Chapter Three: Floating Candles
A week had passed since Jean arrived at the institute. Scott had been dodging all chances of actually meeting the redhead, thankful for the fact that he at least had school as an excuse for socialising. Scott had no intention of making friends somewhere in the near future.
It was a Friday afternoon when Scott made his way back to the mansion after school. Given his unique ability to recognize patterns and compute trigonometric and geometric relations highly accurately, Scott found Trigonometry highly boring that morning (they were just touching on the basics), and was really looking forward to the weekend, minus the Danger Room practices of course, although he was now starting to think the latter more interesting.
As he made his way up the steps of the institute, he caught sight of the redhead passing through the foyer. A weird feeling started to stir within him. Was he deliberately trying to avoid her as he did not feel like being around people, or was it something else? He recalled (rather embarrassingly) that his first reaction at the top of the stairs that afternoon when Jean arrived was "Wow" spoken in awe. He quickly replaced that dreamy faraway look on his face with a scowl that read "leave me alone, or else". He walked up the stairs towards his room, bumping into Jean along the way.
"How was school?"
It really irritated Scott how she could radiate energy and happiness all the time. He did not feel all that happy, and just wanted to be alone.
"Humph." Was his monotonous reply.
He left the redhead standing in the corridor, and closed his door behind him, a little too loud. Jean took the hint, and left.
I just thought we could be friends? She wondered.
Scott lay on his back, staring up at the stark white ceiling. He thought about what Ororo said that morning. Trust. Did he trust her enough to befriend her? Being a telepath and all. He was not sure he trusted Xavier implicitly either. That aside, what else would an upper-middle class girl have in common with a military brat like him? She was way out of his league. Furthermore, did he trust himself? Due to the nature of his head injuries causing him not to be able to fully control his powers with his mind alone, one small accident could cause serious hurt, and not to mention property damage. He certainly did not want to hurt his friends, or any other person for that matter, thus the best solution was to avoid them.
Well, it could get quite lonely without anyone to really talk to. Besides, she looks kinda cute with the red hair and freckles and...wait, what am I saying?
Scott gave himself a light slap across the cheek. The thought of him falling for the redhead was quite laughable.
He rolled over and glanced at the clock. It read 4.30 pm. Ah, the joys of Danger Room practice, he mused sarcastically.
"What are you? Your momma's boy? C'mon, ya gotta be able to hit harder than that."
All of a sudden, images flashed before his eyes. Scott had been suffering flashbacks recently, and they were getting more frequent. Not now! He saw his mother, though the memory was vague, he still remembered her radiant smile, and her soft but firm touch. Her touch lingered on his cheek, before he shook his head vigorously, trying to rid himself of the images. He picked himself up abruptly, a little disoriented.
Scott lunged forward and gave it all he got, but Logan managed to block or dodge every single one of his attacks. He was getting really frustrated, and was not able to concentrate fully on his training session. Logan seized the chance and landed a blow in the direction of Scott's ribs, trusting the boy would block his manoeuvre. But Scott did not. He skidded across the floor a little, clutching his sides in pain.
Up in the control room, Xavier clearly sensed Scott's distress and lack of concentration and halted the training session. "That's enough for today Wolverine. Let the boy rest."
With sore ribs added to his repertoire, today was definitely turning out to be one of his worse days ever, plus, it was only the beginning of the weekend. He winced as he ate his meal in silence, glancing up warily at the redhead sitting across from him, shooting him concerned glances.
"Are you feeling alright? The ribs must hurt a great deal."
"Who said anything about me getting hurt?"
"Well you certainly did at today's Danger Room practice."
"How did you know that?"
"I didn't give you permission to enter my head y'know!" His pent up frustrations got the better of him, and he finally vent his anger on Jean.
"I didn't mean to...it's just, you were projecting so loudly...I couldn't..." Jean returned to picking at her food. Just then, Ororo entered.
"I heard some raised voices. Anything going on in here I should know about?"
"Nothing." Both replied, noncommittal.
Ororo eyed the both of them suspiciously. Scott and Jean avoided each other's glance, as well as that of hers.
Later that night, Scott found Jean crying by the boat dock. He approached as silently as possible, certain that her loud sobs would drown his footsteps. Suddenly, Jean's head perked up in Scott's direction. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying.
"What do you want?" She croaked in between sobs.
Scott found it was highly impossible to sneak up on a telepath. He held up both hands in front of him in defence, expressing no desire to do any harm to her. "I want to apologise for what I said over dinner."
Jean returned to sobbing, albeit a little louder.
"Jesus, what do you want me to say? I already said I was sorry." Scott spat out a little too harshly than he intended to. In truth, he was totally freaked out at the sight of the crying girl.
"Just go away." It was an audible muffle. She was choking, bordering on a wail.
Scott was beginning to feel really bad (and guilty at the same time) for Jean. "I'll go get Ororo."
"No...don't! Just, just leave me alone...I'll be fine."
Jean just sat there, knees bent close to her chest, arms folded over them, with her head buried in her arms.
Scott backed away slowly. As he was walking back to the mansion along the small winding dirt track, a nagging voice behind his head insisted he turn back. He gave in about halfway back to the mansion and turned around.
By the time he got back to the boat dock, Jean's sobs had quietened. He stood in a distance, watching on.
"I thought I told you to go away." Her voice was still quite shaky.
Scott was terrified that Jean was going to start all over again. "I couldn't just leave you here...in this state. I mean...I was worried that you might do something stupid, like jump into the lake or something."
She turned to stare at the lake for a moment, and Scott feared she might actually consider his words.
"Look, I'm really sorry about just now. It's...I had a rough DR session this afternoon. But you still shouldn't have barged into my head like that."
"I told you...You. Were. Projecting." Jean enunciated each word carefully. "Do you know just how hard it is to be a telepath?! To keep hearing voices in your head?"
That teary-eyed look was very much like Alex's. Scott tried to suppress a flashback.
He sat himself down beside Jean. "I'm sorry. I'll try to work more on my shielding next time, okay?" Please, anything to make her stop.
"Apology accepted." But the tears still kept on flowing. They sat in silence for a couple of minutes, with Jean still crying, but silently now.
Her crying was beginning to bug him, but he just couldn't leave her here. Screaming was not going to help either. He tried for a softer approach.
"You wanna talk about it?"
Jean gave him an inquiring look.
"I mean you still seem quite upset."
"Sometimes, I just hate being a telepath."
"Why?" It sure beats the hell out of being only able to shoot destructive force beams from your eyes, Scott tried very hard to shield that thought. "I mean it's a formidable power, and it's easy to conceal, unlike mine." And useful. He gestured to his shades.
"I felt Annie die."
"My best friend Annie. I felt her die. It was really horrible. It was like being inside her head, literally feeling her life draining away from her, and you were being pulled in the vortex as well. Just because my telepathy happened to manifest at that instant she died." Jean started to cry again. Scott put an arm around her shoulder and drew her closer. She cried onto his shoulder, wetting his shirt sleeve.
Finally, Jean regained her voice. "That week, Annie turned eleven. I was ten. It was in the evening when we were still out in her yard playing frisbee. Mom was calling me back for dinner, but we just wanted to play. I shouldn't have thrown the last frisbee, but I did. A gust of wind blew the frisbee off course and it landed on the road. Annie ran to retrieve it, but she didn't see the speeding car turning that sharp corner. The next thing I knew, she was flung onto the kerb, bleeding profusely. As I held her in my arms, I felt her calling out to me. The world turned black for a minute, then, there we were, sitting in a dark corner, a light shining down from above. It looked eerie, but it just had that familiar, comforting presence of Annie. We sat there, holding hands and talking, just like old times. I don't know how long I sat there...until I heard someone call my name. I turned my head. Then Annie started disappearing, blown away like dust."
"And that someone?"
"Was Professor Xavier. He helped me out of my catatonic state. I sorta zoned out for two years, until I finally regained consciousness. Then, my telekinesis manifested, as if my telepathy wasn't bad enough. My parents were at a loss, and my sister hates me now, some part of her fearing she would become a mutant, just like me."
Scott did not really know what to say. He just responded by absently rubbing his palm up and down her back, in large circles.
"Today's Annie's birthday. It just reminded me of too much..."
Talking about one's loss seemed to be the topic of discussion that night. Scott figured since Jean shared hers, he should with his too. "Me too."
"You...you felt someone die too?" Jean knew it was a stupid question, but it escaped her before she could even think.
"No, not exactly. I saw them die, and it left an equally horrible feeling too."
Now it was Jean's turn to lend a listening ear.
"When I was eight, my parents, my brother Alex and I were flying back from Alaska on my dad's private jet after visiting my grandparents. Something went terribly wrong with the plane, and it caught fire. Maybe a fuel leak, I don't know. The parachutes caught fire, and my mother only managed to salvage one from the flames. She urged me to put it on, and then strapped Alex onto me. She assured us Dad and she would be fine." The tears started forming, but Scott was grateful for the fact that his blasts incinerated the tears before they rolled down his cheeks. There was no way he was breaking down in front of a girl. He continued, voice a little strained. "As the plane dived nose down, Mom gave us both a kiss on the cheek each, before pushing us out of the plane. The last thing I remembered her telling me, was to take good care of Alex." He paused. "I was frightened, my hands were clammy, and in my haste, I pulled on the tab too soon. The altitude was too high, and we were too close to the burning plane. My parachute caught fire, and we were tossed about by the turbulent air currents, falling faster than we should have. In a distance, I saw the plane explode in mid air, and felt the impact of the explosion. We were spinning out of control. When we were going to hit the ground, I suddenly shot a huge blast, creating a depression of mud and soft soil. I used my body to cushion our fall, protecting Alex. I must have hit my head on a rock or something, and was out cold."
"Ouch." Jean winced at that image. "So, you ended up here? Is that how the professor found you?"
"Not exactly. That was just the beginning of my misery. I woke up in a hospital after being in a comatose state for four months. I was constantly transferred from orphanage to orphanage. No one wanted the kid with the brain damage. When my mutation manifested, it scared the s*** out of me. I ran away, and was subsequently found by the professor."
"So, did you ever find out about Alex?"
"I tried, but they declined to reveal anything about him. Till now, I don't even know whether he made it through..."
"It's just, I've been having frequent flashbacks as of late...Sometimes, I feel that I've let Mom and Dad down. I didn't keep my promise to her..." A painful lump was forming in his throat. "...if only..."
Scott was radiating huge waves of emotion -- sadness, fear, guilt -- which Jean picked up mentally, and silently. She leaned in closer, and put her arms around his shoulders. She sensed in him, the want to cry, the need to just release years of suppressed guilt and regret.
"Let it out if it makes you feel any better..."
"I..." He was just too proud to.
"It doesn't make you less of a guy if you cry y'know."
So for the first time in years, Scott sat there letting the tears leak out from his closed eyes. As he did, Jean thought about how shared grief could bridge two completely different worlds. She thought about loss, hers of Annie, and Scott's of his family...and of gain... And thus, two friends found solace in each other's presence out on the boat dock that night.
The next night, Jean went strolling along the shoreline of the lake. Scott was nowhere to be found in the mansion, but she felt his presence somewhere out there. Her venture out was half due to the urge to find him. As she walked in the direction of the boat dock, she saw little glitters of yellows and oranges afloat on the water's surface, a slight wind rippling the calm surface. Curious, her pace quickened as she wrapped her jacket tightly around her. The night was beginning to get chilly.
"Scott?" Jean addressed the dark silhouette, crouching at the edge of the boat dock. Beside him was a small pile of tea lights in little "boats".
He turned to look at the redhead. "Jean, I didn't hear you come."
"Whatcha doing?" She approached him, standing by the pile of tea lights.
"Floating candles. Fourteen, as a birthday memorial for Annie. The ones you saw were for myself, as a symbol of letting go. I've been dwelling on my grief for too long, I guess it's time to set myself free."
"Could I light Annie's candles?"
"Sure." Scott gestured to the pile beside him. "I saved hers for you. I thought you might be coming." He had secretly hoped she would.
Jean smiled softly. "Thank you Scott, for this."
"No, thank you, Jean."