When she told Scott she was just plain old Jean, it was the truth. When she told him, it was the truth.
It’s not now.
And Jesus, you would’ve thought that ridding Manhattan of all the goblins and demons would have solved more problems than it created.
“Jeannie?” says Bobby from across the table, hungry eyes on the remains of her casserole. “You gonna finish that?”
Jean glances down at her plate, and of course she’s going to finish it, she’s starving, she’s ravenous, she thinks that maybe nothing could fill her up, not even a planet, not even a galaxy, the voices screaming out-
“No,” she says quickly, avoiding eye contact as she slides the plate to him. “I think I’ve lost my appetite.”
She backs away from the table and wonders how hard it would be to back away from her life, and she barrels into the hallway as casually as she can muster and she can’t even make it back to her room, she collapses in the hall huddled against the wall, galaxies inside her, all the voices screaming out.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers, burying her face in her hands. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” They can’t hear her; they’re too loud. They are all dead.
I used to envy you, back when I thought you were dead. Madelyne’s voice. Look at you now.
Hungry, says the Phoenix.
I was given your life, had it thrust forcefully on me, says Madelyne. And here you are stealing mine. What does that make you?
Need, says the Phoenix. Destroy. Create.
It might be hours. Her sense of time fades as her mind does. It’s Warren who finds her hunched over in the Ship’s corridor, trying to will all the people in her head to just shut up. Trying to ignore the fact that the cruelest and most cutting of the voices is her own.
“Hey,” he says, and there’s a warm hand on her shoulder, and she’s blinking up into a familiar blue face. She can tell he’s about to ask if she’s okay, but the question dies in his throat.
They stare at each other like two wild animals meeting by chance in the woods.
“Headache,” she says finally. “Migraine, actually. Bad one.”
Warren scrutinizes her, quiet like he is now, and then moves away to the opposite side of the hall, crouches down to mirror her position. He winces a little when he stretches his legs out, winces a little more as he adjusts his wings, thousands of blades clinking together like cutlery.
“I get those, too,” he tells her, and Jean realizes with a tiny pop in her chest that there might be someone in the whole universe, someone besides Madelyne Pryor and the fucking Phoenix, who understands with complete precision exactly how she feels. Because Warren’s got Apocalypse hammering away in his head, even still, even now.
Because he’s Death and she’s Rebirth, and as much as they can bury themselves in their friends and their team, in work, in Scott, in Charlotte, that will never ever change.
Jean gets better.
The presence of the Phoenix and of Madelyne Pryor plowing around inside her skull get infinitely worse, but she gets better at hiding this. Hank, tossing her a broad smile over the top of the scientific journal he’s reading, has no idea that she’s determining the exact steps it would take for her to break the atmosphere and fly into the sun. That she’s wondering with fervent curiosity what it would be like to consume the sun, to drink it right down so it burns in her throat like whiskey.
Bobby, playing peek-a-boo with Nathan Christopher, has no idea that she’s watching him and hearing Madelyne cry out in fury at the fact that her baby is being raised by strangers, by the very X-Men who left her for dead.
Scott, kissing her as a way of saying “good morning,” has no idea that she woke up worried she might be somebody else.
“I don’t think I belong here,” Jean says to Warren. She feels drained. She feels empty and far too full. “I died. I died twice.”
“The Phoenix died,” he tells her. The sun is setting. They’re on the roof of a skyscraper near the Ship. Jean thinks about how she could throw herself off the top of the building. How she could catch herself the instant before she hits the ground, how she could not. “Madelyne Pryor died. You haven’t.”
She swallows. “Maybe I should.”
She doesn’t know where she got the idea. Maybe from the Phoenix, maybe from Madelyne. Maybe it was all her.
Over and over, she’s been told how the Avengers pulled her from Jamaica Bay. How they found her. At this point, she’s not sure if it’s something she actually remembers or just something she’s been told over and over again.
Because the Phoenix thought she was Jean, and Madelyne thought she was just Madelyne, and both of them were wrong. So why couldn’t plain old Jean be just as wrong?
She doesn’t think, she doesn’t pack, she just moves. She flies, walks, hops buses, steals boats, never stopping until she reaches the bay.
The water is so blue and the sky is so blue and her heart thuds like heavy footsteps in her chest. In that instant, Jean feels certain that someone is still lying beneath. Jean Grey has been left here to decay, algae-ridden and abandoned under the water. She herself is just another imposter.
And so she begins to wade in.
She knows the water must be warm but it bites at her bones like the cold. Jean is dead, she thinks, Jean is dead and I killed her and I’m just a liar with her face. Madelyne and the Phoenix are oddly quiet. Maybe she’s become them. Maybe she always was them.
It gets too deep for her to touch and so she treads water, kicks and propels herself forward. Her clothes weigh her down. Nothing pulls her back toward the shore, not the current, not her resolve.
It occurs to her that she’s still telekinetic, whatever or whoever she is. She could keep going down as deep as the water goes. She could keep herself from coming back up.
It’s so deep that her feet feel cold in the water untouched by the sun. She doesn’t even hold her breath, she just ducks under, pushes herself down. It’s dark and empty and she can keep going down, and down, and down, except that there are suddenly so many bubbles, disturbed water, and two hands wrap around her arms and there are a thousand blades surrounding her.
Warren and Jean break the surface of the water, both of them heaving in deep breaths. “What the hell are you doing?” He never sounds like himself anymore, but he sounds the closest right now. “What the hell are you doing?”
Rivulets stream down her hair and face. “I… I can’t, I’m not…” She can’t get the words out, she can’t talk to him, the one person in all the world that she could talk to about this and now that’s gone, too. “Warr, I’m… I don’t think, I don’t think I’m who I am. I’m not… her, or I’m not… me. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“I never tried to kill myself,” he says, the clunk in his conversation that’s been there since Apocalypse, the way he has trouble transitioning, his desperation to get his point across. “I never. If you thought… Jeannie, the plane crash was a set up. I never tried to kill myself.”
“I didn’t…” she starts, but she can’t really defend herself, because here she is drowning. Here she is trying to end. “I’m not… myself,” she says.
He stares at her. “You think that matters,” he says, and it’s not a question, it’s a statement, and it’s sad. “Listen to me. We all loved the Phoenix. Despite everything, we all—me, Scotty, Hank, everyone—we all loved the Phoenix. And we all loved Maddy. Dearly.” She tilts her head slightly, shakes the water out of her ears. “And we love Jean. And you…” His skin looks darker in the water. She’s not sure when she started to cry. “We love you. Whoever you are, you are loved. All of you.”
Warren still remembers coming for his teammates, his family, full of rage and trying to kill them all on someone else’s orders. He remembers them shouting this, that they loved him, like that was another weapon. He knows how to wield it defensively, to save a life. He’s learned.
“I don’t want to die,” she says, and she’s still crying. “Warren, I don’t want to die. But I don’t want to live if it means another part of me has to die.”
His arms are around her then, and they’re hanging on like if either lets go the other will float away, lost forever. “That’s just life,” he says into her hair. “Everyone has to do it. There are a million different versions of you floating around the universe, the ones that chose differently, that went left instead of right, little pieces of you that die every time you make a new decision. They all have to die so you can live, Jean. That’s how it works. That’s how we all work.” He glances out at the patch of water where she tried to drown. “But you can’t let them die in vain.”
The sun sinks lower and the water grows colder and still they bob there gently, hanging onto each other, letting all the little versions of themselves float away with the waves.