Chapter One: Changeling
"Mom!" Sarah shrieked at the top of her voice. "Jean's at it again!"
Elaine Grey was in the kitchen, washing dishes. Sarah was in the living room watching TV, and John Grey reading the newspapers.
"Mom! I think this one's serious! It's grandmama's..."
Elaine poked her head into the doorway, just in time to witness an antique vase crash onto the floor. "Jean! John, do something!" Angrily, she stormed over.
"What did I do to deserve a freak for a sister? I swear the fairie folk replaced her with a changeling!"
"Sarah, quit it!"
"Great dad, now you're siding with 'Daddy's Little Girl'! That's it, I'm heading over to Sandra's where I can at least watch some decent TV!"
"Sarah! Get back here!" John bellowed. The front door slammed shut.
Across the living room, under the stairs, Jean hid, curled up in a foetal position. Tormented by Sarah's taunts, the wails got louder as items were hurled about in the air. The telephone smashed through the window. The TV remote landed in the fish tank. The lights flickered on and off eerily. John jumped off his arm chair just as it lifted itself into the air. The couch followed, and started twirling in the air.
"Jean! Stop it right now do you hear me! I said STOP!" Elaine proceeded to swat her on the arm with the dish cloth.
John caught Elaine's raised arm. "That's enough! She's just a child for God's sake Elaine!"
"A disobedient one in fact!" Elaine glared at her husband. "I thought I told you to stay in your room!"
The uncontrolled sobbing got louder. "STOP IT! Stop shouting! It hurts!" Jean grabbed her head in her hands and buried it between her knees, choking on her tears.
John swiftly picked Jean up in his arms, and proceeded up the stairs.
"Where are you taking her?!"
"To her room that's where!"
"I'll go call Charles. She's becoming too much to handle."
"Shh...it's okay princess, everything's going to be alright."
"No, everything's not okay. The voices, they're getting louder. Make them go away! Make them stop!" Jean cried out and crawled under the blanket. "Please daddy, just make them go away..."
"Look, Charles is on his way, he'll make you feel better all over again, just like last time..."
"I don't wanna feel better!" Jean lashed out angrily. "I just want it to go away. I want to be normal like Sarah, not a freak! They hate me. You all hate me! Everyone hates me!"
"You know that's not true Jean. We all love you very much..."
Jean's sobs grew louder. John was at his wit's end, and just settled for rubbing Jean's back, hoping to soothe and calm her down.
"Why don't you try to go to sleep? It might make you feel better?" John lay Jean down and tucked her into bed. "I'll go see how your mother's doing."
"Don't go daddy, please." Jean's frail hand reached out to brush John's fingers.
"Alright, alright." He sat down beside Jean, patting her head until she fell into sweet slumber. He took a look around Jean's room. The closet doors were hanging on its hinges. The walls were dented, with pencils sticking out from them. The curtains have been ripped from their rails again. Books were clattered all over the floor. He sighed. Elaine was right, they were losing control of Jean. And they did not know what was truly wrong with her.
Jean's breathing evened out as she slept peacefully. John closed the door quietly behind him.
"I'm really sorry Elaine, but I simply have too many things to handle at the moment. I will fix a schedule to attend to Jean first thing tomorrow morning."
"You don't understand Charles. She needs you now. Her condition just got worse, she's losing control again."
Elaine caught sight of her husband coming down the stairs. She shot him a desperate look.
"I'm sorry Charles, what was that again?"
"I must apologise but I have other students to see to right now..."
"What can be more important than Jean?! I don't care what it takes, I just want you to get here right now!"
"Elaine, let's be civil here. I'll handle this." Elaine handed John the telephone.
"I apologise for Elaine's behaviour. She's too emotionally distraught. Charles, my baby girl's very sick, and I can do nothing for her condition. It just pains me to see her like this. Please Charles, for her sake."
A pause on the line. "Alright. Seven this evening?"
"Thank you Charles. I really appreciate it."
"He's coming at seven."
"Thank God for that."
The clock in the hallway read seven-thirty. Charles Xavier had not yet arrived. An anxious Elaine Grey paced the living room. John Grey sat perfectly still in his arm chair, with a book in his lap.
"Elaine, would you stop pacing and calm down?"
"How do you expect me to calm down John? Jean's condition has worsened, and Sarah refuses to step into this house until Jean is cured of her mutation."
"So where's Sarah now?" John's voice grew grave.
"She's still over at Sandra's. She called just to inform me she'll be sleeping over tonight."
"I'll have a word with that young lady when she gets home tomorrow." John returned to his reading.
"John, would you stop it already?! Everything you do, everything you say is all about Jean. How about sparing a thought for Sarah? She's your daughter too you know? And she deserves equal attention and devotion from her father."
"What about Jean then? The poor girl's frightened to the death!"
"Just because Jean's different doesn't mean..."
At that instant, the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it. It must be Charles." Elaine rose indignantly and shot her husband a glare, before regaining her composure.
"Charles, it's nice to see you again." Elaine graciously greeted Charles Xavier.
"I must apologise for my tardiness. Something uncalled for happened at the institute."
"Yes, my Institute for Gifted Youngsters. Oh, and this lady here is one of the instructors at the institute. Mrs Grey, meet Ororo Munroe." Xavier gestured to the white-haired woman on his right.
"Pleased to meet you Mrs Grey."
"My pleasure, Ms Munroe." Elaine stepped aside to let the visitors in. "Please, this way."
Elaine led Xavier and Ororo into the living room. John stood to greet them.
"Ah, Charles. And how are you?" John shook Xavier's hand.
"Fine, thank you, Mr Grey."
"Please, call me John. And this is?"
"Ororo Munroe, Mr Grey."
"Pleased to meet your acquaintance, Ms Munroe." Ororo accepted John's handshake.
Niceties aside, Xavier proceeded to address the matter at hand.
"I believed you arranged for this evening to discuss Jean's condition."
Deciding to leave this conversation to her husband, she rose from her seat on the couch. "Would you care for tea Charles? And Ms Munroe?"
"Tea would be splendid for Ms Munroe and myself, Elaine."
Elaine disappeared into the kitchen.
"Now, as we were saying?" Xavier re-addressed the issue.
"Yes, Jean. My daughter claims to be hearing voices again, even after the treatment you gave her just last month. And her...telekinesis acted up again." John shifted, uncomfortable dealing with such terms.
"Ms Grey is currently experiencing a growth in her telepathic and telekinetic abilities."
"So, is there any way to stop this...this mutation process?" John pressed on.
"You have to understand, John, that mutation is not a disease. It cannot be cured, only cultivated. In time, with proper training, Jean will be able to exercise her gifts effectively."
John leaned back into his arm chair and steepled his fingers, analysing Xavier's words.
"Thus, I am also considering enrolling Jean into my school for the gifted. I simply cannot make time anymore to give Jean private tutoring sessions. What we are seeing here of this mutant phenomenon is just the tip of the iceberg. I suspect there are more children out there who need my help, just like Jean does. At the institute, I can assure you Jean will be provided with the best care. Speaking of which, where is the child now?"
"She's asleep in her room. So, this institute, is like a private school?"
"Of sorts. We merely act as a sanctuary for these gifted children, teaching them how to control their gifts. They will attend a public high school at Bayville." This time, it was Ororo who interjected. "Many of these children are runaways, outcasts..." There was a slight tinge of anger and sadness in her voice. "...with no one to turn to, except us."
"Ms Munroe is quite right in this aspect. My first student, also currently housed in the institute, was orphaned, and had lived on the streets for awhile, until I took him under my wing."
Elaine, who by now have entered the living room, sat the tea tray on the coffee table. Ororo reached for two cups of tea, handing one to Xavier.
"There is no way I am letting Jean be enrolled in a school which houses delinquents."
"I assure you Elaine that that is not the case. Scott...er young master Summers is recovering at a tremendous rate. He is a really interesting young lad." Xavier mused, recalling the earlier incident in his office which resulted in a verbal disagreement.
But Elaine was still not convinced. Just then, a bloodcurdling scream could be heard, coming from upstairs.
The three adults (Jean's parents and Ororo) raced upstairs, to find a horrified Jean levitating a few feet over her bed. Various items flew in dizzy circles, hovering over her head. The frightened child burst into tears. Upon seeing the four adults, she suddenly fell back onto her bed with a loud thump. The objects followed, raining all over her room. John rushed over to hold the shivering Jean in his arms.
"Everything just..." Jean fainted mid-sentence.
"Jean? Jean?!" Elaine stood at the doorway, speechless.
"Please. Mr and Mrs Grey, let us handle this."
When Jean awoke, she was laid on the couch in the living room. There was cold sweat on her forehead. She tried to sit up, but felt too dizzy to do so. Ororo helped prop her up against some cushions.
"Who are you?" Jean asked meekly, and retreated to a corner, knees folded into her chest.
"It's alright my dear." Xavier wheeled towards her slowly. "This here is Ms Munroe. She is a mutant, just like you. And she is a teacher at my school for gifted youngsters."
"You mean freaks, like me."
"I would think none of it Jean." We must learn to accept our gifts as blessings, not curses. Xavier smiled as he sent telepathically.
Jean's eyes widened at that as she looked up at Xavier. You're just like me. Jean focused real hard to relay that back to Xavier.
Not too loud, Jean. Xavier rubbed his temples.
"I'm sorry..." Jean was ready to burst into tears again.
"No child, I'm not angry with you." Xavier tried to calm Jean down.
"You aren't?" A lone tear slid down her pale cheek as she held back a sniffle.
"Why would we be?" Ororo spoke reassuringly, and reached out to hold Jean to her. Jean shifted into Ororo's warm, welcoming embrace.
"Everyone else is." Jean looked out the window. "I'm scared." Dark thunderclouds began to gather.
"We are not 'everyone else' Jean. We are people who care."
"We are here for you child, no matter what."
Xavier smiled, witnessing two of his students bonding over their differences. Slowly, he wheeled out of sight, into the dining area where John and Elaine sat.
Jean remained in Ororo's embrace for awhile, until she finally spoke.
"What are you? I mean, what are your powers? I'm telepathic and telekinetic."
"I can control the weather."
"You mean you can turn winter into summer? Cool!"
Ororo laughed lightly, which caused Jean to frown a little, embarrassed. "No, that's beyond my capabilities. I merely manipulate the current weather conditions. I prefer not to meddle with Mother Nature if given the choice." Ororo held out her hand, and with a flick of her wrist, the dark thunderclouds seemed to vanish, exposing once more the clear night sky.
"Wow. That's still way cooler than what I can do. I can only hear voices and break stuff."
"You will learn child, in time to control your gifts. I took a long time before I could accomplish such a simple task, dismiss storm clouds, I mean." Ororo gave Jean a grin, showing off her pearly whites. "The professor took me in when I was a child, living on the streets in Cairo. He taught me how to accept and appreciate all that I am. That somehow, I have been blessed with such gifts to help make this world a better place."
"So how do you make this world a better place?"
Better save the details for later, Ororo thought. We'll start small.
"I'm a teacher at the professor's school. He helped me, and now I'm returning the favour, helping others like me, like you."
Jean looked up and gave Ororo a small, albeit weak, smile.
"Now that's much better."
"So, about this school, about the students..." Jean asked, curious.
"We actually have only one student enrolled currently. But we are expecting more in time to come."
"You mean there're more of us out there?" Ororo had finally captured the child's interest.
"More than any of us can imagine. The professor predicts the number of mutants will be increasing at an exponential rate...I mean, at a very fast rate."
"Oh. Tell me more about the school."
"So Charles, can you tell us more about this, so called school of yours?" Elaine spoke sternly, looking Xavier in the eye.
"I established this school for the gifted, so I can help those like Jean control their gifts. Mutations normally manifest at puberty, and unlike normal children, they have to cope with their new abilities, as well as growing up. Mutations are usually triggered during periods of heightened emotional stress, leaving these children traumatised most of the time, like Jean's experience which left her in a catatonic state for awhile. At the institute, I would be able to devote more time to helping Jean, without sacrificing that of my other students."
"So, what of your other student?" Elaine eyed Xavier intently.
"Elaine, we're here to discuss what's best for Jean. The institute seems like a viable option."
"I am thinking of Jean's well-being. I just don't want Jean to end up mixing with bad company."
"I can assure you Scott has a heart of gold. The boy's just a little shaken, but he is coping well."
"I don't know Charles."
John held up a hand. "Why not we let Jean have a say in this?"
"I couldn't agree more John." Xavier leaned forward.
"So, are all mutants good, or are there bad mutants out there too?" Jean asked.
Just then, her parents and Xavier entered the living room.
"Jean, you gave us quite a scare. Are you feeling better?" Elaine came to sit by her daughter's side, and patted her back. Jean nodded.
"Jean, how would you like to go to this special school..."
"For people just like me? Ororo here was just telling me all about it. It sounds really great!" Jean beamed.
"Jean, mind your manners."
"It's alright Mrs Grey. I don't mind it much. Jean can call me Ororo if she pleases."
"Can I go, daddy, please? I want to learn, and like Or...Ms Munroe, help others just like me. And I want to meet the other mutants." Elaine cringed at that statement, but Jean continued. "Ms Munroe says all our gifts are unique, and I want to see what others can do. It'll be lotsa fun!"
"Well then, I guess it's settled. We will be entrusting Jean in your hands." John reached out to give Xavier a firm, business-like handshake.
Three weeks later, Jean was packed and ready to go. She was really excited and nervous at the same time.
"Jean, did you pack your sweaters?"
John was loading Jean's bags into the trunk of the car.
"Now remember to be careful when you're there."
"Stay away from those naughty children, you got that?"
"Jean!" John called from the driveway. "We had better get going or we will be late!"
"Bye Mom, I've gotta go."
Elaine drew Jean into a final goodbye hug.
"I'm sorry about everything. I love you."
"I love you too Jean."
John started the engine just as Jean ambled down the porch. "Coming dad!" Jean got into the front passenger seat and put on her seat belt.
Jean took a deep breath. "Let's go dad."