SUMMARY: No summary available at this time
"Theyíll be fine," John dismissed her concerns with a wave of his hand as he squinted at a particularly illegible essay, "Our roadís quiet and our Jeanís sensible."
Elaine glanced out of the window at her daughter playing with her friend. It was one of those nebulous, childhood games where rules were secondary to screaming at the top of your lungs and getting filthy. She sighed, wondering when the child would grow out of her tomboyish ways. Unlike Sara, Jean was a daredevil of a girl, who clambered to the top of trees and walked along narrow walls on dares. Her father called her his green-eyed kitten, and said that her spirit reminded him of her mother.
Physically, however, she was her fatherís daughter. She was short and stocky, with a square jaw and a high forehead, hidden by glossy, red bangs, through which green eyes peered curiously at the world. Her only legacy from her mother was the sudden, sweet smile, which had charmed many an elderly donorís wife as well as many a preadolescent swain. When she smiled, she became beautiful, although her proud father would argue that she was always the prettiest girl in the world.
"Iíll call them in for lunch in a second," she compromised, "Iím afraid itís sandwiches again."
"Better a dinner of herbs . . . ." his laughing words were drowned by a sudden squeal of tyres, a sickening, soft thud and a girlís scream. Everything seemed to come into vivid focus for Elaine Grey in a second. Time seemed to slow and insignificant details became overwhelmingly important. She saw Johnís hands freeze above the paper, saw the blood drain from his face and leave it white. Every flower in the wallpaper seemed to stand out in relief, clamoring for her attention. She heard the slow, insistent tick of the clock, and smelt exhaust fumes and burnt tyre overlying the fragrance of new-mown grass. She felt the icy prick of the cold pins against her lips, then tasted blood.
"Iíll go check. You call an ambulance," John whispered, standing up and placing his hands on his desk to steady himself, "Good lord, I hope . . . ."
He trailed off shamefaced, but Elaine knew what he was thinking. It was the same guilty, parental hope that she had had. They loved their daughterís friend as their own, but, if it was Anne, it was not their Jean. Her stomach twisted further as her husband pushed open the door and stepped onto the porch. She dialled 911 absently, wondering why John was not speaking, wishing that he would tell her the bad news because nothing could be worse than the uncertainty. It was Jean, she knew. It could only be her daughter, because he was so quiet and so hesitant to tell her.
"Elaine, itís Anne," his voice was ragged with the same relief and disgust that he was relieved that she was feeling, "Jean fainted, but is fine. Anne . . . oh God, Elaine . . . I think Anneís dead."
Detective Alice Roth smiled sympathetically as she took down the details of the hit-and-run that killed Anne. She had no illusions that her investigation would accomplish much more than comforting the parents, because the New York Police Department had far more important crimes than a hit-and-run on its list of unsolved cases. It was probably some drunken college student from the Annandale-on-Hudson campus, who ran away from the scene of the crime because he was scared. Her department did not have the resources to hunt after every drunk driver with murders and rapists on the loose, especially as she doubted that they would ever find the person responsible for the girlís death. After all, the sole witness, a Jean Grey, had been comatose ever since the accident.
The whole situation with the other kid was odd, Alice thought, tuning out Anneís parents with a practised ear. Her father had found on the lawn in a coma, yards away from her friendís body, without a single mark on her body. The therapists at the hospital had called it shock, had said it was the girlís way of protecting herself, but Anne had seen children who had been through far worse and had suffered far less as a result. There was some funny about Jean Grey and that almost made the case interesting enough to pursue. Almost.
"Weíll get back to you if our investigation turns anything up," Anne clasped the motherís hands in false and practised sympathy, "I promise you that weíll do our best to find the person who killed your daughter."
"For Godís sake, Elaine, stop fussing with the room," he snapped, irritated by his wifeís constant business, "Itís not like Jean will even know."
Lips compressing in a tight line, she continued to straighten the items on the dresser. He could see that she was trying not to cry and he knew that he had hurt her, as he had too often in the past few days. He could not find the words to apologise to her, though, and their marriage was showing the strain. He knew she blamed him for what had happened to Jean and her friend, and he resented it. His work kept him busy, and bringing up their children was his wifeís responsibility. If anyone should have fetched the two children off the street, it was her and not him. They barely talked to each other now, except via the doctor or therapist, and, when they did, their conversation with each other was strained and polite.
"Iím going to check on Sara," he muttered, smoothing the dent where he had been seated. He did not turn back, even when he heard her muffled sobs.
"I think Iíve done all I can for her," his voice was ragged, he hated admitting defeat, "I think sheís beyond my skills."
As McKay spoke, John felt the same dazed sense of unreality, that he had experienced when had heard the sickening, soft thump of Anneís body, creep over him. What the doctor was saying was impossible, they had machines and medicines that could cure everything from cancer to TB now. There had to be some pill or injection that would wake her up; he did not understand why McKay was refusing to give it to her, was dooming his ten year-old daughter to spend the remainder of her life as a vegetable.
"I wonít accept that," he replied quietly, "There has to be something more you can do."
Frowning, "I canít, but . . . Have you ever heard of a Charles Xavier? Heís odd as a three-dollar bill, but brilliant - heís helped people, children, that everyone else has given up on. His medical repís impeccable, but his methods . . . well, theyíre hardly scientific from what the reports say. The kids heís helped say that heís gone into their minds and helped them there. Still, heís a qualified psychologist and you know kidsí imaginations. I can set up a consultation with him, if youíd like."
John nodded, "Do."
"Professor Grey," his accent was upstate New York, "Iím Charles Xavier. McKay said you wanted a consult."
"Call me John," he shook the offered hand, "Professor Grey was my father. Come in, please. We can talk about . . . Jean inside."
His stern, emotionless father would have been disgusted by the catch in his voice as he mentioned his daughterís name. Cowboys donít cry, after all, and, if you want to be a man like Clint Eastwood, you had better do the same, John. He wanted to make some polite excuse about dust in his throat or a cough, but Xavier had not seemed to notice the momentary slip. The psychologist had settled into a red, uncomfortable sofa and was busy removing a sheaf of papers from his briefcase. John assumed that those were the hospital reports that had been passed onto him.
"From what I can gather, John, and correct me if Iím wrong," he peered over the obligatory steel-rimmed glasses that he had removed from a pocket, "Your daughterís coma coincided with the death of her friend, which she witnessed. Now, Dr McKay believes that the shock of it caused her to go into a coma, almost as a means of protecting herself from it, and Iím apt to concur with him at this moment. Of course, weíre both aware that you donít give a damn about the reasons it happened, just that Iím able to get your daughter out of it."
John nodded, "So, what do you plan to do?"
He steepled his fingers, looking thoughtful, "Before I formulate any concrete plan of action, I think itís wise to research her condition further. I have a . . . clinic in Westchester where I can examine her more fully than I would be able to do here. Itís at 1407 Graymalkin Lane. If it isnít too much trouble for you or your wife, bring her there tomorrow and we will find out what will be the best course of treatment."
Unlike the other clinics to which they had taken Jean, Xavierís was a pleasant, red-brick mansion with high windows and ornate, wooden doors. The driveway curved past immaculately manicured lawns, edged with box hedges and well-tended beds of flowers. It looked more like a school than a hospital, and John could sense Elaine relax slightly as he stopped the car in front of the stairs.
"Hi," a red-headed woman emerged from the doors, dressed in a simple, white nurseís uniform. She was not beautiful or even pretty - her face was slightly pointed and her bangs did not hide her forehead, but her eyes were keenly intelligent and her wide mouth looked as if it was on the brink of a perpetual smile. "Iím Amelia Voght. Iím a . . . nurse here at Xavierís. Youíre the Greys, I assume?"
"I hope weíre not early," John said, "Xavier said ten, but . . . I always build in an extra half-hour in case I get lost."
The nurse grinned, "Charles is with another kid at the moment, but we can get Jean settled in the meantime. Should I bring a wheelchair or can you manage?"
"Iíll carry her," he volunteered, turning to his wife, "If you will bring her bag, Elaine."
Xavier had intimated that the examination might take more than one day, and that he would ideally like to keep Jean overnight for observation. Elaine had been outraged, arguing that they barely knew the man and that his reputation did not precisely inspire trust. John had been embarrassed by her outburst and grateful that Xavier was a true professional. The psychologist had simply looked sympathetic and murmured that he would be expecting them if they came but would understand if they did not. Irritated by his wifeís irrational refusal to accept any hope for Jean, he had dismissed her concerns with a grunt and had said that, female hysteria aside, he would be there. Elaine had glared flatly at him and told him he was being a credulous idiot. The fight would have escalated, had Sara, who had watched the proceedings with scared, sad eyes, not asked very solemnly if they still loved each other. Neither Elaine nor John had been able to answer her, and the anger and hurt in his wifeís eyes had made him wonder whether it was because they did not know or they could not face the truth.
"Okay, John," her voice was flat, lifeless, "Take her inside and Iíll bring her bag."
Ignoring the medical equipment and monitors that surrounded the bed, Xavier pulled up a chair and looked thoughtfully at its tiny occupant. Was Jean Grey the reason his prototype Cerebro had flared a few weeks ago? For the briefest of seconds, there had been a red blip in the region of Annandale-on-Hudson, but it had not reappeared for a fortnight and he had dismissed it as a malfunction at the time. The energy signals of emergent, gifted children were intermittent, manifesting themselves in fits and starts as their powers did, but that particular mutantís powers seemed to have emerged once then vanished. As if the child had simply been removed by, say, a coma.
"Amelia," he called his former nurse and current lover from her station by the door, "Will you watch me? Iím going into Jeanís mind."
She nodded, looking concerned. Although she too was a mutant with the power to transmute the cells of her body into mist, she did not feel that the expeditions he made into his patientís minds were safe. Privately, Xavier agreed with her. There was too little written to be sure that these astral excursion could not be potentially dangerous, and the little research on the astral plane had been done by quacks and crackpots, who spoke about white lights and spirit guides and etheric reverberations. The only scientific aspect of their studies, he suspected cynically, was the interesting chemicals they took to do them.
"Be careful, Xavier, Charles F."
"Always, Voght, Amelia C," he replied, then breathed, stepped out of himself and into Jean Grey.
Jean's mindscape was not so simplistic. It resembled nothing so much as a large, circular study; the wooden walls of which were lined were drawers. There was neither door nor window, but a large, spiral staircase which led up to an attic. Everything was darkly polished wood that had a coffin-like quality to it. The metaphors were common in a comatose adult but unexpected in a girl of ten. The few children with which he had dealt had withdrawn in an entirely different manner, creating a fantasy to distract them from what had happened rather than a quiet haven to work through it. Who was this girl, he wondered, to have such a mature mind?
Curious and seeing the child nowhere in the lower room, he opened the drawer closest to him, jumping back as a flock of butterflies emerged. In stark contrast to the remainder of the bleak room, they were red and blue, yellow and pink, the brilliant colors of childhood. As one's glowing wings brushed his face, he remembered the feeling of swinging. The way the sky rose and fell before him. The solid firmness of hands on the base of his back. Anne's laughter as she dared him to swing higher. The mingled fear and excitement in the pit of stomach as he jumped off at the apex of the motion. For a moment, Charles Xavier was nothing more than a swinging child, then the psychologist returned.
"Fascinating," he murmured, "The combination of metaphors suggests that this room is a healing construct, built over the more normal mindscape of a child."
Wondering what the other drawers held, he was about to open the next one, when he was preempted by a voice coming from above him.
"Youíre rude. Didnít your mom tell you not to look in other peopleís things?"
Xavier looked up to see an auburn head, peeping from the top of the spiral staircase. The girl to whom it belonged was scowling fiercely at him, obviously outraged at having her privacy invaded. Any shame he might have felt for his deeds was lost among his excitement that she had known he was there. In all the minds that he had entered to heal, she was the first to have recognised the presence of an intruder, which suggested that John and Elaine Greyís little girl was more special than even her parents had imagined.
"Youíre right. I was rude and I am sorry for it."
With a childís bluntness, "No, you arenít. Youíre happy that you did it. You think Iím like you and youíre happy because of it."
"Who is prying now?" Xavier replied gently, deliberately leaving himself open to read by not raising his shields. He needed more proof to confirm his gut instinct that Jean was telepathic, and he would not get it by blocking himself off from her. A certain, long-cherished dream was reemerging as he was talking to her and he had a secret hope that he had found the first of its keepers. Erik had dismissed it as folly in their many conversations on the topic, but, seeing a young mutant of such potential power, he was convinced that his friend was wrong.
The girl blushed, more embarrassed by the fact that she had been caught than by her actions, and rapidly changed the topic: "Come meet Anne."
Xavierís brow furrowed quizzically. According to John Grey, Anne was the friend killed in the hit-and-run accident, and her death had somehow left Jean in a coma. Her parents had guessed the grief and shock of seeing her best friend violently killed had caused her to withdraw, and Charles had initially concurred, but he wondered now if it had more to do with the nascent telepath feeling Anneís death, experiencing her last moments of agony. If so, the illusion that she was alive was dangerous, detrimental to Jeanís recovery.
"Jean," he made his voice as gentle as possible, "Anne is dead."
Green eyes blazed angrily, "ANNE IS NOT DEAD. YOUíRE RUDE AND MEAN. GO AWAY."
The force of her will hit him, and, equally unshielded against assault as probing, his hasty attempt to protect himself was as effectual as an umbrella against a hurricane. For century-long seconds, he was lost in a whirlwind of souls as the astral plane spun crazily about him. Charles Xavier, one of the worldís most preeminent telepaths, was little more than a leaf in a storm, spinning in the middle of a billion other leaves with their own deep loves and petty hatreds and small prides and secret ambitions and guilty consciences. Shying away from the melee, his psyche screamed as it was forced back through the mental umbilicus that connnected him to the astral plane.
"Shit," was Professor Charles Xavierís scientific assessment, when he was able to think and talk again.
When Xavier slipped into Jean Greyís mind for the second time, he decided that discretion was the better part of psychotherapy. The child was a psion of enormous potential, much to his excitement, and he did not want to be at the mercy of another of her telepathic temper tantrums. Consequently, he shielded himself to the hilt and adopted a guise that he used frequently with abused children, who were inevitably, tragically distrustful of adults. That of good, olí Charley; blond-haired, blue-eyed, nine year-old Charley.
"Jean?" his high childís voice called, while his adult mind noted with interest that the metaphors had changed. He was standing at the top step of an enormous staircase that spiralled down into darkness. The walls still were unbroken by any door or window, but some dusty sunlight shone through chinks between the bricks, which suggested that the healing construct was slowly crumbling. It was the inverse of the fairytale stereotype, he thought with some amusement - to save Johnís little princess, the therapist in shining armor would have to descend to the bottom of the tower.
"Jean?" he repeated, words echoing off the circular walls, "JEAN?"
He glanced down into the dimness, hoping that he would not have to climb down the spiral steps to find her. Besides, there was always the possibility that they were infinite. According to the paradoxical logic of a child, pits were always bottomless, yet there were always snakes or spikes at the bottom.
"Why are you a child now?" the question came from beneath him, and he saw a red-headed girl rising to where he was standing, stripes of sunlight rippling over her. She was wearing the same, fierce scowl as she had when she had thrown him out of her mind, and he could feel her will tensed against him like a clenched fist.
"I thought you would not recognise me," he admitted honestly, knowing he could not lie to a psion, "Youíre more gifted than I imagined, Jean."
Her frown become one of confusion, "Iím almost the worst in my class. Annie always helps me with my homework, because Iím so bad at it. Iím not gifted."
Seriously, "Have you ever heard of mutants, Jean?"
She rolled her eyes impressively, "Uh huh. Do you think Iím stupid? I know theyíre what weíll become, unless weíre careful and unless we have children with people who are only human. Thatís what daddy says, anyway."
Charles swore beneath his breath, wondering how much of his subtle bigotry John Grey had imparted to his daughter. In his experience, the good spouses and parents, the concerned citizens, were infinitely more dangerous than the extremists. Their hatred was so reasonable and wholesome, based on motives that no-one could fault, and undefeatable as a result. How would he tell the Greys that their Jean was the Other, a mutant like those that had recently started appearing in the news? More importantly, should he tell them?
"Jean, remember how you felt when Annie died?"
It was a calculated gamble, based on the fact that the construct was crumbling, suggesting that Jean had come to terms with the fact that Anne had been killed in the accident. Light entering always represented the acceptance of truth - a universal metaphor as old as the first fire - and there was only one truth that she had been evading. Nonetheless, he knew it was a risk and he braced himself against the whirlwind of her powers that he half-expected. Instead, the girl shivered.
"Cold. Everything was black. I tried to hold onto my body, but . . . I was being torn away from it. Like something was pulling me from it. Like someone was cutting some sort of string that held me to it. I was dying but . . . .If that was Annie, how did I feel that?"
Exhaling, "Jean, youíre a mutant."
The instant the words left Xavierís mouth, he wanted to recall them. Even if his understanding of Jeanís mental metaphors was accurate and she was ready to accept the truth both about Annieís death and her own mutancy, every principle of modern psychotherapy dictated that patients should come to their own conclusion. He could almost hear his old professor, Alistair McDonald, berating him in his rich, whisky-soaked rumble of a voice. He had always said that Charles was too fond of playing God Almighty, of sitting on his throne above his patients and dispensing "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots" on stone tablets. The patient was ultimately responsible for their own recovery. The role of the psychiatrist was to guide and not to lead. These had been hard lessons for an arrogant twenty year-old, buoyed up by an Oxford scholarship, to learn and it seemed as if he still had not learnt them completely.
Jean, however, seemed surprisingly calm, considering the bombshell he had just dropped on her. Her eyes met his steadily from beneath her glossy, red bangs and her hands, fiddling with the hem of her red dress, were the only sign of any discomfort.
"I guess I knew that," the girl whispered and the walls of the tower around her began to crumble. The chinks of dusty light expanded, broadened, as the stones seemed to work themselves loose from their setting. Mortar drifted down from the settings. It was as soft as snow, settling on them in fine, white powder, choking them when it got into their noses and mouths. Xavier was thinking it was not as violent or as dramatic as he had anticipated, when the grate of stone against stone jogged him out of his complacency. The bricks were falling and Jean was directly in the path of one. Shockingly fast, it tumbled towards her, threatening to crush her skull . . . .
Cursing broadly, Xavier snatched the hovering Jean out of harmís way and threw up a shield against the rubble that rained down around them. Held tightly in his arms, she was much smaller, much more breakable, than she had seemed floating in the air. She was whimpering to himself and he could feel her fear, bright and sharp-edged like broken glass or twisted steel. She would die like Annie, she was thinking. Everything would be black and cold. She would be ripped away from her body, even though she did not want to go. An almost paternal protectiveness welled up within him. He stroked her hair to reassure her, whispering the same meaningless words of comfort to which adults had resorted since the earth was young. He would protect her. She would be safe with him. He would make the danger go away. He would not let anything happen to her. They were no less comforting for being trite. He felt her fear subside a fraction, as she snuggled her head trustingly beneath his chin.
They stayed that way until the rumbling around them stopped.
John Grey tapped his pipe into the replica of a canopic jar that he kept on his desk for that purpose, and glared fiercely at his typewriter. So far, the paper, that he was due to present at the symposium next week, consisted of a heading - "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite: Shifting Centres of Power in the French Revolution - and not terribly much else. His bin, filled to overflowing with wads of paper, bore testament to earlier attempts. Every time he attempted to marshall his thoughts, they were drawn inexorably back to the scene of the accident. Again, he heard the soft thump of the bumper hitting Annieís body. Again, he saw Elaineís mouth tremble. Again, he felt the world slow around him, as he stood and walked to the door. Again, he looked out from the porch and saw two, small bodies lying as floppy as ragdolls in the street. Again, he was paralysed by fear . . . .
John ripped the paper out of his type-writer, crumpling it furiously in his hands, and hurled it at the bin.Who was he kidding, he asked himself? Did he actually believe he could go on with his life while his daughter was lying in a coma? Did he really think he could care about people who had died centuries ago, about events that only existed still in memory, sifting painstakingly through the dust and ashes of history? No, he would have to go to the Dean and tell him that he could not present at the symposium. After all, Archie had been very sympathetic about the accident and had even offered to invite a professor from Duke to speak in his stead. At the time, he had refused gruffly, saying he was not a woman to be mastered by his emotions. He was not like Elaine, whose tears he had despised as weakness. Elaine, whom he had hurt because he had not known whom else to blame for what had happened to Jean and because he had been so afraid. Elaine, whom he loved and did not want to lose. He needed to apologise to her, to set things straight, and he needed to do so now.
Hoping he had not left it too late, John Grey set out for home.
"I guess Iím ready to go home now," Jean said, turning to him with a serious expression on her face, "Mommy and daddy must be worried about me. I donít know how to get home from here, though."
Smiling, feeling a little whimsical, "Itís easy. All you have to do is follow the second star to the right and go straight on until morning."
"Those arenít proper instructions," Jean said dubiously.
"Theyíre the right ones, nonetheless."
"If you say so," she shrugged, then grinned disengagingly in one of those quicksilver changes of mood that come so easily to children: "Watch this!"
Xavier winced as Jean leapt easily onto her hands and began cartwheeling down the slope of the hill, her red skirts flapping around her chubby legs.
"Come on," she yelled, "Itíll soon be morning."
"Iíll be there in a minute," he called back to her, lying, "I just want to look around this hill a little more."
Waiting for Jean to spin out of sight, Xavier bent down and scooped out a hole in the soil of the field. Rubbing the dark earth beneath his fingers, feeling the coolness and grittiness of it, he marvelled again at the complexity of the girlís mind. He was doing what was right, he told himself, he was acting for the greater good. How could he explain his Dream to a child or ask her to be one of its keepers in time? At the same time, however, he could not risk losing her; could not risk her loyalties being swayed. After all, none of his other patients had ever been able to visualise an astral locus as complete or as detailed as this one. Power such as hers would be deserved to be used for the betterment of the world. He concentrated and a glowing seed that resembled a pomegranate stone appeared in the palm of his hand. Very carefully, he deposited it in the hollow he had dug and covered it with the loose earth.
That accomplished, secure that the slow-growing seed he had planted would bear fruit in time, he patted the sod down with a foot and walked to join Jean on her cartwheeling journey home.