Evolve and/or Die
Roleplaying Log: Evolve and/or Die
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

Jean and Warren catch up after months of mounting troubles.

Other Characters Referenced: Domino, Carol Danvers, Merrow, Charles Xavier, Agent Coulson
IC Date: May 12, 2019
IC Location: The X-Men's Headquarters
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 05 Jun 2019 23:21
Rating & Warnings: PG
NPC & GM Credits:
Associated Plots

Thirteen years ago now, five kids walked into this room — or something like it — for the very first time. Nowadays, it looks a little different, and so do those five kids.

Certainly the Warren Worthington of 2006 would never have guessed, if you put the question to him, that 2019 would find him up in the control booth of the Danger Room, rather than in the thick of the simulator's action. He's written and run scenarios before, of course — they all have — but it was never really his main interest. He always liked to act on things, to solve them and puzzle them out, rather than design them. And God forbid you suggest he actually review the combat logs, especially any logs that weren't his own. Warren never was interested, back then, in anything that wasn't himself.

Now? He is in fact currently reviewing combat logs which are not his own. To be more precise, they are logs of sessions in which a certain Domino was present. Thirteen years brought responsibility home to roost in a heavy way.

The video is paused for now. There were other responsibilities which fell on him, of a less 'secret high-tech paramilitary' nature. He has a sheaf of frankly boring-looking papers with him — legal documents, by the look — which he's reading through and signing with a rote and methodical boredom.

Of course, because there are still some things which really never change, Warren is not sitting up straight, but is instead kicked back in the chair, one heel braced up against the edge of the panel in exactly the way that always drove Scott crazy. His white wings are fanned out behind him, over the chair's low back, taking a rare opportunity to stretch without impediment or need for disguise.

There's an air of waiting to him. He sent a message to Jean not long ago. 'Come up to the old stomping grounds? Miss your face. Promise I won't make you run any laps.' It's vague, but one never knows who might be reading in this day and age. He could have called psychically, and she'd probably have heard, but — better to keep the psychic airwaves uncluttered.

——

Jean's been living on the old stomping grounds that the team acquired sometime after her second death but before her third life for months, now. It's just easier this way. Not logistically; logistically, it is an enormous pain in the ass because they're way the hell out in the mountains, hours beyond even Westchester— nevermind the City itself. Emotionally, it's— the base is collection of places and things that signify those she remembers, an artistic recreation of a more innocent time; it's all functional and just familiar enough, but 'easy'…?

Legally speaking, though, it's great! The law probably wouldn't look kindly upon a nominally above board school for metahumans that's harboring a staunchly unregistered mutant; she could live there and hide, but she shouldn't have to hide in her own home. Former Sentinel bases in the mountains are a little more cop-proof, though, for all that they may not make for the warmest of accommodations.

All of this is to say that Warren will be waiting a while before Jean arrives. She lives here; whatever time isn't taken up with team duties, training, or sleep tends to be spent behind the wheel, working.

"All this time, and you're still just using the monitors to study pretty women," breaks the pseudosilence of shifting sheafs. Thirteen years ago, she would've slipped in as quietly as she could; she would have either waited for the room's occupant(s) to acknowledge her or looked for an opportunity to gently insinuate herself without drawing too much attention. Today, she's leaning against the observation deck's doorframe like she owns it, with green eyes and a warm smile turned inwards. Any gentle efforts made to mute the sound of her approaching footsteps were purely in the service of preserving an air of friendly surprise in this meeting that she was invited to well in advance.

"How are you?"

Besides a cream-coloured knit top, jeans, and dark red flats, she's wearing a bright red ribbon in her hair, binding it into a ponytail with plenty leftover to spare. As ribbons go, it's not particularly noteworthy, but for two things:

1.) It's old; she's had it nearly as long as she's been an X-Man, and saw a lot of use in the immediate wake of its first appearance before going in a box somewhere; sometime after the Triskelion attack, it found its way out of storage.

2.) It's longer than it used to be. A lot longer. Long enough to spiral around her ponytail and leave a fair few inches of slack rippling out behind her head.

"I've been meaning to touch base with you for a while," she continues. The smile stays but the warmth bleeds from it and her voice, both, 'til it's just a gentle glow. Her eyes flick down long enough for, "Sorry it wasn't sooner," then they're lifting back to Warren: "but I'm glad you reached out."

——

White feathers lift slightly, rustling, at the sound of Jean's voice. It's not human body language, but Jean has known Warren long enough to be able to read it anyway: slight surprise, engaged interest, alertness. His right wing flicks a little, before both fold in and smooth their feathers down, Warren taking his foot back off the desk edge (somewhere a sigh of relief is breathed) and swiveling in the chair to face her.

He notices the difference between the assertiveness of the woman before him, and the quiet girl he first met thirteen years ago, but he doesn't say anything. After all, similar could be said of him. He came here, thirteen years ago, a callow, self-absorbed, and breathtakingly arrogant fledgling. And now?

"Some keystones are best left undisturbed," is his arch reply, a smile haunting his features. "Would you recognize me anymore if such an integral part of my image fell away? Truly, there'd be nothing left of me." His smile, brilliant and practiced, designed for press conferences and magazine covers, fades into something more honest and wistful. "Jean, you're too kind to frame it in such a way. It makes me feel as if nothing's changed. Everyone else likes to gasp about the sudden air of sedate responsibility that has fallen upon my shoulders. No one has even considered I might, sometimes — still just be checking a girl out."

He taps his pen once against the papers still in his lap. 'How are you' is a question he's always tended to answer honestly with her, and an honest answer requires some thought. "Busy," he finally decides. "We both have been. Which is why there's no need for… apologies, that we didn't do this sooner. All this has pushed us into opposite corners, in terms of how we have to engage. I'm too public to risk getting people too curious about the X-Men ties. People might start looking at where my money's going." His voice turns bone-dry. "That would be inconvenient."

He puts the papers aside. His signature stands out on the top sheet, ink drying. His gaze takes in the familiar sight of the ribbon; afterwards, his blue eyes track to meet hers. "And you've been buried up here. How has it been treating you?"

He flicks the pen onto the stack of paper. "We do need to talk about a number of things," he says. "The first is the easiest. What you see there are the documents establishing the trust for 'Miss Suzie Dobson.' I have someone picked out who will serve as trustee and guardian. With luck, that arrangement will not need to be disturbed. It should not be a significant concern unless something goes wrong." His eyes half-lid. "On the other hand, there is the Terrigen which SHIELD was researching… and another matter I would like to consult you on in particular."

——

And now they've both learned a few important lessons about spreading their wings.

"Warren…"

Jean's mouth shrinks to a pensive point; her brows knit as she screws her gaze tightly to Warren's. She slowly breathes in, gathering herself for a brisk walk through the observation deck.

"… I will always," she promises, low and soulful as she reaches for his shoulder, "no matter what this world does to you— to us— allow for the possibility that you're just checking a girl out." Eye to eye, nearly nose to nose, his shoulder receives a powerful squeeze while both fluttering ends of the ribbon perk up behind her.

Since they've already broken the seal on talking about current events, the inevitable grin that cracks her sober mask isn't as bright as it could be, but there's clearly an effort being made.

"It's…"

Was. There /was/ an effort being made; it's back to that little point in short order. It shouldn't be a complicated question: she isn't alone up there, per se, but there are certainly more popular X-Locales. It's not a small facility, and the work of reshaping it into something recognizable as a staging ground for Xavier's Dream was surely undertaken with an eye towards playing down its inherent qualities as an extermination factory; there's an easy answer, an obvious one for a woman who could never quite bear to leave Xavier's entirely in her rearview—

But the honest answer is complicated.

"It's practically haunted," she murmurs as her eyes drift down. "I get a lot of time with my thoughts, and— I mean, sometimes that's nice…" Her lips twist for a second, then she starts to muster a smile while flicking her eyes back to Warren's.

"It could be worse: at least I've got company."

(Very complicated.)

And down her eyes go with that, which makes skimming over those documents while Warren explains them more natural. "I'm glad that Carol did the right thing," she murmurs, "even if…"

She lets it trail in favor of listening to the rest. Terrigen stiffens her shoulders; the ribbon falls against her back, lifeless save for tightly knotting together.

"It didn't go so hot, trying to get her involved in getting to the bottom of it, I— her, I— I trust her enough, as far as this goes: she's invested in SHIELD not looking like a genocide farm, right? But…" She hesitates, weighing whether being honest with an old friend outweighs keeping a stranger's confidence regarding the wildly, mysteriously exotic contents of their psyche—

"… I don't know," comes as she steps back and laces her hands behind her neck. "I made a very bad first impression, and she's… I think she was under a lot of stress, then." Her cheeks puff with a sigh while the ribbon rapidly unknots, then unwinds.

"Anyway," she softly says. "I'm gonna pull the trigger on seeing if Lex Luthor wants to put his philanthropist cred behind researching this stuff: I want it independently verified that it's even legitimate, and then it's— just— down to hoping that SHIELD wasn't— I mean, I still don't really trust the source, here, y'know?"

——

Nearly nose-to-nose with Jean, his shoulder squeezed by her with amicable old familiarity, Warren gives her solemn remark the kind of lovely smile which is the rarest of all from him: a genuine one. Amusement suffuses his blue eyes, so close to her own. "My dear," he says, "that's exceedingly wise. Because that's what it is about sixty percent of the time." Notably, that's down from an all-time high of ninety percent of the time, at the fresh young age of eighteen. Perhaps Warren has got a bit sedate in his old age, after all.

The amusement sobers, Warren sinking into a listening pensiveness, as he asks how she's doing up here, and her grinning dims in response. He dotes on her, always has; he likes seeing her smile, and dislikes saying anything that will bring her mood back down. But necessity drives — and he wants to know how she is. How she really is. He may be one of the few people left she can tell that.

Her answer thins his own mouth. He looks down. "I know you don't want to have to feel like you're hiding at our own home," he says, "but perhaps it'd do you some good to stop by the Institute at least once in a while. The risks of action against the school are low at the moment, unless Bell has another fit against all good sense and reason. I was very by the books with the 990s, and — " his tone turns wry, dashed with cynicism, " — when the IRS is happy, the rest generally do not come to call."

He reaches to take her hand and hold it briefly. "Well — think on it."

He leans back in his chair afterwards. The topic change shifts him, in his turn, to a more businesslike demeanor. An echo of what they might get in the boardroom. Even if, Jean begins, and Warren finishes: "Even if I had to be there to ensure she had the chance to do the right thing." He shakes his head. "She's lucky my blood worked, that time. I do think she means well… but she will be no kind of ally in the ways we would prefer her to be. She believed in registration and still does, and she has a vendetta now. She has dead to avenge." His eyes unfocus briefly with memory, recalling the look on Carol's face, the way she spoke. "She seems the sort to focus on that, to a fault."

I made a very bad first impression, Jean admits. Warren lifts both his brows, but doesn't verbally press.

As far as the Terrigen, and their source for the information on it? "I don't trust them either." His long lashes veil his blue eyes as his gaze flicks downwards; it's a rather incongruously demure gesture for the cool practicality to his voice when he adds, "And I do not trust SHIELD… but where I can make use of them, I will." He leans his jaw against his knuckles, thoughtful. "We have a few backdoor accesses now: Dani, and Sloane Albright." He pauses, perhaps weighing something himself, before he says, "I asked them to use their clearance to do some background checks on Domino, for instance. I believe we have another escaped experimental weapon on our hands."

He sighs out a breath. "At any rate, Lex Luthor is probably a good choice for additional research, when it comes to the Terrigen. We have… biased eyes, all around. We need third parties who aren't already mixed up in all of this." Half a smile haunts his features. "You'll have an easier time walking about Metropolis, too, at least."

——

"I do stop by," Jean's quick to reply, "once in a while," when she needs to take care of favor or catch someone who can't readily be found elsewhere. 'Rarely'; it's on the tip of her thoughts, and swallowing it leaves her quiet for the explanation of tax-based defenses.

"I'll think about it," she eventually offers in a quiet voice. Her hand is warm and only gets moreso while it's held. "I just don't want to gamble with what we're doing— I feel like the wrong person'll only need to see me in the wrong place once before they sound the alarm and rain trouble down."

But there are brigh— bett— other— things— that need talking about, aren't there?

Like death, and vengeance. Jean wraps her arms around herself and briskly shakes her head at the Major's focus. "She is that sort," the redhead confirms in a voice fit for the cemetary. After locking on with a brisk glance, she heads towards and sinks into another chair; the ribbon frees itself with a few final twists, then floats alongside her while red locks gently undulate instead of falling.

"Did you tell her?" she wonders as sinking becomes slumping and her legs stretch towards the console. There's some bemusement in the look she casts his way, given that Domino was vetted months ago— after an endorsement from Warren, at that. "Not about— " A briskly dismissive gesture, then her hand hits the armrest, "I'm guessing she… she knows her origin; digging into her past, though…"

She spends a thoughtful second chewing on her bottom lip.

"Are they going to be a problem?" she quietly asks. "The people she escaped from… … hh." Her head falls back and fiery hair spills down the back rest. With her elbows propped up on either side of her, she brings her hands in to loosely lace over her stomach while her eyes flit over the ceiling.

"I— She— " Jean softly utters after some consideration, "— we— had a weird moment at Carol, to answer the question you were too polite to ask. When I saw her in Quincy and found out about Eliza— it got weird. And really angry, for a while? That part wasn't all that weird, though…" The sigh she trails into is laced with groaning. She rolls her eyes towards him. "Something's— off about her. I could feel something vaguely like it in that new Brotherhood girl, Neutron? Just this— energy, calling to me… … tempting me…" After a quick shrug and headshake, she continues, "It was— it felt right. On, just, a fundamental level, it— God, how do I even explain it?" Another sigh as one of her hands comes loose so she can massage her brow for a beat.

"Aaaanyway, I guess I started touching her face and giving her real intense eyes, because she was so fascinating, to Her— to— " Pronouns! Her lips quirk for a moment. "— Phoenix." Another, much shorter pause. "Comma 'The'," she tries to clarify further.

"I've made better first impressions, is all," she concludes, falling into a wan deadpan with a flick of her brow-rubbing fingers. "But at least she mentioned that someone named 'Agent Coulson' might care about shutting Trask's Sentinels down, too, before things got terminally strange."

Beat.

Beat.

Wince.

Sigh—

"Okay," she softly amends, "technically, she was about to mention that, and then…" She sticks her hand out, miming a cheek-cupping ambush. "But. You know. She was going to, so…" That hand comes back up so she can tap her index finger to her temple, and then it falls into her lap.

——

Warren just looks at Jean mildly throughout her explanation she does stop by — once in a while — maybe. Rarely. She'll think about it, she eventually concludes. But the risks… "Nostalgic sentiment is a rather weak reason to run risks, I suppose," he concedes with a rather introspective laugh, his head bowing. A few strands of golden hair escape his neat side part. "It just… doesn't feel the same without all of us. You know?" His hand squeezes hers. "But do think about the other reasons."

Of course, she is talking to the one of the original crew who was most prone to take rash risks and leaps forward in the brazen optimism that things would 'work themselves out.' Warren Worthington, age eighteen, had lived his entire life receiving nothing but validation that the world was obligated to do as he wished. Arguably, Warren Worthington, age thirty, has still not fully gotten the memo that it's really — not obligated to cater to him at all.

It perhaps explains, to some degree, his somewhat backwards approach to the matter of one Domino: leap first, caution later. Primarily the recommendation had come through Piotr, but Warren had not objected to her when the question came up and he had a chance to. Now, however… "Knowing little about her was well and good when her involvement was more… hmm. Mercenary. Contracts which keep people at arms-length are neat and tidy things to handle," he says, reading some of that bemusement in Jean's eyes. The pen has found its way back into his right hand, and he turns it idly between long fingers, thinking. "More than just a contract, though — that's less tidy. She's been among our children, been up here at the base… most importantly, I've now seen her appear to crack in the field a few times, and have traumatic responses which I can't explain and therefore can't predict. Nobody likes volatility. So… now, I want to know more."

Did he tell her he was digging? "We warned her we'd have to get to know her and all her foibles and felonies, if she wanted to really be one of us," Warren says blandly, which is pretty much a 'no.' "If she is surprised that I've started doing just that, after all that… then she was not listening."

Will her past be a problem? "I doubt it," Warren assesses. "At this juncture, they don't know she is still alive. If that changes, then they may well become a problem." A distinct pause. Warren's blue eyes are cool. "If she herself becomes a problem, I will take care of it."

As for Carol? Jean's note on his politeness to not ask the question draws a faint smile, a quiet, "You know how seriously I take privacy, Jean," but he otherwise doesn't interrupt. His eyes narrow slowly as Jean explains she could feel something strange in Carol — something like what spun within Neutron. An energy that drew the eye of the Phoenix…

Warren's expression doesn't change, except perhaps to get quite still. The more obvious marker of his mood comes in the fact that his feathers have lifted again at his back, hackling visibly. "Agent Coulson seems to be a good man," is all he says, at first. "I met him. Decent fellow, to all appearances." A hesitant moment of silence. "Good intentions on her part or not… perhaps you had better steer clear of Carol Danvers, if she's got something within her that draws the Phoenix so strongly." Warren is still afraid of it. Years later, and he recalls the fire.

There is another brief beat of silence, before Warren says with obvious discomfiture, "That was the other thing I meant to talk to you about. The Phoenix. A…" What exactly do you call Atli? 'Friend' seems to be overcommitting at this point in time. "…an acquaintance asked for my help on Mars recently. Space sharks. Don't ask." A grimace. "The important part is that they seemed to have had a run-in with the Shi'ar. These… sharks were keeping an artifact away from the Shi'ar." He gestures vaguely. "It was a box, with the moving image of a Phoenix on it."

He scrubs a hand over his face. "I was… concerned for you or Rachel to get too close to it, but… we may not have a choice, per se. You might see something we don't. The Asgardians believe there is nothing for it but to open it eventually."

——

"It's an excellent reason," murmurs the woman who gave herself to a vast, burning unknown just to see her loved ones again. "I just…"

Jean's tongue lingers at the roof of her mouth for a moment. She's had months to think about why, exactly, she's all the way out in the mountains rather than with - even near - her people. It's more than enough to think through the legal ramifications of being seen in Westchester, in permutations that run a wide gamut of the plausibility spectrum, which is why she - bright thing that she is - has since moved on.

Xavier's was her home— eight years ago. Eight. Life went on; the Institute went on. These days, seeing a friendly face that she didn't first encounter in an X-Profile is a minor victory; the Institute would welcome her with open arms, because that's what it's for, but its residents…?

Who can really say, with only a few months of not-entirely-lonely contemplation to go on?

Jean gives the hand in hers a firm squeeze. Fleeing blonde locks lift, curl, then slide back into their neatly parted home. She has nothing more to say about Domino, but her eyes definitely fall from his when a blase tone tells her that no, he didn't ask— because he doesn't trust Domino, yet, volatile unknown that she is. The redhead just swallows, hard; getting through the story of her first meeting with Carol would've been bad enough, and now…

Now

Her eyes lift when he hesitates and find stillness in places that would normally be lit by confidence— or concern, or perhaps even dry amusement.

Months. Months. She has had months to think about why she's up here, and Exhibit A's lurking right behind those eyes, those silent spaces— that voice

('Concerned'. The man who went to Mars to deal with sharks is concerned about her…)

Green eyes slip from his as he tells her that there may be no choice but to chance opening the space sharks' Phoenix-marked treasure, and,

"Do I scare you, Warren?"

gets pushed from her lips, a softly voiced spike driven right into his conclusion about Asgard.

"Do I scare them? The— " Her hands are laced and clinched together in her lap by now, blood steadily draining from her knuckles. "— everyone?" The fire - that fire, the one he knows best - is less than a memory for her. Everything from the burning shuttle to the cocoon beneath the Hudson may as well have been a dream; if only so many others hadn't had the misfortune of sharing it.

She's silent and still for a brief spell. Mostly still: the ribbon flits behind her, growing more agitated— more frantic—

— more anxious—

— by the moment.

"We just need to find somewhere safe," she suggests in a flattened murmur. "We— or Rachel can just… … it needs to be examined a long, long away away from civilization. Just in case."

——

It's an excellent reason, says Jean. Warren goes a little quiet, regarding her with tilted head, before he nods slowly. A few strands of golden hair essay an escape, before a thought from Jean pushes them back in place. Warren doesn't blink, and in fact his eyes soften to the familiarity. He grew accustomed to Jean's touch-that-isn't-a-touch many years ago.

There's little more to be said about Domino, though his eyes track the way her gaze drops at the topic. "Do you think I handled it poorly? I meant to protect us, the school, our team… first and foremost," he says. But there's little that is defensive about his tone; it is a genuine question. She is probably one of the few people whose advice he would consider, and he knows his own occasional tendencies towards… brutal pragmatism. "Do you think I should tell her?"

But all that's really just the surface of what is troubling Jean about all this. There's a deeper problem gnawing at her heart, and the form of it finally becomes clear to Warren when she directs that bald question at him. Do I scare you, Warren?

He blinks, stopped dead mid-sitrep, visibly absorbing the new information and relating it back to her behavior. "No," is his immediate answer. The lack of hesitation in giving it, is a tell in and of itself. He reaches for her bloodless, clinched hands with both of his, to take them and try to soothe away some of the tension. "Not you."

The memories missing from Jean's mind reflect in Warren's eyes. Fire — fire, and the madness of a cosmic force tasting the addictive rush of emotion for the first time. One of his best friends ending her own trial in a great self-immolation.

His eye turns to the ribbon as it twists behind Jean. A wing extends — it has much greater reach than his hands — and its tip hooks gently towards the strip of cloth, seeking to wind it about his pinions to secure it. The feathered limb folds back, afterwards, attempting to drape it in Jean's lap, over her clenched hands, with a gentle dexterity.

"What I'm afraid of, when it comes to all this, is losing you again," he admits.

Jean was the first great loss in what had, up until then, been a charmed life. It marked him for years. It took two more losses to snap him back out of the shock into which he sank.

His blue eyes lower to their hands. "I've been keeping the box at the Aerie," he says. "When you and Rachel are ready, I think you should both look at it." His mouth quirks a little, the humor rueful. "Maybe the Phoenix will see what we don't."

——

"Warren…"

It's warm beneath Warren's wings, with Warren's hands wrapped around hers. Jean's grown accustomed to warmth over all those months, deeply so; distantly, she's certain that she hasn't known a day without it in years. His hands, however, his wings— they lack the intense, possessive qualities of Her warmth, seeking to soothe for little reason beyond it being what she needs, just now. Her hands don't unclench, but they do - gradually - loosen; if he really wanted, he could ease them apart himself, given a little patience. The rest of her remains tense, slumped, and unwilling to dare a glimpse at his eyes and the memory blazing beyond them.

"It isn't— it's not just me in here anymore," she softly concludes, a beat after trailing off. "You— " Another pause, brief and abrupt, then: "— you get that," comes out. There's no question of it, so why ask?

He right there on the Moon with her— — with— Her.

"I look like me, and I act like me, and I feel like me, and if I'd known enough to think about it then, I bet I'd have been saying the same things— to myself, if nothing else, and— " Her bottom lip gets drawn in against grinding teeth.

"— I can do things that I never would've imagined, now. I see things, and feel things, and— Warren, I— " Her eyes flutter, shutting briefly before just regarding him through thin cracks, "I hate what— what happened, it was— the way everyone looked at— at me, before I flew into space, all— " Her voice catches in her throat for a moment, forcing another stiff swallow. "— all those lives," she whispers, "all of it, I hate it, but it— Her, I— She terrifies me, She confuses me, and when She's with me— really with me, pushing me, letting me feel Her move through me without just— taking me…"

Her eyes finally close as she shivers beneath Warren's limbs.

"I liked who I was without Her just fine, but now that She's with me…"

Her eyes open and lift enough to find his as she leaves him to fill the rest of that whispered admission in for her. She hesitates for a second; two—

"Are you sure?"

And then it's back down to the console, the floor, a sea of pristine feathers; anything but the friend who doesn't— didn't— hesitate to extend his warmth despite the flames. She doesn't comment on the box any further; if Warren wants, needs her to look at it, then she will; maybe She really will see something the rest of them can't. It wouldn't be the first time.

With so many non-Warren options for her attention to wander over, it's only a matter of time before her eyes settle on the monitor, still plastered with Domino mid-session. Her features twist for an uneasy moment, then she leaves the unpredictable mercenary for a glance in his direction.

"If she's going to be one of us, then she should know. The fact that she didn't tell you about her past ahead of time means that she probably didn't want you to know, right? I— "

Somehow, her heart is not quite in agreeing that doing due diligence in vetting a prospective teammate is wise, now.

"She needs to be able to trust us just as much as we need to be able to trust her," she murmurs instead. "It's her story; there's… … value in us learning it, yeah, but doesn't she at least deserve to know that the people she's trying to settle in with are digging into her life? Actually know; telling her we needed to 'get to know her' isn't the same thing."

——

Jean is no stranger to being in the shadow of wings, though Warren's are certainly very different from the pinions of the Phoenix. He's spread them unconsciously, mantling them over her in the way a bird might to comfort a nestling. It's not the blazing internal heat of the Phoenix, but his white wings bring a familiar warmth of their own. It's a nostalgic sensation, perhaps bringing to mind years past, when things were simpler, and he would do this for her even for much smaller hurts.

It was always his strongest instinct… to protect people. Sometimes — often — to the point of martyrdom. Blame the wings for the development of his savior complex.

Right now, he's feeling a bit of failure in that. It's… been scarcely a few months since Jean returned to them from death, and in all that time he's been so remiss in seeing how she is — how she really is. And who else could she really talk to, if not him? Their duties so often keep them at arms-length from truly confiding in the younger team members. Registration was an excuse for them all to be too busy to talk, but in the end it is just that — an excuse.

So now, he does what he hasn't done for her yet. He listens, as she tells him it's not just her anymore — that it's her, and Her, and how is she certain where she begins and ends? She talks about what happened, about the way everyone looked at her, and the lives she… the lives they

His curtaining white feathers rustle around them, as they lift slightly. His analogue, perhaps, to hair lifting on the back of the neck. Is he sure?

"I mean the things I say, Jeannie." He lifts a hand and reaches to palm the line of her jaw, turning her face up. "I was there when she took you… and I was there, on that godforsaken Moon, when you took yourself back." He repeats, more strongly, more a declaration: "You took yourself back. I saw you make that choice. She couldn't control you, in the end."

His own eyes close briefly. She would know him well enough to know he doesn't do this often, as reliant on his keen sight as he is; like a bird, he does it when he trusts his company. "She frightens me too. But you? No." He smiles faintly, blue eyes opening again. "I have all these embarrassing memories of you which make that hard. All these memories of who you are, if you ever need them. If She ever pushes you too hard…"

His hands tighten on hers. "I'll remind you who you are."

He doesn't press her too hard, however, letting her drift into silence to process her thoughts. On the box, which seems to be decided as far of a course of action; and on Domino, which is a murkier topic.

He asks her opinion, and she gives it. Warren sighs a little, perhaps just being a little melodramatic about Not Getting His Way (as is his wont), before he lifts Jean's hands in his and kisses the back of one. It's a rather old-fashioned gesture, wry and courtly and without a hint of lasciviousness. A gentleman honoring the wish of a lady.

"As always, you're the moral compass I've forgotten after too long in the cutthroat corporate shark-tank. There, when people don't tell you something — there's usually a very dangerous reason. Or they're hiding some mismanagement or another from you," he says, his voice dry. "Ah… but when you put it that way, as a matter of trust and reciprocity, I suppose I must. I'll put away my underhanded dealings."


SOME TIME AGO

«Jean. Jean.»

A request rumbles wordlessly in the Professor's throat.

«I believe it's time to wake up now, Jean,» rings between her ears.

His eyes are the first thing she sees when hers snap open.

"I wasn— " she sputters. A beat as her eyes flutter. "— I've— been really— " she begins to murmur, glancing— aside from— him—

The carpet seems so much further away than it was when she nodded off, and he… he looks—

Peering up at Jean from below, he's the still heart of a psychic whirlpool, the rare thing nailed down in a class room full of orbiting bodies.

And orbiting desks, and orbiting books, and orbiting AV equipment…

"— shi— — aah— "

Everything's radiant with crackling magenta; it matches her eyes, wide and fearful.

"— I— I can fix it, Icanfixit, Ican…"

NOW

She doesn't look up until he presses the issue. Once he does, she doesn't dare look away— doesn't dare make him have to press it again; neither of them — nobody — has time for that.

Some memories stick better than others. That fateful moment on the Moon - that final, decisive choice to reclaim herself - isn't one of them. It's good - nice, even - that Warren was there to see and take comfort in it; this moment and any others in which he calls that one to mind offer secondhand assurance, better than none at all.

At least she's got the /important/ memories, in case she - or Warren - ever needs them.

Jean's head tilts towards the steady, gentle palm against her jaw while her lips form a taut line that approaches a smile. She took herself back, all those years ago; surely, that's why she's here now. He really, truly isn't afraid of her; why else would he insist on making sure she can really see, really hear him telling her so? Her eyes narrow a little, peering into his— searching—

Carol did an excellent job of hiding any signs of fear until Jean — Jean's hand — forced them free with tender contact. Still searching. He really means it, way down in the primal, instinctive depths of his consciousness…

Still listening— smiling and guiding on cue; squeezing, too, when his hands tighten around hers.

Drifting: he lifts her hands and the rest of her responds weightlessly. His courtliness summons a brief, incredulous pop of a giggle and the smile left behind is smaller, still incredulous, and less constructed.

"Don't," she murmurs as her head tilts forward 'til her brow meets his. Her hands slip from his so her arms can wind around his shoulders while the rest of her floats and flutters. It's not a tight embrace, considering; that probably plays into why she doesn't wait long before loosening it further to run appreciative fingers up his neck and into his hair.

"We don't have anyone else with your perspective, Warren; with how well all the things we do have, and have tried worked… there's gotta be some room to try new things, right? You just can't be underhanded with us."

She leaves him with this sentiment for a second or two of searching and steadily warming fingertips gliding up his scalp, until her eyes finally fall and some private amusement colors her smile.

"I would've died," softly follows that amusement softly venting through her nostrils, "if you'd done that when I was fifteen, y'know. Just, wham, all of a sudden you're being gallant at a corpse—"

The rest of her breath's expelled in a slow sigh while her smile stretches wide.

"Imagine how much trouble we'd have saved," she wryly muses.

She's silent for a long beat afterwards, but still smiling. Eventually, her eyes return to his so she can quietly wonder, "Is she still… working? We didn't get that far into details— maybe I just assumed she was gonna give all that up to help us, but really: that'd be a hell of a big leap, wouldn't it? — she's not working for us, is she? For money?"

Still smiling. Still warming. Still searching, waiting for surefire certainty to become— well. Fire, and all that it conjures.

Still grateful for whatever interval separates this moment from that one.


There was a time when Warren Worthington was afraid of Jean Grey. It just isn't now.

That time was many years ago. It was the night before Arin'n Haelar, spent aboard a Shi'ar ship. Warren had no company for those many sleepless hours except his thoughts, and the memory of what they'd just learned about what Jean had done. No — the memory of what the Phoenix had made her become.

Then, he was afraid of her. He was afraid in the sense that he did not know what the Phoenix might have changed her into.

He stopped being afraid when that buried piece of Jean rose again, reclaimed control, and chose to die as herself rather than live as the Phoenix. That one moment showed him that the Jean he had known and loved was not dead and gone, after all. It showed him, in fact, that she was perhaps stronger than ever — strong enough to choose her own sense of self and humanity over the seductive godhood of the Phoenix Force.

That moment gave him the faith which he has in her now, resurrected and returned. He could fear that it's just a repeat of what happened before — a Jean who seemed to return, but was truly Something Else — but… he wants to trust, instead. He wants to trust that what he saw years ago was the true return of his friend from wherever the Phoenix had taken her.

He's had so few real, true friends in his life: only employees, sycophants, and hangers-on. No friends, really, until the X-Men. He doesn't want to so easily lose this one.

He tells her so, if not in so many words. Half the message is conveyed through the physical intimacies close friends share, instead; through the meeting of their eyes, and the subsequent brief closing of his. A heavily-sight dependent creature, there are few declarations of sincerity to Warren that are more meaningful than eye contact, and there are no declarations of trust more potent than him willingly shutting off his best sense in someone's presence.

He lets her look into him. There is no fear. Not even when she starts to drift in response to his lift of her hands.

His eyes reopen to the feel of her nudging her brow to his. This close to a person, their physical imperfections usually become grossly apparent… but there don't actually seem to be any in Warren Worthington. The eyes that meet hers are an unadulterated blue, as without flaw as the heart of a sapphire; the smile that appears on his features, to see hers relax to something more natural, flashes white and pristine. His hair cards between her fingers silkily, each strand spun out of pure gold.

But all that physical beauty still rates secondary to the deeper beauty that is his ease with her — to the sexless, affectionate intimacy that is the way he responds to her touch by pulling her drifting figure down to his lap. It is not a gesture that carries any lust. It is a gesture meant to literally ground her… to give her some anchor with someone who remembers more than just the fire. Someone who remembers the girl who so intrigued them all when she first turned up at the Institute those many years ago.

The girl who, apparently, would have died if he'd granted her such courtly gestures when she was fifteen and impressionable.

He laughs openly at that. "That would have worked then? I really messed up my approach."

But her wry quip afterwards sobers him. He doesn't seem to find it as amusing as she does, judging by the restless ruffling of his feathers, and the brief averting of his eyes. His wings draw in shelteringly around them both. Their white span fills most of the limited space in the control booth.

"I do think my perspective is valuable," he says presently, a little more serious — and, of course, with his typical 'humility.' "I've grown up among some of the worst types of people society has to offer — the rich, the immoral, the greedy and elite and corrupt. I've… learned how they do things. The way they see the world." It doesn't need to be said: he's internalized many of those things, himself, even if he's tried to grow beyond them ever since joining up with the X. "The Professor always wanted this place to be a place of forgiveness and acceptance, no matter what people have done in the past, or might do in the future. I want to continue that. But…" He hesitates. "But we have to protect ourselves and ours, too. And sometimes the first way I see to do that is the underhanded way — the expedient — way. The way it'd be done in business. And sometimes it feels so necessary, as the way to deal with these kinds of problems…"

His golden head bows a little, thinking. "You're right though, that there's a — a line. Where we shouldn't be expedient with those we consider our own."

Is Domino in that category? That's the big question of the hour.

He quiets after that rare bit of contemplative loquacity — perhaps soothed by the play of her fingers through his hair, in the way a bird might be by the pet of a hand along its feathers. But his eyes turn back to the woman curled against him as she asks that follow-up question. Is Domino still working? "I haven't asked," he says, low and honest. "I assumed — the opposite, I suppose. That she was going to continue to work, and that we were sort of like… a side gig, in a way.

"But to answer your other question… when she runs with the team, she's not working for money. No." White wings lift briefly in an avian shrug. "Me…? I pay her when I retain her separately." He frowns, his gaze abstracted. "That was how my connection with her began, actually. I'd retained her as a separate entity to investigate the Purifiers matter. I hadn't really been thinking about submitting her to the team until I heard she and Piotr had talked about her joining up."

His eyes shadow under his lashes. "I gave my recommendation then — she'd worked for me for a bit by that point — but…"

A rueful smile flickers across his features. "Ah — but people always surprise you. To be honest, the more I learn of her past, the more I do think she needs us." A pause. "I just have to survive the experience of telling her what I've done."

He grimaces a little. "I keep saying nothing is more important to me than privacy," he admits slowly. "Time to mean it."


Jean and Warren share a lot, including the desire to trust a miracle not to burn them. She doesn't just want to believe, though, she needs to: it's her psyche divided against itself; her body ceded to cosmic impulses; her hands, her mind channeling enough power to crack suns and drink deeply from what spills forth.

Jean's been an overchiever since she was shy, scared, and easily impressed by chivalrous boys with gorgeous smiles. Not content to wait and see and suffer her friends' suffering, the redhead's logged many hours of practice just to be nudge the odds in her favor. The more she feels the Phoenix within without giving in to Her, she reasons, the easier it'll be to keep control when she really needs it— or to take it back if she must— or assert some measure of control over the unleashed firebird's whims…

Jean's alwas been an overachiever because Jean's spent most of her life with an intimate knowledge of what could happen to her if she's anything less than excellent. The difference between then and now is that failure risks destroying much, much more than just her.

"You were very handsome," she quietly acknowledges a little while after her dark observation. "Whatever came out after the hand-kissing, that might've been a problem, but…" Her joke wasn't all that funny to her, either, but it's funny enough to support a smile, and that's what really matters when talking through the finer points of being inhabited by a destructive cosmic force. Lounging against her winged anchor, she stretches her legs out until they're draped and idly swaying over one side of the chair while tucking the side of her head in against his chest.

"Am I gonna have to do clean-up with her after you're done?" she wonders of Domino while red brows arch. "I…" Her teeth fall against the corner of her mouth as she trails, hesitant even though she knows there isn't much she could say to shake his trust.

"… think, if she doesn't kill you, or sign up with the Brotherhood, or whatever, that we oughtta hire her to look into the Terrigen thing too. Especially if we get a bead on a source; if they're still at large… … Warren…" Bright, conflicted emeralds narrow on flawless sapphires. "… they can't be allowed to be at large. And if it is SHIELD, or— God, any even remotely state or military-like anything… maybe we could've gotten away with that before, but people know about us now."

Nevermind that if people had known about them all along, maybe they wouldn't be sitting here, talking about weapons of genocide. Jean glances away for a moment after making the point; before was easier in many ways and certainly more comfortable than the new status quo she's been thrust into, but like so many of the Professor's best intentions, it could only get them so far in a world so much room for hate.

"We might really need her, the same way we need to let you do what you do best, sometimes."


Warren knows a little about overachieving himself, though for different reasons than Jean. It's in his blood to overachieve, to be the best at anything he puts his mind to, because it was expected of him from the moment he was born to a family with a name and a lineage. In terms of the X-Men, however, Warren never pushed himself because of fear of what might be loosed if he lost control. Warren pushed himself because for the first time in his life, he had come to a place where what he had to offer was not particularly noteworthy at all. He pushed himself because he had to in order to keep up with the gifts of his friends.

Looking at Jean Grey, though, Warren has to concede that it isn't all bad, having powers which don't really present that much of a threat if they run wild. Warren Worthington, with the plain old 'power to fly,' will never be the cause of mass loss of life because of a loss of control. Right?

Few of those thoughts show on his features, except as a generalized troubled look… and even that doesn't last too long, as she leans in close. Call him biased, but it's hard for him to stay troubled around her. It's hard to remember that she already has been the cause of such a thing, with how slight she feels in his arms — with the utter familiarity of their banter, seemingly unchanged from their young days. "Bite your tongue," he says, amused. "I still am handsome. And, now my personality actually matches my looks." His delusional levels of arrogance certainly haven't changed.

He sobers, however, as Jean ruminates further on the matter of Domino. "Only if you want to," he says. "I've learned to clean up after my own messes, by now. It only took thirty years. The one thing I might consider a good idea is a… telepathic scan for anything embedded from her days as a weapon, though given everything that's happened to her, I don't think she'd be keen on any kind of telepathic anything."

His head bows towards her as she floats hiring Domino specifically to look into the Terrigen matter. There is a brief silence while he considers the way Jean is framing it: we might need her, the same way we need you to do what you do best sometimes…

"I think it might come to that point," he says, slowly. "Like you said — it's a different world, these days. We're exposed… and we have people to protect without the advantage of anonymity, anymore. I'd want to… at least try to keep going about it as we always have, but…" His wings curve around them restlessly, feathers shuffling. "Things have changed. Evolve or die, right?"

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