I've Got You

Characters: Jean Grey Rachel Grey
Rated: PG-13 (language)
Summary: Rachel Grey encounters a terribly familiar face hiding in Breakstone Forest.
OOC Date: January 29th, 2018 (IC: January 27th, 2018)
IC Date: January 27th, 2018
Where: Breakstone Forest, Westchester County

SATURDAY, JANUARY 27TH

Ever since Friday afternoon, Rachel's been able to notice a shift in the local astral space: tinges of fire subtly limning minds, shrouding senses with heat haze; red smoke billowing from on high.

Wings slowly, painfully stretching to etch increasingly long, familiar shadows across the grounds with flickering light; stellar song warbling from an ill-used throat, gradually gaining in strength but nowhere near its crescendo.

The source of these distortions is at once obfuscated and obvious, shrouded from Rachel's conventional - such as they are - psychic senses even as its unmistakable manifestations call to the cosmic shard within. Actually narrowing its presence to a specific point in space rather than an abrupt astral occupation would amount to finding a red-hot needle in a burning hay stack, however— until Saturday evening, when smoke begins to curl rather specifically from the forest surrounding the grounds rather than the sky.

Rachel can't remember the first time she felt the fire at the fringes of her mind. Maybe since before the day she was born. It's been with her, even during the darkest days of her life, never helping, never hindering. Just there. A crackle of something /more./ Some days she senses it more strongly than others. Some, she's sure it's just a little trick of the mind and little more.

These past twenty four hours, it has been so loud it drowned out all sense of self.

Her first reaction was, like always, one geared for survival: she shut herself out. Holing herself away in the room she had been so graciously given when she arrived, she buried herself in its spartan depths in the coldest corner of the room she could find. Even in the bleak winter chill, she still ended up sweating. And she still saw the fire flicking off her fingertips like talons.

Eventually, though, hiding in her room simply was not enough to ignore it any longer. Call it a flash of reckless bravery. Call it defiance. Call it curiosity, or the inevitable draw of fate's red strings. But eventually, she plucked up that astral cookie crumb the second she felt its scope narrow. The second the heat haze started to funnel down towards a single, plasmic shard like a little sun, still everywhere, yet not as diffuse. From behind upraised knees, the dilated pupils of green eyes tinging with crimson flame look out her frost-encrusted window. For the forest. Her lower lip twists, mildly, under her teeth.

The window is still left hanging open by the time Rachel Grey sets foot on the snow-layered grounds of Breakstone Forest. Dressed in a deep red leather jacket, dark jeans and a pair of dark leather boots that encase her calves up to the knees, the time-displaced psychic draws small strands of red hair past her eyes with the errant brush of her fingertips as she wades deep into the heart of the forest. She's not sure how long she's been walking, or how far; her entire focus is on that condensing ball of astral smoke, that throaty cosmic song in the distance. Drawn to it like a compulsion.

"This is one of the dumbest things you've done in your life, Ray," she grumbles to herself. And still, she walks.

Maybe ten minutes into the forest, Rachel is drawn into a clearing that seems almost constructed around one especially majestic pine. Carved initials - SS, BD, WW, JG, HM, among others - dot the trunk, several sitting far higher than one might expect. The song - somewhere between mournful and triumphant - grows in volume if not strength all the while, syncopated with the rhythm of heartbeats and breaths. Snow hangs heavy from surrounding boughs, but warmth suffuses the clearing just the same. Rather than knot together and condense at its heart, however, the smoke gathers just a few feet from the tree, diffuse and ribbonlike.

Between blinks, the sense-occluding haze breaks and pale fingers appear against sentimentally scarred wood, scarlet coiling around them, the arm they inevitably lead to, and the woman who owns both. Dressed in a red winter coat, red and green knit hat, black scarf, black leggings, and black boots, Jean Grey's melancholy eyes are locked on the tree, only roaming between carvings. Astral fire flickers at her back, occasionally forming into wings.

Twin embers stare appraisingly Rachel from the depths of a foreign, familiar consciousness for a beat before receding back into the darkness.

She knows the paths around this forest, but Rachel still feels lost. Memories she cherishes and would rather forget in equal measure flit at the edges of her thoughts as those vividly green eyes sweep around her, curious and cautious in the same breadth as she huffs a vaporous breath from between the soft purse of her lips. It's only when she comes towards that tree — towards the epicenter of that strange and familiar heat — that she slowly comes towards a stop. The haze seems its thickest here, twining a meandering path outward, leading towards…

SS, BD, WW, JG, HM. She knows this tree. Rachel stares at for the longest time like she were frozen, locked in thoughts and memories of a time that no longer exists as she watches the ancient, scarred hide of that tree as if it might provide her something, anything. She is tense, guarded. Ready for anything.

So maybe it's telling when the first sign of those tanless fingers show themselves from the heated scarlet mist, Rachel's reaction is equal parts a sharp yelp and the sudden manifestation of familiar, astral fire sparking threatening along her arms as she snaps a single foot back. Astral fire she finds reflected perfectly in a familiar yet not silhouette. Someone she knows, yet never knew, not as well as she ever really wanted.

"Mo—" she nearly chokes out, stopping herself short seconds before that strange consciousness that she both knows and doesn't surges up from the astral depths. Staring. Boring a hole through her. She stifles the word as her widened, green eyes almost wince, cursing herself for the near slip. Fires dim. But her eyes are still wide. Lips parted, agape and confused. It's like staring into a mirror, in many different ways.

"… Ah. Um. Hi -" she curses herself for that flabbergasted opening, too, before she focuses. "Are you… Jean Grey…?"

The initial syllable sends red waves rippling through the air as Jean snaps towards it. Green eyes wide with shock - wide enough to offer a glimpse of frantically grinding gears to the perceptive - waver upon Rachel, double-take—

— triple, a-squint—

— and soft boots briskly tromp backwards. The question catches her just as her breaths begins to quicken and put a stop to her retreat, bringing her just short of bumping against the Initial Tree. Head canting, wariness beginning to find a place alongside shock, she gives the red-haired, green-eyed stranger burning in her mind's eye a slow nod.

"But," she quietly, tentatively replies, "I don't know who you are, and you look…" Green eyes fall, not even trying to disguise it as she looks the future telepath over.

"… not like a student," she concludes once green meets green. Her brow furrows and her eyes flick down; a beat later, she's slowly undoing her coat with one hand - revealing a pleated black skirt and a black and red sweater with a tight fit - while nudging her hat free with quickly combing fingers, aiming to collect sweat that hasn't quite formed yet.

She's staring. She absolutely knows she is. She's probably gawking, even. She tells herself she's being too obvious as those distinctly familiar green eyes comb her over, but Rachel can't help it. It's her. Right here. She thought she was gone, but… she's right there. Real. And familiar. In ways she can't even begin to describe.

So on the second or third look over, Rachel just stops herself outright, knowing she has to be off-putting with all of that. At least aware of -that- much, she still seems almost guarded, huddled in on herself a bit despite the fact that she is the furthest thing from cold as Jean addresses her. And that helps her to focus. Even just a little. This isn't her world. Not her Jean, she tells herself.

So the short-haired redheaded green-eyed telepath from the future just slowly exhales a hitched sigh that sounds almost like a nervous laugh as she comes her fingers through her short mane. "Not a student," she echoes, at first, awkwardly. Her smile is small and lopsided as she offers it to Jean, watching as the other redhead opens her coat. She tells herself she's staring again; instantly, she tries to look anywhere else but Jean.

"My name's Rachel, I… the people here were nice enough to let me stay here. I'm from…" she hesitates, visibly, clearly unused to this kind of talk. Or perhaps much of any. Booted toes dig into the snow beneath her in a soft nudge as she feels the familiar heat beat against her skin. "… it's complicated." Eager to talk about anything else, green eyes snap towards Jean again, like staring at a strange reflection. "But you're — why're you here?" She realizes that might sound accusatory. Or might play her hand. That she sounds a little too excited, smiles a little too much. But she doesn't -really- care, right now.

Jean's eyes return to Rachel's once the coat opens, and Rachel's eyes are on her. After another brisk downward glance, she crosses her arms tightly and turns slightly aside from the other telepath. Her gaze roams across snowy grass rather than rise and a self-conscious shadow passes over her features.

Gears continue to grind as she listens. A hand is pulled free just far enough to push red locks behind an ear before coming to lay against her neck and rub against the dampness forming. A murmured, "Nice to meet you, Rachel," fills the space left by the ex-Hound's hesitation and she looks up long enough to offer a small smile that neither cuts through growing bemusement nor lasts long once she returns to the snow.

As that bemusement reaches critical mass, Rachel tosses a match that draws Jean's gaze to her with an incredulous snap and a quiet gasp— and now it's her turn to hesitate, eyes practically vibrating with the strain of staying put. Through layers of astral walls, the chronal orphan can distantly feel her mother from another world working out exactly how great a percentage of the truth to share for the next couple seconds, until:

"I came by to pick something up," she quietly replies as her eyes finally slide away from Rachel's, "and I just got distracted, is all— old memories, that kinda thing." As they return, she adds, "I used to live here, so…" A little bit of head-bobbing later, she - eager to talk about anything else - puts on a fresh smile as she asks, "How long have you been here? I must've… missed you, I don't really get to visit as much as I'd like. How do you like it, so far?"

It's a strange thing, seeing Jean Grey of all people look away from her with that self-conscious glimmer in her eyes. It's a discordant note from everything else that she'd been told about her mother, until she's forced once more to remind herself — this isn't her. Just another version.

A second later, her eyes are crisply snapping away from Jean's in an almost perfect mirror of the other redhead's averted look. She lifts a hand, rubbing her forearm in a subconsciously nervous gesture.

"Sorry," she mumbles, her voice barely audible yet carrying on different wavelengths just fine. Through that crackle of flame shared between them. "For staring. It's… you're just… nevermind."

She could think of any other excuse that would sound perfectly rational, but her words lose her in that moment, and so she just resigns herself to her quiet once more until she hears that murmured greeting tickle at her ears. She bites the inside of her cheek, dimpling it faintly inward as she keeps those green eyes averted until that final question. Despite herself, she looks back into that matching pair of emerald eyes, and the incredulity practically makes her flinch, just a bit. She can feel it there, in that astral heat, the feeling of her mother-but-not-really grappling with what she should say.

"If you don't want to tell me it's fine-" she begins, her voice layering over Jean's right at the exact moment she answers. She clears her throat, cheeks flushing pink, and instantly her stare just drags its way back to that tree. The twinge of her own mind can be felt at the surfaces of Jean's thoughts like she doesn't know any better, an instinctive response with a fingerprint that feels so familiar, and yet not. Old memories. "… I know how that is," she mutters after she clears her throat awkwardly and offers, "Sorry. … Again."

She dares to look back after that. And when Jean offers that question, it is -Rachel's- turn to hesitate, her thoughts rolling on just what to share. "… A month or two," she finally settles on. "It's alright. It's…" Like home, she doesn't quite say. "… warm. Comfortable. The faculty is nice." She watches Jean for a moment, arms crossing under her chest with the faint squeak of leather. She falls silent, for a handful of seconds.

"… Why don't you?" she asks, finally, and abruptly. "Visit? Why don't you stay here? Isn't this your home-?"

Breathing out a quiet laugh, Jean stops slowly - curiously, really - swabbing her neck to gently fan when she and Rachel's clashing words delay her explanation. A sigh puffs her cheek out and fills the space before her with white as her arms fall a moment later, hanging - fingers idly opening, closing, and wriggling - as she explains— cherry-picks. Glosses.

Lets her gaze go glassy so that as a greeting is extended, her consciousness reaches across imperceptible space in reply to the brief call of like to like.

~You shouldn't be able to see me,~ she thinks, frank and quiet and wary with her arms crossed behind an endlessly rippling shroud of red hair. Fire licks off of her tresses here and there; flickering green eyes seek understanding without searing through the surface. ~You shouldn't be able to feel me.~

"It's alright," she murmurs in reply to the apology, meanwhile. Rachel's description brings an instinctual warmth to the other redhead's smile, even when she purses her lips, stops herself, then shifts the beginning of a 'W' into a, "They try," that winds up stiffer than intended. One wince later, she adds, "I'm glad you're settling in— that you've found your way to somewhere better than wherever you left." With part of her elsewhere and no impetus to expend effort on maintaining a semblance of normalcy, there's a hollow quality to her voice, now.

That final statement still brings a sharply inquisitive gleam to the eyes studying Rachel in the space that isn't, though.

"Are you thinking about teawhat— "

Abrupt questions catch the distracted woman unawares. Pale eyelids widen while a scintillating gaze narrows, incredulity simmering from both sides of the telepath.

"Like I said," she deliberately, well, says after a pause, "I did." She fans, briefly, then crosses her arms again. "It was. But not anymore. That's a— weirdly personal question, person I just met."

~Who are you?~ Whatever casual lightness Jean's physically going through the motions to try and soften her suspicions with doesn't make it her astral avatar.

You shouldn't be able to see me. You shouldn't be able to feel me.

Two thoughts that burn like the warmth of a fireplace that has run too long to ignore the fact that it's still fire. Still heat. Rachel almost - almost - flinches away physically and mentally from the blunt observation. Tongues of flame dust along her shorter locks of red almost like an unconscious reaction to Jean's — like mirror neurons firing off some cosmic response in her mind as she averts her gaze once again.

~But I can,~ is the only response to that sentiment, guarded as it is. Secretive and cautious to the straightforward wariness that Jean presents, with a hint of something else. Some sort of anxiety, harder to place.

But it's that physical expression — past the wincing stiffness of Jean's correction — that actually draws a tiny smile to Rachel's lips. She looks happy — happier than she should, really, reserved though it might be, for the well wishes of someone who rightly ought to be a complete stranger. It's a sentiment emptied of tone, and yet… she still smiles.

A smile that is almost whiplashed back into parted lips of shock and hesitation when Jean she levels that narrowed gaze upon her for her almost demanded questions. That stretch of silence makes her feel like she's being scolded, and Rachel simultaneously steps toward Jean and shies away from her within the same breadth, snow crunching beneath her bootheel.

"It's not weird," she snaps, almost as instinctive as it is defensive. "It's… I'm just… you were supposed to be here! I thought you'd be here, and I wanted — you -" She loses her words within her own troubled jumble of thoughts, closing in on herself as she turns away. She slumps her shoulder blades into that aged, demarked tree, quietly opening her coat against the bristle of heat, arms crossing over her chest and the charcoal gray, long-sleeved shirt beneath.

"Nevermind. You're right. It's weird. Forget I said anything. You're just… everyone talks about you, is all."

It's a lame excuse, she knows. And one that doesn't guard against the suspicions of those tongues of astral heat communicating those words, that sentiment, into her mind. Who are you?

She's a strong telepath. She was never trained to guard herself, though. Not well. And the question brings a brief flash of memories, shattered and damaged to the fore, little snippets of a place that was the mansion, but different. Faculty that look familiar, but not. Rachel in spikes and black leather, hunting—

~"Stop,"~ she chokes out, physically and mentally, the faint sign of branded marks appearing and disappearing at her cheeks. "Please."

No levity makes it to astral space, but guilt - sparked by defensive snapping - does, bringing flickering frames of long nights - in a big, strange house; hiding on strangers' couches; stretched across a park bench - with nothing but last thoughts and the smell of burning flesh for company to the fore for a beat. Arms tighten and veiling hair grows more voluminous; her gaze shifts away and doesn't return until Rachel's excuse draws her revealing question.

Jean's body isn't doing much better: after the air's driven from her lungs, after recoiling from Rachel's disappointment, she drops her eyes, turns away, and laces her hands behind her neck. Pacing away from the ex-Hound and the tree, her eyes bounce across the grass while trying to make sense of her anger— did they meet, years ago? Did some former student tell Rachel about her?

Just how badly did she let this woman down?

Questions abound, gathering in her skull until one - the only one, really - flies free.

The answer hits like a plasma salvo, peppering her psyche with horrors and distortion. Pale, gold-gloved hands grip skulls in unison and for however long the next couple seconds last, she is powerless to stop the bleeding. The memories themselves, dark as they may be, aren't the trouble, here: Jean has seen many horrible things, physically or otherwise, over many years of X-Manning; the emotional shrapnel they leave lodged in her mind are. Nails scratch along the sides of her head, then twist and tug the coat before jerking it free and tossing it— well. It doesn't fly more than a couple feet from her before freezing in place. Panting, she tugs at her collar with both hands for a brief spell before just gripping it and squeezing her eyes shut. Her teeth press against her bottom lip—

— and the inquisition slams to a halt. The moment it does, Jean races across the clearing to throw her arms around the stranger, aiming to offer apology and support all at once.

~"I'm sorry,"~ she quietly says. "I— I don't know how… what you expected…" Swallowing, she quickly shakes her head, then reiterates, "I'm sorry…"

In that moment, Rachel Grey sees the glimpses of her life as much as Jean Grey sees the fragments of hers. Broken, alone. Cold, despite the company of flame. It is disarming — worrying — how much she realizes in that moment…

The differences between those glimpses and hints aren't nearly as great as she might have thought.

She tries to remain guarded. She does. It's easier that way, simpler. She feels less exposed, less raw, than she does whenever she tries to confront emotions she was never trained to confront. So, she does like she was trained; she attacks, snapping at Jean both to ward her off and in a paradoxically desperate attempt to draw her in and know her. And she gets more than she bargained for. Whatever defenses she has are meager from the ex-Hound who was only ever taught how to kill and to hunt. Those emotions, those memories, go off like an untrained and haphazard grenade in her psyche, a flash flood of stressful memories that leave her shaking like a leaf and digging clipped nails into the fabric of her shirt, bunching palmfuls of it against her fists. And there she'd likely remain, happy to be forgotten and trying her best to forget —

— until she feels warmth, body heat, and a familiar fire pressing into her suddenly. Green eyes widen in sheer shock, forcing back the sting of tears from the corners of her eyes. And Rachel just… freezes. For a moment, for the longest moment, she stands there in the warmth of Jean's embrace, stock still like a deer in headlights, rigid and flabbergasted.

It lasts for all of five seconds until she gives in and arms find themselves flinging around Jean like she were a lone buoy in a horrible storm.

Rachel clings to her tightly, hands pressed to her back and face buried against her shoulder by the crook of her neck, as if unable to let her see the tears at the corners of her eyes. They still dampen that sweater regardless, the soft huff of her unsteady breath filling the air as she tries not to cry, tries to steady herself, tries to… anything. She doesn't know what Rachel expected.

"I don't know either," she mumbles, voice half-muffled against that fabric as her fingers curl inward. Her voice tremors. "I just… it's been…" Lonely, carries that thought, without her ability to utter it. Her eyes squeeze painfully shut.

"I'm sorry. This isn't… the same, you don't need to deal with my crap, I… I shouldn't be…"

~You're alright, now.~

With an arm around Rachel's middle and the other hand cradling her head close, Jean's embrace only tightens when tears find her shoulder and psyche both. She gently rocks back and forth, keeping her breaths deep and stable despite the pounding rhythm of her heart.

Sparking, golden gloves reach across astral space in the hopes of mirroring her physical posture. In place of the guilt and suspicion of moments ago, she radiates contrition and compassion, seeking to lend Rachel some of her strength— to help her not cry, or cry, or whatever else will ultimately do her the most good. Astral fire shines like lamp light filtered through the crack of a master bedroom door after a nightmare as wings fold inwards to enfold the embrace.

~I've got you.~

"I know," she whispers when Rachel's explanation drops off, voice now rich with sadness. Instinctively, she strokes short hair the same red as her own. After that interjection, she is silent until it's clear - absolutely, unimpeachably so - that Rachel's run out of steam after trailing off; until then, she simply shivers, sweats, and lets the lost woman unburden herself as she will.

"You've experienced horrible… God, don't apologize, please." Red hair tumbles as her head vigorously shakes, then she pulls back enough to look at the other telepath as she firmly states, "I don't know everything you've been through, but you're here— you found your way here for a reason, and it wasn't to suffer alone, with nobody to help you deal with your crap. I— I shouldn't have seen what I saw, and I'm sorry… all things considered, I owe you an awful lot of crap-handling for that alone. It's up to you, but— whoever you are, whatever you need, whyever we're, uh, speaking, right now, your pain doesn't do me any favors."

It's comforting. And despite the bitter chill of winter, Rachel has never felt quite so warm as she's felt cradled against this woman she both knows and has never met in equal measure. She's alright now, that psychic sentiment resonates within her, and she feels so safe in the other redhead's grip it's almost frightening. Her fingers curl against Jean's back, gathering the material of that sweater against her palms as she just tries to calm herself, calm her frayed nerves, her intense anxieties.

She only partly succeeds. The next breath she exhales is a stuttering, hitching thing, washing against Jean in an unsteady shudder as she feels those astral flame-wreathed hands mirror the gesture of the physical world. She is all fire and fury to hide the wounded thing beneath, still marked with the brand of the hound even in her astral self as she folds limply into that glowing embrace two-fold. She finds strength in that touch, and it frightens her as much as anything, as much as it makes her cling all the closer to the other woman. She's got her.

And Rachel clings so tightly it's like she's afraid Jean might slip through her fingers and disappear the second she lets go.

Her breath hitches with every inhale, a tearless sob that she unloads upon Jean quietly in the depths of the forest. Every stroke through the short pixie cut of her hair seems to calm her, at least a little bit, every time. Until her breathing slowly settles. Until she is just quietly, wordlessly sagging against the other redhead so similar to herself, like all her strength had left her. She hears those words, that sympathy, and as Jean pulls away, she slowly straightens as best she can, the moisture-gleamed slits of her shut eyes slowly cracking open so she can turn that shining, emerald stare on that deathly similar pair.

"I…" she begins, as if unsure of what she can say — she should say. Anything, nothing. She's lost at a crossroads, and the indecision rides high in her features as her fingers relax and tense against those caught bundles of fabric. "… everything here is so different," she scarcely whispers. "… but just similar enough to… remind me, of… of… and it's so lonely." She squeezes her eyes shut. Shakes her head. "It's… it's not your fault. I shouldn't have let you seen. But I… I…" She tries to think, tries to decide just how best she can say this. That she wants Jean to help her. To be there for her. To comfort her.

"… I don't want you to go," is the best she can come up with, a sentiment expressed better through the emotions translated across that astral distance.

"… Look, it's— "

It's only after some time spent in tentative silence in the wake of that emotional bodyblow that Jean even begins to answer. Sweat pours throughout the silence; if she weren't so wrapped up in trying to soothe a lonely psychic struggling to reach out for comfort, she would surely be fanning herself. Elsewhere, she's still got the orphan - marks and all - held close as unspoken wants intensify the warmth of burning wings. Stellar music fills non-space again, a gentle and wordless melody heartened by necessity as it falls from her lips.

"— complicated, I didn't— " Swallowing, Jean pauses for a moment before tightening her grip against the other telepath, subtly, as she quietly says, "I died, a couple of years ago, and I came back, and— it's confusing," her words grow increasingly rapid, "and maybe dangerous? And I can't— couldn't, I guess, hah, justify bringing— that around children. For, y'know, starters…"

Again, dying thoughts and burning flesh flicker unconsciously in astral space. Dying thoughts, burning flesh, and a rapid escape from a clinic ablaze; Rachel may or may not notice a twinge of pride somewhere amidst the fear accompanying those flashes of memory.

"I— " Green eyes snap open wide, then tightly squeeze shut as she pauses long enough to try and spare the both of them. "— hh, came to get test results from Dr. McCoy, but I didn't really— I didn't mean to…" The other telepath might - might - be able to hear it in Jean's voice that she's trying in real time to come up with a reason not to hang around for even longer than she'd initially intended to, and failing.

But she can most certainly 'hear', ~I'm not going anywhere,~ when Jean's subconscious just cuts around the dithering middlewoman in an effort to set the other woman at ease. This puts a cold stop to the verbal rationalizing, leaving her mouth ajar for a moment before she presses her lips together in a self-conscious smile.

"Okay, well, you heard me, I guess," she then murmurs.

She's so young.

It's the one thought that dominates Rachel's mind amidst the paradoxical and impossible haze of winter heat that makes it ever-more difficult to focus. She knows, objectively, why this is, of course — but it's one thing to tell yourself that, over and over, and another to see it firsthand. The thought hadn't even occurred to the time-lost orphan until now, until this very moment, pressed close to the other woman and hearing her struggle through her thoughts and emotions with almost less success than Rachel herself has managed. It hits her like a freight train, just how young Jean is, how vulnerable she feels. Barely even older than her, if at all.

And here she is, desperately trying to take something that Jean might not even be able to give.

Unspoken desires linger there in the beating heat of astral wings; sweat beads at Rachel's skin, rolling down in little rivulets and dampening at the front of Jean's sweater as she buries her face there, as if she could hide away from Jean, from how sad and weak she feels, from everything. Yet despite how Jean struggles through her words, Rachel feels comfortable like this, so close. Feeling — sensing — how vulnerable Jean is, too. And within that psychic reverberation, Rachel feels a tiniest bit more content hiding within the burning embrace of Jean's stellar wings.

It's that flash of memories, memories she shouldn't see but can't help but see, that swings everything into perspective for Rachel with sudden and jarring intensity. She knows those memories. She's heard about them. Was told about them. It's the divergence point for everything that was for her, and everything that is for here. But experiencing them first hand — feeling Jean dying, burning, within a tiniest spark of pride and a roaring inferno of fear — makes her choke out the tiniest of gasps, makes her respond to the subtle tightening of Jean's grip by clinging all the closer — as if to provide Jean someone to lean on. To give her support and strength, just as readily as she has Rachel.

"I'm sorry," she murmurs again, but for different reasons. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize — didn't, that this was…" That time, goes unsaid and but thought, in the confused splice of timelines that constitutes Rachel's culture shock. It's so similar, and yet so different, and even as Jean struggles to find an excuse to not linger, Rachel pulls herself just far back enough from the other woman to look at that mirrored, green gaze of hers. She's hurt, too. Scared, too. Alone, too.

She isn't good at this. Terrible at this. Emotions. Connections. So she can only half-hear herself mumbling a soft, "It's… it's okay, you need to… do what you need to," as her fingers curl against Jean's back. As she mirror's that smile with an awkward, lopsided smile of her own, echoing the comfort, the joy, she feels at that psychic sentiment.

"Whatever… wherever… you need to be, it's… it's okay," she utters, through a cracked, dry voice, trying to ignore the little tears stinging at her cheeks. She can't bring herself to say it. But the warmth and want of that sentiment carries through those strangely similar psychic wavelengths, nonetheless.

~I'm here for you, too.~

Initially, the lives Rachel feels slipping away in the moments when unwanted memories briefly darken shared unspace are foreign: nameless doctors and scientists, judged unworthy of existence after a brush with cosmic flame; souvenirs from the first moments of Jean's second life. It's only when - a moment before she reaches inwards to push dark thoughts aside - the worn, wounded new piece of herself she shares with the stranger in her arms seeks to give the older(?) redhead's story a touch of context that Rachel gets a glimpse of the woman trapped with a self-destructing Master Mold on a cold moon in the depths of space.

She doesn't weigh much, but Rachel can certainly feel the other redhead sagging against her while the embrace lasts.

"What— " she blurts aloud at an unspoken thought, brow furrowing for a moment before she remembers the twisted reflections culled from Rachel's psyche. A different question - a litany of them, really - bubbles up; the desperate curiosity animating filters into astral space, but they wind up swallowed. Asking a crying girl to play oracle for her would, probably, be considered rude.

"Look, I…" After exhaling, the smile left by her subconscious undermining softens into something fonder. "… honestly, I didn't wanna leave all that badly as it was," she quietly admits. "Being here's… conflicting, and arguably unwise, right now. I can't— "

A loud breath is pushed through her nostrils as her eyes turn upwards and she grimaces.

"— don't really want to try and explain— this," she pulls an arm back to gesture down the length of herself while making this quiet admission, "to students, when I don't know what it means— if it's permanent." Since one arm is already free, she withdraws the other so she can comb ten fingers back through her damp hair while groaning. Meanwhile, magenta motes across a cheek, carrying tears with them.

"I think it's still fair to say that I 'need' to be here, though— if only for a while longer. Even if someone— else— winds up sniffing me out, or something, it's not like I'm doing anything wrong, and I'm not gonna just… ignore someone in pain because it's convenient," she quietly assures. "Besides," her hands fall to squeeze Rachel's shoulders tightly as her smile broadens, "I apparently have a, I dunno, fan? So it'd be pretty shitty, running off the second I meet her, right?"

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