It Feels Real, Doesn't It?

Characters: Ororo Munroe Jean Grey
Rated: PG-13 (Foul language; moderate romantic content)
Summary: Eager for a distraction from a frustrating fare, Jean Grey reaches out for a conversation with one of her dearest friends; it does not go as anticipated.
OOC Date: January 15th, 2018
IC Date: January 15th, 2018
Where: The Streets of NYC; Westchester County; The Astral Plane

A couple months removed from her mysterious return to life, there are some fairly important things that Jean Grey's still trying to work out, like 're-establishing an identity as a living entity' and 'how big of an immolation risk she presents to mutant students'. Given that she's also spent that time crashing on couches with nothing more than what semi-ethical thievery or charity could get her, the new year marked as good an opportunity as any to begin turning things around. So, like any modern human with shaky legal standing who could be a mild-to-severe threat to herself or others, she has turned to one of the few places dedicated to helping any and everyone in need:

SOMEWHERE IN MANHATTAN
SEVERAL MINUTES AGO

"Hi, my name is Jean!" she calls through the window of a rented Prius to an older man who's already dragging himself into the back seat, "And you're Shane, right? I'll be your driver today; where're we headed?"

"Wherever my wife ain't," Shane mumbles as a Queens address pops up on Jean's phone. "Y'know she had the nerve t' fuckin'— complain 'cause all the interviews I go on, the people are fuckin' fuckin' with me?"

"Uh-huh…" Jean exhales while hitting the gas.

ELSEWHERE
NOW

Wherever Ororo Munroe may be, she feels a sudden, but gentle pressure in her skull, no doubt familiar after a decade spent around some of the most powerful minds on Earth.

~Did you know,~ Jean wonders, voice resonating between the weather witch's ears, ~that if show up to a job interview fifteen minutes late because you stopped in at a bar for a confidence booster, you're actually supposed to go back to the bar and yell at the bartender until he agrees to go to the office with you and explain how super pumped you were to come in and interview?~

The space where a sigh might go is filled with a sense of frustation.

~What're you up to while I learn about the brave new world of 2018? I'm not, like, interrupting anything, am I?~


~Extremely exciting things,~ Ororo thinks back, while her body is leaned forward at her washroom sink. Blue cat's-eyes fix on the mirror as Ororo carefully pulls a safety razor back along the side of her head. ~So exciting that I welcome the intrusion, actually. You sound frustrated, Jean. Or… perhaps FEEL frustrated. The two things mix so freely in conversations like this… Is everything all right?~

Ororo tilts her head to check and see if she missed a spot. The bright white color of her hair makes this fairly easy, really. ~I am assuming it was not YOU who drank away your chance at a job. Otherwise I really will let Logan come drag you back here,~ the wind-rider teases.


Jean flicks a psychic crossfader—

"… tries to tell me I'm banned, can you believe that? I just finish throwin' this fuck the better part of a Benji, and he wants to jerk me around?!"

— and Ororo gets a sample of her present circumstances. The sloshy, roughly voiced complaints; the building stink of whisky; red eyes occasionally leering in the read view; and the creeping traffic on either side of their vehicle. It is mercifully brief, his voice fading into an indistinct rumble as Jean replies, ~Ask me again in thirty minutes or so.~

Another psychic modulation brings warm, salt-kissed wind whipping past Ororo as tile and glass begub to give way to blue sky and open road. A convertible - likely one of Warren's, plucked from a memory of the mansion's garage - builds itself around the goddess' astral self; Jean's is already seated in the driver's position.

~But, no, I'm fine! Basically. And probably shouldn't even joke about getting drunk, given how big a pain in the ass getting this set up was. I'm just— listening, a lot. Luckily, I don't think this guy wants a conversation, exactly, so I think I can get by on nodding and driving. How've you been?~


When the car pulls up, Ororo is wearing a towel, her mohawk is wet and combed to one side, and she has a bit of shaving cream above her ear. By the time she reaches out to open the door and get in, Ororo's astral self is wearing the costume that she first wore as an X-Man: the black leathery cape, thigh-high boots, bodysuit with the sides cut away… and the long, flowing, full white hair held at bay with her tiara-like headband. Ororo looks down at herself when she gets into the car, but lets it go. Maybe she's just wearing what Jean remembers her most vividly in. Or maybe it's Ororo subconsciously wanting to hang out in something other than a damp towel.

~The holidays came, and then went. People come to my loft to enjoy how warm I keep it, even if that temperature is for my plants' benefit. No one has threatened to blow up the world, or even the school. It is almost worryingly calm.~ Ororo looks over at Jean from the passenger seat, and flashes a wry smile, one that showcases Ororo's extremely dry humor. ~Though given the choice between driving a drunkard and fighting a Sentinel… at least I can attack the Sentinel.~


Dressed in a green tank with black shorts due to her subconscious desire for it to not be winter anymore, Jean casts a warm, faintly amused smile towards Ororo's costume.

~I know the Sentinel won't tip me,~ she says as the tanktop lengthens into a dress with a gold 'X' belt and gloves, ~so there's that, too.~ This is punctuated with a pedal-tap that sends them tearing down the road, red hair billowing out behind the maskless heroine. ~I'm glad things've been quiet; it's so rare that we get the space to just— be, to actually sit down and concentrate on the business of teaching people how to live instead of survive,~ she continues, wistfulness creeping into her tone— and environment.

Breakstone Lake and its surrounding woods now lie a ways ahead and off to the left, connected to the road by a rough trail lined with foul ball netting and basketball hoops.

~Just remember who to call if that changes,~ she adds with a glance towards the goddess.


Ororo is not disturbed by her hair flying in the wind caused by the car's motion. She IS the wind-rider, after all, and she's no stranger to the experience. She looks out at the scenery of the astral plane for a long moment before her attention returns to Jean.

~I had been thinking about calling you anyway,~ Ororo says— well, thinks. She meets Jean's glance, and breathes in deeply through her nose despite there being no real air and no need to breathe. ~Perhaps you felt that from afar… or perhaps you just have excellent timing. Coincidences feel stranger than any of the wonders we encounter.~ Ororo smiles for a half moment, just a little ruefully. ~I am rambling. Evading what I had been thinking about saying… thinking about thinking. I missed you, Jean. I do not think I realized how much until you came back. I think back to how I felt when I saw you standing in front of me, in the flesh…~

Ororo's astral avatar closes her eyes for a moment. ~There are feelings that are difficult to organize into expression,~ Ororo think-speaks. ~I am letting down my guard. Perhaps you should simply look inside.~


The smile is reciprocated and accompanied by red brows arching as Ororo feels around for the right words. Her immediate reaction winds up blurted 'aloud', albeit quietly so as not to completely talk over the goddess: ~You never really struck me as a rambler, are you okay— ~

Her eyes flick away when Ororo's close and a puff of air escapes her nostrils. ~I— well,~ she offers as Ororo pauses, ~Couldn't miss you too, but seeing you again was a relief— ~ She actually stops herself when Ororo resumes speaking, head canting curiously as she glances over to the passenger side again. The smile doesn't quite vanish afterwards, but it does shrink as wrinkles crease her forehead and concern threads a few clouds across astral skies. One hand touches her temple and the other reaches for Ororo's; the wheel continues turning.

~Are you okay?~ she quietly wonders as her consciousness bleeds into the goddess'. ~Whatever it is, whatever you're struggling to get out— it's alright; I've got you…~


~It is harder to choose my thoughts as judiciously as I choose the words I speak aloud,~ Ororo observes, with a defeated smile, though her eyes remain closed. When Jean reaches out and touches Ororo's temple, the real Ororo, who's toweling off her own head in the aftermath of touching up her mohawk, has to stop. It feels real, doesn't it?

Those thoughts Ororo has trouble arranging are happy memories. There is no monster dwelling in darkness when Jean dips into Ororo's mind. If anything, Ororo is one of the people who present on the outside who they are on the inside, which must be as rare as rubies to a telepath. However: Ororo's memories are of herself and Jean, experiences they shared, be it fights against the X-Men's enemies, Danger Room training, life or death narrow escapes, brief conversations in the margins of life, Jean returned to life standing on the sidewalk across from Ororo, games of baseball on the school grounds… And threading it all, coded into these images and flickers of memory in a way that reveals itself over time. It's no wonder Ororo herself is only putting it together now. It's a fondness. It's more than a fondness, really.

Ororo's astral self is calm as this process plays out. She can tell when Jean gets to the twist, the reveal, and her eyes open, on the astral plane and in the real world. And in both, she simply murmurs, ~Jean…~


Stepping out of the neutral ground that is this highway stretching through endless astral space, Jean isn't just entering a screening room to have her friend and teammate's memories played back to her: each desperate moment, every hard-won lesson wrested from the Danger Room, the quiet, bond-solidifying moments in between. Freezing in front of a haunted mansion after reaching out to the person she trusted most to support her through an unprecedented challenge, ashamed, scared, and excited. Shoving money in the Power Jar between innings; Jean relives it all, Ororo's memories meshing with her own to add new dimensions and textures. Awash in a psychic stereo mix, the thread winding through it all - shimmering just so - can only go missed for so long; Ororo's treated to a widening green gaze staring through her when she opens her eyes, and while contact breaks shortly afterwards, they don't seem to be shrinking any.

~Ororo— ?~ she murmurs in turn as sunshine banishes astral clouds.

SOMEWHERE IN MANHATTAN

"Hey— HEY!"

THMP! the drunkard's palm goes against the back of the passenger seat. "Jesus Christ, lady, wake UP— the fuck are you doing?!"

"Ah!" Green eyes snap open with a gasp as Jean's smile falls. After clearing her throat, she mumbles, "Sorry, sorry— I'm awake! I promise, nobody's crashing tonight."

THE ASTRAL HIGHWAY

~— hh, son of a…~ she mumbles before briskly shaking her head and refocusing her gaze on the wind-rider.

~How long— ~ she reflexively begins to wonder as she shifts her fingers to graze Ororo's cheek. ~I had no idea— I mean, I wouldn't have even imagined— I'm touched— ~ Her eyes fall as she mutters, ~— urgh, how lame am— 'I'm touched', she stammers to the goddess who just— ~ The redhead's palm flattens against her teammate's face, even as she self-chastises.

~Even if me reaching out now was, uh, kind of a coincidence: there's definitely a reason I called you first— even before Wanda, and Scott, and Bobby, and Hank, and everyone— before the Professor, even,~ she says after a deep breath and a concerted effort to hold the wind-rider's gaze. ~I knew I could trust you to have my back, no questions asked, no judgement, no matter where things went— I've always known that about you, that I could count on you to just, just be there, strong and loving— it's one of my favorite things about you, how deeply you care. How steady you are, even if everyone and everything else is going to hell around you…~

Jean's hand falls, only to be replaced in short order by lips pressed firmly against the goddess' cheek.

~I'm kinda fond of you too, I guess is what I'm trying to think,~ she softly 'says' afterwards.


Ororo's cheek feels faintly damp, despite nothing else about her appearance suggesting this. Though in this particular psychic landscape she's arrived looking as she did when she first joined the X-Men — though a little older and a little wiser — the sensation of her 'skin' connects deeper than just sight, and lets Jean feel what it'd be like to touch the real Ororo, the one who just took a shower and is standing at the sink, eyes closed.

In the astral conversation, Ororo's face turns slightly, to lean into Jean's touch. She opens her eyes when Jean addresses her, and her blue eyes meet Jean's green. Ororo's eyes are as strange in the psychic world as they are in meatspace: vertical slits for pupils, like a cat's. A mystery of her bloodline… but it makes her gaze feel special, in its own way. Alien to some. Goddess to others. In telepathy, Ororo's expression looks the same as it would in real life, but it's easier to read, like someone smuggled Jean the answers to the test. Seeming stoicism now reads as a web of complicated feelings, held together and forged into something functional by sheer force of will.

~I do not know how long. I did not know it was there until… I knew. These things do not have easy explanations.~ The speech about how Jean admires Ororo, and the kiss to her cheek, make the goddess draw in a careful, silent breath.

Ororo's hand reaches up to cup Jean's chin gently. Her other hand takes Jean's. ~Jean, nothing I have done or can do is as amazing as your simply being here, again.~ She brushes her thumb just below Jean's bottom lip in the gentlest of touches. ~Let me know when you are at a red light. I do not want what I will do next to endanger your passenger.~


~Of course,~ Jean murmurs to Ororo's non-explanation. The sensation of dampness has her brows curiously arched; the question she can't help but ask - ~Is it raining up there?~ - is quiet, underlying the other mutant's next words until the redhead sheepishly presses her lips together. Hints of warmth radiate from her hand and chin, courtesy of the Prius' heater and the wind-rider; phantasmal pressure reaches across miles when she squeezes the hand around hers.

~Coming up on one shortly,~ she replies with a clipped chuckle. Her eyes flick downwards for the briefest of rueful moments before returning to Ororo's. ~Seeing you like this, here— it's, uh— it's a lot, but I'm this guy's an ass more than he's actually in danger: he's getting all of my driving and listening to Hank talk about fusion instincts, he's good.~


~I just bathed,~ Ororo explains, which is actually a 'yes' to the question of if it was raining. ~This is… a lot for me as well. I would not have shared it if I was not sure in my feelings. No matter how sure one feels, though, there is always that sensation of… I am not sure I know how to describe it. When we communicate such as this, words seem to lose their traction, compared to feelings… feelings I know you have touched within me just now, and feelings that reach out to me in turn.~

Ororo isn't a telepath and she hasn't taken any training in the matter beyond traditional exercises in defending herself against psychic attacks. Her descriptions of what happens in the mind are still rooted in the language of the physical… but she sounds so sure of herself, even then. What she says has a point, after all: words mean less than thoughts, here, and thoughts mean less than feelings.

Ororo's hand stays on Jean's chin. ~I only want you to be safe,~ she notes, possibly meaning Jean's driving. Then the wind-rider leans in to put her lips to Jean's. Her eyes close, both in the real world and on the astral plane. Her lips don't have the sweet taste or stickiness of beauty products, but they are soft and warm. Ororo holds the kiss for a few long seconds — as much as 'seconds' means anything in an environment totally hewn from the meeting of two minds — and then releases Jean's chin. She moves backward a bit, opening her eyes to look into Jean's, to wait for a reaction, a response… though she looks like Ororo, the austere, serene goddess, even she can't resist a fluttering feeling, the sensation of not knowing what will happen next.


~The words are a convenience,~ Jean explains while stroking her thumbs across Ororo's knuckles. ~I mean, so's all of this - just symbols and buffers to help us process big, complex concepts in a way that feels innately comfortable and enforce some kind of shared context, some semblance of order on what'd otherwise be a chaotic mass of feelings, and thoughts, and…~

With a gasp and slightly widening eyes, Jean finally seizes hold of her expository instinct - likely a side effect of a decade's worth of Astral Studies classes with the Professor - as her face grows a little warmer and the car rolls to a stop.

A smile forms at the sentiment that follows, and whatever response might've been primed to pop free is arrested by soft pressure stretched across indeterminate moments. One hand leaves the wheel to cup Ororo's cheek as she leans into the kiss, while the other loosens and shifts so she can weave her fingers with the goddess'.

Warmth builds all the while until Ororo opens her eyes and catches a glimpse of flame receding into green irises. Initially unmoving as fire licks off of the ends of red locks, Jean stares after the goddess. Even as sunlight beats down on their car, a fresh crop of black clouds begin to drift across the sky while the tell-tale percussion of a heartbeat rumbles the world around them for a moment, a second, an eternity—

— until, finally - finally - her fingers firm against Ororo's face and she practically lunges to reciprocate with parting lips and a tangible hint of defiance.

Several 'seconds' later, when the clouds have scattered but not quite departed, she pulls free to murmur, ~I don't know how this, how it's gonna work, given— with everything, but…~

Green eyes filled with excitement and fear fix on strange blue ones in lieu of any more words.


The sudden formation and disappearance of clouds doesn't affect Ororo on the psychic plane like it would in the material realm. Ororo's fingers mesh with Jean's, and that moment of anticipation gives way to a more familiar aura: the confidence of a goddess. The confidence and mild euphoria do a lot to keep any fears about psychic imagery at bay. Anyway, Jean herself just explained that these are only symbols, breaking down bigger concepts…

Which means there's nothing to worry about.

Ororo responds to the second kiss in kind, keeping her fingers twined with Jean's and putting that much more fire into the subtle motions of her lips. Her heart is beating just as hard as Jean's, though her particular powerset doesn't broadcast it through the air like muffled sonic booms. That's part of what makes Ororo who she is: that she feels these things so strongly, but keeps them pulled in to herself, focusing them rather than launching them out into the world to diffuse in the atmosphere.

~It will work how it will work,~ Ororo replies. Her hand has left Jean's chin, to cradle her cheek for a moment, and then to move downward to touch her shoulder softly. ~We will make sure of that.~ She 'sounds' so strong and sure of herself, as if the idea of anything else simply isn't possible on a conceptual level. ~We have both overcome far more difficult odds, after all.~


~This is so…~ Jean murmurs as past battles abruptly fill the sandy expanses bordering the highway with screaming Marauders, flailing carbonadium, and metal hurricanes, ~… so strange, but…~

The hand on Ororo's cheek flips over, stroking almost curiously for a beat before falling to grip the forearm near her shoulder, inches away from burning tresses. After a brisk kiss against the goddess' jaw, she quietly repeats, ~It'll work how it'll work— we'll figure it out, one way or another. Including— uh.~ Her eyes briefly fall as she swallows anxiety.

~Me sorting out my living situation, ASAP, too,~ she ruefully concludes while shifting so she can pull Ororo into a tight embrace. As her head comes to rest against the taller woman's shoulder, she adds, ~That big, weird house is nice and all, but it's downright hostile to visitors— hh. Okay. Hank's running blood tests. And I haven't felt the urge to burn anyone to death, even this guy who is getting kinda tuckered out— actually, I kinda just feel sorry for him, honestly…~ as some of that anxiety bubbles back up to quicken her pace. ~… I dunno about jumping back into teaching, but…~


Ororo accepts Jean's touches fearlessly and without any need to awkwardly adjust her own limbs. Somehow they just fit into place together, either through the innate connection of psychic correspondence, or because Ororo is just too poised and assured to dare do anything that read as unsure of herself. ~Strange… yes… but exciting. We are each discovering a new country in each other.~

Ororo has loved women before, and has never particularly struggled with her sexuality, the same way she seems to never struggle with any other part of herself. To her, that Jean is another woman is fine and natural. The strange part of this mutual attraction is that they've known each other so long, lived and fought together…

Ororo embraces Jean as tightly as the redhead embraces her, sneaking in a kiss under Jean's ear and another a bit further down her neck. One hand circles around Jean's back and the other cradles the telepath's head, stroking her red hair in an absent but fond way. ~Come home, Jean,~ Ororo says/thinks. It's a gentle thought, rather than a commanding one. ~You do not need to teach. You do not need to fight. You do not need to do anything that you are not ready for… but whatever you do, you will do supported by your friends and your family.~ Ororo leans in to kiss Jean on the temple. ~And me.~


For Jean, the strangeness - the trepidation - stems from a combination of their lengthy prior relationship and the uncertainty of her present circumstances— the same uncertainty that empowers her to ramble through nerves even as she closes her eyes and rolls her head to let Ororo do as she will. Gloved fingers loosely tangle in white hair, offering encouragement as her other hand drifts along the wind-rider's jaw and neck.

~I will, I promise,~ she quickly breathes into Ororo's ear, smiling broadly after the temple-kiss, ~but I'm gonna fight— whenever the peace breaks and things go back to normal…~ The smile recedes somewhat as torchlight and awful signs join the looping violence alongside the astral highway. Breath slowly enters her nostrils as her eyes just about shut and her body otherwise stills.

A beat later, her eyes open with a slight roll and the sand is strewn with jutting stretches - sections of rooms, stray furniture, open corrodors - of the School and X-Base.

~I'm not letting you carry it alone,~ she promises, sealing it with a kiss against the goddess' shoulder.

And then, as she purses her lips, the car lurches into motion and the wheel begins to move again.


When the landscape clears up, the battles giving way to the Professor's impeccable taste in interior decor, the way Ororo holds Jean changes subtly. Her hand moves from the back of Jean's head, and the weather with no longer holds the telepath to her shoulder… somone watching from outside might have thought it maternal, but the truth of it was that it was protective.

~We feel the same way about you, Jean,~ Ororo observes about the idea of carrying things by one's lonesome. Her cheek touches Jean's, and as the car begins to move again, Ororo brushes her lips against Jean's. As seasoned and world-weary as Ororo is, there is nothing quite so addictive as kissing someone new.

~And I think you can guess how I feel,~ Ororo adds afterward. Telepathically, it's easier to tell when her dry sense of humor is making itself known. ~I cannot promise things will ever be normal. But I promise I will make them what you need.~


Since there are no traffic cops on the Astral Plane, Jean abandons even the pretense of being ready to grab the wheel as she sinks into Ororo's embrace, basking in faith affirmed.

~I have a pretty good idea of how you feel,~ she agrees with a broad grin and a laugh after returning the kiss. Begrudgingly, she pulls herself free afterwards, straightening as one hand retreats to the wheel and the other takes up Ororo's again. ~Traffic's thinning,~ she psi-mutters, staring straight ahead with squared shoulders for a beat before loosening some and returning her attention Ororo-wards.

~I'll see you soon, for real,~ she promises with a firm squeeze. ~Warm loft and all.~

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