**A/N: Another short due to a writing prompt in "A Writer's Book of Days." This story's prompt: "Nearing midnight."**
Following one-shot is my head-canon, so it both is and isn't canon in the X-Future story. Also contains a late-game Devon spoiler.
Rated K. Would you expect higher when Lia's involved?
Lia x Ripley story
Lia sat in the grass and stared at the fountain. It was erected in honor of those who were lost in The Reaping, and her mother wasn't showcased in the statue at the top of it. She wasn't lost until over a decade later, and yet the fountain was comforting to Lia. Her mother may not have been immortalized in the fountain's statue, but it was still a symbol of the fallen.
She curled her knees up to her chest as she hugged her legs tight. Two more will be mentally added to the fountain, and she wasn't sure she could handle that. There were already too many connected to that statue. There could be a maze built on the expansive New York estate from the sculptures of the departed.
"Hey, brown eyes. You're up late."
Lia twisted her head around and stared slackjawed at Ripley as she gestured towards her eyes.
"Yeah, sorry," Ripley crossed his legs and lowered himself to the ground beside her. "Lava-orange-eyes just doesn't have the same ring to it. And, well, you are half-Brazilian, so, under normal circumstances-"
"I'd have brown eyes. Yeah, I get it." She sighed and refocused on the fountain, resting her chin in between her knees.
Ripley followed her gaze and then studied the teen. "Lia, what's up?"
She shifted her weight, tossing her bone-straight brunette hair off her shoulder, spilling it nearly down to her hips as she leaned further forward. "Why does something have to be up?"
"Oh, I dunno. It's about midnight, and we have classes tomorrow, and you're a bit of a goody two-shoes. So..." He shrugged off the last of his reasoning.
"Goody two-shoes?" Lia scrunched her face to the side and scooted away from Ripley. She had hoped to just have the quiet night to herself, and it was becoming apparent that her solitude was over. "Are we in the 1950's? Also, you're one to talk," she scoffed, "Aren't you in the running for valedictorian?"
"Haven't you heard?" he tilted his head back to appreciate the starscape draped above them. "I have a bad-boy side too. Used to be a run away that lived under the Santa Monica pier." He smirked and chanced a glance over at Lia after reminding her where they first met.
She didn't wholly take the bait, but her face softened as she also adjusted to watch the stars. "You just needed structure. Just like-" she bit her lip and played with a streak of orange-dyed hair embedded in her brunette locks.
Ripley cautiously placed a hand on her shoulder. It was already feverishly hot, but he let it rest there anyway. "Yeah. I did. Maybe Devon just wasn't ready, though. It's no one's fault. If our friendship is any indication, there was no way you weren't there for him if he needed you." He waited a beat before pulling his hand back away. Steam in the shape of his hand billowed off her bare shoulder. "Is that why you're out here? Thinking about him again?" He took in the fountain in front of them as if that was all the answer he needed.
The chilling moisture in the air started to steam off of Lia's warming skin, encasing her in a faint fog. Under her mocha complexion, her veins started to dimly glow. Her body was begging to switch over into her obsidian form. It was hard for her to convince her skin that her stone armor wasn't going to protect her from the pain she was feeling.
"Lia, there wasn't anything you could do."
"I could have tried to connect more with him. Like I did with you."
Ripley scooted closer and tried to brush her leg with his own, but Lia was now too warm to touch. "I hope you don't connect with others quite like you did with me." He gave her an awkward off-center smile filled with teasing, optimism, and some insecurity. Even as he said the words, he knew there were at least two others. He couldn't allow himself to think of any more.
Lia lowered her hand to his knee. The heat was intense, but quickly quelled until she was back to an average ninety-eight degrees by the time their skin touched. She gave his kneecap a gentle squeeze. "Don't worry. You're the last one I connect with this way."
"Good," he wrapped his arm around her. "So, do you want to talk about why you're staring at this depressing thing?"
"Right now I'm more concerned as to how you knew I was here."
"Boyfriend's intuition." When Lia cocked an eyebrow, Ripley held up his hands in defeat and continued. "Alright, I knew this Devon thing would hit you hard, so I went to check on you."
"At midnight? After lights out? When boys aren't allowed in the girls' wing?" She crossed her arms and pierced his sea-blue eyes with her flame-orange ones.
"Please. Like I said, I have a bad-boy streak." She kept staring, clearly not satisfied with his answer. He ran his free hand through his surfer cut sapphire hair. "Alright. I couldn't sleep. I was worried about you, and it seems justly so." He thumbed towards the fountain. "You sure you don't want to talk about it?"
"Twice. I failed him twice." She knitted her fingers together and studied the webbing.
"Oh, honey. No. No, you didn't fail him. You were the one who brought Devon home. Showed him who the Brotherhood truly were. Helped him transition back. Took his friends under your wing. Where did you fail him?" Ripley reached for Lia's hands, but she tucked them against her stomach.
"Why didn't he ask for help, then? Either time? After everything that happened when he first ran away, why did he do it again?"
Ripley pushed himself up onto his knees and pivoted so he was between Lia and the fountain, forcing her to look at him instead. He rubbed the side of her knees to try to pull her attention. "Babe, he didn't run. He was taking Nyssa home. They were ambushed. No one could know. He couldn't have known he'd need backup. We couldn't have known they needed help. This isn't your fault. This isn't anyone's fault. You need to stop blaming yourself every time something goes wrong. You can't protect everyone."
He felt her shaking under his hands, so he shifted again so he could pull her against his chest and rubbed her long hair, allowing her to privately sob.
"Devon's death isn't your fault. Nyssa's death isn't your fault. Liam's death isn't your fault. None of it is because you failed." He glared at the fountain, knowing full well the real reason she was staring at it. "Lia, none of this happened because you're not your mother. She wouldn't have been able to stop any of it either. It's okay to be you instead of her."
Ripley pulled Lia in as close as he could and kissed the top of her head. He slightly rocked her and let her cry onto his chest. He welcomed the water anyway. "It's okay, Lia," he whispered. "Grieve your friend, but stop blaming yourself. You did all you could. You didn't fall short. I'm sure he'd want you to know that."
It was nearing twelve-thirty by the time Lia calmed. Ripley let a few deep breaths pass before leaning away to break from her. Lia's face was already starting to steam as she unconsciously burned off the streaks her tears left.
"Here, let me." Ripley waved his hand with a dancer's fluidity before pulling his arm back and his fingers together. The water residue on Lia's face peeled off in a thread that followed Ripley's fingers. As the thread of liquid balled at his fingertips, Ripley flicked his wrist as if he was about to snap. Instead, he abruptly stopped shy of Lia's chin and unfurled his long fingers like a blooming flower. Her tears, supplemented by the humidity in the air, formed into a heart the size of Lia's thumbnail.
Twitching his outstretched fingers, the heart shattered like a ripple in a pond, and reformed into a smiley face that winked at her.
She gargled a laugh. "Thank you." She gave him a long kiss. "You'll be a great psychologist." She rose to her feet and chuckled. "Although, I feel like you might be too touchy feely for your clients if you give them the same treatment you give me."
"Nah," he grinned and stood up as well. "These are exclusive to you. Free of charge."
"Thank you." She held out her hand for his.
"I'm sorry. Our hour is up." He motioned to walk towards the boys' wing of the dorms alone.
"Jerk." She giggled and grabbed his arm. "Seriously, though, thank you."
"Always." He squeezed her hand. "Can we go to bed now? I have calculus first thing."
She smiled and escorted him inside the converted old Colonial where dozens of mutant teens slept in peace, knowing the Xavier Institute would be there in the morning to teach them while also helping them learn how to handle their preternatural abilities. The Institute would be able to continue its mission thanks to people like Lia's mom. Thanks to the fallen depicted on the fountain in the school's front lawn. Thanks to those fighting for the safety of mutants and their families everywhere, like Devon.
None of their deaths were in vein, but Lia was done saying goodbye to loved ones. Ripley may have been right. It may not have been her fault. She may have done all she could, but she knew she could still do better. She'd find a way to protect the rest of them. The rest of her friends. The rest of her family.
No more loved ones were being mentally added to that memorial statue.
**A/N: I wasn't really sure where I was going with this prompt. In the editing process I basically rewrote half of it, and I'm still not 100% convinced it's the best it can be. When I trusted the pen Lia put herself on the roof of the Xavier Institute and Ripley didn't seem quite in-character. I knew after the fact that I had to change venues. With Lia's powers and air sickness, there is no reason her "quiet space" would be the roof. I guess I defaulted to there since in the X-Future game this is based off of that's the area of the mansion everyone gravitates towards for peaceful contemplation of life...**