Title:Midnight Clear

Author: Dandelion (Dandelion@aol.com)

URL:http://jenali.hispeed.com/dandelion/index.htm

Disclaimer: None of these characters belong to me. They are all the property of Marvel Entertainment and are being used without permission. This is a non-profit venture but it's been fun.

This is an Alchemy story, which takes place post-Revolution in canon. Scott's dead and things are a bit different. Here are the stories in chronological order:

This is part of the 2000 Holiday Project. It's always nice when our little community can come together, isn't it? You might notice that this story has a title that's freakishly similar to the Holiday Fic written by Alicia McKenzie. That was not planned but, rather, seemed to come out of the brain-sharing project we seem to be involved in these days. Strange, eh?


The freeway was empty which meant I was running out of time.

It was okay, though, because I was just south of Poughkeepsie which in its turn was just south of Annandale-on-Hudson.

I was actually quite late. I should have been there a week ago. Jean flew up from New Orleans to spend Christmas with her parents and I was supposed to have gone with her.

Instead, I let myself fall into old habits. Old wounds that resurfaced, new guilt that hadn't gone away, me just being stupid -- I guess I'm lucky that Mercy decided to stick her nose in when she did and kick me out of the house.

Everyone needs a sister-in-law to kick them in the head when they're asking for it.

"What're you doin', Remy-boy?"

"Eh?"

"Why are you still here? You should be far up in the frozen north with that red-headed Yankee snippet of yours." Mercy's voice was warm when she referred to Jean. They seemed to have a good relationship.

"I know," I sighed. "I know. But I'm here."

"Because of Bel."

I rubbed my eyes. Mercy has been around the block a few times. She knows what's what. Usually, it's a pain in the ass but this time I really needed someone to know what was wrong without actually having to say it.

"Go to New York," Mercy examined her fingernails as she spoke, giving her words the added weight of a 'this-is-so-obvious-I'm-not-even-wasting-a-complete-thought-on-it' air. I take it back. Mercy's a pain in the ass all the time. "You aren't doing anybody any good by staying here. Bel doesn't even want you here. She's just acting out."

Bel was the crux of the matter. She was my ex-wife and, therefore, I felt a strange sense of duty towards her despite the fact that we'd both moved on from our ill-fated relationship. Add to that the fact that she was the Guildmistress of the Assassins and, therefore, someone I worked with closely and regularly.

Then there was the added bonus of what happened to Jason.

Bel had fallen in love a few short months ago. The guy she fell in love with had made some fatal errors and we accepted a contract on his life. It was an excruciating ordeal all around. The guy she fell in love with was dead now because of a decision I made in order to protect the Guilds. Meanwhile, I was in happily in love with Jean.

"Considering my role in Jason's--"

"Jason is dead because of mistakes he made," Mercy snapped. "You did what you had to do and so did Bel. She isn't blameless here, either. That the biggest thing she's struggling with right now. She's manipulating you because she can and you're letting her. She's hurting and lashing out at a convenient target, you," as if I hadn't caught that already, "but she's only doing it because she doesn't know what else to do. Go to New York. You aren't helping her. What you're doing is only hurting Jean and yourself."

I just looked at her.

"You best hurry, Remy-boy, your time is running out. I'll keep an eye on Bel," a pained look flashed across Mercy's face. "I know something about what she's going through."

"I guess you do." Mercy didn't talk much about Henri, preferring to do her grieving in solitude. I didn't mention him to her, either, since it seemed to hurt her so much. "So, I guess I'd better go."

She nodded. "Drive careful, petit."

Well, that at least I was trying to do.

I shouldn't have let Bel manipulate me the way she did but I was still dealing with my role in her current situation. I was easy to manipulate, I admit. I hadn't expected to be such a sucker, though. All it took was a few resentful looks from haunted eyes and I caved. I caved because I was going to spend a holiday I didn't care about with a woman I did. I was going to be happy in the arms of the woman I loved, who loved me, who wasn't dead and didn't hate me for the death sentence I passed onto another man.

Bel didn't have her happiness and I did. Bel remains important to me so I fell into her haunted eyes and kept putting off my trip to Annandale-on-Hudson at the expense of Jean. I guess I figured that Jean would forgive me and I was probably right.

That didn't make my decision the right one, though.

Of course, part of it may have had something to do with the season.

Christmas didn't mean all that much to me. The songs didn't make me feel warm, the decorations didn't entice me and the specials on television did nothing for me at all. I never really had the chance to get into the spirit of things. I don't think that was really my fault. It wasn't anyone's fault, it was just the hand I was dealt.

Slavery and street-life for the first ten years of your life don't inspire a belief in Santa Claus.

Christ, I was fourteen years old before I stopped looking at the Salvation Army Santas on the street as a way to make a buck. Jean-Luc had a hell of a time getting that out of me. He was appalled by my complete lack of class in stealing from charity.

Like I even knew what charity was when I came into his home.

Jean-Luc did his best to create Christmas in those days but he wasn't really into it, either. We gave presents, we decorated the house, but there was always the feeling that we were all going through the motions. It turned out we were. Henri told me that his mother, Jean-Luc's wife, was killed on Christmas Eve years before in an Assassins' raid and ever since the holiday had been very difficult for them to celebrate. They were just trying for my sake.

So the LeBeau family Christmases weren't anything they'd be making a heartwarming special out of. After a couple of years we stopped trying and just let it come and go.

The problem was that after Jean-Luc adopted me I started to feel like maybe the holiday should mean something to me. After Henri told me about some of the Christmases he shared with his parents with a deep sense of loss in his voice I knew that it meant something to them once. When I'd see Jean-Luc staring at the portrait of his wife with this aching look of loss in his eyes I knew that he was mourning more than just her death. When I'd see strangers on the street be a little nicer to each other I'd wish the season would inspire the same thing in me. When children would light up at the sight of Santa Claus I'd quell the instinct that made me want to rob him blind and wonder if I'd ever stop looking at him as a mark.

The holidays with the X-Men were even worse. Each year was so full of noise, clashing traditions, frayed nerves and too much of everything I'd just want to take off to the city and go underground for a couple of months. Instead, I'd stay and fake it and get falling down drunk on New Year's Eve to make up for it all, thankful that I wouldn't have to deal with the noise and the crowds and the over-indulgence of holiday spirit for another year.

Jean loves Christmas.

It's only been the last couple of years that I've come to realize how much.

We hadn't had the opportunity to really spend Christmas together yet. The first two years after Scott died she still had her own emotions to deal with and last year we were in the middle of the Genoshan Accords. This year, though, Jean was determined to get it right. We were going to spend Christmas together at her parents' house and, according to her, it was going to be wonderful.

The way she talked about it really got to me. For the first time I got an idea of what the holiday meant to people who had grown up with something real and tangible rather than a sense of obligation. Jean told stories about gingerbread house decorating and ice-skating. She sang silly versions of Christmas carols and re-enacted the skits the she and her sister used to put on for the family. She glowingly described how they decorated the house and the tree.

I wanted to see it all and be a part of it all. It was intimate, it was genuine.

But then I started to worry. Maybe, despite it all, I wouldn't feel anything. Maybe I was a lost cause at Christmas. I didn't want to go to New York and not be moved and hurt Jean's feelings.

I got cold feet and willingly slipped into the pool of guilt that Bel had waiting for me.

Mercy likes to get on my case about how I shoulder so much responsibility. She laughs at how I weigh myself down with guilt and obligation because I don't know how to be happy. She may have a point. Even in Jean's arms I find myself thinking sometimes that this happiness I've found with her came at the expense of Scott's life. Maybe I don't know how to be happy. That's a depressing thought.

I shook my head in the car. What maudlin crap, I thought. This must be a sign that I'm getting older. I never would have sit still for such insipid psychological insight before. Never mind that I was trapped in a car with myself for the last twenty-four hours, hopped up on Starbucks Coffee, trying desperately to get to Annandale-on-Hudson before midnight.

The closer I got the more anxious I became. Would Jean be surprised? Well, yes, of course she would. As of yesterday I still wasn't coming and my cel-phone had been on "meeting" since I started this trip so she could only leave messages rather than actually speak to me. Would she kick the shit out of me? Probably, and I'd deserve it for being such a moronic schmuck. Would she be happy to see me? God, I hoped so.

I missed her. I woke up in the morning with pillows clutched to me trying to simulate the feel of her warm body against mine. It didn't work at all. Her side of the bed was cold. I missed her singing in the shower. I missed the smell of her on my clothes.

It had only been a week. I guess I was really hung up on this one. I laughed at my own understatement.

I was getting punchy. Driving for a full day will do that. There was a light at the end of the tunnel, though. The next exit was the one I was looking for. It was a little after 11:00 and it looked like I was going to make it before the deadline.

It was a Christmas Miracle.

That elicited another chuckle at my own expense.

All sarcasm aside, the closer I got the more I found myself looking forward to it all. Cold feet I may have had but at this point all I was interested in was seeing the look on my girl's face when she saw me. And I wanted to give Christmas a real try. The Greys were as real as I could get. John and Elaine were good people who had welcomed me into their home and lives with all the warmth I could have hoped for. Gailyn and Joey were terrific kids. Even if they weren't I would have liked them anyway. Kids are my Achilles heel. I have no defense against them.

I have even less against Jean.

Every few moments the last message I got from her would echo in my head. A long silence followed by a whispered "Dammit, Remy..." and a click.

If I were still in New Orleans and not a few minutes away from her I'd feel horribly shamed from that one. As it was, I couldn't wait to surprise her.

The street that the Greys lived on was tastefully festive. Electric candles lit each front window and a large wreath adorned each front door. Most houses had their tree lights turned off since it was so late. I stopped the car and sat there for a moment faced with a dilemma I hadn't previously thought of.

How to get in.

Not that getting into locked houses was a problem for me but I was pretty sure that breaking and entering was not in the Christmas spirit. Even if it was people I knew. Actually, I'm pretty sure the fact that I knew the residents of the house made it even less Christmasy than normal.

I got out of the car and looked at the house some more, thinking that surprising Jean would probably even out the lack of holiday spirit that breaking into the house would bring. I moved to the trunk to get my things out still pondering this problem.

The front door flew open, the storm door slammed against the wall and Jean came soaring out.

Time seemed to slow down for me then. I could just watch her running towards me. She was as near a living flame as I'd ever seen and I wanted to capture this memory for all time. She was wearing red and green plaid flannel pajamas. She had a robe on that looked like it had been thrown on in a hurry. On her feet were those slippers she shuffled around in all the time that kept her feet warm and caused her to build up all kinds of static electricity to zap me with.

The red-blooded, lowest-common-denominator male part of me noticed she wasn't wearing a bra. Merry. Christmas.

But her face, her face was almost indescribable. Her eyes were so bright. Her cheeks were flushed and the smile on her face was unmitigated joy.

And I discovered that I was smiling, too. I'm pretty sure that mine matched hers in pure emotion. I felt amazing. I felt like everything was right. Everything.

Jean ran up to me and vaulted into my arms, wrapping her legs around my waist with a squeal and kissed me over and over and over. I laughed, holding her in my arms, feeling perfectly content.

Maybe I didn't know how to be happy but this was as close as I'd ever been to it in my entire life.

"I knew you'd come," she told me, half whispering, half giggling.

"I didn't know I'd come."

She shook her head, framing my face with her hands. "I knew." She scrunched down in my arms to hug me and I felt her eyelashes against my cheek. I wanted to hold her like that forever despite the cold, despite the long hours of driving that had left me exhausted, despite Christmas coming. I wanted to hold her forever.

Jean straightened up again, touching my face and gazing down at me. "You've got stuff in the car?"

I nodded.

She wiggled out of my arms. "Let's get your things and get you inside." Her stride was almost a skip as she pulled me towards the trunk. "Everyone's going to be so happy you made it. They're all going to be so surprised."

"I'm surprised they aren't awake already the way you slammed that front door coming out," I grinned.

Jean tossed her head. "Pfft. Telepath tricks, cher. They're all snug in their beds with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads."

"You're devious, woman." I pulled out my bag out of the car then locked it.

"I'm selfish!" Jean grabbed me into a tight hug again. "I want you to myself! I want to kick your ass and kiss you like crazy! You are so infuriating!!"

"Love you, too, Green-Eyes."

"Inside." She jerked her thumb over her shoulder with a grin.

We went in the house and I looked around while Jean made sure everything was locked up tight. The Christmas tree was still plugged in and I found myself drawn to its soft light. It was so quiet. The fireplace glowed with dying embers gently illuminating the stockings that were hung on the mantle.

"Are these homemade?"

Jean took my hand as she came up beside me. "They are. Mom made them for all of us." She reached forward and fingered one stocking with the name "Sara" embroidered on it. "We put this one up still because," she paused, "because she's still with us. Especially at this time of year. It's good to remember, I think."

So different from Jean-Luc's painful reminders of the wife he lost.

So different in every way.

I felt embraced by the house and everyone in it. It was intimate and, most of all, real.

"I bet you're tired," Jean tucked herself under my arm. "You drove all the way?"

I nodded. "Yes to both."

"Well, we'd better get to bed," she laughed softly. "Besides, if we don't go to sleep soon Santa will skip us." Her eyes still glowed as she looked at me. "I'm so glad you made it, Remy."

"So am I, Green-Eyes."

She held onto my hand and led me to the stairs. I paused, looking at the doorway to the kitchen and a familiar green sprig hanging over it.

"Hold on a sec, Jeanne." I tugged her under the mistletoe. "I figure maybe it's time to get behind some of these traditions. What do you think?"

She laughed but snuggled against me. "You would pick the one tradition that guarantees you some action."

I bent down to kiss her. "You've got to start somewhere."


Words To Gold | Premium Vintage | Alternate Timelines