“If you want this power so badly,” Jean said, “then you can take it.” She wanted nothing more right now than for this power, this burning rage, to go away.
The blonde woman smiled. What was her name, again? It hardly mattered now. She will take the power, and Jean will never have to touch it again. “I’ll try.” She promised, in that silky smooth voice full of lies and deception. She reached out, and Jean’s power responds in kind.
It hurt. Worse than anything has ever hurt in her entire life. When the power found her, when she was out in space and it pulled her in, she’d thought she knew pain. But that had been powerful, liberating, giving her the strength to survive. It was a part of her now, and it didn’t want to leave. The power burned, a fire under her skin, clawing at her with tendrils of flame as it fought not to be pushed out.
She screamed. The woman was screaming too, surrounded by the flames as her eyes began to glow. The tendrils of fire were leaving Jean now, all flowing into the aura of energy that surrounded the woman. It was bright, far too bright to look at, all purples and yellows and the orange of burnt embers. Jean collapsed to her knees, unable to look away. It wasn’t fighting her anymore, but she could still feel it, somewhere deep inside her that she couldn’t get out. Her vision turned to flame.
When the light cleared, there was nothing left. Just a small pile of ash where the woman used to be. What remained of the fire flowed back into Jean, the tendrils returning to that which they had left. She stood up on shaky legs.
“Jean?” It was Charles.
“I’m okay.” She told him, closing her eyes. She could feel the fire coursing through her, knew how she must look. “I’m okay.”
“Jean!” There were footsteps running up the stairs and then Scott was by her side. She turned to face him, opening her eyes and willing the fire to fade from them. “Jean, thank god. Are you okay?”
She lifted a trembling hand, watching as the glow made its way down her veins before fading. “I’m better than okay.” She told him, clenching her fist and letting her arm drop down to her side. “I’m me.”
“We have to get you back to the school. You need to see a doctor, we need to make sure it’s safe.” Scott was rambling frantically, clutching her face in his hands. “I- I thought I’d lost you again.”
She smiled softly, gazing into his eyes. “Scott.” She murmured. “You’ll never lose me.”
He hugged her. She pushed him away after a few moments, ignoring the hurt on his face as she turned to face Charles. “Oh my god.” She whispered as she took in his mangled legs and the remains of what must have been his wheelchair. “What did I do?”
“It wasn’t you.” He tried to comfort her, but his voice was raspy and weak, and it only served to make her feel more guilty. “Whatever it was, it wasn’t you.”
“But it was me.” She knelt down and brushed his cheek with her thumb, willing the pain to go away. “I’m so sorry.”
“Is she dead?”
Jean didn’t ask who he meant. She didn’t have to. “Yes.”
“This power destroyed everything it touched.” Jean echoed the blonde woman’s words, feeling as though their discussion had been a lifetime ago. “Until it found me.”
She stood up again, using her powers to pull Charles up with her. Before when she’d done this, it had been cruel. An act of violence designed to hurt him in the worst possible way. But now it was an act of love, a gentle act of caring for the father she’d never had. He hovered in the air, buoyed up by a fire that did not burn, as the metal bannister tore apart and bent itself into the shape of a chair.
“The military are coming.” Ororo warned her from the foot of the stairs. She sounded out of breath, as if she’d been running. “We need to leave.”
Jean smiled grimly. “Let them come.”
“Jean.” Scott warned her. “No more fighting. We need to go home.”
“No more fighting.” Jean agreed. “But I can fix it. I can fix everything.” She raised her hand and let the power flow out. Metal creaked and stretched apart as she shifted the wreckage, uncovering the civilians and clearing a path for the other mutants. She reached out in her mind as well, brushing against the frightened minds of the witnesses and whispering promises of peace and safety. Their fear eased and was replaced with a warm and comforting calm.
“They will kill us.” Ororo insisted. “We need to leave now.”
“She’s right.” Charles told Jean regretfully. “They will not accept your surrender. There has been talk of camps.”
Camps. He doesn’t say what kind of camps, but he doesn’t need to. “That’s sick.”
“That’s humanity.” Charles countered. “They are frightened of you. Of us. When this all calms down, then we can explain it to them. They will understand. But not here, not now.”
Jean took a deep breath and nodded. “All right. Take my hand.”
“What?” Scott and Ororo both asked at the same time. Charles just nodded, trusting her. Jean reached out and took Scott’s hand in her own, letting Charles take her other hand. They floated up, surrounded by Jean’s fire, and ascended through the broken ceiling. At the bottom of the stairs, Ororo floated up as well. Other mutants joined them in the sky, looking around in wonderment and confusion until they caught sight on Jean.
“Kurt.” Charles intoned. The skinny blue mutant appeared in front of them in a puff of smoke, grabbing onto Scott’s shoulder. His eyes darted from Jean to Charles and back again.
“Is she going to try to kill us again?” He questioned, sounding very concerned.
“No.” Charles told him.
“So what happens now?”
“You bring us home.”
Jean pushed an image into Kurt’s mind, the image of the basketball court at the school. He was only holding onto Scott, but through her powers, Jean was holding onto all of them. The group of mutants, friends and foes alike, appeared in the air a few feet above the court.
“It’s safe now.” She spoke loudly, letting herself descend back to the ground. She landed on her toes, dropping the others just as slowly. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
Erik stood up, wiping the blood off his chin as he watched her distrustfully. “Forgive me if I don’t believe you.” He told her dryly.
“I can control it now.” She told him. “I’m not going to hurt anyone.”
Everyone was silent. Jean knew they were looking at her, judging her, trying to figure out if she was telling the truth or not. There was nothing she could do to assure them completely. Nothing short of bringing Raven back, and even with this power she did not have control over life and death.
The tense silence was broken by a shout. “Jean!” It was one of the children, a young mutant boy with the ability to grow plants. “You’re back!”
He came rushing down the stairs of the building, a whole crowd of mutant children at his back. He came right up to Jean and enveloped her in a hug.
“They said you killed Mystique.” He mumbled into her stomach. “But I knew it wasn’t true! I knew you would never do that!”
Jean felt a pang, and she glanced at Scott. It was hard to keep the tears from her eyes. The power was fading, not leaving her but lying dormant, waiting for the moment when she would need it again. “It’s true.” She told the child, feeling him immediately tense up and step away from her. “I killed her.”
“Because I was hurting. Because I didn’t know how to control my power. Because she tried to help me and I lashed out.” She took a deep breath, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. “I’d like to say I didn’t know what I was doing, but that’s not true. I would give anything to bring her back, but there’s nothing I can do to change what happened.”
“You children shouldn’t still be up.” Charles wheeled closer to the group of children, makeshift wheelchair squeaking as he moved. “It’s late. We’ll talk about this in the morning.”
“But-“ One of them started to say, but Ororo interrupted her.
“It’s time to sleep.” She glanced at the other mutants and gave them a reassuring smile. “I’ll get them to bed. You’ll be in the office?”
“In the dining room, I think.” Charles corrected her. “The office isn’t big enough for all of us.”
Ororo nodded. “I’ll meet you there.”
She led the children back into the school, leaving the other mutants standing on the asphalt. “What do we do now?” Erik asked. The question was seemingly directed at Charles. “Even if she can control it, that doesn’t change what she did.”
“No.” Charles agreed. “It doesn’t. Perhaps it would be best to discuss this inside. Kurt?”
The dining room was easily visible from the basketball court, so it didn’t take long for Kurt to teleport everyone inside. Charles took his seat at the head of the table, where an empty space was always set aside for his wheelchair. Jean sat next to him, on his left. Across from her was Erik.
It was a while before anyone spoke. It was Hank who broke the silence. “She killed Raven.” He said.
“She did.” Charles agreed. “But surely we can all agree to look past her past mistakes.”
“Her past mistakes?” Erik repeated incredulously. “Charles, are you listening to yourself? It was yesterday.”
“Yes. Yesterday.” Charles nodded. “Less than twenty-four hours after she was bombarded by an unknown cosmic force, which more than doubled her power and unlocked several painful memories that had been locked away in her mind.”
“Which was your fault.” Hank added.
“Yes.” Charles sighed. “That part was my fault.”
“But she killed Raven.” Erik repeated. “Raven, Charles. Your sister. You can’t expect us to forget that.”
“He’s right.” Jean spoke lowly. “I killed her. Regardless of anything else, that alone should make you hate me.”
“You weren’t yourself.” Scott argued. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“You had just received very painful news and you could not control your powers. It was an accident.” Charles comforted her.
“No.” She told him, feeling the fire flare in her eyes as she met his gaze. “It wasn’t. I impaled her, Charles. I impaled her on a piece of rubble and she died choking on her own blood. How is that not my fault?”
Erik made a choked noise and looked slightly green. It occurred to Jean that he probably hadn’t known the details about the blue woman’s death, and she should probably apologize for springing it upon him. She didn’t.
“I know what happened.” Charles began, and Jean could see that he was gearing up for a speech. “But I also know that you’re deeply sorry for it. I can’t get into your head, Jean, but that doesn’t stop you from projecting your thoughts. And I believe that as long as you’re willing to make an effort, there is hope. You can have a second chance, you can make up for your mistakes.”
“My murders.” Jean spat. “Don’t try to make it sound better than it is. I killed people.”
“We’ve all killed people.”
“I killed Raven.” She choked on the words and felt new tears springing to her eyes. “Shit. I killed Raven. Why the hell did I…?”
She broke down crying then, unable to stop. The reality of the day’s events was finally kicking in. She could feel Scott’s hand on her back, rubbing circles through her shirt. She buried her head in her hands as her whole body was wracked with sobs.
It took a long time, but things eventually went back to normal. Nothing was ever the same now that Raven was gone, but they fell into a routine of sorts. True to his word, Charles dialed back on the X-Men activity and poured more time and effort into the school. In return, the government scrapped their bill for mutant internment camps and allowed the X-Men and Erik’s island to operate in peace.
Jean, of course, couldn’t just be let off without any repercussions. But, in part due to Charles’s very convincing testimony and the tearful statements of half a dozen witnesses to the New York attack, she had managed to avoid prison time. 200 hours of community service later, she was a free woman.
“I still don’t know why you asked me here.” She told Scott, laughing as he led her towards the lake. It had been two years since the events at the space station and the world had mostly recovered.
“You’ll see.” He promised.
“Uh-huh.” She turned away from him, looking out over the lake. “Have you finished making the lesson plans for next week? Kurt said he was going to…”
She trailed off as she saw movement in the corner of her eye. Turning back around to to face Scott, her heart leapt to her throat. He was down on one knee, holding a ring box and smiling hopefully at her.
“Oh my god.”
“This is where we met.” He told her. “Twelve years ago. I came to this school with no idea who I was or what I was doing, and I accidentally fried one of Charles’s favorite trees. You laughed at me. And that was the best moment of my life, because even though it was terrifying at the time, you were there. I heard you laugh and I knew, right then, that this was the girl I was going to marry. So, Jean Gray, will you marry me?”
Jean’s hands were covering her mouth and she could only nod breathlessly. “How can you- after everything-“
“I love you.” He answered simply. “I don’t care that you’ve killed people or that your hair turns into fire when you get angry. I just love you.”
Jean kissed him. And in that moment, as he slid the ring onto her finger, she finally allowed herself to believe that everything was going to be okay.