Roleplaying Log: Coexistence
IC Details

Warren opens up to Jean, who knows better than most what he is dealing with.

Other Characters Referenced: Alison Blaire, Cameron Hodge, Emma Frost
IC Date: February 23, 2020
IC Location: Danger Room, X-Base
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 24 Feb 2020 06:13
Rating & Warnings:
Scene Soundtrack: None
NPC & GM Credits:
Associated Plots

Time, it is said, heals a great many wounds. And time has certainly passed since the team returned with an Archangel in place of an Angel.

What remains to be seen is whether anything is, per se, healed.

Once back, Warren threw himself into the business of fixing and cleaning up the various messes left behind with a single-minded sort of fervor that was worrying, but probably preferable to him sitting and doing nothing to head off the hanging threat of uncomfortable inquiries and PR disasters. Cameron Hodge — disappeared, but the collected evidence regarding his collusions with Warren's family, and his leadership of the Right, were enough to make for an obvious narrative of why he would have disappeared.

That was Warren's first order of business. The second was his disownment of his treacherous family members. The third was to understand and gain control over his new, transformed state.

In between all that, in front of the cameras, in front of the rest of the team — in front of the world, really — Warren pretended nothing had really changed. He acted the same. He went to the same pointless social fetes as he always did. He made the same jokes and ran about with the same amount of shameless shirtlessness. But anyone who has known him any length of time would easily see the frenetic, too-desperate edge to his efforts to force a sense of normality. For people who have an extra Cheat Code of telepathic powers on top of simply knowing Warren Worthington since childhood, it's even easier.

There's also the fact that he keeps running off to hide up at the Adirondacks base, running Danger Room scenarios far more often than he ever used to without Scott badgering him into it.

That is where he is this morning. The Danger Room is active and he's in the middle of a session, though there are provisions in the room's control booth for others to jack into the simulation mid-scenario, or stop the entire thing entirely. It might prove necessary, because a glance at the settings reveal that Warren has configured the system to monitor his vitals and put him down if he gets too close to a certain set of parameters deemed 'unacceptably uncontrolled,' and he appears to be pretty close to overtopping them.

"We already know how this ends," gently ripples through the simulation.

"So let's just save ourselves the frustration, huh?"

For once, Jean's sudden appearance is purely a matter of technological convenience: somewhere around the third exotic tech-based overhaul, Danger Room scenarios — simulations — reached a level of complexity where entering one by simply walking through a door couldn't possibly cut it. Safety precautions; environmental logistics; verisimilitude… past a certain point, it became easier, more reasonable, even, for late additions to just be there. Ideally, they'd arrive by way of some narrative contrivance; appearing in the space between metaphorical panels is just as effective in a pinch, though— especially with the narrative's headed in such a grimly predictable direction.

"How long did you make it, this time?" she quietly wonders, meeting her teammate and friend's gaze on the other end of a field of 'living', 'breathing' hard light statues. Dressed in black slacks, a black leather coat with yellow trim, a ribbed black sweater with a circled yellow 'X' over the chest, and black leather boots with yellow branding wrapped around the shins, she's dressed for exfil on behalf of the Institute; that she's all the way in the mountains instead means that she was probably looking for practice, though.

That she's here rather than cordoning off an instance for herself means that she understands the value of paired learning in grasping complex, challenging subjects.

"You've got a record," she gently continues as she practically glides his way through frozen space, "right?"

It remains to be seen whether enough time's passed for sharing notes, but there's only one way to learn.

"Is that a rhetorical question?"

Warren's familiar voice comes back to Jean, lightly flanged, across a field of frozen corpses. Ninety percent of them are not intact bodies.

Warren himself is not immediately visible. But it's not really Warren, is it? Not one hundred percent.

"Have you been reading through my records, Jean?" Archangel wonders further, with a distant rattling of metal feathers.

The scenario is the front lawns of the Institute. On the front steps lays a student, shot through the heart, facedown. Her blood soaks down into the grass. There — used to be a contingent of armed DPS forces, as well. Used to be.

Now there are bodies. Halved SUVs. The burning wrecks of two helicopters, bisected, flaming oily black smoke into the sky. About twenty percent of the DPS forces remain, frozen in place, their lifted weapons all pointed in one direction.

The angle of their stares soon reveals his position. He's gargoyled on top of the school, full Archangel mode, his wings folded. His talons curl over the lip of the roof.

"It was a self-control exercise," he says. His bladed wings open with a hiss of edged metal, feathers fanning in a silvery array. "I stopped myself fifteen seconds sooner this time."

His expression twitches. "I'm working on the comedown…"

"There's not a lot of room for rhetorical, here."

Taut and cautious, her smile might not be enough to cut through oily, red darkness, but it shines along the fearful and determined lines of the DPS' eyes just the same.

"I would tell you first, if I was gonna look at your records," Jean adds as she— glides, actually flees the wet red gel clinging to the lawn, trailing pink sparks and a subtle ripple behind her. A cursory glance at Jean's Danger Room sessions over the past couple years would reveal a pattern of overwhelming odds, ready-made despair, fuel for righteous indignation, and whatever other risk factors a mind with little else to occupy it could come up with. "I just know a stress test and a scared perfectionist when I see 'em…"

The sentiment's still hanging in the air as the world fades into a magenta smear around her. A brisk stroke and brief moments later, she's close enough to reach for his cheek past razor-sharp angles— to share a friction-warmed palm and the concern in pursed lips and hooded eyes in full.

"Fifteen seconds is a— " A slight pause as her eyes flick away and she sighs through her nose. "— I dunno your situation," comes out quieter as she brings her eyes back towards his, cooling volence and all, "all that intimately, obviously. But fifteen's a big number— fifteen's not bad, right?"

She takes as deep of a breath as she can without looking like she's taking a deep breath — bracing herself — before surveying the difference fifteen seconds made. She tallies the ninety percent rather than the twenty, working backwards to assemble a picture of the lives lost — and saved — in this cycle; by the end, a corner of her bottom lip's been drawn in and her eyes have grown glassy.

"How do you feel," she softly wonders, "right now?" Her eyes flick up the feathers, steadily climbing towards his face. "Have you tried describing it yet? Trying to put it into words— make it something concrete?"

Warren's records, over the past few weeks, have all been the same. Stress tests, as Jean says: which he has failed, to varying degrees.

Today's session began much as the others did. The DPS coming to the Institute's doors. A student, in the midst of being questioned, nervously losing control of her powers and being shot by equally-nervous enforcers.

Warren, seeing it all, and his reaction to it.

He always tries talking first, but the situation always escalates. Then it becomes a matter of being able to defend himself without spilling all the way over the edge. That part is — obviously a work in progress.

Archangel hackles as Jean approaches. His wings flare, deadly feathers curving, but ultimately he holds still as Jean comes in close and reaches past all that poisonous lethality. Her hand touches his face; his feathers hiss against one another like whetting blades, wings arching like poised guillotine blades… and then droop, and go quiescent and quiet.

"…Scott's the scared perfectionist," Warren protests after a moment, in a mumble, but he doesn't sound like he's even convincing himself.

Fifteen seconds is a long time, Jean says, encouraging… though the way she has to brace before she looks at the outcome of this particular run brings him to palpably shudder under her hand. "It's not bad," Warren says, in a whisper. "But it could be better. This… form… is too efficient. It only needs thirty seconds to…"

His silvery eyes, the redness still fading from their irises, go a little glassy. "…do enough."

How does he feel?

"Angry," he says. "I haven't gotten any further than that. And that I am angry isn't really… a change, for me." His head hangs heavily into her hand. "Just the degree of it."

A pause. "What do you feel," he asks in turn, "looking at it? Right now?"

"Ah, but Scott," comes softly and without hesitation, "just has a different image to maintain. There's room for more than one; less PowerPoint, more Italian suits."

Jean draws a slow breath in and out as his wings droop, hoping to draw him into a calming rhythm.

If Warren only needed thirty seconds to turn the front lawn into a wet, red ode to survival at any costs, then fifteen is a lot indeed— and yet, how much better would sixteen be? Twenty…? Her thumb brushes towards a shifting eye as the rest of him starts to sag; every moment is precious when they're the difference between You and not.

"The closeness makes it harder," she murmurs, glancing up at silvery eyes with a sad, emerald gleam, "right? It'd be one thing if it wasn't familiar— if there wasn't already a part of you that agreed— empathized…"

How does she feel…?

Another look at the lawn, as requested; sans breath.

"What's going to happen when they're real people?" she quietly answers after taking a beat to take the ninety percent in again. "What's it going to do to you— what did it…? Those soldiers on the Ship… you must've felt something, afterwards…"

When she finally breathes, it's laced with shudders as her hand slides down to his shoulder.

"I'm scared for you," she says, squeezing.

"I don't know if you deserve to pay what going on's gonna cost you," she admits, softly, "because this— " Her free hand sweeps broad arcs across the carnage, "— we can do this, and practice it a million ways, but there's always — always — gonna be a chance for something to go wrong. And when it does…" Her eyes return to his because they must, eventually.

"… it only needs thirty seconds to hurt you," she whispers.

Something exhales out of Warren at Jean's remark on the different manifestations of frightened perfectionism. It sounds like it should be a laugh, but Warren isn't feeling enough actual humor for the sound to fully take form.

"The Italian suits are what everyone expects," he admits. "So I do the Italian suits. It's… easy, anyway. Like a reflex. And I think, the more I act like nothing has changed, the less anyone would ever suspect that… this…" His wings droop until their long, swordlike primaries cut scratches into the stone. "…is what is waiting underneath. And — it is hard, when it's already…" He is momentarily silent. "It's hard to tell," he admits, low, "whether it's an alien thought or just… one of mine."

He's blue, but there's little else changed about the actual shape and sculpt of his features. The high, patrician arch of his cheek is familiar under her hand; so too is the way his eyes hood under long lashes, whatever violent rage is circulating in his blood slowing and calming to her soothes. Her presence seems to have a steadying effect. There are certain cornerstones of personality ingrained deeply into Warren Worthington, and one of them is to protect. And one of the first people he ever wanted to protect was Jean Grey.

This, though? This bloody field, strewn with gore? It is the very opposite of the way he ever envisioned 'protecting' anything or anyone. And he wants to know…

…how must one of his oldest friends see him now?

Would she be… hurt, if he ventured to say that he thinks she should understand?

There is a certain fear in his eyes that reflects both questions.

"It was already real people, Jean," he says. "Real people a universe away. We always said we'd never hurt, that we wouldn't kill. Now I have memories of killing more people than I can count. I wasn't… in total control, but enough of me was in there to remember how it — " His talons twitch. "How it felt. And it was always so personal. I did it with my hands. With my wings."

He drifts to a stop. He doesn't have to talk about it; the thought is drifting openly across his mind, in the expression on his face. How a body feels coming apart under his talons, or how it looks scissored apart in his bladed wings.

"The hurt," he concludes tiredly, "it's already there. It doesn't matter if more comes to me. I have to figure out, now, how to keep from hurting others…"

She's scared for him, she says. His eyes track up to hers. "I was scared for you, when it was you," he says, the moment and their long friendship making him frank in a way he has not been with anyone else save one. "How did you get past it?"

Has she ever?

Half a dozen more fingers of psychokinetic impulse glide invisibly along familiar angles as he lowly shares familiar lines. Among the various new powers Jean returned with the first time around, her increased dedication to hair, make-up, and moisturizing were perhaps the least audacious. The rigorous maintenence of Self as a shelter may not've been exactly what was expected of her, but it helped maintain an image of control— of confidence befitting a young woman whose days of fearing her own potential were long past.

It was easy, like a reflex.

"God forbid people see you differently— or worse, treat you differently," she murmurs. "Like a threat," Her psychic touch glides until it's brushing his brow along the seam of his armor, then recedes into dull warmth clinging to flesh and living metal alike, "or an invalid, or… something other than you. 'You'," her free hand handles quoting duties, "becomes a project, this… idea to work on, and refine, and— well, perfect, all over again. A fresh, old coat of paint over a new house…"

"God forbid you start seeing you differently," she whispers after a brief beat. "God forbid you forget which voice is which…"

God forbid if it didn't feel real, a universe away — dogma and anger and all. Rather than smile - as if she could after surveying his work - she lets something like a sigh roll through his psyche like a cool, summer breeze stiff enough to disperse the surface-level resonance of unspooling entrails and pulped flesh.

"It matters," she reminds him as he trails, "to me, to Alison… it matters. But learning how to control it…"

How did she get past it…?

"… it'll help. Feeling more like you're in control of yourself…"

How could she ever?

"… it'll probably make it easier to metabolize the pain."

Her eyes shut for a long moment rather than shift away.

"The D'Bari's star was… I remember feeling," she eventually answers in a distant whisper, "all of them, just for a second. Less than; enough to know that they were all - just for that instant - in sync. Billions of minds, all on the same page, it— there was something beautiful about it, I thought— it's all such a blur, but I remember that, just. So clearly. Panic, terror, love…"

Beneath faintly shadowed lids, Jean's eyes finally dip from his as a shiver rolls through those last couple syllables.

"But," she then exhales, "somewhere in all those stress tests, I also remembered that - no matter how bad it got— how cruel, how careless Her hunger made me - I wasn't alone. There were people who— I couldn't just retreat from them forever, right? Not after what they went through with me, what— I— put them through. So… I mean…"

"I had to get past it, you know?"

Her tongue slowly rolls along her bottom lip, then her gaze twitches upwards again.

"It doesn't ever get easier, but it gets more possible, over time."

"If they treat me differently," he says, "I have to admit I am different."

He is quiet, after. His head leans against her hand, as he absorbs what she says with a certain passive silence that looks strange coming from Warren Worthington. Warren, who was always loud and vain and showy and who — above all — always knew exactly what to say. He'd always been ready, before, with glib remarks or off-handed turns of phrase. He'd always been confident, in the way men get when life is easy and comes with no obstacles. Easy to be relaxed when your existence is advantages compounded upon advantages. And now…

His gaze eventually blinks over to meet hers. "This was you," he says eventually, of all she has to say. God forbid you forget which voice is which. Sometimes he wakes and does not know which he is. "It still is you, isn't it?"

He hesitates. "And did I ever treat you so? Like a project? Like something to make back into what you were before?" A shaky laugh escapes him. "If so, you may yell at me now."

His talons grit audibly into the rooftop as he shifts slightly, his open wings lightly rattling as restless feathers spread, shake out, and then finally fold back down. His raptor's silhouette tames back down to something a little more human. The motions of his wings are familiar, as birdlike as ever, but the natural movements are marred by the distinctly unnatural rasp and hiss of metal that accompanies every motion. He's still blue, though — the anger's still there, after all. The anger, and —

"End scenario," he says. The blood and bodies disappear, but not the shame.

He sobers visibly to hear her talk of the D'Bari star. Of that moment, and what she felt. Perhaps before, Warren would have stared at her in incomprehension, to hear her say there was something beautiful about that moment. "Every death I saw was beautiful," he says now, almost too low to be heard. "I… couldn't see it any other way. Even now, there is something in me that wants to tell you… they would have survived, if they were meant to survive. If they had the strength to…"

He stops.

So how did Jean get past it? Warren listens as she answers. "Guilt," he eventually summarizes, with a wry twist to his voice. "I've… also put you all through so much, now. It's what I owe, too, isn't it? To get better, for those who came for Alison and me. I suppose it's… as strong a motivator as any. I was raised Protestant, but… we have a guilt of our own. Certainly the work ethic and the repression, to knuckle down and just — get through things."

The smile that flickers over his features is very wan and very short-lived. "To feel in control would be a good first step," he murmurs. "And the first step to that would be… being able to switch out of this form." He inhales shakily. "It's harder, after it's killed. Anger always makes it harder."

He looks down, hands curling slightly as talons start to pull back beneath his skin. The techno-organic material is visibly reluctant to reintegrate with his flesh. "But I'll take 'possible.'"

He looks up. "You're right, though. You're not alone, either. Never were. Now, I… understand. A little bit more than I did."

Something in her wants to assure him:

"They'll live on in the place you make for them in your heart as we change the world."

So it does, and the tiled, moldable expanse shimmers around words burning with primal certainty as the frozen lawn fades. Pale fingers find his cheek again, stroking tenderly.

"In the negative space where their world grows in their absence—"

Jean draws a sharp breath inwards as the heat recedes. Her eyes cut between Warren and the Room while she lets it out, as if he just caught her by the lake with a pack of wine coolers and a dire need to remember what it was like when the world was quiet.

"… is what She has to say to that," she softly offers once her eyes are — barely — stuck on him again. Unlike her brisk trip from Earth to him, the lightness is forced; as her hand drops back to his shoulder, she lets a wholly audible sigh slide through her teeth.

Feeling in control is a good first step; accepting that control isn't the same as a cure comes several after it.

"I don't think that you owe us anything, but I— you know, I get it," she continues. Her hand falls so she can slip both of hers around his, eyes flicking down just long enough to watch for stray talon. "Before, there wasn't ever a question of— you know, negotiating between states, right? Not at first… so. There are things we just— never tried. Maybe," her thumbs rub across his knuckles firmly; maybe, somehow, through some miracle of Celestial bioengineering, it'll have a positive effect on reintegration.

"We could help you negotiate your way towards some kind of… 'compromise' might not be the right word, considering, but… if you could find a way to co-exist with it, maybe it'd be easier to figure out how to control the changes, and the… effects, more consistently."

What were neatly arranged waves just minutes ago spiral out behind her like the arms of a burning galaxy as she floats and watches him — watches over him — through the change. Did he, when he came to this very same Room many months ago to bring her home, treat her like something to fix, to restore? When he reminded her of how important it was to keep the man who taught them how to be adults in mind as she took the world in for the first time in years…?

"I just… you came back because of me to begin with, so there were times where I felt like I had to be a good investment? But:"

Since her hands are busy, Warren gets exactly enough telekinetic force to approximate a finger against the tip of his nose, as she pivots.

"I didn't feel like you treated me like a project, no— I didn't feel like you treated me like anything but, just. Me."

Warren looks up, as Jean speaks, and feels a bond with her through an experience they now share.

Or maybe Archangel looks up, as the Phoenix speaks, and feels resonance with the part of the Firebird that embodies death.

It's hard to tell. Maybe it does not even matter which it is.

Whatever it is, Warren looks away when Jean does. Control is not a cure, indeed. Perhaps he sees a preview of himself in her, in those moments. Death will always find ways to speak through him, just as She will always speak through Jean. "There isn't much… else I can do, here and now," he admits, quiet. "It's done, and I can't take it back. I wish to God I could. I wish I knew how much of it was me, and how much I could really blame on…" On Him. "On someone else."

He sighs. "Maybe you could have a look. Sometime. Maybe you'd see something that could make me… make me feel sure."

Her hands twine around his. They are jagged, rough and cold and hard with techno-organic plating, curved with hooked talons, but none of it hurts her because he actively concentrates on it not doing so. Those talons retract quietly under the soothe of her touch, cold metal sliding between her fingers as it seeps back under his skin. The rest of that Celestial-engineered armor slowly, slowly starts to follow suit.

She suggests… co-existing, with whatever alien consciousness inhabit him now. "Co-exist," he mumbles. "I… am afraid to co-exist with what's in me. Do you… you co-exist with Her?"

It is a loaded question, and one he has not tried to ask her so explicitly before. But then, before he was not in such a similar state. Before, he could not understand. And a slight worry about what he might have been — cavalier about, before, drives him to inquire if he had ever…

Her answer seems like a relief to him. The relaxation seesm to help. Gradually, under her watchful ministrations, he sheds his state, alien metal fading, feathers gentling back into white plumes. "We need people who will look at us and not see anything but… us," he says. He closes his eyes to her telekinetic poke. "I know I've always needed someone to see… me. So. I knew you would need someone to see…" His mouth twitches at the corner, betraying humor. "That awkward girl who showed up on the doorstep one day, looking for the Prof."

His eyes flicker, finally showing a hint of his more typical sly playfulness. "I don't tell the others about her, if you're worried."

Maybe it's those thoughts, thoughts about simpler times, which help him make that last push to shed Death away, leaving Warren behind. But for all the blond hair, the blue eyes, and the familiar beauty, his soft white feathers still show signs of bedraggled crumpling, where earlier blood and violence bent them out of shape.

Jean was among His first students, but His Institute didn't become home until the cracked furniture and stalking nightmares began adding up to a toll too high for her first family to pay. It wasn't until she had nowhere else - safer, better - to go that she found herself fearful and anxious on that doorstep, trying her damndest to affect aloof composure. On the other side of death and fear, she found her second home — her second family, her second (third, fourth…) life as a protector in her own right.

The world turns, and the universe with it; in the midst of it all, there are two souls divided against themselves along similar frequencies. Two sets of eyes locked tight on one another. Two siblings reckoning with the consequences of a beautiful, fucked up childhood and the dream they've inherited from a beautiful, fucked up man.

"I'm not," she murmurs as the corner of her mouth quirks upwards. "That undercover mission in Atlantic City alone…"

(Nevermind that it was Jean's brain and a folded up keno brochure that got them all that booze to begin with— )

"Mutually assured destruction," comes with a squeeze of talon-free hands while psychokinetic digits gently, briskly brush through flaxen strands.

"Thank you," she quietly adds.

"I…" Her eyes shift away for a moment as a small, sad smile plays over her lips. More than ever, he's equipped to understand what it is to have part of oneself mortaged off to something else— and he's already heard her try to reduce her connection to the cosmic force that chose her to rebirth, and refine, and twist, and terrify into mere words.

"When we first got to Apocalypse's dimension," she murmurs, taking her time with each word "She suddenly just— left, and I— I panicked. All those months up here, bouncing between terror, and caution, and infatuation— all of that exisistential, 'am I me, or am I just Her idea of me'… as soon as She was gone, all I knew, all I could feel is that something was missing. Before— when all I knew was what was in the news, I…"

Hooded in the hopes of hiding her unease, Jean's eyes fall from his as she softly admits, "… was so angry, so hurt… and She was right there, listening. Empathizing…"

"… I spent days shut up in the Mansion, just… just trying to focus on anything but how I felt, until Emma Frost showed up to be difficult…"

This part of the admission comes with a faint smile.

"We… exist, together," she carefully says as the smile shrinks away, "but Warren, it's— it's different, you know? This was done to you; you were infected by something designed to bring out the worst version of yourself. Learning how to co-exist with — controlthat is gonna look, be different."

Blindfolded, it'd be difficult to mark the difference between fingers wrapped around his freshly softened hands and psychic force dragging through his hair, down his cheeks until his face is tenderly framed.

"And I'm going to be here to help you do it as fast, or as slow as you want. You won't be alone with Him, not as long as I'm here… and if, when you're ready, we can even bring Ali in to help. Even Mirror-You's fond of her, so… I mean, who knows? Maybe having another friendly face on hand'll make it easier to reach some kind of accord, and I know she'd do anything to see you happier— healthier."

That undercover mission in Atlantic City alone…

Warren suddenly looks incredibly evasive. It's an immensely familiar expression on him, even if it's written across a changed face. "I put every girl exactly back where I found them, Jean Grey," he replies with familiar loftiness. "And my feathers regrew wwwwwwithin a few weeks."

A pause. "But I take your point."

His head bows into her psychokinetic ministrations, even as his hands twine a little more tightly with hers. Warren found his family within the walls of the Institute, too, after a lifetime lacking in blood siblings or genuine social connection; in Jean Grey, he found the sister he had never had. A sister who can now viscerally and intimately understand what he is currently going through.

She's lived it. She's still living it. "Thank you," he says.

He listens on, silent, as Jean speaks about the Phoenix suddenly leaving her when they went to the other dimension. About how it felt, and what questions it immediately answered for Jean in her heart of hearts. About how, for him, it will be different, because unlike her, he did not choose his other half. He did not reach out and have Something reach back. He had something put in him that gave voice to his worst self, and armed it with toxic blades and hooked talons…

Emma Frost is good at being difficult," is all he says back, at first. "I'm… sorry, you were hurting and I wasn't there. That I caused it, really."

He closes his eyes, again, to her framing touch. For him, visually dependent, it is a gesture of trust. There might be a shade of disappointment, to know that it will be different and that Jean cannot guide him exactly, and things will not be easy. He is so accustomed to things being easy. For so much of his life, there was nothing that could be denied to him. "So I have to learn to manage the worst parts of myself, now that they can manifest as an actual alternate form out to kill people," he says, dry. "Well. That's always easy. You know how bad they are."

He pauses. "But," he says, with an echo of his usual confidence, "I'll do it."

His eyes reopen, meeting hers, as she promises she will be there, and he won't be alone with Him. He shudders a little to hear it spoken of as 'Him.' "If I kill anyone else, I don't know what I…" A brief silence. "I'm just glad if people are around to help stop me."

But the mention of Ali's name… that is when her senses might reel a bit, with the imprint of the massive amount of guilt that washes through his psyche. "Even He loves her," he agrees. "We… shared a lot of aspects, but especially that. If she were on hand, I know He would never hurt her. I don't think… He would you, either. If you were both there, I…"

She'd do anything to see you happier. Warren falls silent, perhaps suddenly and shamefully aware of his own selfishness. "I wish I knew what to do for her," he admits. "She's lost hope, and purpose."

"It wasn't your fault, Warren."

As sudden as searing lightning, as certain as a cool river, Jean plunges right into his apology while it's still spinning up. Psionic currents bear her just a bit closer while unseen palms apply just enough pressure. The warmth shining in the emerald hearths of her eyes is all her; the refusal to retreat — as she quietly lets him let himself ease into her touch and listens as he promises to do the work, lest he find himself neck-deep in the unthinkable, she occupies his space until she's sure he understands.

It's as familiar as lost weekend of amateur mixology, thankfully returned girls, and a very important mission to let a lounge act know how wonderful they are so Jean doesn't literally (literally) die.

Proximity means that when Ali's name draws a bleak, clinging tide across her psyche, she has to grit her teeth against the chill. The invisible cradle against his cheeks shudders, then clenches tight as she recenters herself; worry knits her brows, but she bites her lip and lets him talk his way through it at his pace.

"Just before we left for the Ship, I found her camped outside of your room," she replies to his diagnosis. "She was so grateful to have you back, so afraid of losing you again— "

As soon as that thought comes out, Jean pauses for a tick and tenses, ready to dart back in and dose him with another bright-eyed reminder if need be.

"I felt it, that loss of purpose— that ambiguity of who she is, anymore, it's there…" she admits, even though it pains her to think of the once-shining star forlorn and hollow. "…but it also felt like she wanted to find something to believe in, and fight for again," comes a bit more briskly after a quick breath. "We… talked about where we went wrong, with everything; we talked about what we could do better, to make sure this world ends up better than that one. She wants to fightreally fight, rather than smile, and pray, and wait, and let the people who wanna turn the world into a warzone build their strength." Her hands turn and twist as she speaks, fingers lacing between his.

"I'm not saying that you have to hurry back into fire before you're ready," she then promises, low and swift, "but letting her see you try to find some balance — letting her help you… it'd probably go a long way."

It wasn't your fault.

The sheer certainty of that statement, that thought, brought home with a direct and forceful immediacy, brings Warren to look up with a moment of startlement. He is a forceful personality himself, not easily struck to silence, but Jean strikes him to silence now with her certitude, and her urgency that he know, he understand that one concept from her:

It wasn't him.

He searches her eyes a moment, before his own drop their gaze. "No. You're right," he says. A flicker of anger sparks in his psyche, as he remembers who and what to truly blame. Warren never did tend to self-blame for long. His confidence made him better than most at properly — or improperly — externalizing fault. "It wasn't."

But if there is one thing he WILL feel immensely guilty about, it is Ali. Ali, who suffered all this simply because her proximity to him brought her within Cameron Hodge's aura of hatred. He listens silently as Jean speaks of her, though he seems to cringe internally at the thought of Alison being that grateful to have him back — that afraid of losing him again. It is not his way to self-deprecate, never has been, so he cannot quite put these new feelings into words — to wonder whether she might actually fare better leaving him behind. Whether she might only be grateful because of a perceived debt…

"That was the choice Apocalypse gave me," he admits, low. "I could take his gifts, and use them to revive her. Or I could refuse, and she could stay dead."

He is quiet a moment. "I'm glad you both talked," he says eventually, visibly attempting to reclaim some of his equilibrium with an effort. "I think… you'd be good for each other. Working together. Finding that purpose. Because what she wants now, to fight, to do better — it's what you want, too. I know."

Warren shakes his golden head. "Me, I've got… a lot of work on myself, to do. Then I can start to think about the rest, too."

He squeezes her hands in his own, affectionate. "I promise I'll let her. I'll let you both. But for now… I think I should drill a little more. Maybe… I can get it down to thirty seconds, before the end o

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