|Wed, 20 Sep 2000
[Phonenix/Psylocke] "Femmes de Tahiti"
Disclaimer: Not mine. Marvel's. Not making any money, don't sue. I'm dirt poor anyway. :-)
Notes: This story is the sequel to "Arearea" (available at http://hivemind.hispeed.com/fanfic.htm) and really only makes sense if you read it first. There are F/F themes in this one but no graphic sex. Not your thing? Don't read it. Like "Arearea" this is based on a painting by Paul Gauguin. Check it out at http://www.mcs.csuhayward.edu/~malek/Gauguin4.html And there's a bit of harsh language in this if that sort of thing bothers you.
Thanks: To the crew of the corner and all those folks who nudged me into turning this into a series. Special kudos to Falstaff for pushing me on this one and feeding me angry Warren-speak when I couldn't find the words. :-)
Feedback: Adored and cherished at email@example.com
Archiving: Only with permission.
The Gauguin Series
Femmes de Tahiti
"I can't believe this"
I never meant for this to happen this way.
"It's just too much."
I can't stand to see him standing there, hands shaking as he stares bleakly and the two of us.
"I... I just don't know if I can handle this."
I never meant to hurt anyone. Especially not Warren. Not like this.
He looks as if he is about to lose his balance as he sways on his unsteady feet, his wings stretching out to be his ballast and counter weight. They keep him from tumbling to the floor. And as I reach out with my telepathy to skim his surface thoughts, all I can sense is shock and disappointment surrounded by a thin veil of jealousy.
He wasn't supposed to find out about us. Hell, there wasn't supposed to be an "us." But when I returned to the team after my time abroad with Nathan, Betsy and I began to fall into habits we had established in Tahiti... long conversations about nothing in particular, sitting up together until the sun rose, sharing things no one else could see. It was supposed to be business as usual. Betsy had her life and I had mine to reclaim. But perhaps that's why we needed each other so much, because no one else quite understood us any more but each other.
When I arrived, Warren and Betsy were just as happy as I had ever seen them. She was becoming comfortable with her powers and her new role on the team with Rogue in charge and Warren was successfully balancing the pressures of both the X-Men and Worthington Enterprises. They were content, they had purpose... they finally had everything they had ever wanted. They reminded me of Scott and myself before the end and I was jealous beyond belief. But I pushed those feelings aside... just pleased to be with my friends again. Happy to be home.
While Warren juggled his schedule between Westchester and the city, spending three days in SoHo to be near his work and four at the mansion being a part of the team and Betsy's life, Ororo, Betsy and I spent most of our days together... training in the Danger Room, helping Betsy further hone her powers. On days where we weren't working or fighting a new threat from a distance or in person, the three of us took long trips in the country, hiking, driving until we got lost. We even tried our hands at fishing... though the two we caught, we immediately threw back.
And it was nice. It was time well spent with two of my best friends. But I could tell at times Ororo felt like a fifth wheel. Betsy and I had been through so much together and we often found ourselves sharing jokes across the remnants of our psychic rapport and whispering to each other in hushed tones. When Gambit announced he was leaving the team for a while to take care of some unfinished business with the Guild, Ororo volunteered, as did Nathan and Hank. No one seemed surprised when I stayed behind with the others. No one even blinked when I became a full time X-Man again. Except for Betsy. She could sense that I wanted to get away from the ghosts that lingered here... but that something was keeping me back. Only at the time I had no idea it was her.
But I think she knew... at least subconsciously. Perhaps that's why she started to spend less and less time with me, taking the weekends to be with Warren in the city, spending her nights always on his arm at some social function or another. And while outwardly she shone like an exotic flower, surely the buzz of every engagement Warren took her to, I could tell that on the inside she was tired. Very, very tired. Of what or why, she couldn't say.
I had no answers for her. I couldn't even speak for myself.
As I spent less time with Betsy, Logan was there to fill the void. And as we talked of times long past, always avoiding the subject of Scott entirely, I could tell something was nagging at him. It was as if he wanted to say something but never had the courage. I think in his own way, he regretted not being there for me as I mourned Scott.
One afternoon, we were jogging by the bank of Breakstone Lake and Logan decided to take a chance. He suddenly stopped in the middle of the trail and when I doubled back, he was looking at me with an unreadable expression on his face. I paced in place for a few seconds, letting my heart-rate slow when I finally asked, "What is it?"
"I guess I've just been thinkin' too much, Jeannie."
I grinned. "That's never a good sign."
He shook his head. "I'm serious, darlin'. I've been enjoying our time together and it's really got me thinking."
My heart seemed to drop into my stomach. I didn't want to have this conversation. I really, really didn't. I started walking again on the trail. This time at a slow pace instead of a brisk jog. As he walked next to me, I could feel tension drain from his features but I didn't give him a chance for his confession.
"Logan. Please don't say what I think you're going to say."
"And what's wrong with saying it, darlin'?"
I quickened my pace as he grabbed my wrist and pulled me closer to him. It was a gesture that a few years ago would have sent chills of anticipation across my skin. Instead I said firmly, but evenly, staring hard into his brown eyes. "Because we both know our time has passed. If I were to be with you now it would ruin our friendship. It would just be about sex."
He smiled as he let me go. "Ain't nothing wrong with that."
I returned his smile and started walking again and he fell into pace behind me. "I didn't say there was."
Logan let me know that his arms and his bed were open whenever I wanted or needed either. But we both knew what this conversation was really about. And we both knew the resolution before it even began. That he could never replace my husband.
Husband. The word seems strange to me now. As if I were no longer that person with dreams of a family and a warm hearth to come home to. As if it were someone else married to Scott for those few, blissful years. And I wonder if she disappeared the moment she realized she had to stand on her own, the moment dreams passed away into an all too vivid reality.
But things continued on that way, me training with Logan and Rogue, working with the X-Men, trying to live a normal life again without the crutch of Betsy or Nathan. But tonight I had trouble sleeping, the old nightmares of Scott's death lingering at the edge of my dreams, so I wandered down to the kitchen to make myself a warm glass of milk.
I sensed something was askance and when I turned on the light, I saw Betsy sitting at the table in a blue, satin evening gown, her purple hair piled up on her head and her mascara smudged.
She blinked as she looked up at me. "Jean."
Smiling in embarrassment, she wiped under her eyes with a French- manicured fingernail. "I'm sure I look a fright."
I must have smiled. "No. I wouldn't say that."
She laughed weakly and then I asked, "What are you doing here? I thought you were at the Met with Warren?"
Her chair squeaked on the linoleum as she pushed away from the table. "I was. It's just Warren wasn't feeling well so he wanted to leave and I realized I had some... things to take care of here so I came back earlier. But it's just a headache. He said he'd sleep it off."
It was obvious she was lying. Her mental shields were as tight as a drum and she wouldn't look at me. She released a deep sigh and kicked off her heels as she laughed and shifted posture. "My feet are killing me. These shoes are nothing but little, Italian torture devices."
Pushing out my chair, I motioned for her to give me her feet. She crinkled her nose in protest, but I insisted. A thin layer of tulle rustled under her skirt as she finally placed her feet in my lap and I began to rub away the tenderness. "You know, you're a telekinetic now. You could have just stretched the shoes to fit better or even floated a few millimeters above the floor."
She pursed her lips as she stared at her stockinged feet. "I know. I guess I just didn't think about it."
"Things like that will start to be second nature after a while."
"I suppose they will."
We sat like that in silence for a while when I finally motioned that I was finished and she put her feet back on the floor. I then made us both mugs of warm milk and as I placed hers on the table and sat once again at her side, she said quietly, "My feet feel a lot better, thanks."
I shrugged as I took a sip of my milk. "Anything for a good friend."
She played with her own mug for a few seconds, finally taking a timid sip. When she put it back down on the table, she said bluntly, "Warren doesn't have a headache."
"I didn't think he did."
Betsy smiled weakly as she turned to look at me, tears welling in her eyes again. "We had a fight."
Placing my milk back on the table, I turned my full attention to her. "What about?"
Shaking her head, she sniffed as she looked up at the ceiling. "Oh, God. One of those fights, you know? Where it starts out over the tiniest thing... like where you want to go for dinner or what you want to do on Monday... and it turns into this big ghastly creature with a life of it's own where you're shouting at each other about how you don't understand each other anymore and you think the whole thing is a big mistake. Things that are just too big to fully wrap your mind around."
I brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes and got her a napkin from the table. "But I thought you were happy?"
"We are. Were. At least I thought so."
She took the napkin, then wiped her nose and dabbed at her eyes and soon it was all coming out, every last bit of it. "But all these social engagements are so tiring and Warren wants to start going to even more to promote this dot-com he's involved in. And he's talking about marriage and children and I'm starting to feel like I can't breathe. Like I'm drowning in somebody else's dreams. And I love Warren, I really do. But he makes me feel like this damned trophy sometimes and I can't live my life being his cheerleader forever. I mean I didn't know it would be this hard. I didn't know how much of me he would take... without even asking permission, even knowing that he was tapping away at what's really me. I just want to be free, you know? Go flying like we used to... have some fun."
"So it's not fun anymore?"
Shaking her head, she blew her nose and tossed the napkin with a disgusted gesture on the table. "No. It's not. I'm sick of pretending to enjoy myself and fit into Warren's plans for 'us.' I just don't think there's any room in his world for the real me anymore."
I took her hand. "I'm sorry, Betsy. Maybe you and Warren can..."
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath as she pulled her hand away from me and into her lap as she interrupted me. "And it's all your fault."
I definitely did not see that statement coming and no doubt my face gave away my surprise as she stared hard into my face, her purple eyes dancing with both anger and admiration. I responded, "How is it my fault?"
Her jaw twitched as she glared through me. "For showing me how big my life could be when we were in Tahiti. By showing me a whole new world. By making me realize that life isn't about what you have or where you've been... but how you live it."
As I reached out and touched her shoulder, she flinched when I asked, "And is that a bad thing?"
She turned her face away from mine, pursing her lips together as she stared at the table. "Dammit. I haven't been able to stop thinking about you. About everything that happened in Tahiti. How terrible and how wonderful it all was. And now you're back and you're still here," she tapped her forehead with two fingers. "And here."
She then put her hand over her heart.
What I should have done was left the room, run as far away from Betsy as I could. It would have been the best thing for her, for me... for everyone. But I didn't. I did the stupidest, yet most honest and real thing I could have. I kissed her. I put my hands on her tear-streaked face and I kissed her.
I should have felt him walking into the foyer with a bouquet of roses and an apology for the woman he loves. I should have known with my telepathy that he'd come into the kitchen looking for her when he saw the light on. But she was kissing me back and I didn't care. Finally, all the awkwardness of the last few months began to make sense. All the regret and aimlessness melted away. At that moment, comforting Betsy meant the world to me. And once again sharing a bit of the joyousness we found in the pacific was worth all the wondering.
So here we are now, sitting awkwardly under a set of blinking florescent lights as Warren stands awkwardly at the kitchen door asking the question, "Why the hell are you kissing my girlfriend?"
And then there are no words. All I can speak is the truth and I know how badly that will hurt. He tosses his dinner jacket and the dozen roses down on the floor as he says coolly, "Jean, please. Tell me you're drunk and someone's put you up to this. That this is a prank or something."
Betsy sits next to me, her head in her trembling hands as I say quietly, "No. No, joke."
"Then please tell me this is the only time this has happened."
I look at Betsy who is slumping uncharacteristically in her chair. "No, Warren. It isn't."
Warren laughs a hysterical, almost twisted laugh as he leans against the wall for support and stares at us in agonizing silence before he finally speaks, his voice quiet and unsteady as he runs a shaking hand through his hair. "You know, it's kind of funny. A guy comes home to apologize to the woman he loves. Because they had a fight. And he's sorry and the smile on her face means everything to him and he can't bear the thought of making her upset. And he sees his best friend and his best girl halfway fucking on the kitchen table. How's that for goddamned irony?"
At his words, something twists in my stomach. While I know he's just doing his best to cope with what he's witnessed, I can't help but feel bile sting the back of my throat. He thinks its something cheap, something tawdry, an experiment even. And then the words come. Words I had never voiced even mentally. As I say them, I wonder where they came from but know how incredibly true they are. "I think I'm falling in love with her, Warren."
Next to me, Betsy's shock rushes through her thoughts like the fluttering of a thousand butterfly wings as her mental shields come crumbling down. And in front of me, Warren stares at me like I've just ran over his favorite puppy. I can't help but think that I'm a monster. And for an instant, I wish I could turn back time or will myself to take back what I said. But I can't. Even if I want to. Mind-wiping two of the people I care most about in the world won't solve any of our problems.
For a few seconds, all Warren can do is utter a string of curses. Then he shakes his head and stares right through me, his expression cutting me to the bone. "You think you love her? You *think*?!"
I can't think of anything to say in my defense when finally, he looks to Betsy and asks her, his tone quiet and sincere as if a single word from her can erase all the damage I've done. "Do you have feelings for her, too? Please, Betsy. I have to know."
We both stare at her as her mouth drops open and she tries to speak. All she needs to utter is the single word 'No' and things will go back to the way they were before Warren found us. Suddenly the thought of her in his arms, laughing at how silly I am for making up this outrageous scenario makes my stomach churn. And I think for an instant that perhaps I have been making it all up, perhaps I haven't ruined everything after all? And then she says meekly, with an ashamed tone in her voice, "I... I. I don't know."
Putting his hands over his face, Warren groans. "Jesus Christ! I can't fucking believe this."
He glares at me, his face fading to an ashen shade of blue. "Haven't you broken my heart enough times, Jean?!"
I start to speak, "Warren..."
But he interrupts me and flashes me a cutting, livid glare. "You stay quiet! How the hell could you do this to me?"
He turns to face Betsy and I watch her shrink under his accusations. "And you! I knew we were having some problems. But this? You should have said something."
Sparing me once last glace before he leaves the room, he says bitterly, "And Jean? You had better stay far away from me for a long time. A long, long time."
I reach into his thoughts to try and calm him, to do anything to make him see we didn't mean to hurt him.
"Stay out of my head, Jean! Goddamn you, I *never* would have done this to you and Scotty, never, not in a million years. It would have never even crossed my mind."
He purses his lips and stares hard at Betsy as he breathes quickly through his nose. "I just hope to hell what ever you two have going on is worth it."
Something then clicks in Warren's mind and he falls silent. By his expression, I know it's all over for him. There's nothing more to say. He closes his eyes and breathes a deep sigh as he retreats quickly from the room and heads for the front door.
Betsy gets to her feet and stares after him as she calls his name and whispers, "Don't go."
Limping through the kitchen on tender feet to the foyer, she stands at the open door where she shouts his name and says again, "Don't go!"
She then follows him out to the driveway and raises her voice to the sky and his retreating form as his great wings lift him into the night and shrieks painfully, "Warren!!"
But he's gone and she knows better than to go after him. When she turns back to the house, she sees me standing at the door and says angrily, "I hope you're happy, now."
But I'm not and she knows it.
As she brushes past me, I say softly, "Betts, I..."
She looks at me with sad eyes and speaks barely above a whisper, "Don't. Just don't."
And then she disappears into the house, her thoughts sealed completely away from me.
I close the door behind me and head out across the lawn to sort my thoughts, but they skitter unfettered across my mind and for the life of me I can't get a handle on any of them. After a few minutes of wandering, I find myself at the boathouse Scott and I shared before we moved to Alaska. And as I feel the presence of another approaching me and I smell the acrid stench of cigar smoke, I realize that the house looks much smaller than I remember.
Of course he'd be here. I laugh at the irony and wonder how much he knows and how he'll react when he finds out. But I realize I really don't care. Not now, anyway.
I know that nothing Logan can say will make it better. And all I can think about is that I've ruined another relationship, that I've yet again trampled all over the feelings of my teammates, my friends. And I wonder if I will ever be anything but 'Jean the heartbreaker'. If I will ever be able to stand on my own two feet again and be happy just being me.