It was like she'd never been gone.
I opened my eyes and she was there, smiling, her hand reaching out but stopping just short of touching my cheek. "Hey, Slim."
"You never called me that before," I responded, sitting up. Her hair was short, tips blown upward in that cute but easy to care for style she'd favored before... Before everything that happened, including a service without a coffin. She was a doctor, a teacher, a mutant with ongoing classes to develop her own powers in addition to regular training sessions with the X-Men and long hair was a career by itself, she'd said.
"It suits you," Jean said, still smiling. "I'm glad to see you."
I moved to gather her up in my arms and she scooted back on the edge, giving a slight shake of her head. I cast a look around the motel room, the other bed empty, all signs of habitation - scattered clothes, duffels, pizza carton - gone as if they'd never been. I held up a hand to my face, touching only skin and not glasses, then the difference hit me. I was seeing in color. "This isn't real."
Jean frowned. "I'm not sure what that means anymore," she said, with the air of one making a confession.
"I miss you," I said simply. Because if this was the last I'd have of her, I had to say what I wished I had before. "I love you."
Her smile returned, brilliant as ever, but her eyes were sad. "I'm sorry, Scott."
I shook my head. "Sorry, why?"
Her mouth curled up, wry this time instead of that sweet, good nature that had always shone through. "For not trusting you more. And..." She hesitated.
"It's all right," I told her, even though I'd wrestled with that same issue myself. Could I have done it? Could I have saved her, knowing that this time it didn't mean safe and alive for her, only everyone else? "I...don't think I could have done it. You know me. So long as there's life, there's hope."
She shook her head, still wearing that regret-tinged smile. "That's why. You can't be ruthless like that, Scott. And I wouldn't want you to be." She bit her lip and looked down at the hands in her lap. Strong hands, even for a woman, her nails short ovals but well-manicured. "Thank you."
"You shouldn't thank me--" I started, and was shushed by a finger hovering just short of pressing over my lip. I shook my head.
"You let me love you," Jean continued, a hint of wonder entering her eyes, then dropping her gaze until thick lashes lay against her cheeks.
"I love--" I began, and she held up a hand. I frowned.
"There's no time for beautiful lies," she said, eyes still closed. "You gave me everything you could of yourself and I appreciate it. In return, I...I did what I could, Scott. I hope you don't hate me for it."
Ashamed, I looked away. There was no fooling a telepath and she was so much stronger than she'd been. I did love Jean, in my way. More than I'd ever loved any woman and it had been enough. I'd made it be enough. "What do you mean?"
Jean looked up, and her eyes...they were different. Bottomless, endless, containing the swirl of pinpoint stars. Fire of the cosmos. "I didn't do it on purpose, it just happened. You were tied to me in life, he was tied to me by death, I wanted him to find you and..." She broke off and cast a scared look my way.
"What did you do?" I asked, breathless, and her sadness, her terror swept through me.
"Sorry. Scott, I'm sorry." She turned away and a glittering tear trickled down her face.
I closed my eyes and felt her hands on my face, my body.