X-men Evolution Fan Fiction / X-Men Fan Fiction ❯ End of our Days ❯ Not While I'm Still Breathing... ( Chapter 5 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Jean's mind
Chapter 5: Not While I'm Still Breathing
“Dear Lord!” Moira couldn't hide her own fear for Jean upon seeing the young woman's state, as Magneto settled her finally on one of the infirmary beds, holding her cold hand. The Brotherhood had decided wisely to wait outside, since none of them wanted to deal with a very snappy Master of magnetism.
Erik had already explained the situation while they had flown back, and as she checked her patient's vitals, despite her slightly trembling hands, Moira stated firmly “Her signs are stable, though very low - like she's in some sort of suspended animation state. But it would've been better, if we had a telepath…” Her face suddenly grew flabbergasted “Kevin, aren't you supposed to be doing a survival track with Logan?”
Erik's eyes shot immediately to the newcomer, who had arrived seemingly unnoticed at the door - his expression perplexed “Mum, what's going on? I sensed your anxiety rise quite a lot, and the Brotherhood's looking as if someone's just died.”
His glance darted from his mother, to the unconscious Phoenix, to Magneto. “What's wrong with Miss Grey?” Proteus' voice shook startled, but Moira's worried reply made him instantly regret asking “We don't know exactly - her evolution surfaced again, but this time it has caused her to fall into a coma.”
Magneto fixed Moira with a firm gaze, his whole body tensed, desire for action swimming in his voice “I'm calling Charles and I'm going to get him back here, right now - we have dallied long enough!” Right then, however, Kevin shot his mother an equally determined glance “I'll try contacting her!” but the older man shook his head “We can't risk it, son - it might worsen the situation. Xavier is the only one, to whom I would ever entrust Jean's mind.”
“We have to try, Erik!” Moira reasoned “With Betsy and Charles gone, he's our only real option. I doubt even you'd be able to deliver him here on time, and we must identify Jean's true state and the reasons behind it, as soon as possible!” No sooner had she finished, and Kevin interjected, fists clenched “Jean's like my sister - I'm not just standing there when I can help!” The seriousness in his gaze made Magneto elaborate “I'm not questioning your abilities…” and Kevin, seeing the emotions swimming in the older man's eyes, gave him a knowing smile “I understand.” And the sheer depth of the comprehension contained in these two simple words, caused the silver-haired mutant's reluctance to finally melt away “Go ahead. But be careful - for both of your sakes!”
Proteus nodded and stepped beside Jean's bed, placing a hand on her forehead and concentrating so hard, that his whole body started shaking. Moira gasped, afraid now for her son as well, as he had never attempted using his telepathy so strongly without supervision, while Magneto tried hard not to dwell on all the negative outcomes this risky venture could possibly have. For, though he indeed had faith in the boy, the danger was still high.
He suddenly felt Jean's fingers slightly twitch in his gentle hold in an almost non-existent movement, making his heart do a veritable cartwheel, but other than that she didn't give any signs of waking up. Just then, Proteus' eyes shot open and he nearly collapsed, yet managed to steady himself on a nearby cupboard. Moira rushed to him and took him to sit on one of the beds, while Magneto looked at him expectantly, and as he finally regained his normal breathing, Kevin smiled tiredly “I had to dig really deep to reach her, but the good news is she's fine - both physically and mentally. Only on this occasion she got a whole package back and her body needs to keep low vitals for a while to adjust to all changes. A couple of days at most, however - after that she'll wake up.”
Erik at last let himself breathe again, his lungs aching from all the air he had forcefully kept in, as his heart slowed down once more. Kevin in the meantime added “I'll go tell the guys outside that it's alright. And then I'm off to survival route.” Moira, however, shook her head “You aren't going anywhere, but your room to rest! Or better still - you're staying right here.” she made him lie on the bed he sat on “I will tell Logan you'll be missing.”
Yet, she didn't need to, since said man almost flew in, in a very bad mood, shooting at Proteus “I've scouted the whole Mansion for yah, kid - and yahr in for one helluva extra Danger Room practice tomorrow…” he trailed off, finally registering the scene before him, his anger at the boy evaporating immediately replaced with ill-hidden concern “What's up with Jeannie?!” Before Moira could explain though, he narrowed his dark eyes at the Master of magnetism, snarling dangerously “If yah did anything to her, or let her get harmed, bub, I swear I'll gut yah right here-” His rant was cut short by their medic catching his wrist with already extended claws, aimed at Erik, who too had slid in battle stance, but without letting go of Jean's hand. And that latter fact seemingly angered the Canadian even more.
“Enough!” rang their doctor's voice, her face just as cross as the two males', and both latter stiffened. Under her usually calm exterior Moira had a temper to rival even that of Wolverine or the Scarlet Witch, though none could compare to Phoenix's, whose could be truly scorching.
“NO ONE is to be fighting in the med bay! If you SO want to brawl, get OUT in the grounds! But I WON'T have you engage in a display of testosterone here!” Her words calmed Magneto down relatively quickly, since his top priority was Jean, and he would never leave her, least of all to satisfy the feral mutant's desire to box. After all, they could always settle this when the whole ordeal was over. But not until his comatose companion was completely out of danger.
Wolverine, however, didn't show any signs of accepting the ultimatum, until Moira fixed him with a killer glare “Don't make me take more drastic measures - I won't hesitate to get Wanda, if I have to…” and knowing she wasn't bluffing, he slowly retracted his claws, still frowning at the other man.
Their doctor rolled her eyes “NOW that we have all relaxed, we can safely proceed to some explanation.” Her initial sarcastic tone, however, quickly gave way to her normal caring one “Logan,” she turned to the dark-haired man “Erik has nothing to do with Jean's condition - in fact, he did all in his power to make sure she was fine.”
The feral mutant grunted, now a bit calmer “What's the problem, then?” But before Moira could answer, Magneto beat her to it “We had a run-in with our targets, only they had brought some unexpected company.” His gaze lingered on the unconscious young woman “Jean was fighting one of the newcomers and it triggered her evolution. Now her body needs adjustment time, so she'll stay like this for a bit, but eventually she will wake up.”
“That doesn' explain why the kid was late fer class.” This time it was Moira who replied “Kevin had sensed my anguish and came to check if I was alright. He offered to contact Jean and that's how we learned of her condition.” This made Logan finally deflate a bit, but not totally, as he muttered turning to Kevin “Fine. Yahr off the hook this time, kid - but only this once!” and then to Moira “Sorry fer the trouble.” Both mother and son nodded in acknowledgment of his respective addresses.
“But that ain't the end of this, bub.” he finished, glaring at the other man. Magneto's equally cold stare met his unflinchingly; as he had grasped perfectly what the whole thing truly was about “I wouldn't have it any other way.”
Logan turned to leave, but not before adding, eyes on the redhead with pure affection in them “I'll come an' see her first thin' when my class is done.” Replying that he'll be more than welcome; their medic watched with a small smile, as he sauntered towards the grounds, where his group was already waiting to start the course. No one noticed, however, the scowl that the Master of magnetism wore, because of those particular very last words of the Canadian.
Just as Wolverine had left, Wanda walked in, with Pyro on her heels, and both eyed Magneto, expressions questioning, with his daughter elaborating “Logan didn't say anything - and he looked way too pissed off for us to ask, either.”
“She'll be fine - evolution was apparently greater this time and she needs rest to fit in all alterations.” the unmistakeable relief entwined in his voice and the way he looked at the comatose young woman, made the newcomers exchange wondering glances. Coupled with them noticing his hand hadn't left Jean's, and as they recalled his behaviour when they had picked them up in Berlin and during the flight, speculation easily melted into slight shock. They had no time to wonder, however, since Moira's communicator beeped several times and she turned it on, a smile creeping on her lips, while she spread a blanket over her already sleeping son. “Yes, Charles, she will be okay - it's nothing lethal or harmful. Don't worry; I'll keep her a bit even after she wakes up.
No, no worries, he's alright too - just exhausted. After all, he'd never used it like this before. I will make sure - you can count on me. Later!
“I was actually beginning to wonder when he'd call.” Erik put in with slight annoyance at his friend's delay, but Moira sighed “He probably had quite the experience himself, talking to these guys in the government.”
“I'd imagine.” Magneto shook his head bitterly “Told him it wasn't going to last, but as usual he behaved like the blind idealist. And now we also have a madman running free again, with a whole band of cohorts to boot. Just the situation we all needed…” his voice dripped with sarcasm at that last. Yet, his sky-blue eyes flew back to the scarlet-haired woman on the bed, with what was unmistakeable affection, behind which however, hidden from most present's view, there was something a lot deeper “But at least this ended without lasting harm.”
Wanda sighed “True, but Pietro just won't shut up about losing our prisoners. He's so getting on my nerves - like that's the most important thing in the world!” she paused, rubbing her temples tiredly, before continuing “Well, it's not without significance, but he keeps bragging about it non-stop.” She snorted “He's always been such an insufferable drama queen…”
Pyro's hand caressed her own, his arm - around her waist, as he added “Tell me `bout it! Dude practically blew me ears off during the flight - yah bro can be a real pain in the butt, babe.”
This last word, however, together with the clear care in the fire-obsessed mutant's voice when he'd said it, made the Master of magnetism whirl his gaze towards the pair. Now, he finally noticed their embrace and the way Wanda snuggled closer to the Aussie, instead of hexing him into next week for daring such an intimate contact. Both Erik's eyebrows flew as high as they could go, seemingly melting into his hairline, eyes wide with shock, and his daughter couldn't withhold a grin, taking immense pleasure in her father's priceless expression - too bad there was no way to film it. And blackmail him with it later.
“What can I say - caught in the act, I'm afraid. We're an item now, had been for quite the time, actually.” She smirked even wider and St John could hardly help wearing a grin of his own, as he sensed the odd need to confirm to the silver-haired mutant his already drawn conclusions “Yeah, boss - me an' Wanda here're officially a couple.”
Magneto had to sit down, as he felt like he had just been hit full force with something very heavy. “My daughter? And the fire-starter?!” he said more to himself than anybody else. His expression showed complete loss of what to do - pure and simple, before he turned back to the two “What am I expected to reply - `I'm happy for you.' or `God help us all!'?!”
“Well, both could be equally applicable in their case.” Lance's smirk mirrored his team-mates', as he sauntered over to the little group, though it changed rapidly to seriousness “But it's definitely the latter in ours.” John and Wanda eyed him concerned, while Magneto's attention was exclusively on Jean again, his mind trying to assimilate the latest `news', yet still listening with half a ear to what the Brotherhood said.
“I just got a hold of Fury and he's now close to panic himself, especially when we told him Apocalypse is behind it all. He almost had a fit, and we all know our dear boss isn't one to panic.” He raked his hand through his brown hair sighing “Couple that with losing our prisoners, and having no idea where they can be, and add those other two mutants getting in the whole mix too, and I can't really see a reason to blame him.”
“We'll deal with that as soon as Jean wakes up and is completely back on her feet. In the meantime, I'll give you all the info we have on our new players, and we will try finding them.” Magneto stated firmly, without looking up from the redhead's frozen features, before abruptly turning to the others, adding “Though with no one to use Cerebro it might prove problematic. Not that it would help anyway, unless they use their powers…” They all gave him sceptical looks, clearly saying `And that's to put it lightly.', yet, he went on, meaning business “But we have to try - even though it may seem impossible or futile!”
His tone then melted gradually to a more laid-back one, laced with care, as he smiled ever so slightly at his daughter “Go get some rest now. I'll meet you in Control in several hours.”
Wanda nodded, understanding. That was her father alright - never giving up when it mattered to him. However, she couldn't help noticing that Jean had been right during their latest talk - though he was still notoriously hard to read, there indeed was a lot more to him, than what he normally allowed to be seen. Because this time, it wasn't about his pride, self-preservation, personal aims, or even mutant-kind's future. But instead, it concerned something vastly different - something, that the way he looked at their unconscious comrade betrayed all too clearly, to a perceptive enough observer.
This time he was ready to put all on the line again, but for her - for Jean…Who meant to him a lot more, than he'd probably ever reveal. Yet, at the same time, his daughter could see its true extent and depth nonetheless pulsing through every glance, flowing from each touch and gesture, living in every single word of his…
Taking the hint in his last phrase, the Scarlet Witch nudged Pyro and Lance, motioning for them to leave the two alone. Her silent gaze signified to their puzzled expressions that she would explain outside. She too trailed behind, but not before casting one last look at the indescribably captivating blend that scarlet and silver made - even she had to be blind to miss it. And, goodness, she thought breathless; they did make quite a striking couple, no matter in which meaning of that latter word…
Lying in his four-poster, Exodus tried hard to gather his thoughts. However, they seemingly had a mind of their own, since they wandered always to that faithful duel, merely hours ago. Or was it hours at all? Time, apparently, moved so erratically now - for him, at least. On some instances it seemed to have stopped, while on others it literally flew by - an effect, he experienced ever since their hasty return from the latest mission. Had Phoenix affected him in some other way, beside total drain of his force; unleashed another of her powers on him? After all, she was a telepath too, and very potent one at that.
And why on Earth, did his mind keep returning to her all the time? Like her very image was burned into it…Burned? Strange choice of words, he mused, but then again, maybe not so. She was Fire embodied, after all…
Cursing silently, he sternly told himself to chase the memories away. His consciousness was probably still too exhausted to think clearly. Yet, the more he fought them, the quicker they returned and each time, stronger than before…
Her flaming eyes staring him down, the defiance in them - scorching his very core. The force she'd fought him with, the power of her will alone would have been able to crush him. And her spirit, pulsing so wildly through her whole being - passion incarnate, Life itself…but death as well. Both rebirth and destruction - capable of the greatest good, yet also of the bloodiest atrocity. And as beautiful as she was powerful…
But that other mutant - the metal-controller, the resolve he'd battled with easily equalled hers, and his powers were quite formidable too. Plus, du Paris didn't need to be a psychic to decipher the emotions in his eyes, when he had seen her hurt; wondering idly whether Lord Apocalypse was actually aware of that particular detail.
His musings were loudly interrupted though, when he heard a forceful knock on his room's door. Composing himself as much as he could in his still weakened state, Exodus snapped “Yes!” Mesmero walked in, completely unabashed by his colleague's temper outburst “Our Master wants to see you. Immediately.” his tone permitted no objection and du Paris knew he'd face Apocalypse's wrath, if he even so much as thought about saying no.
Simply perfect, he contemplated silently, his mind's voice dripping with sarcasm. That was possibly the last he needed right now! Still, he nodded to the old man and, fastening his cape around his shoulders, followed him outside. “Did he say anything more specific?” he inquired, as they walked to their Master's private quarters, but the other telepath gave him a negative mental answer, before adding aloud “But you would want to guard your thoughts more closely. Especially around Him.”
Exodus eyed him perplexed and Mesmero went on “Your mind is practically shouting out what you are dwelling on. Or should I say who.” The younger-looking mutant glared at him, but the other man wasn't deterred, as he put in, expression serious “You must get rid of these thoughts - you know that He doesn't tolerate petty, human weaknesses like emotions. Not to mention, that she is forbidden territory - and it would only do you good to forget her. As hard as it may be…” Exodus squinted his gaze at his team-mate “Since when do you care so much about what happens to any of us?” his tone was liberally laced with cynicism. Mesmero smirked at him “I do not - all I desire to achieve is `save my own skin', as they term it these days. Because, if our Master even so much as catches on your heretical musings, I will be a goner for sure, since I knew and did not tell him.”
“And why would you keep your mouth shut, anyway?” the disbelief in du Paris' expression made Mesmero frown “You are a valuable asset and it will be clear waste to lose you, just because you seem unable to control your own mind.”
The blue-haired man gave him a sarcastic smirk “Ah, I see - all for the cause.” However, the old man's solemn face made the other telepath slightly shiver “Indeed - I am completely devoted to the Dark One. As all of us should be.”
Exodus felt his insides suddenly boil in anger, and ignoring completely his lingering weakness, he marched, or rather flew, over to the other mutant, seizing him by the front of his robes. Lifting him effortlessly, as if he were a rag doll, he brought him harshly closer, as he snarled in his face “Never question my loyalty again! We both know my allegiance lies with Apocalypse - and that is it!” Mesmero didn't seem entirely convinced, but hid it quite well, while replying in a slightly demeaning manner “Of course - you would not be here otherwise.” before indicating the elaborate door to the other telepath “He is waiting for you.” as Exodus noticed they had finally arrived at their destination.
Composing himself, the younger mutant cast one last look at his companion, a hint of danger in his voice “This is not finished.” before entering the room and almost slamming the door behind him. The older telepath smirked to himself “Indeed - it is not. And it shall not be, so long as the two of us are both breathing…”
He stood tall and proud as usual, waiting for his first lieutenant's arrival, his gaze locked with the night sky that he watched through the large screen-like window. Though the base was in such a place, that it was impossible to do it without a combination of monitors and telescopes, he still got to see the stars. Otherwise, he thought he would have gone mad; for, no one except her knew he missed the heavens as much as she did…
Phoenix…Her name alone made the heart, which for the rest of the universe was officially non-existent, skip a whole chain of beats, engulfed in absolute ecstasy. But that was quickly replaced by equally strong worry, as even in his lethargy he'd been able to feel all that happened with her, including that accursed battle. Only the fact that he had been bodily unable to, had prevented him from crying out her name then, as he had experienced her pain.
His mind, however, had screamed it with all its might, that oddly enough, or maybe not so, came close to that of a full nuclear blast; and he couldn't help wondering whether she had heard. For, all he yearned for was to be there with her now, to comfort her, hold her close…But as it always happened, he was denied even that simple wish…
Though, it wasn't going to be so for much longer, he mused, as his dazzling scarlet gaze scouted the profusion of stars almost hungrily. Because he felt he would soon recover his own lost abilities, though probably not all of them, as he himself wasn't whole. But that wasn't going to stop him from taking her back up there, where she belonged, where their souls had had the absolute freedom, where his very essence had first intertwined with hers to never be separate again…Among the stars - where her, their real home lay…
“Why…” he muttered softly “I cannot understand, why could you not you feel it - that your pain is mine too, because you are forever a part of me. And that all I have always wanted is to take your hurt away. Why can you not accept this simple truth? Accept me, us…?” He had to close his eyes to stop the ache tearing at his heart from consuming him completely. But even like this, her image still blazed in his mind, as clear as if she were right in front of him.
For, like a beacon in the darkness of space and time, a real pyre of Life in his world of endless night, she burned forever…And despite all distance, all boundaries and walls that stood between them, he saw her, felt her, her heart's beats resonated through his whole being, as his lips longed to taste hers once more…
His soul was now reaching out towards hers without restraints, not caring anymore that she'd forbidden him all contact, hoping beyond hope that she'd answer. Till he finally sensed the almost non-existent call, that her unconscious psyche projected purely instinctually it seemed, yet it was enough for him. There was still hope - she hadn't cast him out completely, not that it was possible anyway. For, they were one, regardless of it all, and he lived only for the moment, when he'd hold her in his arms at last, for real - and for good…
A small smile tugged at his lips, as the mere thought about it made him finally feel contented, while he whispered mentally, eyes exploring the stars `All you have to do is wait for me, my untamed, Eternal Flame…My immortal Soul, my only Love…'
“My Lord?” Apocalypse's usual collected self had slid back into place with the speed of light at the newcomer's address and, still remaining in the shadows, he returned a psychic answer that he was listening. Exodus went on one knee immediately, but the Egyptian mutant almost instantly sent another psychic note for him to stand, and he picked himself up, keeping up his cool, though not seeing his Master made him a bit too unsettled for comfort.
“It has been a long time, has it not, Lord Exodus?” Said man could hardly restrain a gulp, but still managed to hide his slight unease, shutting his mind off completely “Indeed, my Lord - eight centuries, since I first heard your voice.”
“Ah, time truly flies by these days - though I can hardy forget that meeting myself.” his voice held reminiscence more than anything and it made the blue-haired man breathe a bit more freely, before his Master went on in the same, almost nostalgic note “The first to discover my base beneath the Sphinx and dare to try opening the forbidden doors, instead getting his latent X-factor awakened by the residual power of the Eye of Ages that guarded them. Thus, Bennet du Paris, the undeterred adventurer, became Exodus - Apocalypse's first-in-command…You never were one to follow rules or orders. Or good advice; and I should have remembered it…”
Now, du Paris felt his heart sinking unpleasantly - this wasn't good at all. First, his Master's refusal to show himself to him and now, that grim stress on his, albeit controlled, but nonetheless existent, disobedient streak - their conversation had just taken a bad turn, if he ever saw one. Still, he kept his head, addressing the Dark One once more, with all the respect he could muster “You have summoned me, my Lord - how can I be of service?”
Apocalypse chuckled darkly “And bold to the end, as well - even in the face of death itself. I knew there was a reason I picked you as my first lieutenant.” before adding pensively “Though, that may well be your undoing…Approach.” Exodus obediently moved closer to the shadows, which seemed to deliberately blend with his Master's form, so that he couldn't make it out. They had never seen each other in person, and ever since getting it back, the Eye of Ages had been perpetually closed, making it impossible for him to take a look at Apocalypse. Yet, Exodus was already privy to the others' stories of him being now a cyborg-like being, but hadn't bought that, not without his usual scepticism, at least.
However, when Apocalypse finally chose to step out in the lit parts of his chambers, Du Paris barely withheld a gasp - they had been right, he was no longer the mutant with strange skin colour, surrounded by an aura-like glow, he had seen only in his mind.
The Dark One smirked at his subordinate's expression of utter shock “Yes, Exodus - this is me now, after I merged with the technology of the alien ship, five years ago.” His scarlet eyes, however, to the other man's surprise, were distant, as he put in “Yet, that is not a permanent arrangement…” before snapping out of it “But what is to be the essence of our talk, is in fact something much more mundane.”
The stress he put on that exact word spoke volumes to the blue-haired mutant and he couldn't withhold “My Lord, I did what was required for the mission's success-” But the scarlet-eyed Egyptian silenced him with one imperious gesture, before stating in an even tone, that made chills run down the other man's spine “It was certainly not necessary to engage in a duel, whose only value was showing off your powers and ending near comatose in the process. Nor was there any need to fight her of all.” there was, to the other telepath's surprise, a noticeable streak of something, he shook off as impossible - the Dark One didn't, couldn't feel…
“You were given strict orders - which you broke. And, you know, I do not tolerate disobedience, Exodus.” Said mutant held his breath, but kept his composure nonetheless, replying reverently “Whatever punishment you consider suitable, my Lord, I will accept it.”
The Egyptian put in pensively “As I said - bold to the end…Kneel, my lieutenant!” and Du Paris dared not refuse to comply. Apocalypse's hands had started glowing with dark energy, which gradually became lighter, till it was pure white, with sparkles of fire in it, and his voice boomed “Defiance will surely be punished.” Exodus could swear there was a smirk in his Master's voice “But not this time.” the kneeling mutant let out a breath of relief.
“At least, not the way you have expected it.” The telepath's eyes shot up to Apocalypse's towering form “My Lord, I don't understand…” but right then, the energy, which had grown in the meantime, hit him full force and he barely refrained from screaming in pain.
It enveloped him completely and he tried to fight it, yet the more he did, the stronger was the hurt. He felt like his whole body was on fire, every cell, each nerve was as if being destroyed slowly…Only to be rebuilt mere moments later, as he sensed himself rapidly regaining not only his wits and focus, but also his full strength.
However, just then, something in his very depths rose at lightning speed, akin to a laser beam, and struck his mind, making him grab his head in both hands and cry out in pain. And like in a daze, he heard his Master's voice from so far away “I have restored you, but of course, all comes with a price.”
“What…what is this?” Exodus gasped for air, his mind tearing wildly at itself, and Apocalypse's laughter resonated through it like a wave of torture “I have enlarged your powers, to the extent that you are almost my equal. But should you attempt using them beyond a certain point; you will not be able to control them. And they will cause your body to destroy itself. Not to forget, that I can trigger that effect too - whenever I wish.
“That should ensure your future lack of any defiance whatsoever, I believe. And perhaps, finally teach you to follow orders to the word.” Exodus hung his head resignedly, grateful that at least, he had barely managed to keep his thoughts hidden.
Still, his Master's final words reached him quite clearly, and he slightly cringed at the meaning behind them “Rise, my first commander, and take your place! But remember - ever since you touched those doors beneath the desert, your will, your freedom, your life, have not been yours. Because, from that moment, they are forever at my disposal!”
And as he picked himself off the marble floor, Exodus knew for sure he had just lost a lot more, than simply complete control over his own destiny…
The infirmary was quiet and Magneto gratefully noticed there indeed wasn't anyone there, but the single, still comatose patient. Proteus had left quite a while ago, after one night in there, and Moira had just gone to tuck him in bed.
“Hey, Flare…” his eyes sparkled with light and warmth at the mere sight of her, as he sat down by her side once more, taking her unmoving hand in his own and squeezing it gently “I can't say we have any major progress in tracking Apocalypse or his men, but we are trying our best.” In fact, he had even attempted tracing the patterns of their targets' magnetic auras, using his powers at full blast. But it had proven in vain, since though they could be as far-reaching as psionic abilities, his own were incapable of penetrating completely the psychic shields concealing the mutants they searched for. It hadn't put him or the others off, but Erik had nonetheless let them go, so they could get some sleep, and also because he didn't want to leave Jean's side for long. “And I'm here again - as I promised. Though, for some reason, I feel like I can never truly tear apart from you…Not that I want to, mind you.”
He shook his head, smiling “I'm rambling, I'm afraid - so unlike me. The Master of magnetism talking nonsense - now, that has to go down in the annals!” He paused, tucking a stray lock of her scarlet hair away from her cheek - if only she was just asleep…But the even sounds of the monitors she was hooked to, echoing in the very depths of his being like some sinister clock, ticking away the time till he met his doom, shot at him the cruel truth. And he instantly knew he hated this - hated seeing her close to lifeless, as she was now, or hurt in any way for that matter. Because somehow it hurt him, in every sense of the word, causing a sensation, he had first experienced long before, but had never spoken of, to now swell up in him rapidly. Only to build into an almost overwhelming urge, filling him with a strange, yet so comforting warmth. A feeling he recognised almost instantly - a desire to protect her…
He shook his head at his own idiocy - she, least of all, needed protection, being as strong inside, as she was potent in her abilities, so much like himself in fact. Plus, he was convinced she too would laugh at him, if he ever implied anything as ridiculous to her.
Still, it had made him think - delve into the deepest parts of his being, where he'd never dared to venture before. Only to discover things, that, close to a month and a half ago; would have disturbed him beyond imagination. But now…now it was different…Simply because, as confusing as they were, that myriad of feelings, were all about her…
“There are so many things I want to tell you…” he whispered, then adding humorously “But no, no more dark ones.” before his tone melted into pensive “Rather such, that even I was unaware of, until now. Or maybe, had merely buried them inside, because I didn't know how to deal with them…” His voice shook a little “I'm rambling again - you'd probably laugh out loud at the rubbish I keep talking. Thinking can be dangerous sometimes.” but then, he quickly chased away the hesitation “No, it's only me - I can't say anything important just like that, I need the right time for it. And I'm sure, you'll understand my way of thought - after all, you are the only one who knows me inside out…”
Because indeed, just with her he had let, what had never occurred before, happen - allowed all barriers to fall and bared his soul completely; for the first time ever, not caring if he appeared vulnerable. Jean too had replied with a similar gesture and progressively, each of them had become fully aware of even the darkest parts of the other's self, came to know all they were capable of. And got to meet the real person inside the other - the same one, they had caught only glimpses of, during those very first talks they had had. Yet, all this had only caused them to bond even stronger.
Such a deep connection he had never imagined could exist in the first place, let alone that he, of all people, would be capable of ever forging one. But, to his own surprise, he had, with her - the holder of unimaginable power, yet at the same time, a woman, just as normal as every other on this planet, while still being so uniquely remarkable. The same one, who had won his genuine admiration, but who also, invoked the deepest feelings of care in him.
And to his immense delight, it ran both ways - both were strong inside, by nature and experience alike; yet at the same time had found such incredible strength in each other. Like the two pieces of a whole, that were really complete only when together - a bond, that couldn't be destroyed, no matter what…
He couldn't help wondering, however, what her reaction would be, if he ever shared all these musings, all his newly discovered feelings about her, with her. At least, he hoped it wouldn't hurt their already existing friendship, as that was the last he wanted. Yet, in his inmost self, he already knew that whatever her response if he let it out, he was going to accept it without question, as all he wished for, was her happiness. Even if it meant sacrificing his own.
And to his complete amazement, as shocking as this revelation might have been to him before their lives had come together, now it felt like it had always been a part of him. One, which he knew, he'd never want to give up - because, as impossible and ridiculous as that may have sounded, its existence was one of the reasons that made him feel truly, indestructibly alive…
`Erik…' He whirled around, yet when seeing no one, his eyes fell back on the unconscious young woman. Had he just imagined it? Or had he truly heard someone speak his name…from so far away. Until suddenly, it clicked - that voice…her mental call…His heart leapt with hope - was she waking up?
And to his utter, but more than pleasant, shock, her fingers flexed around his own, sending a torrent of bliss through him, as a small smile formed on her lips. Now, he also noticed that though her eyes were still closed, her skin was no longer cold and pale - a slight flush blooming on her still face. Finally realising she was at last out of the coma and now simply asleep, Erik's free hand reached up to his eyes to clear his unexpectedly clouded vision.
But when he touched his lids, he withdrew his fingers as fast as if he had felt a scalding hot surface, and looked at them astounded - they were…wet. Tears…? It simply couldn't be, his logic told him - he hadn't cried in decades, in fact, he'd thought he had forgotten how to, long ago. But then again, he knew he shouldn't be surprised - she had already awakened in him so many lost sensations, the existence of the deepest of which, however, he had grasped only before mere moments. Though, its precise nature still remained obscure…
Yet, as all concerning the world outside their own little space fled his mind, he let his tears of happiness fall freely, as he sensed her mind and his psyche unexpectedly reach out towards each other. Her self was unstoppably entwining with his, which in turn seemed more than yearning, almost dying for this particular contact - to make them as if one being. He couldn't resist it, but nor did he want to. Instead he simply held her hand in both of his, before bringing it to his lips, his chaste kiss burning on her velvety skin, while he whispered, his very soul contained in every word “Yes, my Flare of Life - I am here, with you, for you. Forever…”
She had been wandering the depths of her mind for what seemed like eternity now, with the undying light of her stars preserved in her memory, as her sole company. At least, she got to feel it somehow, listen to their voices singing to her softly, even though she still couldn't be amongst them for real. It was some consolation she supposed, although she knew perfectly well, that it would never be enough - that no substitute could possibly compare with the real thing. The same, she longed, ached for with every bit of her being…A pain, that even her iron will was increasingly powerless to fight these days, especially now, with that latest evolution. Because, it had brought her new hope - but had also made her realise, just how unbearably far she still was from achieving her heart's desire…
Why did thoughts have to be so full of desperation sometimes…? In fact, she had believed she was going to rot in her silent misery for eternity, alone…Until she had heard that call - one, that she knew so well, yet hadn't been able to recognise immediately.
Still, it had caressed her mind, reaching even the deepest parts of her self, only to plunge them in a real paradise `All you have to do is wait for me, my untamed, Eternal Flame…' Only one man in the whole of Creation had ever called her this way - the same one, whose anguished cry of her name had penetrated every bit of her being, when she had fought Exodus, causing her to at last realise that he had never ceased feeling her pain. Nor had she been able to bypass the raw need, and that deeper, stronger emotion in his voice, even though she had told herself it was impossible for him to feel this…That he was incapable of emotions whatsoever…despite her own knowledge to the contrary.
She could sense him now, his energy, his life, running through her as if they were her own…His plans had worked - he was awake, physically too…And she found herself strangely torn between agony and ecstasy at that particular fact, her psyche, despite all her earlier resolutions, sending a pull towards his - entirely out of instinct, she tried to convince herself.
Yet, she felt his response as clearly, as if they had joined their thoughts once more. His whole being called to her, even with her having forbidden him that. And she couldn't deny, that deep down, it was more than a welcome experience…For, she might have made herself forget him, compelled him to never contact her again, but she knew she still needed his lingering presence. Because, she couldn't truly live without it, wasn't ready to fully let go. Not yet… And though she pushed that particular fact too deep to come up again, she knew, that in reality, it wasn't a question of `not yet', but of `not ever'…
Just then, to His presence had been added another one, albeit only fleeting - Kevin, too worried to leave her to her solitude without ascertaining she was alright. And after him, everyone else had followed as well, a stream of warm and calming astral shadows, and she had been immensely grateful for that - for them…
Yet, their voices had been barely recognisable, their signatures - so faint …And she could feel clearly only His soothing darkness, and another, just as comforting presence. The same, that penetrated her seclusion time and again, ever since her fall into it, flowing through every one of her mind's corners like a gush of flames, suppressing almost effortlessly its rival's spirit. Like it did now, only to make the infinity, lying between her and the world, disappear once more… “I'm here again - as I promised. Though, for some reason, I feel like I can never truly tear apart from you…Not that I want to, mind you.” She smiled inwardly, regretting instantly that he wasn't able to see it. Silver…Erik…Always there, whenever she needed shelter.
And in this very moment, she wanted, wished for him to know just how much he had come to mean to her. He, who had made her experience all long-buried sensations that she craved with her whole being, open up and share all her troubles and sentiments, meeting nothing but comfort and care. He, whose gaze alone was enough to light her inner fire, cause her heart to burn once more, like it had so long ago.
One touch from him was all it took to reach even those parts of her, that she herself was sometimes afraid of tapping into, and make her forget they existed. Because, many had always thought of her as perfect, yet those were only the ones, who never saw beyond the surface. After all, she was a human being, and they were all denied perfection by nature itself. But he was conscious of all her faults, like she - of his, yet neither had ever attempted to change the other, instead accepting them the way they were. And in his eyes, she knew she will forever be completely, infallibly flawless - which was all she truly needed to indeed feel this way
`Erik…' her mind almost cried out, and she wondered if he had heard her call. However, she suddenly realised that this simple act was gently tearing her away from her psyche's depths, before thrusting her, already fully recuperated, back into the world of consciousness.
Even if she had any regrets about it, they evaporated on the spot, when she sensed their interlaced hands and then felt something more - warm droplets of moist on her flesh, that were strangely akin to…tears? She couldn't believe it at first - he hadn't cried for ages, and now he did, just because of her waking up…?!
And she couldn't hold back any longer, letting her mind loose, only to almost instantly connect with his, meeting it halfway. His own psyche felt oddly like it too had waited only for this moment - to finally be released from all restraints, to almost literally embrace her telepathic presence. Bonding with it to never be separate again, just before she perceived his voice once more “Yes, my Flare of Life - I am here, with you, foryou. Forever…” And this alone made her heart beat faster, knowing she was truly home at last…
Her eyelids felt like lead when she tried to open them, surprisingly with success. Blinking a couple of times to get her focus, Jean whispered, still somewhat drowsily “Erik…?”, but met only Moira's smiling face. “Just plain old Dr Mactaggert, I'm afraid, lass. Kicked him out half an hour ago to go get some decent rest - he'd been haunting the med bay almost permanently, ever since he brought you.” She frowned slightly “And truth be told, getting in my hands too.” The younger redhead let out a heartfelt laughter at their medic's annoyance, yet her eyes fell slightly at the silver-haired man's absence.
No sooner had she thought about it though, and the door virtually flew open with said mutant marching in, his gaze anxious at first, searching for her still form, only to light up immediately as he saw her awake and up. Moira smirked “Speaking of the Devil…” before retreating to her office with a wink at Jean, leaving the two alone.
She had expected an enthusiastic response, but the way Erik practically flew to her and in one fluid motion took her in his arms, as if she weighed nothing, only to hold her close, totally took Jean by surprise. Her initial shock, however, evaporated as quickly as lightning, as she herself couldn't resist sinking into him, the meeting of their hearts' beats akin to the life-giving kiss that a droplet of water gave dry, withered soil.
Remembering though that she'd just pulled through a serious ordeal, without breaking their embrace, he laid her back on the infirmary bed, letting her settle herself against the pillows, since he knew she was too stubborn to ever allow him to help her. His chin rested on her crown, as he buried his face in her mane of blood-red, his fingers running over her tresses, sinking into their thick, silken mass. And after mere moments, which seemed like a lifetime, he murmured contended “It's good to have you back… I shouldn't have been so abrupt though, but I couldn't stop myself. Forgive me…”
Yet, her only answer were her arms, going swiftly around his muscular form, as Jean, face buried in the crook of his neck, breathed in his intoxicatingly relaxing scent. And he knew there was nothing to ask forgiveness for - because she had wanted their contact, longed for it just as much as he did; missed him, as greatly as he had her.
A smile stretched his lips, eyes brilliant with inner light, as he put in humorously “Careful, Flare, or one might think you have actually missed me.” Jean looked up with a mock-scowl, raising an eyebrow, before punching his shoulder lightly “Can your ego possibly be any bigger? Who said I even dwelled on you, at all?” His eyes, though, dimmed with what couldn't be mistaken as anything else but hurt, yet not for himself; as his arms around her tightened gently “I can't even begin imagining the loneliness - just with your thoughts…Quite the unforgiving experience - at least, that's the way it was with me…”
However, her fingers running slowly over his face made his fears dissipate so rapidly, that he wondered whether they had been real at all; her gaze sinking into his, as she whispered “I wasn't really alone…I had my memories.” her lips quirked a bit “And after all, you were there too…” His soul soared at her confirmation, full of hope, as he spoke softly “So, I truly sensed you - it wasn't just my imagination…I did now too, when you awakened and I felt your pain back then, while you duelled that Exodus…”
“I don't know for sure yet, but it's a connection of some sort.” she replied to the unasked question in his eyes “A link, that's been growing between us for some time now, but truly opened only when I went out of the coma. I'll still have to research it, yet I'm sure about one thing -” there was a mischievous twinkle in Jean's eyes, which mirrored that in her companion's “we'll be able to find some ways to put it to good use.” And Erik finally, for the first time in more than two days, let himself laugh heartily, twisting a scarlet lock around his long fingers, eyes never leaving hers “Most certainly, Flare, most certainly…But that is for later - right now it's rest time, you must be exhausted.”
“Actually, no…Physically I'm fine…” a look of utmost relief swelled up in his gaze at that, but he still wasn't going to be fully satisfied until Moira confirmed it. Jean, however, sighed, adding in a graver tone “They managed to escape…” There was no accusation towards him or anyone else in her voice, though Erik could sense a tad of self-blame, and he squeezed her hand gently, his lips brushing her forehead “I couldn't care less about them, or Apocalypse, or anything else at all, apart from you - not then, and certainly not now either.” Trailing his hand over her cheek, he slightly tipped her face to look at him, his gaze serious “We'll find them again, Jean, I swear to you! And it'll definitely be before they do any more carnage. But what's the most important is you're out of danger - and that you'll be well.”
“Still, I sensed Him…He's awake now - fully, and it won't take that long till he regains his lost powers. And what happens from then on, I don't want even to start imagining… But all I desire is just this to end soon…” Her companion, however, wasn't deterred at all from making her forget about that, at least for the time being. And seeing the gloom return to her previously radiant gaze, he said, eyes burning with intensity that so reminded Jean of her own inner fire “It will be over - regardless of what it takes me to make sure of that! And never forget that we are in this together, Flare - all of us. You will never be alone. Not while I'm still breathing...And even beyond that…”
Seemingly, these simple words, that nonetheless carried so much meaning, had caused them to suddenly be as if entranced by each other's eyes, and, for a moment that felt like forever, neither of them moved or even breathed. Finally, Jean let her small hands slowly come to cup his face, and Erik felt like all air had just been abruptly knocked out of his lungs, as his heart skipped what seemed like a row of beats, all at once. Her breath skated over his skin, like a warm, gentle mist, as she whispered “And it's the same way for you too…”
Their lips were just a hair's breath apart now, and he felt as if his were magnetically drawn even closer to hers…until her next words broke the spell “After all, that's what friends are for.” and to his disappointment, she pulled away slightly, to look into his eyes again.
“Yes.” he added pensively “Friends…” oddly enough, the same word that would've given him so much satisfaction normally, now felt like it had deprived him of something, he couldn't really define; but which, he knew inside, he longed for with his whole self…
“You know, I feel a lot closer now…” her voice took him out of his thoughts, and he followed her eyes up to the night sky, as her, now distant, gaze locked with the heavens. “I still don't have my time-space-reality abilities, but I could try with normal flight. Only, I'd need to reenergise with the closest star, but it's way too proximate…” Her face fell a bit at that last, and Erik felt a pang of pain, as she went on “And it won't do Earth any good to suddenly have a supernova in such near place…” the sadness in her tone and eyes was almost tangible, flowing in bitter waves in the air around them, making it nearly impossible for him to breathe.
And he understood her perfectly - after all, when she finally got all her powers back, he knew she'd want to return up there. He had realised that sometime ago, having become as good at reading her, as she was about him. And despite his logical mind's fervent protests against such an irrational feeling, it troubled him deeply - that her bond with the stars may prove stronger, than the ones she had with Earth. That one lifetime was nothing against the weight of the endless eons; that he could lose her…And all that, for some stubbornly indefinable reason, scared him. Because, for all that he was, for all he had achieved and proven throughout the years, he knew he still remained a mere mortal - one who, no matter how much he wanted to, couldn't follow her, if she chose to leave …
And though he never succumbed to fright, this particular fear he knew not how to fight, and it ate at him full force, more and more…Still, he was equally well-aware he'd never deny her the stars, regardless of what it cost him; and it hurt him endlessly to see her like this - longing for something she had lost so long ago, and couldn't reach yet. And he hated himself for it - for being so wholly powerless to give her what she needed. If only there was a way. If only…Could there possibly be more pain gathered in these two simple words…?
But right then, he barely resisted the urge to slap himself, resorting to a mental kick instead - how hadn't he thought of it earlier?! There was a means to diminish her ache, at least a bit, though, sadly, only temporarily. Yet, he was going to do it - whatever it took him. Even if just for the possibility of making her eyes light up, and seeing her happy, at least for a moment…
It was a typical representative of its kind, two people mused, as they mingled with the others present. Incessant chatter and the clinking of first-class crystal filled the large hall, creating almost effortlessly the usual atmosphere expected from a private party, where the guests weren't your random people. And this event, being hosted by one of the most prominent political figures of the day, was no exception. Though, these two particular invitees weren't that impressed.
“I can't believe that after almost three days we're still nowhere!” Warren whispered to his date, as both pretended to sip their champagne, so that their talk remained concealed. “Well, I dunno about you, but I certainly have some progress.” Psylocke tried hard to hide her smug smile and, amazingly enough, succeeded “Our target proved to be at least a bit useful, if not at all entertaining.” She sighed annoyed, straightening her outfit a bit “I thought I had missed receptions, but what do you know - they increasingly aren't worth going to, these days. Though, I didn't mind stashing an evening dress in Velocity - even if that's the last place, I'd ever think about putting it in.”
Her boyfriend snaked an arm around her waist almost possessively, as he saw several young men eyeing Betsy like she was for sale “What did you manage to get out of him?” he asked, his lips still hidden behind his champagne glass. The purple-haired woman frowned at him slightly, which hint he took and loosened his embrace a little, before she replied “He wasn't particularly talkative and barely dropped anything as to our mission's subject.”
“Did you try the other way too?” The Brit looked at him as if he'd just said pigs could fly “Honestly, luv, who do you take me for - some amateur? It was actually easier that stealing candy from a baby! And guess what - he hasn't just heard about the things; actually, he's one of those involved in their development and production.” her beautiful face twisted in a scowl “I knew there was something fishy hiding under that tie of his.”
“I didn't like his smirk either.” Angel put in, narrowing his eyes at the man they had been discussing - a middle-aged guy, with short, auburn hair, glasses and an awfully modern and stylish tie. Psylocke's frown deepened “I didn't like anything whatsoever in him! But our Henry Gyrich just might be the key to getting to the bottom of this mess.”
“Yeah, only let's hope we'll all get out of it alive.” Warren brought her closer to him, his smiling lips leaning in to caress hers, as he murmured “What do you say we get out of this stuffy place and have some real fun, before we're off to that island - Genosha if I'm right, tomorrow?” Betsy smirked “I couldn't have said it better myself, luv - I'd need the fun bit, especially since we'd have to follow that irritating man like shadows. Goodness, does he know he gives people such bad headaches?! And no, not from scanning his brain!” And unsurprisingly, all Angel could do was laugh warmly at his girl's antics, before shutting her up with a kiss…
A/N: Sorry if it was too mushy - I really tried not to make it such, but I dunno how much I succeeded.