It was a blind corner. Cars that sped around that corner would not be able to see them. If only they had listened, none of this would have happened.
"Annie, catch!" A bubbly little red-headed girl tossed the frisbee high into the summer skies.
"Got it! Heads up Jean!" Her companion with chestnut curls returned the frisbee.
"Girls, it's a little windy today, don't throw the frisbee too hard. What did I warn you about that blind corner?" The redhead's mother called from the doorstep.
"Don't worry Mrs Grey, we promise to be careful."
"I'll go see if dinner is ready." The woman walked back into the house.
And the girls played on.
"Here!" The redhead released the frisbee from her fingertips. It went spinning through the air like a hovering UFO. Her friend's eyes were fixed onto the frisbee as it came flying towards her. She got on her toes and leapt. Her arms outstretched as she reached for the frisbee. But this time, it slipped from her grasp as a gust of wind carried the frisbee over the white picket fence and onto the road. The girl fell, sprawled on the ground. In a split second, she picked herself up and brushed dirt and grass off her clothes.
The redhead made a dash for the frisbee, now lying on the road, but the other girl sped towards it quicker. "I'll get it Jean!"
"Annie! Be careful!" The redhead called.
"Annie! Be careful!" In the dark of the bedroom, the silhouette of a female figure tossed in her sleep. "Annie..." Faint mumbles followed.
"Don't worry Jean, I've got it!" The girl picked up the object and waved to the redhead, who was running towards her. The girl smiled, her back to the blind corner. She turned her head into a sudden burst of yellow light. Her eyes slowly widened as she realised the source, but her body was momentarily stunned. What followed was sound of the vehicle's horn, followed by a deafening screech, and a piercing scream of roughly the same frequency.
What the redhead witnessed next was flashed by her like it was in slow motion. The car hit the girl head on as she was trying to get up from her crouched position. She was flung across the straight stretch of the road, landing a good few metres away. Like a rag doll, she flew the course of a parabola, and crashed head-first upon impact. The momentum flipped her body over, pivoted by her head, and slammed her body down, before skidding slightly to a halt.
"Annie!" The redhead started to sprint in the girl's direction. She cradled her dying friend in her arms, kneeling in the pool of her friend's blood. She was bleeding so much, and it just kept flowing profusely, from her mouth, nose, ears, eyes, and deep cuts on her forehead and arms. Her neck was possibly broken, and maybe even her ribs, legs and arms. "Annie!" The redhead started to panic, hugging her friend closer to her. People began to gather round, but the crowd was a haze. They were just standing there, whispering. Yes, her mother was there too, and so was her friend's mother. They were staring. They were all staring. Call an ambulance...
"Please, someone call an ambulance!" Beads of sweat formed on the forehead of the sleeping figure as she fidgeted, rolling over once more, getting tangled in her blankets.
"Call an ambulance!" The redhead screamed. Someone finally darted off in the direction of her house.
"Hold on Annie..."
"Jee...an...I...caa...nn't...breee...atheee..." The girl rasped and clung onto the redhead, her grip strong.
"Shh...it's gonna be okay...you're gonna be alright...they're coming...they're..." Suddenly, the redhead felt like a tremendous migraine had hit her. She saw white light flash before her eyes. The voices of the crowd grew louder and louder. She began to feel dizzy.
What happened? Good lord, the girl's bleeding to death? Why isn't someone calling for help? Why isn't anyone doing anything?
"Jean? Jean?" She heard her mother's voice. Then everything went black, and cold, and quiet.
Except for a single ray of light shining from above. Beneath the light sat the girl with the chestnut curls.
"Jean! Come here, I want to show you something."
"Annie, it is you!"
"Of course it's me silly."
The girl held out a hand and the redhead took it. They talked for awhile.
"Do you see her?"
"The beautiful angel, Jean. She's so pretty..." The girl stared and pointed at the source of the white light.
"Where, I don't see her?" The redhead's gaze averted momentarily, but she still held the girl's hand in her firm grip. Suddenly, the hand crumbled into dust, and the girl appeared ghostly white. No, she was glowing, and floating upwards into the light.
"Annie! Where are you going?"
"The angel, she's come to take me away..."
"Annie no! Don't leave me here!"
"Don't leave me..."
"Annie!" The redhead awakened, only to find herself laid on the ground. An EMT was shining a pentorch into her eye. "Annie? Where's Annie?"
"She's fine ma'am. Probably collapsed due to shock."
They put her on the stretcher, covered with a white sheet. She wasn't moving, wasn't breathing.
"Annie!" The redhead tried to get up.
"Jean, lie down..." she heard her mother's soothing voice. She burst into tears as her mother cradled her. Then, she saw the white light again.
For days, she continued to hear voices in her head.
"Make it stop! Make it stop!"
"Jean, are you alright?"
"Stop shouting! Stop yelling!"
"Lately, she's been depressed, temperamental, and claims to be hearing voices..."
"Doctor, what's wrong with her?"
"I'm afraid Jean is having auditory hallucinations. Traumatized due to having witnessed Annie's accident and unfortunate demise. We might need to keep her under observation."
"The voices are real! I'm not crazy!"
"Jean, honey, calm down."
The redhead clutched her head in her hands and assumed a foetal position on the chair she was sitting in.
"Just make it stop..." she winced.
"Just make it stop..."
"Jean, listen to me. The doctor's going to keep you here for a few days so he can find out what's wrong with you."
"No, I wanna go home..."
"Jean, when he makes all the voices go away, you can come home."
"No! I wanna go home now! Go home to Annie..."
"Come Jean, the nurse will show you to your ward."
"No, you're not taking me away from Annie! I wanna go home!" She screamed and flung her chair across the room.
"Doctor, is she going to be alright?"
"I can assure you Mr and Mrs Grey, Jean is in good hands."
"No! Lemme go!" She tried to wriggle out of the nurses' grasp, but to no avail. They were much stronger...she struggled. The more she struggled, the hotter she felt. It was as if she was burning, as if she was on fire. Wait, her fingertips, they were starting to glow. They glowed brighter, and burst into flames. She felt the flames creeping up her arms, engulfing her small frame. Did they set her on fire? But no, the fire was not hurting her. Her flesh was not burning, in fact, her flesh was turning into fire. Her hair was turning into flame. And the more she struggled, the brighter she burned. The flames spread quickly, and now the nurses and surrounding furniture were burning. Soon the whole ward was in flames. They were screaming as they were burning, but they were not charring. The fire emitted no smoke, it was not like ordinary fire. Perhaps it was something else.
The nurses released her, writhing in pain as they continued to burn. She stood there, arms outstretched. The flames surged from her, the blaze forming the shape of wings over her arms...
"No!" The sleeping figure shot up from her bed into a seated position. Her blanket was wrapped, rather tightly, around her like a cocoon. Jean kicked the covers off, and wiped her sweaty strands of hair from her face and eyes.
"It was just a dream...It was just a dream..." She panted heavily as she chanted to reassure herself it was but a nightmare. She ran her fingers through her sweat-drenched hair, knees raised to her chest. She felt flushed. She was not burning, was she?
Jean forced open her eyelids, and instinctively checked her hands. No, her fingertips were not glowing. She was not burning. It was just a dream. She glanced at the clock on the nightstand. 2.07 AM. She groaned and dragged her bedraggled self out of bed to wash her face in the bathroom. She caught her reflection in the mirror: bloodshot eyes and wet hair. Why did I dream of fire? I've had nightmares of Annie, but not of fire... She turned the tap on and splashed icy cold water on her face. She then changed into a fresh nightgown, before climbing into bed again. It was just a bad dream...
Jean lay there, staring at the ceiling above her. Visions of the firebird she dreamt of danced across her eyes. She shook her head vigorously from side to side, trying to rid herself of those images, before deciding to go downstairs to get something to drink.
Jean silently made her way down the foyer stairs. The mansion was dark, except for a dim, soft glow coming from the kitchen.
"Logan?" She squinted as her eyes came into contact with the jarring bright light.
"Scott? What are you doing up at this hour?"
"Tell me about it." Jean slumped into a chair, crossed her hands over the table and buried her head in them.
"Had another nightmare." Her voice barely audible.
"Want some tea?" He rose, empty mug in hand.
"Yes please." She lifted her head, wincing at the bright light.
Scott poured two mugs, and handed one to her. "Here."
"Thanks." Jean accepted the tea with both hands. She soothed her slightly parched throat with the warm liquid.
"You look tired, maybe you should head back and try to get some more sleep."
"I don't wanna...I don't want the nightmares to come back again." Jean gazed into her mug as she swirled the tea. The dark liquid caught the reflection of the lamp above the table, the distorted reflection seemingly taking on the image of a...Jean slammed the mug on the table, shut her eyes and shook her head. She was not imagining things, was she?
"Jean?" Scott's voice was laced with concern for his beloved teammate. He drew up a chair beside her and gently massaged the nape of her neck. "Feeling better?"
"Except for the pounding in my head, yeah..."
Scott got up and retrieved some aspirin from the cupboard. Jean popped two in her mouth and downed it with some tea.
"You'd like to tell me about it? About your nightmare?"
"Nothing much really, just another one about Annie."
"But you haven't had one of those in..."
"...in ages? Yeah...But I've been having this same one dream for the past few nights...I should probably go talk to the professor about it."
"Maybe you're just excited and restless. About this whole going to college thing. At least I know I am."
And worried about tonnes of stuff as well. You're projecting so loudly it kinda hurts a little."
"Sorry," he flashed a half-smile.
"It's just, this mutant frenzy isn't dying down given the whole Apocalypse thing barely a couple of months ago. And truth be told, we'll be leaving in a couple of days, and I'm worried about us both leaving the team. Will they be able to handle themselves?"
"They'll be fine, Scott. They're well trained, and we still have Storm and Logan."
"But the team will not be in full force..."
"You worry too much, Slim."
"...and I'm worried about us too."
Jean looked up from the tea she was sipping.
"You're headed for Columbia, I'm headed for CUNY."
"Scott Columbia is just down the street from CUNY. We could visit during weekends. And there's always the holidays."
"But we won't be seeing as much of each other as we are now."
"Scott, you know I love you and nothing will change that."
"But what if?"
"What if what?"
"What if someone else comes between us? Like Duncan..."
"Duncan's a jerk, don't remind me." Jean got up to rinse her mug.
"What if that someone else isn't a jerk?"
"Look," she turned to face him. "You're probably as worried about me as I am worried about you. We're going to be fine. Absence makes the heart grow fonder y'know."
"This isn't a fairytale Jean, this is reality."
"C'mon, let's get you some fresh air." Jean led Scott out the kitchen's back door. "Besides, this will probably be one of the last times in a long time that we'll ever get to see a sunrise from the boatdock."
They walked in comfortable silence towards the pier and watched as the breezes stirred the freshly-fallen autumn leaves. The leaves twirled and danced gracefully, bathed in moonlight. It was still dark, and the sun would not be up until a couple more hours. The stars twinkled faintly, but most of them lay hidden behind the wispy clouds. The two of them approached the dock and went to sit by the edge. Jean took off her sandals and dipped her feet into the cool waters beneath.
"Have you given a thought about what you want to do after you graduate?" Jean watched as the ripples formed around her ankles.
"I'll probably return here to become a full-time instructor. Just like Storm did. The professor could use more help at the rate enrollment is increasing. He took me in, and the best thing I could do is return the favour. And maybe we could even turn this place into a real school, where we wouldn't have to hide our powers and stuff. What about you Jean?"
"Be a doctor? That's what I've always wanted to do ever since I saw Annie die. To save lives. But then again, with the advent of human evolution, it had me thinking again. I told the professor I wanted to study Genetics, to fully understand what we are, why we have these special gifts. I could help save misdiagnosed telepathic girls like myself. And maybe, just maybe let people understand we are all but different from them. That we need to be understood, not feared. I could bring substantial scientific proof into the courtroom, to convince them that we are human, and we deserve equal rights, equal treatment and equal protection from acts of hostility."
"That's pretty ambitious Jean."
"But I'm not going to sit around and let that stupid MRA bill be passed. We deserve better for ourselves, and for future generations as well."
Scott smiled at Jean's enthusiasm. "I have faith in you Jean."
"And I have faith in you that you'll be a fine teacher too Scott." She scooted closer as he put his arm around her shoulders. She sunk into his embrace and rested her head on his shoulder. They watched as the blue hue of the sky lightened gradually. The moon and the stars were starting to fade. In a distance, they heard the waves lap against the shoreline, the white foam washing ashore then retreating to reveal wet sand.
"I was thinking," she lifted her head to get a better view of his face, "about what you said earlier in the kitchen."
"That if something were to happen to us; that if destiny never meant for us to be together, that we will still be best friends? And that we won't hate each other's guts afterward?"
"I have faith in us Jean." His lips brushed lightly over her forehead, to emphasize his point.
"But what if?" She gazed at the sky. It was turning red.
"You know I love you."
"Ditto." Jean stifled a yawn.
The sun was rising, and the sky grew redder. The clouds were thickening.
"Anybody wants toast?" Scott called from the counter.
"Kurt, I said like, pass the milk."
"Scott, ah think we're outta cereal again!"
"Thanks Kurt, like...Augh! Jamie!"
"Sorry Kitty, tripped on my shoelaces." Three apologetic Jamies were looking at a piqued Kitty with a white splotch on her blouse, which bled into her skirt as well.
"Jamie! This outfit is like, new!"
"I said I was sorry."
Kitty marched off to change, passing Bobby in the doorway. "Don't ask." Bobby just shrugged.
"Is anyone listenin' 'ere? Ah said we're outta cereal!"
"Sorry about that Rogue, you want some toast?"
"Yeah, fayne, whatever."
"Jean, you want some? Jean?"
"Hmm?" Jean looked up from her juice. She had been daydreaming again.
"You want some toast?"
"No, I'm not hungry."
"Are you okay, you looked spaced out."
"I'm fine, just a little sleepy. I think I'll get myself a cup of coffee."
"Alright, anyone who needs a ride, be out in the garage in five minutes." Scott called out to no one in particular. He walked over to the sink to rinse his plate, then whisper something in Jean's ear. It made her giggle. He pecked her on the cheek, and walked out.
"What?" Almost all eyes were on her. She turned and left the kitchen with her coffee in hand, to sit by the window still in the rec room. While sipping her coffee, she caught a glance of that familiar red sports car pull out of the drive way, and sped out into the distance. She looked up at the darkening grey sky. Lightning flashed, and in a split second, the raindrops came falling, first in a light drizzle, which then increased in intensity. The rain beat against the glass, the droplets breaking into streams on the smooth surface. Jean set her now empty mug beside her, and drew her knees to her chest. Absently, she traced the patterns on the glass with her index finger, her longing gaze fixed on the tiny droplet sliding down the window. There was this tinge of sadness in her heart; she did not think they will be leaving so soon. It seemed like only yesterday...
Out of the corner of her eye, Jean saw the red car pull hurriedly into the drive way, and into the garage. She smiled a little. Upon hearing footsteps, her gaze averted to the doorway.
"Should've taken your SUV." Scott was dripping a little, or at least his hair was all wet.
"You're cuter when you're drenched, and all all wet like that." She shot him a coy smile, but amusement got the better of her and she started chuckling.
"I think I'll go change."
"I'll be right here waiting for you." She blew him a kiss. Jean watched him head up the stairs, and soon found herself humming to the tune of that song. She stared out into the rain again. It did not seem to want to stop anytime soon.
"Hey beautiful." Scott approached her from behind and enveloped her in a hug, and kissed the top of her head.
"Anything interesting out there?"
"Just the rain. It's like the skies are bidding farewell to us as well." Jean sighed.
"Yeah, I'm gonna miss hanging out here with the guys."
Jean started yawning heavily. Her eyelids felt like they weighed a tonne.
"Hmm?" Her mumble was almost incoherent.
You wanna go back to your room? He sent via their mindlink.
Nah, I'm quite comfy where I am. She snuggled closer, nestled in his arms.
Scott leaned against the corner, and looked out the window. The rainfall had once again been reduced to a drizzle. His gaze swept from the porch, down the steps, across the lawn, stopping at the wrought iron gates. Tomorrow...
The fledgings were growing up too fast too soon. The first were about to leave this nest, this sanctuary. To soar in the open sky.
Nobody really knew what to say. It was all so surreal. Hugs and words of encouragement were passed.
Charles Xavier watched the exchange of laughter and tears from his office. His children were growing up, he mused. And the hallways will be emptier...
He looked on as the young couple shared a parting kiss. It lingered for awhile, each refusing to let go. They embraced for a little longer, fingers intertwined, until they finally found the strength to pull away.
Xavier tried to blink away the tears clouding his eyes, but one lone tear managed to escape as he witnessed the silver SUV leave the institute's gates, followed closely by the red sports car. He had seen many futures through the mind of a mighty being, which path will this lead to?