For John Hšggblom
If so much had not been riding on the man being successful, John Grey could have laughed on opening the door. For all his unconventional reputation, Charles Xavier was the stereotype of the psychologist made carnate. He was bald, despite a relatively youthful face, and was dressed in a grey, woollen coat that looked expensive. His tie was a understated pinstripe and he carried a leather briefcase. On seeing John, he smiled and held out his free hand.
"Professor Grey," his accent was upstate New York, "Iím Charles Xavier. McKay said you wanted a consult."
"Call me John," he shook the offered hand, "Professor Grey was my father. Come in, please. We can talk about . . . Jean inside."
His stern, emotionless father would have been disgusted by the catch in his voice as he mentioned his daughterís name. Cowboys donít cry, after all, and, if you want to be a man like Clint Eastwood, you had better do the same, John. He wanted to make some polite excuse about dust in his throat or a cough, but Xavier had not seemed to notice the momentary slip. The psychologist had settled into a red, uncomfortable sofa and was busy removing a sheaf of papers from his briefcase. John assumed that those were the hospital reports that had been passed onto him.
"From what I can gather, John, and correct me if Iím wrong," he peered over the obligatory steel-rimmed glasses that he had removed from a pocket, "Your daughterís coma coincided with the death of her friend, which she witnessed. Now, Dr McKay believes that the shock of it caused her to go into a coma, almost as a means of protecting herself from it, and Iím apt to concur with him at this moment. Of course, weíre both aware that you donít give a damn about the reasons it happened, just that Iím able to get your daughter out of it."
John nodded, "So, what do you plan to do?"
He steepled his fingers, looking thoughtful, "Before I formulate any
concrete plan of action, I think itís wise to research her condition
further. I have a . . . clinic in Westchester where I can examine her more
fully than I would be able to do here. Itís at 1407 Graymalkin Lane. If it
isnít too much trouble for you or your wife, bring her there tomorrow and
we will find out what will be the best course of treatment."
Disapproval of the unconventional psychologist written in the lines around her mouth, Elaine Grey spent the trip to Xavierís Clinic in grim, tight-lipped silence. Rather than break it himself, John put ABBA on the radio and allowed the Swedish quartet to fill the quiet between them. The cold war between them was more and yet less comfortable than the open hostilities into which it occasionally erupted. It was certainly easier than mustering the energy to recycle the same, tired arguments. So, she watched her comatose daughter, he hummed along to all the tunes and they both conducted conversations in their heads until they arrived at the 1407 Graymalkin Lane.
Unlike the other clinics to which they had taken Jean, Xavierís was a pleasant, red-brick mansion with high windows and ornate, wooden doors. The driveway curved past immaculately manicured lawns, edged with box hedges and well-tended beds of flowers. It looked more like a school than a hospital, and John could sense Elaine relax slightly as he stopped the car in front of the stairs.
"Hi," a red-headed woman emerged from the doors, dressed in a simple, white nurseís uniform. She was not beautiful or even pretty - her face was slightly pointed and her bangs did not hide her high forehead, but her eyes were keenly intelligent and her wide mouth looked as if it was on the brink of a perpetual smile. "Iím Amelia Voght. Iím a . . . nurse here at Xavierís. Youíre the Greys, I assume?"
"I hope weíre not early," John said, "Xavier said ten, but . . . I always build in an extra half-hour in case I get lost."
The nurse grinned, "Charles is with another kid at the moment, but we can get Jean settled in the meantime. Should I bring a wheelchair or can you manage?"
"Iíll carry her," he volunteered, turning to his wife, "If you will bring her bag, Elaine."
Xavier had intimated that the examination might take more than one day, and that he would ideally like to keep Jean overnight for observation. Elaine had been outraged, arguing that they barely knew the man and that his reputation did not precisely inspire trust. John had been embarrassed by her outburst and grateful that Xavier was a true professional. The psychologist had simply looked sympathetic and murmured that he would be expecting them if they came but would understand if they did not. Irritated by his wifeís irrational refusal to accept any hope for Jean, he had dismissed her concerns with a grunt and had said that, female hysteria aside, he would be there. Elaine had glared flatly at him and told him he was being a credulous idiot. The fight would have escalated, had Sara, who had watched the proceedings with scared, sad eyes, not asked very solemnly if they still loved each other. Neither Elaine nor John had been able to answer her, and the anger and hurt in his wifeís eyes had made him wonder whether it was because they did not know or they could not face the truth.
"Okay, John," her voice was flat, lifeless, "Take her inside and Iíll bring
Ignoring the medical equipment and monitors that surrounded the bed, Xavier pulled up a chair and looked thoughtfully at its tiny occupant. Was Jean Grey the reason his prototype Cerebro had flared a few weeks ago? For the briefest of seconds, there had been a red blip in the region of Annandale-on-Hudson, but it had not reappeared for a fortnight and he had dismissed it as a malfunction at the time. The energy signals of emergent, gifted children were intermittent, manifesting themselves in fits and starts as their powers did, but that particular mutantís powers seemed to have emerged once then vanished. As if the child had simply been removed by, say, a coma.
"Amelia," he called his former nurse and current lover from her station by the door, "Will you watch me? Iím going into Jeanís mind."
She nodded, looking concerned. Although she too was a mutant with the power to transmute the cells of her body into mist, she did not feel that the expeditions he made into his patientís minds were safe. Privately, Xavier agreed with her. There was too little written to be sure that these astral excursion could not be potentially dangerous, and the little research on the astral plane had been done by quacks and crackpots, who spoke about white lights and spirit guides and etheric reverberations. The only scientific aspect of their studies, he suspected cynically, was the interesting chemicals they took to do them.
"Be careful, Xavier, Charles F."
"Always, Voght, Amelia C," he replied, then breathed, stepped out of
himself and into Jean Grey.
Children's minds were not meant to be like Jean Grey's was. Typically, their mindscapes resembled their paintings - a fantastic, disorganised mess of primary colors. The blue line of sky was always separated from the bright green grass by a thick, mysterious strip of white. The two-windowed, red-roofed house always had with a chimney out of which smoke curled in a perfect corkscrew, and was surrounded by yellow circles of flowers. A sun smiled in the sky, surrounded by cotton-puff clouds. It was always spring in a child's mind and there was never rain.
Jean's mindscape was not so simplistic. It resembled nothing so much as a large, circular study; the wooden walls of which were lined were drawers. There was neither door nor window, but a large, spiral staircase which led up to an attic. Everything was darkly polished wood that had a coffin-like quality to it. The metaphors were common in a comatose adult but unexpected in a girl of ten. The few children with which he had dealt had withdrawn in an entirely different manner, creating a fantasy to distract them from what had happened rather than a quiet haven to work through it. Who was this girl, he wondered, to have such a mature mind?
Curious and seeing the child nowhere in the lower room, he opened the drawer closest to him, jumping back as a flock of butterflies emerged. In stark contrast to the remainder of the bleak room, they were red and blue, yellow and pink, the brilliant colors of childhood. As one's glowing wings brushed his face, he remembered the feeling of swinging. The way the sky rose and fell before him. The solid firmness of hands on the base of his back. Anne's laughter as she dared him to swing higher. The mingled fear and excitement in the pit of stomach as he jumped off at the apex of the motion. For a moment, Charles Xavier was nothing more than a swinging child, then the psychologist returned.
"Fascinating," he murmured, "The combination of metaphors suggests that this room is a healing construct, built over the more normal mindscape of a child."
Wondering what the other drawers held, he was about to open the next one, when he was preempted by a voice coming from above him.
"Youíre rude. Didnít your mom tell you not to look in other peopleís things?"
Xavier looked up to see an auburn head, peeping from the top of the spiral staircase. The girl to whom it belonged was scowling fiercely at him, obviously outraged at having her privacy invaded. Any shame he might have felt for his deeds was lost among his excitement that she had known he was there. In all the minds that he had entered to heal, she was the first to have recognised the presence of an intruder, which suggested that John and Elaine Greyís little girl was more special than even her parents had imagined.
"Youíre right. I was rude and I am sorry for it."
With a childís bluntness, "No, you arenít. Youíre happy that you did it. You think Iím like you and youíre happy because of it."
"Who is prying now?" Xavier replied gently, deliberately leaving himself open to read by not raising his shields. He needed more proof to confirm his gut instinct that Jean was telepathic, and he would not get it by blocking himself off from her. A certain, long-cherished dream was reemerging as he was talking to her and he had a secret hope that he had found the first of its keepers. Erik had dismissed it as folly in their many conversations on the topic, but, seeing a young mutant of such potential power, he was convinced that his friend was wrong.
The girl blushed, more embarrassed by the fact that she had been caught than by her actions, and rapidly changed the topic: "Come meet Anne."
Xavierís brow furrowed quizzically. According to John Grey, Anne was the friend killed in the hit-and-run accident, and her death had somehow left Jean in a coma. Her parents had guessed the grief and shock of seeing her best friend violently killed had caused her to withdraw, and Charles had initially concurred, but he wondered now if it had more to do with the nascent telepath feeling Anneís death, experiencing her last moments of agony. If so, the illusion that she was alive was dangerous, detrimental to Jeanís recovery.
"Jean," he made his voice as gentle as possible, "Anne is dead."
Green eyes blazed angrily, "ANNE IS NOT DEAD. YOUíRE RUDE AND MEAN. GO AWAY."
The force of her will hit him, and, equally unshielded against assault as probing, his hasty attempt to protect himself was as effectual as an umbrella against a hurricane. For century-long seconds, he was lost in a whirlwind of souls as the astral plane spun crazily about him. Charles Xavier, one of the worldís most preeminent telepaths, was little more than a leaf in a storm, spinning in the middle of a billion other leaves with their own deep loves and petty hatreds and small prides and secret ambitions and guilty consciences. Shying away from the melee, his psyche screamed as it was forced back through the mental umbilicus that connnected him to the astral plane.
"Shit," was Professor Charles Xavierís scientific assessment, when he was
able to think and talk again.
When Xavier slipped into Jean Greyís mind for the second time, he decided that discretion was the better part of psychotherapy. The child was a psion of enormous potential, much to his excitement, and he did not want to be at the mercy of another of her telepathic temper tantrums. Consequently, he shielded himself to the hilt and adopted a guise that he used frequently with abused children, who were inevitably, tragically distrustful of adults.
That of good, olí Charley; blond-haired, blue-eyed, nine year-old Charley.
"Jean?" his high childís voice called, while his adult mind noted with interest that the metaphors had changed. He was standing at the top step of an enormous staircase that spiralled down into darkness. The walls still were unbroken by any door or window, but some dusty sunlight shone through chinks between the bricks, which suggested that the healing construct was slowly crumbling. It was the inverse of the fairytale stereotype, he thought with some amusement - to save Johnís little princess, the therapist in shining armor would have to descend to the bottom of the tower.
"Jean?" he repeated, words echoing off the circular walls, "JEAN?"
He glanced down into the dimness, hoping that he would not have to climb down the spiral steps to find her. Besides, there was always the possibility that they were infinite. According to the paradoxical logic of a child, pits were always bottomless, yet there were always snakes or spikes at the bottom.
"Why are you a child now?" the question came from beneath him, and he saw a red-headed girl rising to where he was standing, stripes of sunlight rippling over her. She was wearing the same, fierce scowl as she had when she had thrown him out of her mind, and he could feel her will tensed against him like a clenched fist.
"I thought you would not recognise me," he admitted honestly, knowing he could not lie to a psion, "Youíre more gifted than I imagined, Jean."
Her frown become one of confusion, "Iím almost the worst in my class. Annie always helps me with my homework, because Iím so bad at it. Iím not gifted."
Seriously, "Have you ever heard of mutants, Jean?"
She rolled her eyes impressively, "Uh huh. Do you think Iím stupid? I know theyíre what weíll become, unless weíre careful and unless we have children with people who are only human. Thatís what daddy says, anyway."
Charles swore beneath his breath, wondering how much of his subtle bigotry John Grey had imparted to his daughter. In his experience, the good spouses and parents, the concerned citizens, were infinitely more dangerous than the extremists. Their hatred was so reasonable and wholesome, based on motives that no-one could fault, and undefeatable as a result. How would he tell the Greys that their Jean was the Other, a mutant like those that had recently started appearing in the news? More importantly, should he tell them?
"Jean, remember how you felt when Annie died?"
It was a calculated gamble, based on the fact that the construct was crumbling, suggesting that Jean had come to terms with the fact that Anne had been killed in the accident. Light entering always represented the acceptance of truth - a universal metaphor as old as the first fire - and there was only one truth that she had been evading. Nonetheless, he knew it was a risk and he braced himself against the whirlwind of her powers that he half-expected. Instead, the girl shivered.
"Cold. Everything was black. I tried to hold onto my body, but . . . I was being torn away from it. Like something was pulling me from it. Like someone was cutting some sort of string that held me to it. I was dying but . . . If that was Annie, how did I feel that?"
Exhaling, "Jean, youíre a mutant."