Title: Four by Six
Author: extra_ter2estrial
Pairing: S/J, S/E
Rating: PG
Summary: It's not Emma's picture that sits on Scott's desk. Inspired by a scene in X-Men #157.
Disclaimer: Characters belong to Marvel. I don't own them (though I wished I did).


"Listen once because this will be the only time I say this...no adjustments will be made to the team assignments! Period!"

It's just so hard to get even the slightest bit of peace and quiet around here. Emma had this oh-so-brilliant plan to get all the X-teams back together again and living here in the newly rebuilt mansion. There are so much heightened emotions and tense confrontations within this community I remember why we all agreed to break up into different teams in the first place. And as if assigning teams wasn't enough of a nightmare...

I watch the restless crowd file out, some mildly cursing. More than half of them I haven't seen in two years, at least. And if the teaching staff will prove to be a challenge to handle, I shudder to think of the students. I never did consider myself to be much of a people-person; most of the public relations was left to Jean previously. Now her work is being taken over by Emma, though she made me agree to split the workload fifty-fifty somewhat: she handles the students, I handle the staff and missions.

I haven't been in this position of running the school since Xavier faked his death to go undercover way back when it was just Warren, Hank, Bobby, Jean and me. Now it's just down to Warren, Hank, Bobby and me. The five of us literally grew up together like family. Jean was the centre of it all, the heart and soul of the X-Men. Right now, Hank declines to speak to me, that I've betrayed Jean over Emma. I know it's too soon, and as weird as it seems, I'm carrying out Jean's "death wish" for the lack of a better term. She wanted me to live; she would have understood my reasons. I died once when Jean died the first time. It's not living without loving, and Lee helped me see past my loss. I genuinely loved Lee for who she was, but I'm just sorry I can't say the same for Maddie. Maddie was just too good to be true, and behind it all, a well-laid trap, and I fell for it. Spawned a whole generation of trouble after that, pun intended. Right now, Emma is a shoulder of support, just like Lee was there for me, and we need to move on with our lives. It felt like the right thing to do, somehow. And what if Jean didn't make it back before my life expired?

I have two frames sitting on my desk. None of them are Emma's pictures. I didn't need any to remind me of her presence, or absence rather. Currently, these two frames hold the two most important people in my life, in four by six inches of colour. The first photograph is of Charles Xavier, who in all ways but blood was my father. He saved and nurtured me to the man I have become. I am grateful he gave me my life back and taught me how to live again. Jean taught me why. Her picture sits at the far end of my desk, out of reach from my piling paperwork. I felt she needed the space. I needed the space, to remind me of her presence, like she's behind me looking over while I work. Besides, this spot behind this very desk truly belongs to her. When Xavier announced his retirement, he left his entire legacy to Jean. Rightfully, the position of headmaster was hers. She entrusted it to me.

I run my thumb lightly over her never fading smile. My throat burns and my blasts incinerates a tear as I realise this is the only recent picture I will ever have of Jean. And I didn't even take this picture. I recall when Xavier reopened the institute to the world, and we needed photographs of the staff. He hired a professional to get the job done. I barely spoke five minutes to Jean on the day of the photo shoot. And I'm spending the next barren five minutes of silence staring at her portrait in two-dimension reflecting what went wrong.

Everything had been going smoothly. I got injured, Jean and I retired. We left in high hopes of starting a normal life anew. We talked about putting our superhero masks away. We talked about children. We talked about growing old together. Then we received a life-changing phone call from Xavier to go back. The same Jean who had persuaded me to leave was telling us to follow our instincts and answer that plea for help. It turned out to be more than we bargained for. Apocalypse turned my world upside-down, inside-out. Showed me things I didn't want to see. Showed me the past. Showed me the future. Jean would save me and then she would proceed to save us all, and die valiantly. In truth, I knew she was going to perish as Phoenix. And I didn't want it to happen. I didn't want it to be real. I was afraid she'd know. Apocalypse corrupted this body and I didn't want to taint hers. The Phoenix had succumbed to the dark forces of temptation. I didn't want my visions to trigger her dark inner desires.

Now there's a thought. Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix. We could've ruled the world together.

My thoughts and gaze return to Jean on my desk. Her disposition is always cheery, and she loves the camera. Reminds me of the time she was a swimsuit model. Heck, she could pull off whatever Emma decides to put on these days, with more style and dignity in stride. Emma doesn't need to know that, so it's between me and my imaginary Jean. I've learned to live with telepaths.

Earlier on, I'd thought of having one of the wedding or honeymoon shots of Jean and me on the desk. I've managed to salvage the albums. I've flipped through them a thousand times. I actually chose one of our wedding. I had it on my desk for a day, but I just couldn't bear to look at it without breaking down in a mere second. The surge of memories like a tidal wave against the dam of my breaking heart was too painful to bear. I retrieved that picture from the frame, had it laminated and placed at her memorial, along with the wild lilacs she loved so dearly. I'd put a box of chocolate-covered cherries there for good measure, but she'd never get a chance to taste it. In the mornings past first period when everyone is in class or having something to do, I'd stroll through the little collection of memorials in the mansion's backyard and say a little prayer for Jean. And how does that song go?

I'll say a little prayer for you
Forever and ever you'll stay in my heart
And I will love you
Forever and ever we never will part
And I will love you
Together forever that's how it should be
Without you will only be heartbreak for me

Everyone sees me and Emma and just assumes. My heart's been broken when Jean left. It shattered when Jean crumbled to dust in my arms, slipping through my fingers. I've cried my hardest since the Phoenix died on the blue side of the moon, ironically. I'm leaving the pieces of me to Emma for safeguarding. I need Jean to put them back together again.

I considered leaving then, the day we buried Jean. Emma was voicing her grand ideas about reopening the school when I just about had enough of all the virtuous crap that no one else in this world was thankful for. I walked away, and told her I needed the night to reconsider. I checked into a nearby motel, sat down on the bed and pulled out Jean's gold wedding band. While I knelt weeping over Jean's ashes, my tears had by chance fell and mixed into the ashes, which dissolved a hole in the middle of the pile upon contact. Lodged within her ashes was her wedding band on a well-worn chain. I never told anyone else about this. She left it just for me. I reach for mine in my pocket and put it on where it should be. I wore Jean's over mine, literally jammed it into my finger, and then cried myself to sleep. I couldn't even make one important decision. I was so weak I had to have Jean make my decision for me.

I woke up sometime later in the night, still in the previous day's attire. Lying on my back, I watched as the gold bands glistened faintly in the soft touch of the moonlight, like the stars above. I thought I saw Jean approaching, felt her fingers intertwine with mine, felt her mind seep into mine. It was a weird hallucination, like that dream I once had back in the orphanage when I was eight and saw Jean for the first time. I fell in love ever since.

I asked her if she was coming back, and she told me she needed to see me one last time before she left for a while. She told me she sacrificed to save a dying planet no one else would have. There were many Phoenixes before her, and she wouldn't be the last. But she was the first who hadn't given up on us, twice. She warned me of the distant future that held two paths, and that I was the deciding factor. She could salvage the present, but she couldn't secure the future. I wanted to be selfish; I didn't want to walk the road that broke me time and time again. One man can have his patience and will tried, and I did not care one instance that Xavier's Dream died with it. She gave me her patented piqued look which read "wrong answer", and told me I'd live and die to regret it, and something along the lines of her having to save the world all over again. I asked her again if she was coming back, she didn't answer, but just sat there and held me. Then she wanted her ring back, had to telekinetically yank it off my finger, and it hurt terribly. It fit perfectly on her as it was meant to be. We lay down and held hands. She wanted to return to a world of hope, not one of terror and destruction. She wanted me to keep the world save for her, till she returned.

I had been blinded by rage and fear; she told me I needed to embrace the love and care of those around me.

It echoes, resounding in my mind when I awaken at the crack of dawn, her wedding band in my palm. It was a symbol of all the promises I made to her.

A month later, we reopened the institute. I'd recovered some personal items from the previous mansion that had fallen, among them, some photo albums Jean had kept in the safe. I found the satin ribbon Jean and I used for the ceremony, with which I used to tie our rings together. I stashed these in the bottom drawer of my office desk, locked it, and instructed Kitty to phase the key into the drawer. I needed to keep our world safe till she returned.