|Sun, 10 Sep 2000
Every Rose (X-Men)
Disclaimer: The X-Men, the distinctive likeness thereof and all associated characters are Marvel's and are being used without permission, with no intention of infringement of copyright or anything naughty like that. Nor am I making any profit from this, so suing me would be an exercise in futility. The lyrics to 'Damned' belong to Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, and are likewise being used without their permission or, in all probability, knowledge. The title of this narrative is derived from the collective work of Bret Michaels, Bobby Dall, Rikki Rocket and C. C. DeVille, and the reference I'll make in a few lines' time, I'm sure you can work out. This story takes place toward the end of the six month gap in the X-Men titles and, while I don't believe that Scott's really, truly, honest-to-goodness dead any more than you do, for the purpose of the story the general belief is that he has gone to meet his maker, shuffled off this mortal coil, kicked the bucket, snuffed the candle and is, in fact, an ex-parrot. This one's for Aurora and is, I guess, a sequel to No-one said it would be easy. She asked for it, she begged and pleaded, giving me no respite, so blame her; it's all her fault:) Feedback is, as always, craved, and should be sent to Latex1@tinyonline.co.uk Enjoy.
Jean Grey-Summers sat, legs tucked up under her and book lying forgotten on the seat beside her, staring out across Breakstone Lake as the first droplets of the rain which had been building all through the humidity of the day and threatening for the last hour began to fall. As the strains of Samuel Barber's 'Adagio for Strings' played softly from inside the boathouse she and her husband had shared, she let out a shuddering sigh, tears obviously massing on the other side of the exhalation.
"Happy birthday, Scott," she whispered. "I miss you."
It had been months, and despite her initial certainty to the contrary, she had begun to accept what everyone else had believed from the start: Scott was dead. Certainly, his body lived, but Apocalypse was now its sole inhabitant. Neither Charles nor Nathan had detected any sign of Scott's psyche, and both had had as much reason as she for wanting to find some trace of Scott. He was gone and so, on a day when they would have celebrated together the day of his birth, she instead mourned his death alone.
Jean wasn't sure if the other X-Men realised what day it was. The original team might; Bobby, Hank and Warren. In the earlier, more innocent days, birthdays had always been celebrated, in some cases more as an affirmation of life and family than because the birthday boy or girl -and, in those days, they really had been children- really wanted a party. Warren and Bobby had always been more eager to celebrate their respective anniversaries than Scott, but attendance was almost mandatory and Jean knew that Scott never objected quite so much as he'd had people believe. More innocent days, when being a mutant superhero was fun, when the good guys always won and the cost was never higher than a few bumps and bruises. Facing danger and cheating death became second nature, what they did and who they were. They were young. They believed themselves immortal. They found out, the hard way, that they were wrong.
These days, there was far less laughter at Xavier's. Of all of them, save perhaps Professor Xavier, Scott had been the first to acknowledge the dangers inherent in what they did, a realisation that could be seen in the grave, serious attitude the others teased him about, seeing only the leader, never seeing the secret little smile he reserved solely for Jean. John Proudstar had been the first casualty, but not the last. The team, Xavier's Dream, had endured, but somewhere along the way the stakes had become higher, the dangers greater, and victory these days came at a price.
As the darkened skies shed their liquid burden, so her eyes in sympathy released the tears that were welling, the salty droplets sliding unheeded down her cheeks, a physical manifestation of the emptiness in the pit of her stomach and the aching loneliness in her soul, the emotional cavity where her comforting telepathic bond with Scott used to be, and where now was just an echoing and silent void.
Even if she had not been so thoroughly immersed in her misery, it was doubtful that Jean would have heard Logan's approach, masked as it was by the increasingly heavy rainfall and his own natural and habitual stealth. When he spoke, therefore, having made his way through the boathouse and out of the back door to where Jean sat, she jumped and was half up off the seat, assuming a defensive posture, before she realised who it was.
"Goddamn it, Logan," she said, but quietly, without any real venom, suddenly aware of her tears and belatedly wiping at them with the back of her hand.
"Sorry, darlin'," he apologised. "Look, Jeannie, you want to be left alone, just say the word an' I'll leave you be. But I know what day it is, an' I had to see if you were okay."
"It's okay, Logan. Thanks. I appreciate the thought and, truth to tell, I'm really not that eager to be alone right now. It tends to promote brooding. I just didn't feel like being with everyone else."
"Want to talk about it?"
"Actually, yes," Jean admitted, as much to herself as to Logan. "Come on inside. There's half a bottle of wine waiting to be drunk, and drinking alone probably isn't the best idea right now."
"No argument there. An' besides, I rarely turn down the offer of a drink from a beautiful woman."
"How flattering," Jean responded with an arched eyebrow and a twitch at the corner of her mouth, counterpoint to her reddened eyes, "to be included up there with all your other women." She walked into the kitchen area to get the wine.
"Hey, I can't help bein' irresistible to the opposite sex," he replied as Jean vanished from his line of sight, falling onto the couch and propping his booted feet up on the table. "Bein' a smartass aside, darlin', what's on your mind? Besides the obvious, that is."
"Feet off the table," Jean instructed, nudging them gently with her toes as she returned with the wine and two glasses. He complied, sitting up straighter and turning to face her. "Aside from the obvious, nothing. It's just that the obvious is a pretty big thing. It's Scott's birthday, Logan," she said as she sat down beside him and poured the wine, "and I miss him. Just when I think I'm getting used to the idea of him being gone, some anniversary will come along, or a snatch of a song will remind me of him, and it's all there again, just as raw as ever. It's been months, and I'm still waking up in the morning half expecting him to be lying there next to me, expecting to feel him in my mind. And he's not. And he's not going to be. And that's hard, Logan."
"It's okay to miss him, you know. No shame in bein' human. Time may be a great healer, but no one ever said it was quick. The fact you're back with the team, though, means you're gettin' on with your life, an' that's what Scott would want. It ain't gonna go away overnight, Jeannie, an' I suspect you wouldn't want it to." Jean inclined her head in affirmation. "An' I'm not gonna tell you it'll get any easier, but you do get better at dealin' with it. Take it from me." Jean reached out and squeezed his hand. "You'll get through this; you're a fighter. It's one of the things I think Scott loved about you, that you never give up. You know it's one of the things I love."
Jean took a sip of wine to cover the fact that she wasn't sure how to respond to that, rose and went over to change the CD, swapping Barber for Puccini.
"I appreciate you being here for me, Logan." She sighed. "Everyone else accepted that Scott was gone when it happened, and I was the only one who believed otherwise, but now, sometimes, it's like they're tiptoeing around the fact, like I can't deal with it and mentioning it out loud or in my presence would upset me too much. Even Warren, Bobby and Hank, who've known me the longest. It's almost like they feel guilty that they've accepted it, but they don't think that I have and don't want to force the issue. But you don't mollycoddle me, you always speak your mind."
"Some'd say it's just 'cause I got no tact," he replied with what might have been construed as an ironic, self-deprecating grin.
"And they'd have a point," she agreed with a fond smile, "but it's more than that. You've always been truthful with me, Logan, and just never questioned that I could handle it."
"Because you can. Because I trust you an' I respect you, an' I know you can deal with the truth. You're strong, darlin', a lot stronger than you sometimes realise an' in some ways stronger even than me."
"That would explain the tears, I imagine?" she said, more sharply and acerbically than she'd intended. Jean noticed that between them they'd finished the wine, and she had no desire to end the evening on that note. Getting up, she excused herself and went into the kitchen, coming back with another bottle from the rack. As she sat down beside him, Logan continued the conversation as though she'd never moved.
"Where's it written that havin' emotions or expressin' 'em is a sign of weakness? You'd rather be like Cable, or Marrow? Permanently pissed off at the world an' callin' it strength? Bullshit! It's a mask, an excuse not to deal with other emotions. You, Jeannie, you don't hide from 'em, you deal with 'em, an' that takes a hell of a lot more strength than carryin' around a shitty attitude an' passin' it off as emotional invulnerability."
"You know," Jean replied, pouring another glass of wine each, "when you first came here a lot of people seriously misjudged you, and certainly no one would have believed that the man you were then would ever say anything like that."
"Yeah, well, back then I had a moderately impressive chip on my shoulder an' a lot of what it's fashionable these days to call issues an' baggage. I've dealt with a lot of my demons since then, an' one of the most important steps in doin' that was the fact that you accepted me right off for who I was. Didn't try an' change me, didn't judge me, just welcomed me in. When everyone else, even Ororo, had their doubts an' reservations, you were the only one who accepted me wholeheartedly.
"I always loved you for that."
"I know. And I know it's not always been easy being my friend, when you wanted to be something more. But you've always been there for me, Logan, and that means a lot, especially now." Reaching out, she gently caressed his cheek with her palm as tears began to well up in her eyes. Tenderly, Logan wiped them from her face with a thumb, his hand laid along the underside of her jaw.
"Sorry," she muttered. "Wine's making me sentimental." The admission, though, did nothing to staunch the flow of tears as they spilled from her eyes and down her cheeks. Tentatively, slowly, Logan took her face between his hand and, drawing her to him, softly kissed her closed eyelids, tasting her tears, his own eyes closing in empathy with an expression equal parts love and anguish.
And then he was kissing not her eyelids but her lips, uncertainly, waiting for her to pull away. But she didn't. She reciprocated, both of them responding to their mutual, unspoken, but primal and almost tangible compulsion, a feeling that went well beyond intellect or even desire: they simply needed.
And, as night fell outside the boathouse and the rain fell increasingly heavily on the grounds of The Xavier Institute, their need consumed them, transcending such pedestrian considerations as right and wrong and they embraced it, giving themselves wholly, body and soul, over to the irresistible, overwhelming conflagration.
I'm lying here beside you in someone else's bed
Damned if you love me, damned if you don't
Logan lay there, gently twisting strands of Jean's hair in his fingers as she lay there, head pillowed on his chest, slumbering peacefully as the rising sun painted her in fire. The song played quietly on the radio lying on the floor across the room, the alarm having been set as a matter of habit the day before and promptly forgotten, the sound too soft and distant to wake her. He listened to the sound of her breathing as his eyes roamed over the room, taking in the chaos they'd wrought the previous night. His sense of smell brought him the scents of the fresh, clear air, the smell of renewal after the previous night's rain, mingled with the odour of their dried perspiration; from the bedside table the cigar he didn't remember smoking extinguished in a glass of wine he didn't remember bringing into the room; the lingering scent of garlic in the kitchen from a meal Jean had cooked days ago.
To ascribe words such as passionate, unrestrained or ardent to their activities would have been like terming the core of a star 'warm'. And now the song on the radio captured perfectly his state of mind. Ambivalent didn't even begin to come close.
Jean's breathing was perfectly synchronised with is own, his chest rising and falling in time with her respiration. She began to stir, her hand moving up his chest, fingers sliding among the hairs.
"Scott," she murmured contentedly.
Logan tensed and, with that stiffening of his muscles, Jean awoke, peering up though sleep-blurred eyes and her mild hangover at the man who was not her departed husband, realising what she'd just said. Their eyes met. And they held each other's gaze for an endless moment.
"Oh shit, Logan, I...."
"Hush, Jeannie," he replied softly, the pain showing only in his eyes as he took his arm from around her and swung his legs out of the bed. "It's okay."
"Logan, I didn't mean to...." She stopped, wincing as the sunlight hit her in the eyes and the hangover struck deeper than that.
"I'm gonna go now, darlin'," he said gently, without discernible inflection, as he pulled on his jeans and boots, the T-shirt dangling loosely, forlornly, from his hand. "I love you, Red. Always have, always will. But we both need time to think, an' work this out in our own heads. We'll talk later." He stood there for a moment, the sun simultaneously giving him a corona of pure light and obscuring his features in shadow, before turning and walking slowly out through the door, the heels and pointed toes of his boots echoing on the floor as he retreated from Jean's sight.
Jean gathered the rumpled sheets around her and curled up into a foetal ball, feeling more lost and alone than ever.
Over the years, almost from the moment that Professor Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters had opened its gates to its first class of students, Harry's Hideaway had been the place those students had come to get away from it. Scott, Warren, Jean, Hank and Bobby had begun the practice that had become a tradition, and successive members of the X-Men had kept up that tradition. Even as the school changed its name to The Xavier Institute and the membership of the team changed, Harry's remained part of their lives. As much as Xavier's was a haven from the outside world, so Harry's was a haven in that outside world from Xavier's.
If the proprietor of the bar had a surname, no one had discovered, nor ever really thought to ask, what it was. He was just Harry. That was all the name he needed. At that moment, he was pouring another coffee for the sole patron of his establishment, and one for himself. Ordinarily, at that hour of the morning, he would not have been open for business, but there were exceptions to every rule.
"So," he said, placing the coffee in front of Logan, "you gonna tell me what's on your mind, or you just gonna sit there lookin' like a country song? You know, your truck broke down, some bastard ran off with your girl, your dog died on you, that kinda thing?"
"It's kind of a long story, Harry," Logan replied, not meeting Harry's gaze, just staring at his coffee. He lit another cigarette from the one which was all-but gone, grinding that out in the rapidly filling ashtray in front of him on the bar.
"I look busy to you? Look, Logan, I'm only here this early to tidy up an' wipe things down. I'm not goin' anywhere, an' you look like a guy with somethin' on his mind, although it don't appear to have affected your appetite any." Referring to the large plate of ham and eggs Logan had recently consumed.
"First order of business, Harry: survival."
"Whatever. So, you gonna tell me? C'mon, I'm like a priest for non-churchgoers. A secular clergy, so to speak. What's the matter?" he asked, catching Logan's surprised look. "You think 'cause I tend bar I don't got an extensive vocabulary? This job, you gotta talk to all different kinds of people, an' you become somethin' of an expert on human nature. An' you, pal, have the look of a man who needs to talk."
"Sanctity of the confessional apply to you secular priest types too?" Logan asked, a wry smile appearing on his lips despite himself.
"My lips are sealed. So talk. It's a woman, right?"
"How'd you know?"
"Told you I was good. You don't do my job for all these years without learnin' how to read people. But I'm interruptin'. Carry on."
"It is a woman. It's kinda complicated."
"All the best stories are."
"I've been in love with this woman ever since I first laid eyes on her, Harry," Logan admitted, exhaling smoke. "An' it ain't just the fact that she's beautiful, although she is. It's like we understand each other, almost instinctively, this real basic, primal connection. An' she feels it too, this attraction between us. An' this has been goin' on for years, ever since we met. Thing was, she was with someone, head over heels in love, an' whatever it was between us, it just didn't seem to be enough." He took another drag on his cigarette, breathed out.
"Now, all I knew was I wanted this women, an' I knew she wanted me too. An' that was all I could see at first. But over time, I got to know this guy she was with. We didn't always get on, but in spite of everythin', we became friends, an' more importantly, he earned my respect. An' that ain't necessarily an easy thing to do. So I backed off, got on with my life, an' we both accepted that it was never gonna happen between us, never mind what either of us felt. I cared about both of 'em too much to try an' come between 'em." He paused, drained the cooling cup of coffee, placed it with great deliberation on the bar in front of him, and continued.
"They got married. Can't say, hand on heart, I didn't have mixed feelings, but I was genuinely happy for the both of 'em. An' that should've been it. Happily ever after. 'Cept he died. I lost a friend, but she lost a husband. The love of her life." He sucked the remaining life out of his cigarette and lit another from its dying embers before carrying on.
"Now, I had no intention of tryin' to step into his shoes, or replace him in her life. I had too much respect for the man an' his memory. All I wanted was to be there for her, help her through this an' offer what support I could. Whatever she wanted, whatever she needed, day or night, I'd be there. She's a strong one, maybe one of the strongest people I've ever known, but we all need support sometimes, a shoulder to cry on, figuratively or literally, an' last night was one of those times.
"So I was there for her, but events kinda took on a life of their own an', while neither of us intended what happened between us last night to happen, it did. Now, I got no doubt that last night was real an' genuine, but I also know she's still in love with him. What I don't know is how I feel about last night, what we did, or where it leaves us now."
"Cherchez la femme," murmured Harry, not without sympathy, into the silence that followed Logan's admission.
"An' that's a fact," agreed Logan ruefully.
"You want some advice?"
"What you got?"
"Talk to her, Logan. Spillin' your guts to me is all well an' good, an' I'm happy to listen, but the most it's gonna tell you is how you feel. It ain't gonna let you know what's goin' on in her head." Logan nodded thoughtfully. Then, raising an eyebrow almost in challenge, said to Harry
"Thought you said you were an expert on human nature."
"I said I know people," replied Harry with a wink. "I never claimed to understand women."
"You're a good man, Harry."
"Yes I am. Now get out of here an' talk to this woman." Nodding, Logan slid off the stool.
"Thanks," he said simply, before walking out into the bright, early morning sunshine.
"All part of the service," responded Harry with a smile, addressing himself to the space where Logan had been. He picked up the ashtray and emptied it into the bin. "I bet Dear Abby don't have to deal with shit like this," he muttered to himself, a faint grin on his face.
It was a beautiful morning, the sun climbing in the heartbreakingly blue sky and casting a warm glow over everything it touched, shadow and light alike full of promise, of limitless positive possibilities. Jean noticed none of it. Pushing herself till her lungs burned and her legs felt like rubber, she ran, letting the body do the work while the mind drifted somewhere -somewhen- entirely different. Nothing so cohesive or structured as coherent thought, just raw feeling; emotion and impression.
Guilt, cautious elation, a non-specific sense of betrayal, ambivalence, regret and defiance, all warred in her mind, but confusion most of all. Last night with Logan hadn't been planned, it had just... happened. And she wasn't sure how she felt, or was supposed to feel, about it. Granted, waking up and saying Scott's name had not simplified matters and what did that fact, in and of itself, say?
Was it wrong? Her husband was gone, and she knew, intellectually at least, that he would have wanted her to be happy. But it had only been months since she lost him, and even if one could not be unfaithful to a dead man, infidelity to his memory was a crime she asked herself if she'd committed.
Arguably, it was the fact that the undeniable attraction between her and Logan had always been there, something both acknowledged and just as wordlessly had agreed not to act on. Because of Scott. And now he was gone, and the way was clear, save for their own doubts and conflicting emotions, their loyalty to Scott's memory, Logan's respect and her love. Had last night been an act of disloyalty, one of betrayal? What would Scott have said? And what did she think? How did she feel?
Her feelings for neither Scott nor Logan had changed, of that she was sure, but while her relationship with Scott could not change, that with Logan had been thrown into turmoil. And she had no idea where it would lead, how to respond or even what she felt about any of. She wasn't even certain whether running this morning was intended to calm her thoughts, restore perspective, or if she was punishing herself for a transgression she wasn't even sure she'd committed.
Letting out a cry equal parts frustration, confusion and anguish, she stumbled to her knees, a strangled sob escaping her throat underneath a sky too bright even to notice her torment. Suddenly drained, she slumped, her shoulders sagging, her head bowed as tears of emotional distress ran down her face and her body was wracked with sobs.
She raised a tear-streaked face as she felt a shadow fall across her.
"Jean," Warren began, his majestic white wings folding up behind him, the feathers ruffled by the slight breeze, his hand stretched out to her, concern etched on his face. Wordlessly, she threw herself into his arms and wept as he held her tightly to his chest, her tears dampening the fabric of his costume. "What's wrong?" he asked, but she gave no answer, save to hold onto him more tightly, her sobs muffled by his body.
She clearly wasn't going to speak to him any time soon, and Warren felt that Jean would be more comfortable in her own home, not to mention shielded from the indignity of prying eyes. Murmuring comforting words into her hair, he g athered her unresisting body into his arms and lifted off, a few beats of his powerful wings sending them into the skies and toward the boathouse.
Short moments later, they arrived and Warren circled in to land gracefully, touching down in front of the boathouse and walking through the open door, carrying Jean through to the bedroom. As he walked, his friend cradled in his arms, he looked around at the place. Empty wine bottles, overturned furniture, clothing scattered over the floor, all contrary to Jean's usual neatness. And floating in a half-empty glass of wine beside the bed, a cigar butt.
The tenderness with which Warren laid Jean on the bed was in diametric opposition to the fury burning in his eyes.
"Was Wolverine here last night?" It wasn't really a question, although Jean's response gave him all the confirmation he needed.
"Please, Warren," she implored him, "don't say anything." He didn't. He silently squeezed her shoulder instead, but was unable to meet her eyes. Saying nothing, he stalked out of the boathouse and, moments later, was airborne, his features hard and unforgiving.
Logan rode his Harley up to 1407, Graymalkin Lane and, parking it in the garage, made his way into the mansion, finding Betsy, Rogue and Ororo in the kitchen making breakfast.
"Mornin', sugar," Rogue greeted him. "You want breakfast?"
"Already eaten, darlin'." He crossed to the coffee maker and poured himself a mug, swinging a chair around and straddling it, crossing his arms over the back of it as he placed his drink on the table.
"You're up early," Betsy observed.
"Things to do," he replied shortly.
"An' grumpy, too," Rogue added with a smile. "This your first coffee of the day? Should we leave you alone till you've had it?" Teasing him.
"That'd probably be best," he said evenly. He raised the mug to his lips but was interrupted before he got to drink it.
"What did you do to her, you lowlife little bastard?" Warren demanded, striding into the room, making a beeline for Logan. "I found her crying. What did you do to Jean?" His hands clenched into fists.
"Kiss my ass," Logan responded with a growl, turning his attention back to his coffee as the others looked on in confusion. Warren's hands seized the fabric of Logan's T-shirt and hauled the shorter man out of his seat, intending to slam him against the wall. Logan twisted, using Warren's momentum against him and throwing the blue-skinned Angel over his hip.
Warren landed on a chair which snapped beneath the force of his impact, sending him crashing to the floor, but he was on his feet again in an instant. Again, he charged at Logan, wings spread wide, swinging at him. Side-stepping, Logan took hold of Warren's arm and twisted it. The pop as Warren's shoulder dislocated was audible to everyone in the room.
Logan slammed his stunned opponent onto the heavy oak table, sending mugs, plates and their respective contents flying. One hand closed around Warren's throat, constricting his larynx, while claws sprang from the back of the other with a 'snikt'. Logan held them, unwavering, less than an inch from Warren's eyes. "What happened between Jean an' me last night is between us," he growled softly, his eyes flashing with rage even though his voice was steady. "It ain't any of your fuckin' business, an' I've about had it with you an' your attitude, bub." His grip tightened on Warren's throat as his other hand drew back. Suddenly, he was lifted backwards as Rogue restrained him, while Betsy saw to Warren, making sure he was all right but her hand firmly on his chest ensuring that he did not get up from the table.
"Explain yourselves!" Ororo's voice was cold fury.
"Ask him!" Warren spat, grimacing through the pain.
"I am asking both of you."
"Get the fuck off me, girl," Logan snarled at Rogue.
"Not till you calm down," she responded evenly, holding him immobile even as he twisted. "Ah got no plans to be moppin' anyone's blood off the floor this mornin', so just you settle down."
"Why did you attack Logan?" Ororo demanded of Warren.
"You just couldn't keep it in your pants, could you?" Warren snapped at Logan, contempt dripping from every syllable. "Frankly, I'm amazed you didn't try this sooner. I mean, now Scott's gone, there's no one to stand in your way, right? Jean's fair game!"
"I got no need to explain or justify myself, especially not to you." Logan's disdain matched Warren's.
"Logan, is this true?" Disbelief was evident in Ororo's voice.
"An' what fuckin' business is it of anyone's if it is, Ro? Would it justify this fuckin' asshole goin' for me? Would that make everythin' okay?"
"No," admitted Ororo in the silence following Logan's response, and tacit confirmation of Warren's allegation. "It would not."
"Ah let you go, you gonna promise not to gut anyone?" Rogue asked him pointedly.
"Let me go, Rogue," he responded in a level tone of voice. She complied.
"Now," he continued, "if you're all finished judgin' me for the moment, I got somewhere to be. An' you, Warren," he snarled at the man lying prone on the table, Betsy's hand still on his chest, "would be really well advised to stay right there till I'm gone, 'cause even Rogue ain't gonna save your sorry blue ass if you speak one more fuckin' word to me just now."
Betsy's stern look of admonition prevented Warren from retorting, and Logan strode out of the kitchen in the oppressive silence that followed.
"Betsy!" began Warren indignantly as she let him up from the table after Logan's departure.
"Shut the fuck up, Warren!" she snapped at him. A look of shock on his face, he did. "You arrogant, insensitive, utter *dickhead*. Do not interrupt me!" she said sharply, the anger in her voice forestalling any possibility of him interjecting a protestation or defence. "We are going to see Hank and get him to examine your shoulder and then, maybe, when I'm slightly less pissed off with you, I will explain to you in great detail why you're such an idiot." With that, she all-but dragged him away. Left alone in the kitchen, Rogue and Ororo began to clear up the spilled coffee and broken crockery left in the wake of the confrontation.
"Ever get the feelin' it's gonna be one of those days?" Rogue asked. Ororo gave a deep sigh.
"I am very much afraid," she said heavily, "that you may be right."
"It should be as good as new in a few days, Warren, provided you do not subject it to any undue physical duress." Hank's beaming bedside manner was distinctly at odds with Betsy's icy and suppressed wrath. "Wonderfully efficacious stuff, this Shi'ar medical equipment, especially given the rather adventurous lives we costumed types tend to lead. However," he said, picking up on the body language between the two, "I believe the Legacy Virus calls, so if you will excuse me?" Tactfully withdrawing, he left the two of them alone.
"Okay," said Warren in exasperation, throwing up his hands, "what? Why is this my fault?"
"Do you not have the vaguest inkling of what just happened?" Betsy asked incredulously.
"Yes, as a matter of fact. I do," responded Warren with genuine anger, "and I'm getting pretty tired of being cast as the villain of the piece who never gives the poor, misunderstood rough diamond a break. Now, just for the record, Scott, one of my closest friends, is dead. Do you get that? His grieving widow, another of my oldest and closest friends, is in a very fragile emotional state. And that psychopathic little bastard that you call a friend has just taken the opportunity to fulfil a long-standing ambition, taking advantage of her vulnerability to fuck her.
"You didn't see her, Betsy. I found her sobbing her heart out. And it's because of him. Was he there with her? Was he comforting her, giving her the support she needed, like he was interested in her or any relationship with her? No. He got what he wanted, what he's been wanting for so many years, and then he left her to deal with it. And you have a problem with me challenging his behaviour?"
"Did Jean ask you to do anything? To say anything?"
"She didn't have to. I'm her friend, and someone has to look out for her."
"I'll take that as a 'no'. Did it ever occur to you to hear Logan's side of the story?"
"In case it'd escaped your attention, Betsy, we're hardly the best of friends. You think he'd tell me if I did ask?"
"And, irrespective of the facts of the situation, many of which you may not even know, do you think that Jean will appreciate you airing her private life in public, in front of an audience? Even if that audience is her friends? Playing Gallahad may satisfy your ego, Warren, your sense of chivalry, riding in on your white charger to vanquish the defiler of virtue, but real life is rather more complex and ambiguous than that. As it turned out, you're bloody lucky that Logan didn't kill you. If we hadn't been there, he might have. And did you, even once, consider the collateral damage? The cost to Jean's dignity? Don't you think she's conflicted enough about what happened? Trying to reconcile her feelings for Scott with her feelings for Logan? Is it possible that that's the reason she was crying when you found her, and that it's not Logan's fault? That maybe she even asked him to give her time alone?
"I don't know that any of that's true, Warren: I'm not in possession of all the facts. But neither are you. And, while I do appreciate that you acted from the best of motives, that you thought you were looking out for Jean, you were wrong."
"Jeannie?" The detritus from the night before had been cleared away, the boathouse returned to its normal state of cleanliness and order. Logan called out from the doorway, not wanting to intrude. Ironic, in light of the previous night, this respect for social protocol, but there it was.
"Come in, Logan. Do you want coffee?"
"Think I've drunk about all the coffee I can handle for the moment, darlin'."
"Have a seat." He sat and, moments later, Jean emerged from the kitchen and sat beside him, the silence between them palpable and awkward. Logan was the first to break it.
"So, we gonna talk about this?" he asked.
"Oh, Logan, I'm so confused!" Jean blurted out. "I'm so sorry I said what I did earlier. I didn't mean to. I don't know if it was force of habit, or... I just don't know."
"What it was, is you're still in love with him," Logan said gently, "an' you know it."
"Yes I am," Jean affirmed, "but that doesn't make what I feel for you any less real."
"I know it, darlin', an' you know I love you, but it ain't even that clear cut, no matter what Worthington may think." Jean's eyes grew wide.
"What did he say?" she asked, alarmed.
"He came stormin' into the kitchen, all righteous indignation, yellin' at me to tell him what I'd done to you, an' then went for me. Way I was feelin' just then, he's fuckin' lucky he's still alive, an' that wouldn't necessarily be the case if Rogue, Betsy an' Ororo hadn't been there." Jean buried her head in her hands.
"Shit." Her voice was muffled by her palms, her head obscured by the curtain of red hair that fell over her knees. She tossed her head back, sweeping the hair away from her face with both hands, and closed her eyes in frustration. "Damn it, I asked him not to say anything. I wanted to work this out between us, not turn it into a fucking spectator sport! What was he thinking?" She let all the breath out of her lungs, slowly. "Things just got even more complicated didn't they?" she asked rhetorically.
"Yes they did." He paused. "So, where do we go from here?" he asked.
"I don't know," she admitted. "What happened last night wasn't just some meaningless physical act, Logan, but...."
"But it ain't just us, is it? Not that I necessarily give a rat's ass what anyone else thinks, but I do care about what you think, an' you're still in love with Scott."
"And you're torn between your feelings for me and your loyalty to Scott's memory." Finishing each other's sentences, sharing the same thoughts. She took in a long breath, let it out equally slowly. Then locked gazes with Logan.
"It isn't going to work, is it?" she asked, with regret but plainly, honest and vulnerable. "Not now, not like this. I've been thinking about this all morning and the only conclusion I could reach is that, in the cold light of day, it's just too soon for me, and it's just not... over with Scott." She gave a short, bitter laugh, the smile on her face more indicative of pain than pleasure. "I guess Hank wasn't wrong: amor omnia non vincit." Logan gave her a quizzical look. "Something he said a long time ago," she translated. "It means 'love does not conquer all.' At the time, I thought he was just being disillusioned and cynical, but he was right."
"What, 'sometimes the problems of two little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world'?" Giving her a gentle half-smile, the pain not showing in his voice.
"Something like that," she smiled sadly, blinking back tears. "I wish it wasn't like this, Logan, I truly do."
"Yeah, but wishes are for kids, 'cause they think they'll come true. You an' me, darlin', we know that ain't always so, an' you gotta play the hand you're dealt. An' sometimes, like Mick Jagger says, you can't always get what you want."
"Bogart. Jagger. Do you have any words of your own?" Making a joke out of it, trying to ease the unhappiness, take the sting out of their mutual realisation, the admission they were both making, her eyes filling with tears despite her best efforts.
"Yeah, I do," he said softly. "Maybe it just ain't meant to be. But I'm her for you, Red, an' if you ever do feel you're ready, I'll be waitin'." Rising, he cupped her face in his hands and, as he had the previous night, kissed her closed eyelids, and then straightened and walked toward the door. Just before he got to it, he paused and half-turned, looking over his shoulder at her, meeting her eyes and holding her gaze. "I love you, Jeannie," he said simply. "Always have, always will."
As he left, Jean sank back into the sofa, head back and eyes pressed tight shut even as the tears that were building up began to seep from the corners of her eyes.
"I know," she whispered in the direction of the ceiling, as much to herself as to Logan's retreating form, silhouetted in the doorway, becoming lost in the glare of the sun as he walked away, "but sometimes love just isn't enough."