"Burn! BURN!" The redhead cackled evilly as the brunette cowered at her feet.
"No...please...I beg of you to stop..." The brunette huddled in a foetal position, doused in raging flames. She pleaded desperately, but it seems that the redhead only grew angrier by the minute. And the more irate she became, the fire grew bigger.
"You will pay! You will burn! And you shall DIE!" The redhead's flaming figure hovered over the frightened brunette. She manipulated the flames as easy as she would, wriggling her fingers. A vicious smile ran across her face as she conducted the flames like an orchestra. The fire too shrouded the redhead like a heavy, settling mist, but it seemed to only harm her victim.
"No...NO!" The brunette's cries were becoming deafening, but only to be drowned by the redhead's laughter.
"NO!" Jean shot up in her bed screaming. She shook her head forcefully, and tried to regain her orientation. She was in her room. She just had a nightmare. Her hair was soaked and she felt as if she was running a temperature. Jean looked beside her at the sleeping figure of Misty, who mumbled something in her sleep and turned over. Jean decided to wash up and get something to quench her thirst. She was still wobbly on her feet, and the white light of the bathroom was piercing. She winced as she stumbled to the sink and turned on the tap. She studied her bedraggled appearance in the mirror. What was happening to her? She had another nightmare of fire again, and this time, the visions did not extend to just Annie alone. And it did become more vivid. Jean shuddered at the thought and goosepimples formed on her arms. She had to admit she was becoming frightened. Maybe this time, she will talk to the professor about it.
Jean dragged her aching body back into bed and pulled the covers over her. Then she felt too hot and kicked them off. She tossed and turned, but every time she closed her eyes, she saw the flames again. She finally gave up trying to go back to sleep and walked over to her desk and switched on her laptop. Intuition told her that someone else was not feeling sleepy either.
1.48am **user jeangrey has logged in**
slim_shadey: shldn't u b asleep?
jeangrey: y aren't u?
jeangrey: me neither
jeangrey: had another nitemare
slim_shadey: wanna talk abt it?
jeangrey: no, just don't ok
slim_shadey: Jean, what's wrong?
jeangrey: nothin ok
jeangrey: JUST CUT IT OUT
slim_shadey: ok, ok
slim_shadey: so how're u feeling?
jeangrey: still having a bit of a headache tho
slim_shadey: u shld go back to sleep
jeangrey: i'm afraid
slim_shadey: of what?
jeangrey: i don't know
jeangrey: i think it's best to leave it to the prof
slim_shadey: Jean, u're worrying me
jeangrey: i'll b fine
jeangrey: it's just the TP, i think it's actin up again
slim_shadey: i think it's more than just ur TP
jeangrey: i don't know...i just...
jeangrey: i need some asprin
slim_shadey: try to get some sleep 'k
jeangrey: 'k, u too
2.17am **user jeangrey has logged off**
2.20am **user slim_shadey has logged off**
Scott was left staring at his computer screen for some time. The monotonous buzz of the computer fans was the only thing that could be heard. Paul was quiet and snug as a bug in his bed, while he sat pondering what was happening to Jean. The last time something catastrophic happened was back at Bayville High, and it was not nearly two years ago. The professor had reassured her that it was just her powers expanding, and she possibly had limitless potential to develop. But Scott could not shrug off the feeling that something bad was looming over the horizon. He soon fell fast asleep on his desk.
Scott could not have been happier when his last class had ended and the summer holidays began. He had packed his bags a few days beforehand and dashed off to join the crowd on the highway. He was also well aware that Ororo had come to accompany Jean back to the institute the day before. They had feared she would have another lapse.
There was a knock on the heavy oak door of the professor's office.
"Come in Jean."
"Good morning Professor."
"Morning Jean, I trust that you are well rested?"
"Yes, the psi-shielding of my old room helped greatly." Jean sat herself down on one of the chairs opposite the professor.
"It has come to my attention that you've recently been experiencing these mood changes," the professor steepled his fingers.
"I feel my telepathy has become off as of late. I'm starting to hear these voices again..." Jean waved her arms about for emphasis, "and I've had some nightmares."
"Yes. Nightmares of fire. Fire burning people. It was horrible." Jean buried her head in her hands and rested them on the table. "I had one last year, of Annie's death, and the fire burned the doctor and nurses. They who took me." She mumbled through her palms. "The dreams were gone for awhile, then they came back, together with the voices. Then the fire started burning other people as well."
"This fire which you speak of, what was the source of it?"
"It was me." Jean slowly lifted her head to look at the professor. There was pain and fear in her eyes.
"It happens when I'm angry, when I'm angry at something, or someone. The fire burns brighter when I'm angry."
Charles Xavier was slightly dumbfounded at this revelation. He collected himself. "And the voices?"
"It's like before, when I'm in crowded places. Professor, is there something wrong with my shields?"
He reached out his fingers and placed them on Jean's temple. He started to gently probe her mind. "Your shields are perfectly fine Jean. Maybe it's just the stress of school and your new environments."
"Perhaps. But I can't help feel it's something else..." her weak voice trailed away.
The professor's expression turned grim. "You'd like to suspend your next term? Maybe it'll be better for you to return to the institute for awhile, so you can better develop your suppressed telepathy. I would appear that I've shielded you too much as a child for your own good."
"No, no, I'll be fine. I think this holiday period should be sufficient."
"Are you sure, Jean? I could always explain to the board..."
"I think you're right, it's just the stress. Nothing I can't handle," Jean flashed a weak smile.
"Alright, but be sure to notify us immediately if anything goes wrong."
"I will Professor." Jean got up and gave him a hug.
"We're always here for you Jean. And get some rest."
Jean made her way towards the doors.
"We're having a gathering of the new students this afternoon. Are you interested to join us?"
"Nah, I think I'll use the time to catch up on some sleep."
It was way past three in the afternoon when Scott arrived back at the institute. The traffic situation in New York City was unbelievable. As he pulled into the institute's front gates (he had remembered to ask for his entrance code the day before), he noticed a construction crew putting up the finishing touches to a new wing of the institute. Part of the woods next to the institute had given way to this new addition. Scott eased his car into the garage. He noticed Jean's SUV to the other end of the row of vehicles.
"What's up with the new building?"
"We've got ourselves a whole bunch of new recruits. They've just left for a tour of the institute. Enrolment for the fall period."
"Ah." So, the institute would be getting itself more students.
"There's Sam's sister Paige, dunno what she really does except shed skin. Dani we gotta know last year from that biking incident, she's finally agreed ta school with us. Theresa Cassidy, Sean's daughter. Sean's an ol' friend of Charles, and apparently she's like father like daughter, complete with ta Irish accent, but rather quiet. Then there's a teleporter like Kurt, Clarice, supersonic flyin twins Jean-Paul and Jean-Marie, and Jonothon Starmore, haven't seen da kid and dunno what's it he does either. Oh, and Jubes and Rahne are back."
"Great. So I assume that's what the new wing is for. Dorms?"
"Yup, and classrooms."
"Charles' thinkin o' turnin this place into a real school. He thinks it might be starting ta be dangerous for 'em out there."
"So, when do you guys start hiring?"
Logan shrugged. "When ya guys finish schoolin?"
"But I'm only one guy. I'm not sure about Jean though."
"Kitty and Kurt've expressed interest in becomin instructors, as well as Amara and Bobby."
"Bobby as a teacher?" That was a thought.
"Ya betta believe it Slim."
"Anyway, how's Jean?" The small talk was over, and he really hoped she was alright.
"I last saw her with Charles. 'Ro brought lunch up ta her room. Hasn't been out since mornin."
"I think I'll go check in on her." That was his real interest in coming back to the institute anyway.
"Well, I think ya should."
Scott climbed the foyer stairs and turned down a familiar hallway. The mansion was quite empty on the whole as everyone else was out exploring the mansion grounds, or relaxing by the pool. He knocked softly on Jean's door, and waited for her answer. Jean gave the door a telekinetic tug open. She was hovering slightly her bed cross-legged, exercising a meditation technique she had been taught by the professor as a child. Upon sensing Scott entering, she lowered herself down onto the covers, her knees drawn up to her chest.
"Hey," Scott greeted softly, closing the door behind him. Jean just looked up and acknowledged his presence with a soft smile. His normally vocal Jean was unusually silent.
"You okay?" He sat down beside her, drawing her closer to him. He began rubbing small circles on her back.
"I...I don't know..." She looked as if she was about to cry.
"Jean? You wanna tell me what's wrong?" Scott frowned, and he was not sensing much emotion from her either through the link. It was as though she consciously shut off projecting through their link.
"I...I just want you to hold me." Her arms gripped his waist and she buried her head into his shoulder. They sat there like this for awhile, until Jean slipped into dreamland and Scott laid her back onto the bed. He drew up a chair beside the bed so he could watch her sleep, but slumber had claimed him soon after.
"Wake up Jean...wake up..."
"Huh? What?" Jean stirred and rubbed at her eyes.
"Come, I sense this great power..."
"Who are you? What do you want?" Jean surveyed her bedroom anxiously. Scott was fast asleep in his chair, head and arms sprawled across her bed.
"Come, and you shall see..."
"Go where?" Jean voiced aloud. She was not hallucinating, was she? It could not have been the voices. Her room was shielded, and Scott was projecting nothing.
"Come..." the voice trailed off into the distance. Jean scrambled to her feet to follow that mysterious voice. Where was it taking her?
The voice led her to the elevator and down to the sub-basement.
"Come..." the source appeared to come from Cerebro. Jean placed her palm on the scanner for admittance.
"Where are you? What are you?!" Part of her was curious, yet part of her was frightened. She took timid steps to the end of the bridge and Cerebro's control panels. She positioned her body to the level of the panels and adjusted the headpiece over her head. Then she started Cerebro, and within moments, felt her mind being pulled from her body and onto the Astral Plane.
"Where am I?"
"The Astral Plane. The galaxy where great minds come to meet."
Jean recognised the place. She had fought with her mentor once when he was possessed by the evil being known as Apocalypse. Now, she came face to face with a splitting image of herself, only her other self was shrouded in flames. The flaming figure from her dreams.
"Who...who are you? What are you doing in my head?!"
The figure morphed into the form of Annie. Sweet little Annie.
"It's alright Jean. It's me."
Jean approached the little girl warily. Then, she started multiplying. And she started changing. Then, Jean found herself surrounded by the doctors and nurses, those horrible people from the sanatorium, and then there was Colleen. She was laughing at her, while the doctors barked orders at the nurses. They were coming to take her away. Not again...
"No! Jean!" Scott awoke with a start. "Jean?" She was not in her room. The bedsheets were creased and cool to the touch. It indicated that she had been gone for sometime. Maybe she decided to go down to the kitchen to get a drink or take a walk around the mansion. But something did not feel right about this. He bolted out the door and down the hall. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that the elevator had been taken down to the sub-basement level. No one had been scheduled for Danger Room practice today, to his knowledge. Curiosity got the better of him, that he should give the sub-basement a quick check.
The corridors were eerily cold and silent. No one was down here, it seemed. That was until he heard screams coming from inside Cerebro.
"Jean? Jean!" Scott made a mad dash for Cerebro and pounded on the heavy metal doors, but found it locked. Cerebro had been engaged, and only the professor had the overrides to Cerebro. He hurried upstairs to call for help.
"Stop it! STOP IT!" Jean screamed, almost hysterically. She put her hands to her ears as she tried to block out the voices and squirm out of the nurses' grasps.
"Feel the great power within you. You just don't wanna fight them."
Jean screamed some more. She resisted the temptation, but could not fight the urge anymore. She did not want to hurt these people, but they were hurting her. She felt the flames creep from her fingertips. Her eyes were ablaze as she started throwing fire at them. They started to burn again, and it felt great to see them burn. She was angry, and they should burn.
"What's she doing down there?" Logan voiced as he paced towards Cerebro alongside Scott and the professor.
"I don't know!"
"Yer s'pposed ta be lookin after her!"
They came to a halt in front of Cerebro as Charles Xavier keyed in the emergency overrides. This shut down all the power that was fed to Cerebro and ended all activities.
Jean stood watching as the people burned. Suddenly, the mirage faded.
"No! NO!" Jean heard the voice disappear into the distance as well, before collapsing onto the bridge unconscious.
The doors slid open and the three men rushed to her side.
"Jean? Jean?" Scott shook her unconscious form. He removed the headpiece and cradled her wet forehead.
"Whatever she was doing down here appears to have rendered her unconscious, for the moment." Charles Xavier spoke gravely.
"What in hell's name was she doing down 'ere?"
"I don't know Logan." The professor appeared as stunned as the rest of them. "I don't know."
When Jean came to, she found herself back in her bed again. The mysterious voice was gone, but she had a massive migraine. Scott was gripping her left hand while the professor, in his wheel-chair, was on her right.
"What happened?" She mumbled as she felt Scott press something cool to her forehead.
"You were engaging Cerebro in some form of activity. I've accessed the log but it appears to be unrecorded activity, like Cerebro was not activated at all. Do you remember what happened?"
"I...I heard this voice, and followed it down to Cerebro. It told me to burn all those people...then...I don't remember...and my head hurts..."
"Get some rest Jean. We'll talk about this tomorrow." Charles Xavier fingered the switch of his automated wheel-chair, spinning it around and proceeded for the door. He motioned for Scott to leave the room as well. She needed some time alone to herself.
Jean awoke the next morning. It was bright and sunny outside. Her huge migraine was mostly gone. She crawled up from bed and washed up. Then she will go find Scott and head down for breakfast. She walked down the hall to his room. His door was not locked, and she always had this habit of letting herself in and forgetting to knock. The shower was running in the bathroom, so she sat on his bed and waited. Her eyes drifted to his laptop and his open inbox. He had accessed his email. Jean scooted closer to get a better look. Most of the messages were from Paul, and a couple of administrative stuff, but there was this one message received from Colleen.
Jean felt the anger, pain and disgust rage from within her. This is stupid Jean. But there was always a "what if" was there not? Besides, he had expressed interest before; she had felt it that night. Maybe he was just keeping it from her; Scott was always good with his mental blocks. He would not two-time anyone, would he?
She heard the shower being turned off. She hesitated to remain in his room, but she just could not bring herself to meet his eyes. She left swiftly, and started tearing when she walked out the door.
"Jean?" Scott peered from the bathroom. At one glance the room was empty. His door was ajar and he poked his head out into the corridor, but saw no one there. He shrugged. Maybe it was just the wind from his open window, but he had clearly sensed someone in the room. Walking over to his desk and computer as he dried his hair, he spared no second glance at the most recently accessed email and deleted it. He would read the rest later, after breakfast. He made his way over to Jean's room, but saw she was not in her room. Perhaps, she had gone down for breakfast, he hoped.
His back turned as he hit the stairs, he did not notice Jean hiding in the shadows at the end of the hall in one isolated corner. She pressed herself against the wall, letting her tears fall. Why was he doing this to her?
It took her sometime before she managed to calm herself down and dried her tears. If she was lucky, there would still be some breakfast left.
Jean spent the rest of the holidays trying to avoid Scott, and cooped up in her room, only allowing the professor to tend to her (telepathy) once in awhile, and Ororo to bring her her meals. Scott was told she did needed rest and did not want to be disturbed. He found out the hard way when she threw a chair at him on his first attempt at visiting her. But he could not comprehend why she suddenly became so angry with him. Over the next few days, their link had reduced to the static buzz of their college stay. And he had begun to worry that something was truly wrong with her.