Prospero: I have done nothing but in care of thee/ Of thee, my dear one, my daughter, who/ Art ignorant of what thou art. . .
Miranda: You have often/Begun to tell me what I am, but stopped
Charles Xavier stood over the young girl's hospital bed and looked down at her still form -- skin porcelain-pale against dark red hair, tubes shoved into her mouth and nose, eyes closed in a mockery of peaceful slumber -- and as he stood, he wished that he could be any place else in the world.
"You should have seen her," John Grey said in a reverent whisper. "You should have seen our Jean. Before the accident."
Charles couldn't answer that he had seen her, could hardly help seeing her, as the images practically seethed out of John's mind: the young girl's slender form, her smile, her wide eyes, rendered even more brilliant in the light of a loving father's memory. There was beauty here, and there was pain, such as Charles had rarely experienced -- and only a very few times on his own behalf. But it wasn't the pervasive presence of John Grey's pain and loss that made Charles wish he hadn't come.
It was the man's hope.
John was not the first desperate parent to latch on to Charles Xavier's radical theories as the light at the end of a long tunnel. If he had lived in Victorian England, John might have called on a mesmerist; in the Middle Ages, a priest. But this was the era of modern science, and so he had found a scientist.
"My daughter's condition, you know --," John removed his glasses, reflexively rubbing them against his shirt. "-- it's idiopathic. That's doctor-speak for, they don't know what it is. Jean wasn't harmed in the accident, you see. Annie was. Her friend, Annie. Passed away almost instantly, the poor girl. Jean was holding her hand, and -- it wasn't until they were both at the hospital that we realized Jeannie hadn't been hit. She never regained consciousness. All the specialists say it's the strangest case they've ever seen. But I thought -- your theories. Elaine -- my wife -- she thinks I'm grasping at straws, but -- you see what I mean."
Charles, once, would have believed he could help. Years ago, in Haifa, he had used his powers to bring Gabrielle Haller out of her catatonic state. Dizzy with his success, he had fallen in love, not so much with her as with the idea of what his powers could do. She understood this long before Charles did. Later, when he had been unable to achieve the same results with other comatose patients, he had blamed the failure on a mental block, related to the demise of his relationship with his beloved Gabrielle. It took time, and a bit of late-blooming humility, to understand the truth. He had been able to save Gabi not because his own will was so strong, but because hers was. In the face of unimaginable horrors, her mind had managed to preserve itself; all Charles had done was to show her the way out. Many others were not so lucky. Much more often, a mind that seemed dead really was.
He wished there was a way to explain this to Jean Grey's father. But he could not. John had no inkling of the true nature of Charles' power. He had simply read a journal article, or seen a television interview, and allowed it to raise hopes that were almost certainly false.
With a heavy heart, Charles moved his hand to the railing of the bed. He wasn't ready to touch the girl's skin, to reach out to her mind "Strange things do indeed happen, John," Charles answered gently.
The girl had red-hair, the way Moira used to. The way Moira still did, wherever she was. The way their own child might have, if only. . .
"Post-traumatic stress can manifest in a number of ways," he continued. "The human mind is a delicate, and -- at times, tragically -- a fragile instrument, its reactions often beyond our ability --"
"You misunderstand me, Professor Xavier," said John. "Sometimes, when people are in the room with Jean -- strange things happen. That vase --" He pointed to a thin glass flute, holding some half-wilted daisies. "I've seen it rise six inches above the table and then lower itself down again. I've seen everything in this room shake. The nurse said there was a train going by. But there wasn't a train. And it made me think -- of some of the case histories in your book -- surely they're no stranger than this -"
That was it, then. Ghost stories. Poltergeists or evil spirits in another context. Mutant powers here and now. "I can't make you any promises, John." Charles reached into his bag and took out a syringe. "I'll have to take a few samples," he lied. Unable to reveal the true nature of his diagnostic techniques, he had to rely on this bit of smoke and mirrors.
With a final sigh, Charles touched a hand to Jean's skin, almost ready to open his mind up to hers. No longer fearful, he was very nearly resigned to what he would discover -- or fail to discover -- waiting inside.
A white light flashed in front of his eyes.
"Hello, Charles," said the red-haired girl.
He looked around. A child's room: lace curtains, butterfly stencils on the wall, constellations on the ceiling.
Jean was sitting in a chair, blushing roses on her cheeks, brilliant hair in meticulous braids on her shoulders.
"Why, Jean --" Charles stammered. "It is lovely meet you, but how --?" He only thought the rest but it came out in words anyway. On the astral plane, every thought turned into words, if it didn't turn into something even more concrete, something visible. Like this child's memory of a place she was safe. "How did we get here?" His thoughts forced the words out. "I didn't use my mind to bring you out here yet."
Jean covered her mouth. She giggled. "Of course you didn't, silly. I brought you here with mine."
And for the first time since he had met Jean's grieving father, a smile spread across Charles' face, and he spoke the thought out loud. "This one is different," he said. "This time it is going to be different."
They had been living in the house in Westchester for more than a month before Charles could persuade Amelia to leave him on his own for a few days.
"I am a paraplegic," he told her. "I am not an invalid. I have fended for myself before, and can do so again, and in any case, we have staff."
Convinced at last that his capacity for stubbornness matched her own, and that he had no real interest in visiting her college friends in Ohio, Amelia agreed to take a short trip. Charles found himself alone in the mansion -- a prisoner, it turned out, of his own boredom.
He had returned from a few years living abroad with an unsettled feeling, a gnawing discontent. But he found it hard to define, much less to cure, and sitting alone in the large empty house that had belonged to a father he never especially cared for did nothing to soothe his humor.
And so he was relieved to see in the newspaper that Reed Richards would be giving a lecture at Bard College, not far away in Annandale-on-Hudson. Charles had known the brilliant physicist for years. But Richards' schedule had been a bit -- well, different -- in recent months and it occurred to Charles that the best place to catch him for a moment's conversation might, in fact, be at a public appearance.
But it was more than that; John Grey still taught at Bard. It had been some time since Charles had talked to the family. He had met with Jean regularly for several years, although in all honesty, the sessions could have been ended sometime before they did. Jean's recovery had been remarkable; Charles would have called it 'textbook,' but unfortunately it would be years before one could write textbooks on such things. When he first came back to New York after his accident, the Greys had become frequent visitors to the convalescent home, but they had agreed that Jean's recovery was full, and that Charles' uncertain health would make future appointments impractical.
Since he hadn't heard anything to the contrary, Charles assumed his former patient-turned- student was doing well. Still, he welcomed the opportunity to check in with the family. His confidence currently shaken as it was, it would be nice to remind himself of the one unmitigated success story in his history. Hoping John might accompany him to the lecture, giving them time to catch upm Charles dialed the Greys' number.
It was Jean who answered the phone, and told him her parents were traveling. But, she said, before Charles could express his regrets, she would love to go herself.
"You'd like to attend a physics lecture?" he asked. "I wasn't aware you, ah -- admired Dr. Richards."
"Oh, yes! Right from the beginning! I'll see you in front of the student union, okay?"
On the drive from Westchester, Charles puzzled over the conversation. Jean was, by any definition, a bright girl and a diligent student. But she had never expressed much interest in advanced science. She was also impatient, easily distracted, and not at all the type of person he expected to be captivated by Reed Richards' speaking style, which was an acquired taste. To put it kindly.
When Charles saw Jean, the mystery was easily solved. She was wearing Levis, and her blue-hooded sweatshirt sported a round white button with a large "4."
"Ahh," he said, approaching her with a smile. "You've liked Reed all along, have you?"
"From the beginning," Jean proclaimed. "All the other girls at school say Johnny is the best, but if you ask me, a man should have more gravitas to be a real superhero." She leaned down to give him a tight hug. "And how has my favorite hero been? How was Greece?"
"Uneventful," he began to lie, then felt the chair moving forward. "Jean, you don't have to push -- it's automatic --" He looked up and saw her grin.
She held up her hands. "I'm not." He reached out to her mind, then, and heard her words, silently. Please let me. He always felt a pang when he had to do this; rightly, she should be able to initiate telepathic contact herself. But he had needed to shut that aspect of her power off, to help her survive, bring her back to the world. The time had never seemed right to explain. She had been left with an impressive gift of telekinesis as a compensation, but even that, he had emphasized, she must keep strictly secret outside of their sessions.
They hadn't had a session for over a year. All she wanted was to push his chair.
Please, please, Professor? I never get to.
He smiled an assent, and let Jean propel the chair forward without touching it. Her thin arms swung by her sides. "It is lovely to see you looking so well, Jean. How has your progress been?"
"Oh, you know. School's school. I'll graduate in the spring. I think Dad's disappointed I don't want to get a Ph.D like him, but I can't imagine putting that much attention on one thing. And of course, he wants me to go here, which would be free, because I'm a faculty brat. But I'm not sure I want to be a faculty brat. I'd like to go to Empire State, maybe study fashion. Obviously, I'm not thin enough to be a model --" She shrugged at him. She had grown five inches since he had seen her, but he wasn't sure she had put on a pound. Teenaged girls today, they all wanted to be so thin. Amelia had shown him an article, about how they viewed their bodies. If he had a daughter, he wondered if she would be the same. Jean continued. "Maybe I could be in design. Or in the business side. Like a buyer for Saks! That would be great. But then, on the other hand, I'd like to do something to help people. Maybe law school."
Charles smiled. "Helping people. That is on the other hand from law school, correct?"
"And now you sound just like Dad!" Jean sighed dramatically, then hesitated. Pushing her hair back from her foreheand, she ducked her chin and said, "It's okay that I don't know everything I want to do with my life yet. Isn't it?"
"Of course, dear girl." He reached up and out for her hand. She saw his gesture, threaded her fingers through his, and leaned down to kiss his forehead. I didn't only mean your progress in school, you know, he told her.
I know, Jean answered, looking straight ahead. The door to the union swung open in front of them. He almost scolded her for flaunting her powers before he realized he had rolled over a sensor, that the door was automatic. Catching his worry, she walked by his side and thought, I only let it happen at night.
When I'm dreaming. Things move sometimes. Mom and Dad don't ask, but I think they notice. I think they're a little worried. She hesitated. They aren't really out of town. I'm sorry that I tried to lie to you. I know it's impossible.
"Don't worry, Jean," he said out loud. "I knew you would choose to tell me in your own time." And this was its own lie. It had never occurred to him to doubt Jean's veracity. He wondered if there were other things about his old patient that he might be missing.
"I wish I could be like Susan," said Jean, stopping short. Her eyes traveled upward. Charles' gaze followed and he saw the huge banner advertising the lecture. "DOCTOR REED RICHARDS OF THE FANTASTIC FOUR," complete with pictures of Mr. Fantastic, a blazing Johnny Storm, menacing Ben Grimm, and the shimmering outline of Susan Storm, the Invisible Girl.
"Surely you don't wish to be invisible?" Charles asked. Thinking of Amelia's article again, wondering what would make an intelligent, beautiful young woman wish not to be seen.
"No, of course not," Jean looked down at him, and making sure that he saw her pushing the elevator button with her finger. "Susan's so much more than that. I wish I knew what it was like to be powerful."
"Jean, surely you know --" The elevator opened. He rolled in behind her. Other people were waiting, but they were suddenly overcome by the generous impulse to let the nice young lady and her uncle go through. The uncle made sure of that. When the doors closed behind him, Charles spoke out loud. "You know you are every bit as powerful as these people you admire."
She laughed. "Powerful? Professor, I --" She slumped against the wall of the elevator, absently running her hand over the console. "I'm a maybe kinda smart, maybe kinda pretty seventeen-year-old girl with no real job skills or life plan, and a disease I'm not supposed to tell anyone about that sometimes makes the furniture shake at night. That's what I am. It's not like I'm, you know." She swallowed. "Gifted."
He was about to ask her: Where did you get an idea like that?
But she looked down at him, gave an embarrassed smile, and he knew that he already knew the answer. In the name of helping her, he had done this lovely girl a disservice.
"It's okay. I don't really mind," said Jean. The elevator opened, and she pushed him forward. "I've gotten to know myself pretty well, lately. So right now I'll just go in with you and you can listen to this physics lecture, and I can pretend to listen to this physics lecture and actually daydream about being Susan Storm. And we can talk more later, all right?"
But he didn't listen at all. Jean handed him a program on the way in, and he sat there, with a fountain pen, sketching. A dome-shaped room that plugged into his mind. A plane with vertical takeoff and landing. A uniform, like the one Reed and Susan wore in the photographs.
But there, in place of the number four, he drew a large letter "X."