every night i burn

"i'm done now. with all of this. i won't play god with you anymore." the woman's face is familiar and not in a suit of black and red. she stands firm against a starry sky as she continues, "and i won't let you hurt me or the people i love every again. all of this -- using people, playing with their lives, building fake worlds -- it's not right. it's not fair to do that to me-- or anyone."

her voice is solid, mournful as she goes on, clearly pained in the face of the phoenix, before her in all blazing glory. "i know i asked you for your help. i don't know why you gave it. and i don't know why you keep coming back. or all the beings in the universe, you chose me. that used to make me feel special. now i don't feel anything at all." and it's not entirely true. there are more emotions beneath that. yet in this moment, it is true, in a way. "i was supposed to die on that shuttle all those years ago. i know that now. but you keep bringing me back. you want me to be something i'm not. something i'll never be. and i wanted things from you. things no person should have. i don't know what you are, what your role in the universe is. but it's not here. it's not with me."

reality shifts away from the starry sky and the phoenix's voice tumbles forward, bright with everything it can offer. with every sentence, the reality around them bends, cloying with the possibilities, of the lifetimes they've had together from the simple life of a mutant blossoming into her power to the crystallization of the apex of form, of that glorious times where any and everything was possible. "don't you understand, jean grey? together we can be gods. then we can transcend this place. or hide together. or we can become your best self. or we can simply go back to the way things were before any of this. we can forget any of this happened."

and then things play out as they always have. jean's voice, her body shifts and she rejects the phoenix, rejects sainthood and godhood all at once. she says goodbye for the final time and walks away.

then the memory loops all over again, the offer back, the stars out.

and always, always jean says no. she walks away. the phoenix diminishes in her palm and then disappears altogether and the rain comes and comes and comes. and it plays on repeat.

but it isn't just one event played on loop for a being in the universe.

it plays in the dreams of molly saylor, madelyne pryor, too. sometimes she's in the phoenix's place, offering it to jean, the possibilityof any and everything. sometimes she's an observer of them both, hearing them talk, learning their lines bit by bit. sometimes she's in jean's place, saying no over and over again, driving the dagger into the phoenix. sometimes she is molly saylor at sixteen in a universe where her mother hates her her entire life and this is her one chance to fix it. sometimes she's madelyne pryor, a knife wound in her chest, bleeding as the phoenix offers it, wanting more than what she has.

and they echo jean, every time.

"i don't want to die, but i need to be allowed to live. and you need to move on without me."

it plays over and over again in dreams, in half psychic states.

then it restarts, and this time it's not jean or maddy or molly. standing in front of the phoenix is molly and madelyne, together -- merged, in the jumpsuit maddy had loved but with molly's eyes focused on the phoenix. instead of reaching out to touch the phoenix's beak, her voice cuts through, sharper than jean's, "why are you doing this to yourself?"

the starry sky grows darker, and the phoenix fixes her eyes on them, expression sorrowful. this has grown beyond the prank of little demons who have pushed mally through different universes, who have played with things beyond their control. "you are of she and i, aren't you?"

mally breathes in, breathes out. "she'll never take you back like this. and you and i... we don't always see eye to eye, do we?" her voice takes on more punishing tone. "you don't tell me things, same as you don't tell her; frankly, i don't know if you're playing a game right now with me. you treat hosts disposably -- except for her. and you came to me, years ago and the goblyn force -- i am more reliable in understanding what i want." the phoenix looks back at her, not backing down from previous actions. neither does mally. "but this... this is pathetic. why can't you just get over her? she didn't want you then, you always make trouble for her, she didn't want to have the sort of power you--"

she stops herself, turns her head away.

"...but you know that i do. that i'm still you and her. is that why you keep putting me in here, too?" the plane shifts from the starry sky, the desert to the old house she and scott had but filled with the things from molly's room. "you know that you could offer me the white crown you have, and you think i'd say no, too."

she sits down on her childhood bed, and looks at the phoenix. shifts the phoenix into a more humanoid form, still burning brightly. the phoenix stays standing, proud, even as her head is bowed. "i am without purpose. i have hosts -- and no purpose. no one with drive to carry out my will, closed houses. it isn't always you there, in her place." and for once she shares: the rotation of other hosts she's had over the eons, from the lesser beings to the higher ones. all of them echoing jean's words. all of them ending at the same place.

all of them echoing words that jean had said, all of them repeating her words like a record. and yet, it seems as if the words never change, no matter what factors, no matter what the universe. or at least, mally thinks, the phoenix isn't sure if there are other possibilities, after jean. as if she doesn't want them to be. "you're without purpose now, but it doesn't mean you always will be stuck here. isn't it a joke that she always come back, that you always come back? what did you do in between? can't you go back to that instead of coming back here, coming back to me or throwing this little pity party for yourself?"

the phoenix seems to look amused and sad at the same time and mally feels her response rather than hears it being said: the stretches of time of jumping from host to host; the little things around the universe that could occupy it's time; the gap between hosts that it understood; and the need, in the end for that. to be understood by a host. to not have to do all the hard work in understanding, to not have to fight to do so, to have control and yet, to be willing to share it with someone, somebody and how jean was all of that at once.

and so, in a way, was she.

and too, she pushes back with her own feelings: the mistrust, the anger, the feeling that she would never, quite, be happy. that at the end of the day, she still wasn't jean. she still couldn't fill that hole, still couldn't be exactly the same. that even though it's been years now, things still weren't perfect and it might never be with the phoenix. that the only way they could truly bond, go forward, was if the phoenix accepted it.

and that she wasn't going to buckle. she was firm about it. maybe she wasn't all jean, yet some parts of her were just as firm.

so it's no surprise to mally that as she pushes, the phoenix diminishes. her form shrinks to that of a small bird, small enough to fit into her palm, that she could look down at and cup in her hands. the room changes a bit, flickers, and mally sighs out, "you can't retreat every time. i thought you'd know better." the phoenix has never had the easiest time with being pushed against and she wasn't the first nor the last.

still, her fingers run down the spine of the firebird, still, she feels a piece of her -- that spark, that thing that made her more than a doll faced clone -- long for what the phoenix wants, too. the part of her that likes power, that liked the high of holding lives in her hands, of balancing out fates the way she saw fit. the part of her that isn't afraid to leap into a cauldron and command, the part of her that easily could say yes. wanted to, even. the rest of her, though, knows that nothing can be resolved, nothing would be easy until they came to something that worked for them, no matter how or why. that leaping before looking was something the phoenix tendeded to enjoy and that doing so wouldn't work out well for any of them.

and that isn't something mally is willing to deal with, right then. even the worst parts of her, even being the dark shadowself of two blazing lights, she knew better. didn't want to fall into another obvious trap, didn't want to be puppeteered again even if it was by an entity she thinks she could put into a stranglehold by her own will.

so she stays there, in the white hot room, running her fingers against the warm being, until she wakes up in her true bedroom, to lily's grinning face and a day to get to. she's not surprised when she looks at herself in the mirror and sees a bit of that spark in her own eyes.

baby steps. she tells herself that these are baby steps. she knows that the white crown is there, in the palm of her hand if she wants to take it. that it would be so easy to be both the white phoenix and the goblin queen. but right now, mally has other things to focus on, other things that she cared about. the phoenix could wait. it wasn't abandonment; she thinks the phoenix knows that. just a promise of later.

she looks at her reflection and quells the flame. instead, she pulls up her own spark, the goblyn force. her eyes glow that more familiar green, the salient fact of her own power, born more of herself than anyone else. then she grins and telepathically asks, alright, pancakes for breakfast?