DISCLAIMER: All characters belong to Marvel and are used without permission. I am making no money, and have none to begin with, so please don't sue.

WARNING: This story is rated R. A VERY FIRM R. This story contains a scene which graphically, although not as graphically as some, describes consensual sexual relations between a man and a woman, both of legal age. You have been warned. If you do not want to read about such things, or do not care to, then please, do not do so.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is set in an alternate universe, a variation of which was intended to occur but never did. If Phoenix had not died, but was instead stripped of her powers, the followup story, coming to fruition around Uncanny #150, would have involved Magneto kidnapping her and offering to restore her powers in exchange for her loyalties. She would refuse, of course. What if she didn't?

Great, big, huge thank yous to Alara Rogers for her terrific beta-reading. Her assistance, advice and imput(and prodding:) were invaluable.

If I were to tell you how utterly adored and cherished feedback is I would begin to babble incoherently and gleefully and would subsequently make a fool out of myself; so please just send me some :)

Shelter From The Storm

Sequoia Swennes

'Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood

When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud

I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form.

"Come in," she said,

"I'll give you shelter from the storm."

~Bob Dylan

Her fingertips moved lightly through the air, seeming to brush against the flickering, golden jewel that coalesced before her, becoming more real, more there with every passing moment. She turned to her captor who watched her intently, expectantly, as she struggled with her inner demons.

If she said yes, she would be losing her friends, her family, her lover, her integrity, her pride - everything in her life. If she said no, she would have no life at all, she would see to that. She could not live another moment knowing what she had lost, knowing what she could have so easily taken back.

All she had to do was touch it...

She did not believe him when he said that he was doing this as much for her as he was for him, that they were kindred spirits that must stick together, that he wanted her to rule by his side. No, she had not lost her intuition and intelligence when they had ripped her telepathy from her mind; she knew that he wanted to use her, use her as others had done, but when she looked at what she would get in return it didn't seem quite so bad.

All she had to do was touch it...

She did not trust him; she feared him, she had been taught to hate him since she was a child, not without cause, but he was the one who was offering to fix what those she had trusted had allowed to be done to her. An essential, integral piece of her being had been hacked out against her will and no price was too high to pay for its return. He knew that, which was why he was demanding what he was. He knew she would sell her soul to him if she was allowed to carry it within herself once again.

All she had to do was touch it...

She tried to resist, tried to do what others would believe was the right thing; but the craving was too strong, too undeniable. The desire to be a whole person again overwhelmed her doubts.

"I accept," she whispered, as if by keeping her voice low it made her decision easier to justify.

She touched it...

She cradled it in her hands and wept as it began to dissolve into her, filling her with such unimaginable joy and peace that she could barely stand it. And then it seemed to explode and her world went black as the power rushed through her, healing her. For the moment.

He watched her fall to the ground and stood over her, triumphant, his feelings toward her a mixture of revulsion and pity. She had been weak to give in, to make the easy choice; but he could clearly see her reasons. Not all of what he had told her was a lie; he did indeed burn with anger at the injustice that had been done to her when Xavier had allowed his woman to take her powers. No one deserved such punishment, not even a sworn enemy; yet Xavier, who professed to love and care for his students, had willingly assigned one of them to a fate worse than death.

He wondered how they could dare to call HIM inhuman.

She awoke slowly, not knowing where she was, not remembering what had happened until she looked out the window and saw the earth, slowly, hypnotically spinning on it's axis. The events of the last two days flooded back to her; and the joy of having what was lost returned was overshadowed by the knowledge of how she had achieved it.

"Oh, God, what have I done?" she whispered, horrified.

She could leave now, masking her departure from his mind; and once she was free, he wouldn't be able to do anything at all, now that she had her powers back. She could go home.

But would they want her home, knowing what she had done, what she was capable of?

Could she even face them?

Could she face herself, if she did not keep her promise to this man, as terrible as it was?

No. The die had been cast last night. There was no going back.

She fell back on the bed, tears of regret and fear and self-hatred soaking into the pillow.

He looked up as she entered the room, slightly taken aback to see her so outwardly composed. He had heard her crying and had expected her to try and escape, or at least beg him puerilely to let her go. Instead, she did neither, honoring her promise with a stoic grace he had not imagined she possessed. A trait he would have admired, had he not noticed the barely contained rage in her eyes. She was a tempermental child after all.

She regarded him with cool silence as he welcomed her to her new home, outlining the rules she would be expected to follow, reminding her once again that it was futile to attempt to escape.

"I won't escape, Magneto," she said with all the pride she could muster. "I gave my word."

"Why do you believe what you do?" she asked, not taking her eyes off her book.

He seemed startled. She had been here for weeks and this was the first time she had tried to strike up a conversation, or shown any interest at all in his dream or his methods. He quickly recovered and stood, pacing the length of the room.

"Why do you wish to know, Phoenix? Have you decided to help me carry out my plans willingly?"

"No. I just want to know why. I want to understand how you could think mutants ruling the world, oppressing humans, is any better than the opposite."

He detected a slight mocking edge in her voice and felt his anger flare. "The difference is that I would not be 'oppressing' humans. Mutants can rise above such predjudices; we can save humans from themselves. They have had thousands of years to solve their problems, and look at what they have accomplished. Children are starving, petty wars destroy the lives of thousands upon thousands. We can rise above that, create a world where all men are free, and mutants will not suffer the same fate as other groups throughout history. We can create an utopia."

"You're wrong, Magneto. Can't you see that if you have a mutant ruling class, all men are not free? Not equal? You're proposing a revolution, but if you succeed, someone will inevitably revolt against you, and succeed."

"I never said all men would be equal. That is a fool's dream. All men are not equal, and can never be. But that does not mean that they cannot all be free, all treated with respect, all awarded the same basic rights. Humans have been given the chance to make this happen, and they have failed. It is our turn now; and those that oppose it, now or later, will be sacrificed for the common good."

She threw her book down, stood and faced him. "Sacrificed for the common good? That's your idea of an utopia? Anyone who speaks against you and *your* idea of what is best for the world is to be silenced? Who appointed you God?"

"What makes my vision any different or any worse than that of Xavier's?" he demanded. "His is a fool's hope, the idealistic ravings of a man out of touch with reality and humanity. He also wants to use force; he wants to force humans and mutants to live together, to get along, no matter what the cost --"

"That's not what he does at all!" she shot back, furious. "He tries to show them that they're the same, equal, that there's no reason to be afraid of the other. He wants people to come to the decision to get along peacefully on their own; and he believes they can do it. He isn't out of touch with humanity, he speaks to the best of it; while you and your 'vision' appeal only to the lowest common denominator."

The air around him crackled with electro-magnetic energy; but she held her ground, looking at him defiantly. "How dare you speak to me this way, woman?! You have no right!"

Her firebird effect flashed into being and deflected his energy blast. "I have every right, Magneto! I am a person, the same as you!"

To her surprise, he laughed. She looked at him suspiciously as she caught her breath. "What's so funny?"

"You are," he responded, amused. "You asked who appointed me God, because of what I believe, and what I do. Well, Phoenix, who appointed you God when you decided to kill an entire race? Five billion lives ended forever, a world destroyed, on the whim of a psychotic woman. You have no room to pass judgement on me."

For a brief moment she looked as though she would burst into tears, and then her anger returned, sure and strong, and she lashed out at him with everything she had, driving him across the room into the far wall with a force that put her display of power in Antartica to shame. His shields held and he braced himself for another attack while gathering his strength for a return blow large enough to take her out at once; but instead of pressing her advantage, she turned and ran from the room.

He started to follow her; then realized that her attack had been comprised solely of the telekinetic aspect of her powers. She hadn't tried to invade or damage his mind, it had not been a calculated attempt to kill him, it had been the equivilent of a punch in the face. He would talk to her about the ramifications of her lack of respect and self-control later.

His words had cut deep into her already wounded soul and she tossed and turned, unable to sleep. He was right, she had played God. She had commited sins far more grievious and heinous than anything he had ever conceived, and yet she still presumed to judge him. She was lucky he hadn't killed her. She wished that he had.

She wished for death every moment of every day and had done so since the night she had murdered the D'Bari. They said that if you tried to kill yourself and failed, you weren't really trying. Maybe it was true. She had almost succeeded, on the moon, but had woken up to the hellish life of a normal human instead. Several weeks later she overdosed on her sleeping pills; but unfortunately Scott had found her in time. He didn't understand that she didn't want to live, that she didn't think of this second chance at life as a gift. She hated every second of it. It was a little easier to bear now that she had her powers back; but the nightmares were worse than ever.

Every time she closed her eyes her mind was taken over by the screams and fire and death and pain, and worst of all, the pleasure she had derived from the experience. She made herself sick. Compared to her, Magneto was a saint.

She didn't come out of her room for three days. When she did, she found him working out in the small gym and hesitated before knocking on the half open door. He was doing pullups, and seeing him involved in something so utterly normal and mundane made her realize, for the very first time, that he was human. He wasn't a mysterious figure of evil, he was a man; and like any other man he must have hopes and fears and secrets and failures.

She rapped lightly on the door and he stopped what he was doing but didn't acknowledge her presence. She entered anyway.

"I'm sorry," she told him sincerely. "I'm sorry for the things I said, for not giving you the respect I would give any other person, and for attacking you. It won't happen again, I promise."

"I would hope not." He reached for his shirt and pulled it on; but not before she caught a glimpse of a line of numbers running down his arm. A tattoo of some kind. It struck a chord in her memory, but she couldn't place it.

He wiped the sweat off his face with a towel and ran a hand through his short white hair. She noticed, with no small degree of surprise, that he was handsome. Before this morning she had considered him to be completely asexual and unattractive. Now, looking at him in a whole new light, she found him quite appealing. She blushed inwardly at the thought and stammered out another apology for her rashness of the other night.

He looked at her quizzically. "Apology accepted, Phoenix. We were both upset and said things we regreted."

Was that an apology? Coming from the Master of Magnetism?

"Please," she said, "call me Jean."

"Very well." He turned as he left the room. "You may call me Magnus, if you wish."

Puzzled, he went to the kitchen and got himself an apple for breakfast. She had changed. There had been genuine respect in her voice and eyes, not something she was forcing for his benefit, not something mocking. She was treating him like a human being, not her arch enemy. She no longer seemed to be afraid of him either.

While disconcerted, he found he was not upset by the change. Things would be less tense for certain, which would be a pleasant change of pace. She had made the first step toward civility, the least he could do would be to accord her the same respect. Maybe there was hope for their partnership after all.

She awoke with a muffled scream, kicking and tearing at the bedsheets which she had become entangled in. Her heart was pounding in her chest, threatening to burst, her mind echoing with the taunts and accusations of the D'Bari. She had dreamed she had visited them in hell, for when she had killed them she had somehow condemned them; and they had dragged her down with them, telling her she was a part of them; and then to make it true in every way they had begun to eat her, ripping her apart with their sharp teeth and feasting upon her flesh, toasting each other with her blood.

These nightmares drained her completely and this was one of the worst. Even though she was awake, she thought she could still feel their hands grabbing at her body. Panicking, she brushed herself off and then realized that she wasn't feeling her nightmare, she was feeling his.

She must have unconsciously picked up on his torment and incorporated it into her own. Ashamed at her eavesdropping, she severed the link between them; but not before one last image branded itself onto her mind.

A swastika.

The missing piece of the puzzle.

With shocking swiftness, everything fell into place - the tattoo, the nightmares, the talk of not letting history repeat itself, his inability to allow himself to get close to anyone, his need to show no weakness, no matter how slight. He had been a victim of the Holocaust. She still didn't agree with his methods or views; but she understood them now, understood him, and that was enough. She wanted to go to him and tell him that she understood, apologize for not seeing it before, for being so cruel, for not thinking he might have a reason as serious as that for his actions; but she knew he would feel betrayed if she did. The past weeks of tentative peace between them would be irreparably damaged and she didn't want that. Most of all, she didn't want to hurt him.

His world was filled with the crimson wash of blood, the stench of rotting flesh, and the rapid staccato bursts of gunfire. Bodies falling into graves atop even more bodies, himself among them, feeling them suffocating him with their weight; and then they would begin to move of their own accord, clawing at him with skeletal hands from which tattered remains of skin and muscle hung, brushing sickeningly against his face, catching in his hair. He would scream, only to find he now had bits of the dead in his mouth, and he clenched his jaw tightly shut as the terror engulfed him, as he was dragged deep into the roiling, putrid mass and the world above was forever lost from view, the soldiers gone as he had prayed they would be; but not like this, oh no, not like this --

Gagging and gasping, Magnus awoke, clutching at the pillows as he desperately tried to shake off the last vestiges of the dream, the horror still clinging to him as completely as the bony embrace of death.

"I have nightmares too," she said quietly, almost reflectively.

He jerked upright in bed, his eyes adjusting slowly to the darkened room. He could see her sitting at the window, bathed at once in starlight and shadow, creating an effect both chilling and intriguing.

"What are you doing in here, woman?" he demanded, part of him infuriated that she had come, part glad he wasn't alone in the night.

She turned her head, looked at him. "I told you. I have nightmares too." Her eyes were distant and sad, the fire having been defeated by her own mind's nocturnal creations. It was as if he were gazing into a mirror.

He rolled over, his back to her, waiting for her to leave on her own. He didn't feel like fighting tonight; and although he would never admit it, he found her presence comforting. She was alive, keeping the dead at bay.

He heard the faint sound of rustling satin as she crossed the room and curled herself up at the end of his bed. "I couldn't sleep," she explained. "I was afraid. I thought you might be too."

"I'm not afraid, Jean," he responded. "They're just dreams. They can't hurt you."

"Don't lie to me, Magnus. I know you hurt. You don't need to be a telepath to see that." There was no challenge in her words, no accusation. Only understanding.

He raised himself on one elbow and looked down at her. "If you expect me to break down and begin sharing my deepest secrets, you can leave now."

"I never asked you to share anything, Magnus. I know you never would. I just don't want to be alone." She paused, sighed. "I don't think you do either. Is a little company so bad?"

"I suppose not." He was surprised to hear himself speak the words, words that might result in letting a woman in, something he had not done since Isabelle.

Isabelle. He looked at the woman on his bed, and thought she looked like Isabelle, and his heart caught in his throat as he wondered why he had never seen it before. No, it was a mistake. There was a certain similarity in the line of her nose, the curve of her bottom lip, a faint resemblance given credence by the half-light in which she sat, nothing more.

"Would you like to talk about your nightmare?" he asked, half wanting to know, half dreading what she would share.

"It's hard to put into words," she said, averting her eyes. "I hear the screams, smell the death, and I know I should be the one dead. Not them."

He thought of Magda, Anya, Isabelle. He should be the one dead, not them.

"It's such a strange feeling. Most of me abhors what I did; but part of me remembers it fondly, likes it, wouldn't mind doing it again," she laughed, a laugh utterly devoid of humor, one that cut into him deeply as it turned to silent tears and he tentatively reached out his hand.

She raised her head, looking at him questioningly, as if she couldn't believe he was trying to connect with her. He couldn't quite believe it himself.

"I hear the screams," he whispered. "They echo in my mind every waking moment and reach a fever pitch when I sleep."

She moved closer to him on the bed and took his hand in hers, pressing it against her cheek. He was startled by this simple, intimate act and started to pull back, then stopped. The feel of her skin against his was both comforting and exciting, something he had not experienced since the night Isabelle was murdered. His guard rapidly crumbling, he took her chin in his other hand and kissed her softly. After a moment she began to return his kiss, opening her mouth to him. The feel of her tongue against his snapped him back to reality and he pushed her away.

"What is it?" she inquired. "What did I do?"

"I'm sorry," he replied, turning away from her. "You had better leave."

"Why?" She moved behind him, her hands on his broad shoulders, her body close against him. "You kissed me, Magnus. I know you want more; I can see it in your mind, your eyes, feel it in your kiss, your hands. Why did you push me away?"

"You wouldn't understand," he said quietly. "It's not something I want to discuss either, so please, just leave. Forget this ever happened."

"If that's what you want." She kissed the top of his head and he tried to ignore the sensations caused by her silken hair brushing against him. "Magnus," she said as she walked toward the door, "I know that letting someone touch you is the hardest thing in the world; but it's not the worst. We all need to touch, to be touched. Even you."

"I know."

She paused, her hand on the knob, and turned to face him again. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, the sheet pulled over his lap, head in his hands. She crossed the room and stood in front of him. "Would you like me to stay?" she asked, knowing the answer. He was torn between what he wanted and his fear of appearing vulnerable; and she hoped he wouldn't allow his fear to win out.

After a moment he nodded and she knelt at his feet, leaning her head against him as he entwined his fingers in her scarlet hair. "This is serious," he said, "I need to know you feel the way I do. I do not take things such as this lightly."

"Neither do I." She trailed a finger slowly down his bare leg to his foot as her eyes met his. "I'm not an idealistic, naive child. I'm not asking you to fall in love with me, or even to be there in the morning. But what I do promise you is that I see the meaning in this; and I will never use it against you, or hurt you with it; and the same promise from you is all I ask in return. We both ache inside, Magnus, there's no need to make this part of the pain."

"I promise," he replied, tentatively moving his hands to the soft skin of her arms, pulling her up against him, his mouth finding hers once again as he gave in to his growing passion. Her body was warm and supple; she smelled of lilacs and tasted of almonds and he felt himself relaxing, trusting, despite his initial misgivings. It had been so long since he had loved a woman like this. Since he had felt safe enough to do so. He smiled against her mouth at the irony of it, that of all the women in the world, she was the one who had been able to get him to lower his defenses after all this time.

He was startled at how aggressive she was, her hands exploring his body as her tongue familiarized itself with his mouth. She was different from the few other women he had been with, a point reinforced when she moved her mouth to his neck as she wriggled out of the chemise she was wearing, pressing her firm breasts against his bare chest. He closed his eyes as she kissed down to his shoulder, running her tongue lightly over his collarbone.

She slid her body down his, her mouth pausing to tease his nipples, and then slipping lower. He gasped and took her by the shoulders as he stood, pulling her up with him, trying to regain control of the situation. He picked her up and laid her on the bed, reclining next to her as he ran his hands over her body, eliciting a breathless moan when he covered one breast with his questing mouth. She remained relatively passive beneath him for a few moments before pushing against him, adding her telekinesis to her natural strength and flipping him over onto his back.

"That's better," she murmured with a smile as her mouth and hands continued their previous journey down his body; and he tried to relax and enjoy himself. She was obviously enjoying it, why should he have such a problem allowing her to be in control? It was just different, he told himself, he wasn't used to it. He most certainly wasn't used to the feel of her soft lips and darting tongue against his rigid manhood; and so startled was he by both what she was doing and by the wild, almost uncontrollable desire it sparked in him that he sat up abruptly, pushing himself back across the bed and away from her.

She could sense his embarrassment, his injured sense of propriety. She had gone too far too soon; but he seemed just as upset with himself as he was with her. Astonished, she realized that what she had done was a new experience for him. "I'm sorry," she told him, carefully weighing her words so that she didn't make the situation worse. "I didn't mean to upset you; I was only trying to please you. I won't do it again."

Let us not be too hasty.

She fought back a smile at his stray thought and regarded him solemnly. He relaxed slightly and cleared his throat. "Forgive me, Jean. I did not mean to insult you. You must understand that regardless of my current physical appearance, I am of another generation entirely, a fact which may account for my old-fashioned ways."

She felt his statement was only half true - yes, he was much older and less open about sex than herself and her contemporaries; but there was also nothing spontaneous or experimentative about it for him. He enjoyed it but he could not lose himself in it because of the grave seriousness he lent to the act. He would go about it in a ritualistic and systematic way, because that was what he was used to; it was what made him feel safe and comfortable. And since she had come to his chambers expressly for the purpose of comforting him, it wouldn't do to make him suddenly change his patterns and habits to be more in keeping with what she was used to. She would indulge him, the first time.

"I understand," she told him with a smile. "Why don't you take the lead?"

He hesitated, looking at her warily, as though he expected her to try and jump him; but when she made no move toward him, he leaned forward and kissed her again, softly and gently this time; but with no less hunger.

She allowed him lay her back down upon the bed and gave herself up to the magical sensations caused by his lips, tongue, and fingers as he explored her body slowly and tenderly. Part of her rebelled against his measured and prolonged approach, longing to enjoy him fully and completely without delay; but she found that she was also revelling in the perfection of his actions. As methodical as he was, he had mastered the art of foreplay; and the delicious flawlessness of his attentions soon found her shivering in delight and pleasure. It was also apparent that his desire was heightened by her reaction to his ministrations; and she felt him growing more aroused with every moan, sigh, and whispered endearment that escaped her lips. He would not be satisfied unless he was positive that she was.

She arched her back and laced her fingers more tightly in his soft white hair as the tremors of her second orgasm rocked through her body like a tidal wave of heat, driving out all coherent thought and nearly shattering the psi-shields she had erected to protect him. He planted one last, lazy kiss on the inside of her thigh and raised his head, positioning himself over her body as she reached up and pulled his mouth down to hers, drinking deeply of his lips, loving the taste of herself on them.

He broke the kiss and gazed down upon her, the need she saw in his eyes burning deep into her. "No second thoughts?" he asked, his voice strained from his supreme effort at self-control. She smiled, knowing that if she said yes, even now, he would stop. The man could be infuriating, bull-headed, and frightening; but he was also kind, noble, and gentle. How had she never seen it before in all these years?

"None." She kissed him again, lingeringly. "What about you, Magnus? Are you sure?"

"Yes, I am."

"Then what are we waiting for?" she grinned, spreading her legs wider and tilting her hips up, encouraging him to enter her; and he complied with no hesitation, moaning as he slid into her warmth until he was buried to the hilt. She cried out, a mixture of pleasure and pain, and he paused, supporting himself on strong arms, looking down at her with concern.

"Did I hurt you?" he asked, his brow furrowed.

She shook her head. "No, not really. It's not the kind of pain I mind." Before he could respond she wrapped her legs around his hips, gripping him with her slender thighs and digging her heels into the small of his back, urging him even further into her.

They began slowly, unsure, experimenting with different rhythms until they found one that suited them both, getting used to the way their bodies fit together, savoring every new sensation they invoked in each other. She remained true to her word, allowing him to choose what he was most comfortable with, losing herself in him as she matched him thrust for thrust, flex for flex, grinding her hips against him in desire for more. He retained some control, making love to her with confidence; memorizing the clear and beautiful lines of her face, gradually increasing the tempo of his thrusts until they were both frantic and breathless; and she threw her head back against the pillows, crying out his name as she came, her climax pushing him over the edge. He gave a great shuddering gasp as he spilled his seed within her; and he collapsed on top of her, his face buried in her damp, sweet smelling hair.

She held him tightly as they took their time catching their breath and he rolled over onto his back, taking her with him. She nestled against him in the shelter of his arms as he absentmindedly ran his fingers over her shoulder. "Jean," he asked after several minutes of silence, "what did you mean, before, when you said it wasn't the kind of pain you minded?"

She sighed and kissed his chest lightly. "I don't know if I can explain it properly. There are different kinds of pain. There is the kind that's in your heart, the kind that knocks the wind out of you and leaves a gaping hole in the center of your soul. The kind you would do anything to be free of and wouldn't wish on your greatest enemy." She raised herself up on one elbow and looked at him directly. "Then there's physical pain; and it's not so bad in comparison. Some kinds, like the slight pain that sometimes comes from being with a man, are bittersweet. It's a reminder of who you are, what you're doing, what it was like the very first time. And for me it's almost a blessing, because it takes away the pain I feel right here," she told him, pressing her hand over her heart.

He was suddenly overcome by how young she was, and how much she had suffered in such a short time; and he felt an overwhelming need to protect her, and never let her be hurt again. It was a fleeting notion however, as he reminded himself of who she was and what she was doing here. She was immensely powerful, she didn't need his protection any more than he needed hers; and yet there was something about her, an elusive, tragic quality that made him yearn to forget what he knew of her and strive to know the woman within. He knew that he did indeed feel affection for her; and while the realization of this was brand new, he also sensed that the emotion itself was not. It was something that had been building almost imperceptibly for the last few weeks, fueled by their close proximity and growing awareness of each other; and while it was not love, it was *something*, something he had not felt in decades, something dearly missed.

"Was I able to make it hurt a little less?" he inquired, placing his hand over her heart as well.

"Yes," she nodded, "but it still aches. It always will."

"I don't doubt that." He turned onto his side and she lay down again, facing him. "You eased my pain as well. For a moment, I almost forgot who I was."

She bit her lip thoughtfully. "I wish for that all the time," she told him quietly. "I want to lose sight of who I am and what I've done; but I never wish I were someone else. It seems like something I should do, I mean, who in their right mind would want to be me?" She smiled wryly. "Maybe that's why I feel the way I do, because I'm not in my right mind."

He kissed her forehead softly. "Who decides what is 'right'? You have had your troubles, to be sure, but now you seem no less sane than I."

She raised an eyebrow, thought the better of commenting on that, and kissed him instead, hooking her leg over his hip and launching herself at him so that she was straddling his well muscled abdomen. He pulled his mouth away to protest. "Jean, I --"

"Shush. You have to learn that it's all right to trust someone else completely. You have to let others in or you will destroy yourself. I know, I've been there. I can see that happening to you, and it frightens me."

"Does it? Do you care that much?"

"I do."


She hesitated. "Because I see myself in you," she responded sadly, tracing the line of his jaw with her fingers. "I didn't want to; but I did and there's no turning back from that. I see who you are in a different way as well; you're not the same villian I grew up fighting. You're a man I think I want to learn about. A man who has saved me from myself. A man for whom I'd like to do the same."

"Do you think you can?"

"Only if you'll let me."

"I will...try."


"That's all I ask." She kissed him again, carefully, almost chastely. "I want to help you, Magnus. I honestly do."

"I know," he assured her, even though he was still not quite sure why she did. He got the distinct feeling that she was leaving something out on purpose, something she did not want him to know.

"Let me make love to you," she whispered into his ear, nibbling lightly on the lobe. "I want to make you forget yourself."

"I would like nothing better," he breathed, as he clutched her to him, her body molded to his. He tried to calm the gnawing apprehension that stemmed from making himself so vulnerable to another person, and willed himself to relax under the slight weight of her frame. He knew that she was right; it had been far too long since he had last allowed himself the luxury of surrender. He worried he had forgotten how.

If it had escaped his memory, she soon reminded him, moving languidly over him, giving to him in the same way that he had given to her earlier; and he felt the anguish and fears and anger melt out of him, if only for the moment. She was adept at knowing what was needed and wanted, her strong, slender hands and warm mouth leaving not an inch of his body untouched as she joyfully went about taking his mind off of everything but the moment and what she was doing to him.

And when at last he came, it felt as though his soul was pouring out of him as well, entwining with hers, forging a hold that could never be broken, no matter what would come after. She held his eyes with hers until he quieted, until he reached up to cup her face in his hand and whispered, "Thank you."

She bowed her head. "You've made me feel alive again, Magnus. You've given me a reason to care again, one that I can hold onto. And for that I thank you. I think I'm going to be all right."

"Yes," he told her. "You will be. We both will."