The Ted Roberts case had raised the mutant hysteria alarm up two notches, and it frustrated Scott till no end. It had become the most talked about topic on campus; he himself had seen or read the news reports for at least a dozen times. Speculation on who was the mutant was going on. Scott had no doubt made the connection that it was Jean, and it had concerned him that hers was one of the names being passed around. It made him all the more nervous and jumpy when it came to lunch time, drowning in this mutant hype. For more times than he could count, he flatly refused to comment on the situation. Details in conversations became more grotesque and distorted: some were saying that she was merely picking on the 'weaker specie'; then, there was another rumour that he tried to rape her, but ended up becoming the victim instead. Scott tried to avoid crowds at all costs, semi-worried of the fact that he himself could accidentally be exposed.
When his last day of finals arrived, he hurried out of the examination hall shortly after his paper ended, and left for Bayville without haste. From what he had inferred through few conversations with various members of the institute, Jean had been taken ill like the previous time back in high school. But this time, her condition seemed worse, and she was not recovering from whatever that plagued her. He was having a terrible gut feeling. What on earth was going on?
She had grown paler and thinner by the day. The black circles were an indication of countless sleepless nights -- the dreams and voices still haunted her. She rarely left her bedroom ever since that incident in the rec room. It was as if she was reliving her childhood all over again. She poked at her breakfast on the bedside table, and sipped the tea. The curtains were partially drawn, to keep her bed in the shadows. The sunlight hurt her eyes. The sunshine hurt her mood.
There was a soft knock on the door. The professor had come to see her again.
"Come in." She voiced weakly.
Charles Xavier wheeled in. It pained him to see one of his beloved students in such a defeated state. "And how are you this morning Jean?"
"The same. Could barely sleep." Jean crossed her arms over her raised bent knees and rested her forehead on her arms. She was feeling heavy-eyed, but her phobia of sleeping made her resist. She had to maintain consciousness or else the Phoenix will take over...she must not sleep...
She rocked slightly back and forth while Xavier looked on silently. "You barely touched your breakfast Jean."
"I'm not hungry," she mumbled.
"This cannot go on Jean. You need rest and proper nutrition to recover."
"But I'm not getting better. It's getting worse." Her voice was strained, trying to hold back the tears.
"Give us time Jean. Hank and I are trying to analyse your situation."
"But you've tried everything, and nothing works..."
A familiar red sight pulled into the institute's driveway. Leaving his car by the porch, Scott dashed up the steps and through the main doors.
"Where's Jean? What happened? How's she?" It came out as an exasperated babble.
Ororo was taken aback, and took a few moments to process what Scott had said. "She's...er...stable currently. Charles is tending to her in her room."
Scott took to the stairs two by two.
"I wouldn't think it's such a good idea to see her now." Ororo called from the bottom of the stairway.
"I don't care. I want to see her." He did not slow his pace upon reaching the top of the stairs.
Charles Xavier sensed the young man's urgency. "Scott's coming back today. Perhaps, you'd like a change of company?"
Jean's expression was one of disgust and she turned her head away from the door. "No, just tell him to go away. Not after what he did to me." She knew this was partially a lie, but her anger towards him had been rekindled, and Jean was apprehensive of what she might just do to him. And besides she did not want anyone else to see the state she was in.
But still, there was no force that could keep him from barging in. "Jean?" Scott caught his breath in the doorway.
Xavier directed a stern glare towards him. Scott, next time, please knock.
Sorry, but not now Professor. I want to see her.
Scott, now it's not a good time, I'm afraid.
I'd like to speak with her privately, sir, Scott was insistent, his jaw set.
"Very well then, I shall leave you two alone. Call if you need anything," Xavier referred to no one in particular.
"What do you want?" Jean still had her head turned away.
"Haven't you done enough?"
"I want to know what happened."
"You know what happened."
"That's not what happened...exactly."
"Why do you even bother?"
"Because I care."
"Don't lie to a telepath Scott," Jean tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. She had gotten a haircut, leaving her hair just slightly longer than half the length it used to be.
"You cut your hair," Scott tried to approach her with small talk.
"I felt like it."
"It's shorter...than previously."
"What?! Can't I cut it?"
"No, no, it's fine...what do you want me to say?"
"Nothing okay? Just go away."
"Not until you tell me what happened."
"Why is it even a concern of yours?"
"Don't Jean me. We broke up, in case you didn't realise..."
"Jean, that was just a stupid, rash decision based on a misunderstanding."
"Yeah, the fact that you slept with her is some misunderstanding." Jean spat harshly.
"I was drunk Jean; it was a mistake. And for the record, I was never dating her at all."
"God Scott, how many excuses can you come up with?"
"It isn't an excuse Jean!" Throwing his hands up in the air, he was getting frustrated on his part as well. "Then what about yourself? You seemed pretty comfortable with him."
"Don't even go there Scott. Just leave, I don't want any of us to get hurt."
"What? You're gonna set me on fire as well?"
"It...I...It wasn't intentional!" Yes it was...
"Jean, what happened?"
She could feel the anger boil and rage within her. Men. They're all liars and cheaters...It was that voice again...and she spaced out for a second.
"Jean? Jean? What's wrong?"
"You want to know what happened?! You want to know what's wrong?!" She slashed out at him. "He tried to rape me, I got angry, then a voice told me to burn that bastard, so I did exactly just that! What's wrong?! I don't friggin' know! All I know is that I hear voices and get possessed by a fire throwing being!"
Then she started hugging her knees and quivering. "Just go before she decides to hurt you as well..." Jean spoke in a weak and frightened tone this time, and broke into sobs.
"Jean? I'm so sorry..." Scott immediately rushed to her side and wrapped his arms around her.
"Don't touch me!" She pushed him away. Scott caught the image of flames in her eyes when they locked eyes for a second. Jean buried her head in her knees and pushed Scott out of the door with her telekinesis and locked it.
"Dammit Jean! Open up! Something is not right and you know it!" Scott pounded furiously on her door as Charles Xavier approached him.
"Professor, what's wrong with Jean?!" Scott's brows were knit. He lowered his gaze to meet that of Xavier's positioning both palms on the arm rests of his wheelchair to stare him in the eye.
"Scott, Jean's just highly emotional and stressed after that unfortunate incident."
But Scott was not budging. "You do know what's wrong. I saw these flames in her eyes. And it scared the hell out of me."
"You have to I truly do not comprehend fully what's wrong with her Scott. Hank and I are working on that. I theorize that her powers are evolving further, to her full potential."
"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?!" He pushed himself off the professor's wheelchair and rammed a fist into the wall.
"Jean is changing. But for the better, or for the worse, we do not know for sure." Xavier appeared sceptical. Scott suspected he was still hiding something.
"You once told us, you saw the future through Apocalypse's mind. You know what'll happen to Jean!"
"She evolves, yes, but I do not know the outcome of it. There was just so much chaos, and fire."
With his back against the wall, Scott slid slowly down until he sat on the floor. "You saw our futures, and Jean wasn't a part of it." He closed his eyes, removed his glasses and wiped at his face. "Jean's not going to die, is she?" Scott blurted out, voice trembling.
"I only saw my future X-Men, Scott. There is still hope yet. And we're trying all ways and means to stop, or dampen the toil of the effects it will have on Jean. I know what you're fearful of Scott. Jean's like a daughter to me, and I love her dearly too. And I will not see to it that anything bad happens to her either. Jean's a strong individual and she won't give up without a fight. And we must be stronger to give her the strength and support she seeks. You understand Scott, you must be strong for her."
Scott could not help but let the tears leak out from his closed eyes. Was he destined all his life to lose those he loved? First his parents, and now Jean? "Yes, Professor..." he replied shakily.
"I must go Scott, the Senate is expecting my presence for this afternoon's session. Do help me keep an eye on Jean."
"I will Professor." Scott stood up and replaced his glasses, his blasts incinerating whatever tears which threatened to form. He watched as Charles Xavier wheeled towards the elevator.
Scott brought Jean her lunch, but she refused to open the door and let anyone in. He left the tray at her door in case she became hungry. The adults crowded in the rec room. The professor was currently engaged in a Senate session. Hank had accompanied him, but was not required by the professor to make an appearance, lest he stir more commotion and unrest. It was not an easy Christmas week for anyone in the institute. Scott took a place by the doorway and watched televised anti-mutant demonstrators parade the streets of Washington D.C. His frown deepened, lines carved into his forehead.
"Professor Charles Xavier," Senator Edward Kelly graced the floor of the Senate Hearings. "In light of recent events, certain mutant threats have raised public concern of whether they are a danger and menace to society."
Charles Xavier listened intently at his place at the podium.
"Some months ago, as you would recall, a 15-year-old is in a coma of mysterious origin after coming into supposed contact with one, or two mutants." Senator Kelly read off a blue folder. "And just a few days ago, a 21-year-old college student, previously in a coma and now deceased was attacked and set on fire by a pyrokinetic, according to eye-witnesses. And to my knowledge, public and private property have also been severely damaged by this mutant." He closed the file and took small steps towards the podium. Faint mumbles from the crowd grew louder. "As you can see, such situations involving mutants have become extremely dangerous and out of hand. It is in the best interest of the public to ensure that we have a system of mutant identification and monitor their situations. Thus, I propose the once too many rejected Mutant Registration Act to be implemented." With that statement, the crowd rose to their feet and cheered and clapped loudly.
Charles Xavier steepled his fingers and waited calmly for the enthusiasm to die down before speaking. "Senator, mutants are still in all aspects human and deserve equal rights and treatment. Implementing the Mutant Registration Act would be treating them like criminals. They are entitled to the same freedom as you are."
"Freedom to wreck havoc in our society Professor?"
"With all due respects Senator, normal armed citizens are equally as dangerous as mutants on the streets. And they can wreak havoc, if not more."
"That is why we licence them to possess fire arms, and try to educate the public on the responsibilities of gun ownership."
"And that is what I propose, to educate mutants, to teach them to better control their powers and not to abuse their special abilities."
"And do you suppose that it will work effectively one hundred percent Professor?"
"I would not guarantee absolute success Senator, but is it not worth a try?"
"The safety of millions of citizens is at stake here. We cannot afford mistakes. And the best solution is to simply remove the threat." Kelly enunciated clearly.
"This is taking way too long." Scott was growing impatient.
"Be patient Scott," Ororo hushed him. Scott just folded his arms and scowled.
They waited for some more minutes until the broadcast finally switched scenes to show that of a swarm of reporters crowding around the Senator Kelly. "The Senate is still indecisive as whether to pass the Mutant Registration Act, but I have confidence it will be."
"Dammit!" Scott slammed his forearm into the wall to his right and stormed off.
"They haven't passed ta damned bill yet kid." Logan called out to Scott.
"Just watch, they will!" Scott responded without turning back. He figured he needed to take a long walk to cool down.
Charles Xavier was preparing to leave after a gruelling session when he spotted a familiar tall sight and a glimpse of silvery-white hair.
"Charles." He tipped his hat. "You do know this debate is a lost cause? The bill will eventually be passed."
"I won't let that happen Erik. For the sake of my students, for the sake of us."
"I've heard these arguments before. Generation after generation, they're all the same."
"And they will continue to be, unless we help to convince them otherwise."
"Do you really think they will listen to you Charles?"
"Given the right amount of persuasion and facts to substantiate, they might."
"And if they discover the fact that you're a telepath Charles? All that you've said would have been disputed."
"Then they shall not. And you know very well Erik, I would not, under most circumstances use my telepathy to force it upon them."
"And they'll buy it? Charles, you're just digging your own grave, and that of your students as well."
"Then what do you propose Erik? Violence? You know very well that it does not work."
"There is no way humans and mutants can ever co-exist peacefully." Erik shook his head.
"I have always believed Erik. And there is nothing in the future except hope."
"You are wasting your time on them Charles. We are the future." Erik walked away as Xavier pondered deeply. After a night's rest, he would return to the institute.
Broadcasts regarding the Senate Hearings and the Mutant Registration Act had been recorded. Late into the night, Scott wandered into the rec room. He could not sleep, and occupied himself with replaying the broadcasts.
"Son of a bitch," he murmured under his breath. He had always disliked the former principal of Bayville High, and right now, he just wanted to wring his neck. So he sat there with the remote control in hand, the flicker of the television screen being the only source of light illuminating the rec room. But after some time, the broadcasts played on while Scott dozed off.
Jean did not know what motivated her to leave the comforts of her room to creep downstairs. Having tossed and turned in bed for hours, she finally gave up coercing herself to sleep. It was into the wee hours of the morning, and the mansion was dark and quiet. As she tiptoed down the stairs, she heard faint sounds coming from the direction of the rec room. The flicker of lights also indicated that the television was switched on. As she approached, she saw the silhouette of a figure sprawled across the couch.
"Scott?" She called softly, but he was sound asleep.
It was then that the programme on the television caught her attention. It was regarding the day's Senate Hearings, that she was vaguely aware off. Something about passing the Mutant Registration Act. About dangerous mutants. There was also repeated footage of a mutant totally engulfed in flames hurling crushed cars into the air and setting people on fire. She stared straight at the screen and let out a gasp. Was that what she had done?
Yes, and a mighty fine job I must say.
There it was again. "What do you want?" Jean whispered, turning in circles, constantly looking behind her back as if the voice lurked in the shadows.
That was an astounding display of power. The weaklings are afraid. They're out to get you if you do not stop them. We must not let those pesky humans stand in our way.
"Stop it, I don't want to fight them." Jean felt the world spin again, and grabbed her head in her hands.
Faint sounds came from the couch were Scott lay asleep.
Ignore him, we must prepare for the war! Those humans, they must die!
"No!" Jean let out a half scream. Scott began to stir.
"Who's there?" He jerked awake and quickly scanned the surroundings. There was no one there. The broadcasts he had been watching had ended. He switched the television off. Scott jumped off the couch, and walked out of the rec room. The hallways were empty too. But he was sure he had heard, and felt somebody in the rec room. Suddenly, his ears perked up, catching a familiar hum. It was unmistakably that of the elevator. But the professor would not be back yet until an hour more, prompting Scott to approach the elevator area to have a closer look. The elevator stopped at the subbasement level. Who on earth would want to go to the subbasement at this hour? Curious, he decided to check it out for himself.
"NO!" Danielle awakes again in cold sweat, the fifth time consecutively. She had had the same dream over and over again for the past five days. And the images in her dream have become clearer and clearer. And this meant that her "death" vision would occur sometime in the very near future. She had kept this to herself long enough. Tomorrow, the professor needed to know of this, before it became too late.