Disclaimer: Marvel Comics owns these guys, not me.
Timeline: In the future, about 15 months after X2. Heavy spoilers for X2 and perhaps, X3.
Notes: Thank you to Liz for the beta. While this fic answers the X-Men 100's challenge, "A Picture Tells a Thousand Words" (see the picture in question), it was also written as a back-story for something else I'm working on. As the challenge says, this one is 1,000 words exactly.
Our bedroom window looks out over the garden. I say 'our' even though Jean moved out six weeks ago. This vantage point gives me a perfect view of Jean kneeling in the dirt. She pauses and glances up at the window. I wave at her. She gestures at the rose bushes -- previously Ororo's domain but now adopted by Jean -- heavy with red, white, yellow and pink blooms.
*Looks good* I tell her over our mental link, a bond that despite everything that's happened between us remains a comfort. The link survived Alkali Lake and I know it'll survive this as well.
*Thanks.* Gardening is a new hobby for Jean. I use the word 'new' loosely; it's something she always wanted to try but never found the time for before.
"Coming back from the dead has a way of making you re-evaluate your priorities," Jean had said. "There's so much I want to do, Scott, so much I never had time for between medical school and—"
"And?" I had prodded gently.
She had looked at me, anguished. "You."
The next day, I helped move her things (not that there was much move to; I'd given most of it away after her 'death') to a bedroom down the hall from the one we shared; activity helped temper my grief over losing Jean a second time. A few days later, I found Jean sitting in the armchair we bought at an antique shop in Schenectady reading a Harlequin novel ("I can remember a time when I wouldn't have been caught dead reading one of these," Jean had confessed). She'd looked at me guiltily, but to say I didn't mind seeing her in our room would be an understatement.
"I needed to be near you," Jean had said awkwardly. But she wasn't moving back, not yet. She needed time and space to adjust to the very fact of her existence.
Now I watch Logan approach Jean. I'm not stupid; women love men who look like Logan – wild, primal and dangerous. Jean's no exception. Her attraction for Logan – and his feelings for her -- since he walked into our lives is no secret. He squats next to Jean. Jean smiles as she continues to play in the dirt. It doesn't escape my attention how *close* Logan sits to Jean.
I head back to my desk. I had given an exam in the morning to the pre-calculus class and promised to have the papers back the next day. Everything else in my life might be in a state of flux, but I'm still a man of my word. I'm halfway through grading when there's a knock at the door.
"Coming down for dinner?" It's Ororo. Since Jean moved out, Ororo seems to stop by more often, usually on the filmiest of pretexts. I know she worries about me (and I have no doubt she checks on Jean as well) and doesn't seem to buy my continued protestations of "I'm fine." And the truth is, really, I *am*.
"Give me another half hour," I say. "If I don't finish grading these, there'll be a riot tomorrow."
"I'll keep a plate warm for you."
"Thanks, I appreciate that."
I finish the last one just before seven. Bobby receives a 100, but both Kitty and Peter will require additional tutoring. I make a note to talk to them after class tomorrow.
I turn to look at Jean. She leans against the door jamb, arms crossed against her chest. Instead of the shorts and t-shirt from earlier, she's wearing a black dress.
"Are you busy?"
"No, come on in."
"I missed you in the garden this afternoon," Jean says matter-of-factly as she sits on the bed.
"I had tests to grade. Remember?"
"Oh that's right. I thought I sensed some test anxiety this morning. How did they do?"
"Good. An 85 average without a curve."
"You've taught them well, Scott."
I'm struck by how comfortably we lapse into our old, familiar conversational patterns and subjects. Instinctively, we're fumbling our way back to each other. In moments like this, it's easy to forget just fifteen months ago, Jean 'perished' at Alkali Lake and I lost me. Three months ago, she returned to us, more powerful than the Professor. She came back to a life that had gone on without her. We both know it'll take months, if not years, for Jean to rediscover herself.
"Was Logan helpful?" I ask, breaking the awkward silence.
"Not really." Jean shakes her head. "Gardening isn't his talent, but he gets points for trying." She grins. "At least you know which end of the trowel is which." She stands up.
She smiles as she approaches. "I'll hold you to that."
I push my chair back and Jean settles comfortably on my lap. I love the way she runs her hands through my hair in a gentle kneading action. In her arms, I can sense the possibilities for the future. As much as I want to be okay with our new reality, it's still a daily struggle. Contrary to the school grapevine, Logan was never a real threat to our relationship; his arrival merely revealed pre-existing fissures. We have two lifetimes of issues to deal with – those from before Alkali Lake and now, the complicated aftermath.
Jean's hand closes over mine. *This isn't the end for us, Scott. You know that.*
Intuitively, I know Jean
is right. How many couples get a second chance? We're learning how to fit together
again; it's an intensely private, slow and painful process. I let Jean go because
she was no longer the Jean I had fallen in love with years ago nor was I the
man she'd committed herself to. I admit I miss the feeling I had with us, but
love means letting go when you want to hold on the tightest. I took a chance
Jean would choose me and she gambled I would trust her. We were both right.
Feedback always welcome.
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