribal slavery in Africa. Jean wrote about gods.
Why is she doing nothing? many wonder of the Phoenix, standing in her might with the Brotherhood.
She watches as Magneto hurls cars burning with Pyro's flames into their enemies, watches as Storm, Ororo, once her friend, strikes down Callisto with her lightning bolts (are all her people to be struck down so?), watches as mutant, law enforcement, and mutant face off on a battlefield that could only make humanity fear them worse.
Why? Ororo wants to shout at this woman she does not know, wearing Jean's skin, burning with an unholy fire. Why have you turned against us?
As if she hears the thoughts, the apparition looks up. Phoenix's dark eyes meet Ororo's over a battlefield of minions and of pain. A slight smile curves the wicked lips.
What does it mean to be a goddess?
Jean's brow knit and her finger slowed on the page of her encyclopedia. In her other hand, the point of pencil tapped against a blank notebook page.
Ororo glanced up from her own writing across the library table. "What is it?"
"Mmm..." Jean shook her head, red tendrils falling out of her haphazard bun. She looked up, leaned one elbow on the table, and rested her chin on her open, upturned palm. "Did you know the old gods only had one or two powers?" she asked, voice drifting, eyes narrowing at something Ororo could not see. "Like mutants."
Ororo shrugged. She too had been a goddess.
That was the moment Jean set both hands down on the table and leaned forward with an intensity that surprised her friend. "What does it mean to be a goddess?"
There is a moment of clarity in the midst of the blood and the shouting when her heart seems to stop beating and time seems to slow. The Wolverine has reached her friend. He is talking to her. Surely if anyone left alive can reach the laughing, brilliant friend Ororo once knew behind that hungry, powerful goddess, it is him.
Surely Jean is still alive. She will return. For him, if not for her.
It startled Ororo to see the dark flicker of angry questions in her friend's bright eyes. What gave Xavier the right to say that Ororo could not be a goddess, that Jean could not reach her potential, that Sage could not be a hero?
"Doesn't every girl want to be a princess or a goddess," Jean said, explaining her need to understand, "if just for a moment or a person? Don't we all?" she pressed.
And what could Ororo tell her?
"It is not what you think," she said. She sighed, furrowed her own brow as she thought upon the question.
What does it mean to be a goddess?
She sees the upraised claws, cries out, and sees them fall.
It's over. Phoenix is dead.
And so is Jean.
Ororo held out an open palm and Jean's eyes studied her intently.
"A goddess has the power of life and death over her people in her hand," the young woman of another world said with utter calmness and sincerity. "She will only use that power to help her people."
It was difficult to put into words why her own life as an honored, revered deity could so easily be set aside. But there it was.
And Jean sat silently, eyes narrowed at something Ororo could not see. She listened.
Ororo stays after the funeral, places her hand on the fresh grave, and bends her body over it.
She remembers then what her friend had said of those old gods who only controlled a handful of powers, who were humanlike in their bickering personalities, who could be killed.
"Who says we aren't gods or they aren't mutants?" Jean cast her a puzzled frown. "What does it mean to be a god or a mutant—or a goddess?" The words were defiant, stemming from a side of Jean that Ororo had been warned of but had never seen.
Who indeed? What indeed?
Ororo sits in the gently falling rain and tears upon her cheeks. These new gods are as devils, so many of them, angry and vengeful, but Kurt had spoken of one had laid down his life to help his people. This is divinity. This is the act of a god.
She stands up from beside her friend's newly turned grave.
The rain does not stop.
She whispers, "Now you know."