The neighbourhood was deserted. As if on instinct, he automatically pulled up in front of a fine white two storey house. He walked inside. The house was empty, just like the rest of the houses in this neighbourhood, like a ghost town. He heard faint noises from upstairs. Someone was humming a melodious tune. It was a tune he had heard before; he had vague memories of it. He climbed the stairs silently, following the trail of the tune. It led to the door on the left at the end of the corridor. It was open, and he pushed.
There was a little girl sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, playing with her doll. She turned her head in his direction upon hearing his voice. "Hello," she returned nonchalantly.
"Why are you here all alone little girl? Where are your parents? Where's everybody?"
"They're gone. They're scared of me. They're scared of what I can do."
"How long have you been here? How long have they gone?"
"I don't know. I only know bad things happen when I leave this house." She looked away from his eyes and cradled her doll, rocking back and forth. "Bad things...bad things..." she mumbled incoherently.
He knelt down so their eyes were level. "What's your name?"
"Jean." She had that eerie far-off look in her huge green eyes. She held up her doll. "This is Annie. What's your name?"
"Scott." He put on his best smile.
She eyed him intently. Standing up and holding her doll close to her, she surveyed him from head to toe. She walked one circle around him, before proclaiming, "You're not Scott. Now go away and leave me alone!" Angrily, she sat herself back down in the middle of the room and ignored him.
He was bewildered. "Jean, don't you recognize me? It's Scott, your best friend."
"No, he's skinnier, wears red glasses, and is only three inches taller than me. You're not him. Now go away!" She picked up the doll and stomped to a corner of the room.
He picked himself up and followed her. "Jean?" He reached out to take her hand. "I'm here to help you."
She flinched at his touch. "Lemme go!"
"Jean, I'm just here to help."
"NO!" Her eyes widened. She started screaming and kicking. "You're not taking me away! Lemme go!"
"I just want to take you home."
"No, you're one of them...you're going to take me away. They said you'd come for me. There was another who came..." She muttered nervously.
"Who, Jean? Look, I'm not going to hurt you. I'm taking you to some place safe where we can look after you."
"No, they all say that! You're not taking me away!"
"I'm not 'them' Jean, I'm Scott. I'll keep you safe." Slightly frustrated, he unintentionally grabbed both her wrists when she tried to wriggle out of his grasp.
"Scott'll come for me...he'll keep me safe...he'll not hurt me..." Breathlessly, her words escaped her mouth as a whisper. She was close to tears.
"That's right, I'm here..." He was about to draw her tiny form into his embrace when he felt her jerk away.
"You're hurting me!" She rubbed at her wrists. "You're trying to trick me!" Her brows furrowed and she stared intensely at him. Her green eyes began to flicker in reds and yellows and a glow consumed her body. He immediately dropped her hand as if he was holding on to a piece of hot iron.
She raised her arms, and commanded flames that engulfed the whole house and room.
"Jean! Jean, stop it!"
"I...I can't...help me..."
"Jean!" Scott opened his eyes. The room was dark and quiet. The night breezes stirred the curtains. He lay sprawled on his bed. The covers were in a lump at the foot of the bed. He sat up and rubbed his face. "It was just a dream...it was just a dream..."
He had not had this dream since he left Westchester two years ago. But barely two weeks after his return, the dreams returned. They were similar to the ones he had before. It was just something about the Institute and this dream.
Help me Scott, help me...
Scott shook his head. He must be hearing things. He lay down on the bed and tried to go back to sleep. He had an early class tomorrow.
Scott was cranky the whole morning, running on little sleep and needing three cups of coffee to perk him up. And his class was the least bit interested in the math problem on the board.
"Can anyone give me the coordinates where the tangent meets..." Hearing distinct giggles, he halted abruptly. Jerking his head up and scanning the room, but everyone was quiet. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he caught a flash of red hair and laughter echoing down the hallway. In a trance-like state, he started walking towards the door.
"Mr Summers? Are you okay?"
Scott shook his head and recollected his thoughts. "I'm fine Clarice, just distracted." Scott walked over to the board and started writing down the solution. He made a couple of obvious mistakes here and there and had to be pointed out to them by his students. But he was not in the mood to teach. His thoughts drifted to Jean. He was certain he was not hallucinating.
"Scott? Are you alright? You've been down here since lunch and you haven't eaten anything."
"I'm fine Hank." Scott stared absently at Jean's lifeless form, clasping her cold hand in his.
Hank walked over and put his hand, or rather paw, on Scott's shoulder.
"There has to be a way to bring her back, Hank."
"We've tried. I'm sorry Scott."
Scott remained silent.
"Call if you need anything. I'll be in the labs." With that, Hank left the room quietly.
Scott ran his fingers through her hair and brought her hand to the side of his face. "Do you know how much it pains me to see you like this? To live each day without you, your smile, your voice, your touch...I..." The tears were falling, but he did not care. "I know you're in there Jean. I know you can still hear me. Come back to me, I miss you Jean." He sniffled and wiped a tear from his cheek. He rubbed his thumb over hers. She was calling out to him in his dream. He just did not know how to reach her. There had to be a way. "I remember when I was lost and you found me. You were always there for me. I'm here for you now...come back..." He was crying freely now, something he was not previously able to do without his eyes closed.
Laying his head on her bed, Scott drifted in and out of sleep.
His eyes flickered open. He was dazed and staring straight ahead into space. Suddenly, he felt her fingers tighten their grip on his hand ever so slightly before releasing and going limp again.
"Jean?" He lifted his head. He thought he felt some movement.
"Scott? What are you still doing down here at this hour?"
"Hank, you startled me," Scott turned abruptly. His watch read 2.38 am.
"Shouldn't you be in bed?"
"I can't...don't wanna sleep. Nightmares. Besides, I think Jean might need the company."
"Scott...you really could use some rest."
"It's just, every time I go to sleep, Jean starts appearing in my dreams, as a child. She's calling out to me to help her Hank. I think she's trapped inside, but I don't know how to get her out."
Hank had a slightly puzzled look etched onto his face.
"She's trapped in her own mind. I need to get in there and get her out."
"But the professor tried and...Scott, you're no telepath."
"It wouldn't hurt to try..."
"Scott, you need rest. You're getting delirious." It took Hank much persuasion to get Scott to head to bed.
The next morning, Charles Xavier received an unexpected knock on his office door. "Scott, what can I do for you?"
"I need your help to get me into Jean's mind and draw her out."
"Scott," he sighed, "I've tried, but she refused my help."
"That's why I need your help so I can enter her mind."
Xavier paused before he comprehended Scott. "You know that's not practical and it's dangerous."
"But I'm the only chance of ever getting her back. She came to me, she needs me."
"I hear her in my dreams. Sometimes, even during the day. I don't know."
Xavier steepled his fingers and pondered. "Of course, the residue of the telepathic bond you shared with Jean. She's trying to communicate with you through that rapport."
Charles Xavier found himself in the medbay once again, outside Jean's room.
"Charles, I don't think it's such a good idea." Hank stopped the professor in his tracks.
"I have my reservations, but if Scott is right, their bond might be our key to getting Jean back."
"I hope you're right. We wouldn't want to lose them both."
"I hope so too Henry." Xavier wheeled into Jean's room and closed the door behind him to ensure more privacy.
"Professor," Scott stood up to acknowledge Xavier's presence. The latter nodded and gestured for Scott to return to his chair.
"Scott, I want you to understand that what you are about to undertake is highly risky. And furthermore, you're not a telepath and have no experience with having your mind displaced onto the Astral Plane. If anything should go wrong, your psyche could be lost forever."
"I understand, Professor." Scott unfolded his hands in his lap. "So how do I go about doing...this?"
"I can help pull your mind onto the Astral Plane; think of it as a piggyback. But once you're in Jean's mind, you're on your own. I don't think it's a good idea to overwhelm her, though I'll be placing tabs on you so I can help you maintain connect with your physical body and you'll be able to find your own way back."
"Whenever you're ready, Scott. I just need you to relax."
As Xavier concentrated, Scott felt as if he was being pulled away from his body. He felt light, and floated upwards into a huge black void. No, he could see stars, like he was drifting in the universe. Then, there was a blinding flash of white as he felt himself being dragged into a 'hole', into which he fell, like Alice down the rabbit hole.
He came to land in the living room area of a house. A burning house. The exact same house he kept seeing in his dreams. Right now, the fire was raging.
"Jean? Oh God, Jean!" Scott took to the stairs at a quick pace.
He heard screams from the room on the left down the hallway. Jean's room. Hold on Jean, I'm coming.
She was curled in a ball in the middle of the empty room. Hair dishevelled and face scarred by tears. She grabbed her head with her hands, and was choking and bawling at the same time.
"Go away! Leave me alone! You're not taking me away...you're not taking me away..."
"Jean, it's me, Scott. Look at me Jean. No one's coming to take you away." Scott approached her cautiously.
Slowly, her head rose. The sobs gradually stopped accompanied by ragged breathing and coughing. She looked up; her eyes were red and swollen.
"Scott? Is that really you?" Her voice was a little shaky, and she eyed him intently.
Scott was half afraid she was not going to recognize his form and become enraged, like she had in all his dreams. But for an instant, he caught his reflection in the glass of the window. This time, his psyche took his child form, when he and Jean first met. He was lanky, with red shades that looked too big for him. He had to remind himself that this was Jean's mind, and it was how she perceived things to be.
"Scott?" She burst into tears again. Scott leapt across the room to embrace her. She latched herself onto him in a death grip and cried into his shoulder.
"Shh...Jean, it's okay..." He stroked her hair and attempted to comfort her.
"Don't let them get me...don't...don't let go..."
"I won't let anything bad happen to you. Just calm down. You need to stop all the fire and destruction."
"I don't know how...the Phoenix controls it...I don't know how to stop it..." Scott could sense that she started to panic.
"Jean, calm down. Nobody is controlling it except you. The Phoenix, it's all in your mind. It's all in here," he tapped gently at her right temple.
Jean held on tighter to Scott. "I'm afraid...of them...the fire, it keeps them out..."
"There's nothing to be afraid of Jean. I'm here, I'm taking you...take you someplace safe."
"Just you and me?" Her voice was weak.
"Yeah, just us," He smiled back. Scott felt Jean's body slump back against his arms, almost as if she fainted. All around them, the flames died down, and the house was quiet and peaceful once again.
"Jean?" He shook her limp body in his arms. Her eyelids fluttered open. "Jean?"
"Scott?" He nodded and smiled gratefully. "I just feel so tired..."
"C'mon, let's get you outta here," he stood up slowly and helped her to her feet. Taking her by the hand, he led her down the stairs and outside. Then they vanished into the white light.
"Huh?" Scott jerked awake in his seat. His hand was still gripping Jean's cold one.
"Welcome back, Scott."
"Jean?" She still lay motionless in the bed. "Professor, what's wrong with her? I thought I led her out, everything was going fine and..."
"Just calm down Scott..."
Just then, Scott felt Jean return the grip of his hand. She started tilting her head slightly from side to side and made small whimpering noises. Slowly, she opened her eyes, and blinked really hard. Taking in the sight of the somewhat unfamiliar surroundings, she asked, "Where am I?"
The professor was the first to speak. "You're in the medbay Jean. Welcome back."
She directed her gaze from the ceiling to the direction of the professor's voice. "Professor..." She felt someone else holding on to her hand. Jean turned to face him and let out a slight gasp. "Scott, is that you?"
"Yes. Jean," he held her hand tighter. She began to tear. Scott reached out with his other hand to wipe away the tears.
"Different? They...ah..." he bit his lip, trying to figure out how to rephrase his words, "invented a gadget that enables me to hold back my powers." Now he felt like crying as well.
"Scott, your eyes, they're so brown, so beautiful..."
He nodded. "You don't know how much I missed you..."
Xavier smiled softly and took his leave quietly. His work here was done, and he left the happy pair alone.
"How did it go Charles?" Hank met the professor in the hall.
"Jean's home Hank, she's finally come home to us." Both men had wide grins plastered on their faces. Then there was the rest of the mansion awaiting this piece of good news.
Jean could only tolerate being confined in the medbay for a day before she became anxious to be up and running. Hank had reluctantly agreed upon her insistent whining. She was assigned her old room back, mainly because her room had been specially designed with inbuilt psi-shielding and the professor wanted to reserve her room for exceptional cases. Since it was not occupied at the moment, she had priority. Also, she was not familiar with the layout of the new wing, although there is where most of the adult/staff quarters are. The original wing was mostly used for emergency housing and classrooms now.
In the morning, Jean would either be tagging along Scott for his classes, or down in the medbay for her scheduled checkups with Hank. After dinner, Scott would accompany her for a stroll through the gardens and out to the boat dock, just like they used to when they were kids. Before life had gotten so complicated.
Three days from her return, Jean began to notice something amiss. Wherever she turned, she saw students wearing tiny silver bands on the wrist, and everyone else seemed to own one that was identical.
She had asked Scott about it. He merely told her it was a special gadget that helped enable him to "switch off" his powers. Rogue just shrugged it off.
Then Kitty and Kurt came back to visit from college. They were naturally thrilled to see her up and running. And when Jean inquired about Kitty's inhibitor, Kitty spilled the beans that it was a law and compulsory under circumstances. Jean was shocked and taken aback. She had gone to seek the professor that afternoon.
"Professor?" Jean knocked on the heavy oak door of the professor's office.
"Please come in Jean." He gestured for Jean to take a seat by his table as he was putting away a file.
"Am I disturbing you, sir?" Jean watched intently as the professor made an attempt to organize his desk.
"No, not at all child. What was it you wanted to inquire?" He leaned forward a little.
"I have been observing," Jean paused, playing with her fingers in her lap. "Scott's been wearing this band around his wrist all the time. He says it helps keep his powers at bay. Rogue too. "
Xavier merely raised his eyebrow.
"Okay, at first I thought it was some special gadget you and Hank created to help the two of them. Then now, suddenly everyone appears to be wearing them." Jean looked up and at the professor. "Why didn't you tell me that the MRA has been passed?"
"Jean, I...we were going to..."
"I asked Kitty this morning." Jean turned her head to the side. "She said it was compulsory for all mutants to register. And you get an inhibitor and a number."
Xavier saw the defeated look on Jean's face. He had not meant for this to happen either. But his efforts at trying to overthrow this bill had proved futile.
"We were meaning to tell you when the time was right."
"And it's all my fault. None of this would have happened if not for me." Jean wrapped her arms around herself. She suddenly felt so cold.
"It's not your fault Jean. Things happen, and sometimes, there's nothing you or I can do to stop it." Xavier closed his eyes and tried not to think about the images that Apocalypse had flooded his mind with.
"I still feel really terrible about it..."
"Professor, you needed to see me?" Scott poked his head into the office. Both Jean and Xavier turned abruptly to face him. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were having a conversation with Jean. I'll come back later if you..."
"No, it's alright, I was about to leave anyway." Jean stood up briskly and headed for the door, keeping her head low to avoid Scott's glance. She did not want him to see that she was upset. "I'm going for a walk to clear my thoughts." She added as an afterthought.