Summary: Jean Grey was a perfect angel. Except when she wasn’t.
Warnings: Bit of grown-up language, mentions of slash, and if you tilt your head and squint, some girl-on-girl sexiness.
Spoilers: through the “Torn” arc of Astonishing X-Men
Original story: Sleep with a Ghost by harmonyangel
“Well, I can’t say I’m surprised.”
The voice was raspy and crackling, both familiar and not, like an international telephone call with a bad connection. Emma came awake in layers at the sound of that voice. She wasn’t a heavy sleeper, but there was no nightmarish urgency in the intrusion. It was like waking up on a lazy summer Sunday, like surfacing in warm water. It was only when she opened her eyes that her heartbeat quickened. It was still night, the only light outside from the bright floods of the security system. But in Emma’s room there was a red glow that left a slash of color like blood against her white chemise.
“Didn’t anyone ever tell you that redheads shouldn’t wear that color?” Emma asked aloud, her voice deepened and rasping with sleep. “With your coloring, darling, it makes you look cheap.”
Floating above the bed, as though it was a perfectly normal occurrence that she do so, was Jean Grey. In her Phoenix costume, she bathed the room in red and gold. Emma looked up at her, squinting against her brilliant light.
“Oh, that is fascinating.” Jean tucked her knees up as though she was sitting in a chair. She crossed her legs at the ankle and primly folded her hands at her lap. “Do go on. I’ve never had a lecture on good taste from a whore.”
“Maybe some other time,” Emma said, rolling over onto her back. “Do you mind? I don’t particularly appreciate late-night bedroom intrusions.”
“Oh, I see.” Jean laughed a rich, throaty chuckle. It rang false and harsh to Emma, like the scrape of dinnerware on fine china. “Is that why you’re sleeping alone?”
Emma raised herself up on her elbows and rolled her shoulders back. She fixed Jean with a solid, hard look. “I’m sleeping alone because I don’t begrudge people their needs.”
“Dear Emma, so magnanimous,” Jean said.
She shook her head, blonde hair falling in a smooth sheet across her shoulders. “I just don’t care to withhold what Scott really wants. I doubt anyone would accuse me of being high-minded.”
“Isn’t that the truth.” Jean twirled one wild, red curl around her finger, with a playful tilt of her head. “I may have had my problems, but I never thought it would be a good idea for Scott to sleep with another man.”
“With Logan, you mean. You didn’t think it would be a good idea for Scott to sleep with Logan.” Emma smiled suggestively, tongue between her teeth. “But Logan and you, on the other hand...”
“I suppose you’re the better partner, then.” Jean tugged hard on the curl, until it dissolved into dust. “Because you lie here all alone and cold, and let the boys have their fun. What a good little woman you are.”
Emma sighed. “If you’re so upset about it, why aren’t you bothering them?”
“Who says I’m not?” Jean winked. “I can multitask.”
“Please. You’re only here because I put you here,” Emma dismissed. “I’m afraid I’ve been rather confrontational, lately. Calling up old skeletons.”
“Oh, I know. I’ve been watching. It’s been open season for your insecurities, lately, hasn’t it?”
“You really shouldn’t criticize.” Emma smirked at her old rival. “That’s the pot calling the kettle insecure.”
“Maybe. Except for one important factor; it’s called control, Emma.” Jean snapped her fingers, a wisp of smoke rising up from them. “And you’ve never had any of it.”
Emma’s smile was nasty and knowing. “You’re projecting, darling. That’s you’re problem, not mine. I don’t need it. Not that sort of control. Not like you did. I don’t need to keep my thumb on everyone I love. The long arm of Jean Grey – making sure everyone is doing just what they ought. Except, of course, when you’d rather they not.”
Jean’s face twisted into a scowl. “That’s not the point.”
“Then what is?” she snapped, her voice raised. “Either get to it or let me sleep.”
Emma knew right away that she’d made a mistake. The light around Jean changed, pulled her out of soft focus and turned her body into angles and fire, hard and sharp and burning. With enough force to make the headboard rattle, Jean set down on the bed. She straddled Emma, pinning her with an unearthly weight. “The point is that you let it go too far. You pushed your luck, just like you always do.”
“I didn’t push anything. I just let Scott do what he’d wanted to for a long, long time. I did what you never dared to, because you wanted to do it yourself.”
“It’s not even about that. We’re having a very serious discussion, and you just don’t get it.” Jean giggled, and the sound burned. “I’m talking about the fact that you put on my face like it was a department store Halloween costume.”
Emma was quiet at that. The room swam with heat and light, and for the first time that night, she felt an icy wiggle of fear.
“What? Nothing to say to that? Don’t you remember? You wore my face, and you held my husband, and you said that you could give him anything he wanted. You could give him what I did. But you can’t.” Jean leaned in, and her face blazed ghastly white. She brought her hands down hard on the pillow at either side of Emma’s head. “And if you ever take my face again, I will make you sorrier than you’ve ever been.”
“Oh?” Emma strained up at the specter. “And what will you do to me, corpse? What could you possibly do?”
“What will I do?” Jean smiled, her teeth like old gravestones, gray and crumbling. “I will walk up your driveway, and I will ring your doorbell, and the shining tower you’ve built out of the remains of my life will come tumbling down. And isn’t that what you fear the very most? That I’ll come back again, and suddenly everything you want, everything you love will be gone. It will all be mine, because it always was. Wasn’t it, darling?”
Jean’s knees tightened around her ribcage, stealing Emma’s breath. She faltered.
“You’re not real,” Emma gasped.
“I’m as real as your fear can make me.” Jean leaned in closer. Her breath smelled overly sweet, like cut lilies left festering in their vase. “And as you’ve demonstrated, that’s pretty fucking real.”
“Get off of me.”
“I will,” Jean said. Her red hair moved around them, individual tendrils jumping and licking like hungry flames, so cold against Emma’s skin that they burned. “When you understand.”
Emma struggled against the mattress. She struggled against the specter’s terrible strength. She pushed at Jean, trying to shove her away, but Emma’s hands passed right through the ghostly body.
“Oh, honey. You can’t touch me. I’m dead, remember?” Jean laughed. “I’m not real. You said it yourself. Just a corpse.”
“Then be a dear,” Emma spat, “and go bury yourself.”
“Now, is that any way to speak to your lover’s dead wife?” Jean sat up and fixed Emma with an indulgent smile. “You know, it’s times like this when I really have to wonder what Scott sees in you. Such a nasty piece of work, you are. Oh, you play at refinement. At class. Glamour. Money. But really you’re just another slut in a bustier, using and being used. Do you really think this will end any differently than anything else in your pathetic, lonely life?”
Emma raised her chin defiantly. “Maybe it will.”
Jean just smiled. “Listen,” she said and pressed her index finger to her lips. She turned her face away and cocked her head, her eyes never leaving Emma’s. “Can’t you hear it? That ringing noise? I think it’s the doorbell, Emma. Can’t you hear it? No? Well.” She turned and pushed off from the bed, rising up over Emma. Jean floated further and further away, until she was a distant flame, her voice swallowed by the night. “Keep listening."
In the morning, Emma woke to the ringing of the telephone. The space next to her was untouched, and though she knew exactly where Scott was, whose bed he was in, she felt uncertain and ill at ease. She got out of bed and padded barefoot to the phone. Her hand over the receiver, the sun’s first light seemed to wash her skin pale and clean. Emma couldn’t place why, exactly, but it was the ringing of the phone that filled her with a profound sense of dread.