I started by talking with ‘Ro. I wanted to begin with Scott, but it didn’t seem like a good idea until I’d paved the way more. It just about broke my heart to see how he looked at me any time we were together. Well, of course, I couldn’t actually see how he looked at me. Through a glass darkly was still the only way he could see. But I could see him avoiding me whenever he could and when he couldn’t avoid looking my way, I could feel some of what he was feeling. Scott was keeping his mental shields up all the time now, but strong emotions leaked through. His feelings when he looked at me were very strong – a mixture of hostile mistrust and confusion.
Occasionally I’d catch a whiff of guilt, too. I wasn’t sure what that was about. Maybe this thing with Logan. I wish I knew what to make of that. Was it a diversion, just a physical thing, or something more serious? And not that it really matters who it is, but I have to admit it bugs me a bit that it’s Logan he chose. Why did it have to be someone who had been interested in me? Well, interested in the person I was, the Jean Scott loved and lost. Did Scott’s interest in Logan have something to do with trying to get over that loss? Was it connected to his mistrust towards me? Was he trying to keep Logan away from me? And just what was Logan getting out of this? I tried to penetrate Scott’s shields, just a little, to understand better what he was feeling and thinking. I knew if I tried hard enough he’d realize what I was doing, but I thought if I could just sneak in, well, no harm done. No go. I don’t think I ever remember him being so defended.
So, I knew I had an uphill battle convincing them all, but Scott would be the hardest. Even ‘Ro, who had welcomed me with open arms and without reservations, was starting to question, so I thought I should work on reassuring her. I don’t think she knew I was picking up her doubts, and she certainly was still behaving towards me as a true and loyal friend, but behind the warm smile and calm demeanor was a mind full of questions and contradictory feelings. She wasn’t doubtful enough to put her shields up, so I could clearly hear the questions in her mind. She’d watch me interacting with Scott or Charles or Logan and think “Jean doesn’t sound like herself.”
That wasn’t all doubt. It was partly sympathy for me, partly concern for what she saw as changes in my personality. But in the back of her mind was a growing sense that maybe I didn’t sound like myself because I was really someone else. I didn’t want her thinking that. It was bad enough that Scott already did. I was counting on ‘Ro to help me convince him. So I needed to do a little convincing of her to make that work.
I didn’t tell ‘Ro I knew what she was thinking. I didn’t want to embarrass her or make her feel like I was invading her privacy. If I had done that, she might have put up her shields, too, and I felt it was important to know what she was thinking. Still, without letting on that I had heard her doubts, I tried to reassure her whenever I could and however I could. I did it mostly by talking about how I didn’t feel like myself, didn’t feel back to normal yet. I told her that I was hoping that familiar surroundings and a loving community were all the healing help I needed, but that I wasn’t sure.
“Work is the best therapy,” I told ‘Ro one afternoon, as I helped her in the vegetable garden. On our knees, weeding. The calendar said it was the tail end of winter but a warm March sun and a gentle breeze felt like spring.
“Suffer them now and they’ll outgrow the garden,” she’d said, enticing me to join her. I told her she sounded like Scott, always quoting Shakespeare.
“That’s one reason why I want to get involved in the MPP and other projects,” I told her, pulling a particularly persistent weed. “It will help me recover. I’m not doing enough here.”
“You’re planning to talk to Charles about that, aren’t you? I’m sure there’s plenty for you to do.”
“Yes, I have an appointment with him for later today. I think I can do more in the Medical Department, for a start.”
“You’ve been so gracious about Hank becoming Medical Director while you were... gone, Jean. I’m sure you can work something out with Charles and Hank. Nobody wants to supplant you.” She paused and added, “And when you’re ready, maybe you can work at the clinic in Yonkers again.”
“Yes, I want to, although I’m not sure how to pave the way, you know? Charles told them I died. I hear the staff there were all at the memorial service. I don’t want to just show up there unannounced. I realize now it was a bad idea to do that here.”
“Talk to Charles. He can explain to them. If you want to go back, that is.”
“I do. I want to do whatever I can to be useful. It’s when I feel most... normal or something, when I’m working. Still, I don’t know if it’s enough. I’m wondering if I could benefit from some counseling.”
“I think it’s a good idea,” she answered, looking at me. “You’ve been through a most difficult time. We’ll do all we can for you, but perhaps a professional therapist can help you make sense of it in ways you can’t on your own and offer support and expertise that we just don’t have.”
I sighed. “I know I should but the whole idea just seems so overwhelming. Finding a mutant-friendly therapist, and then having to tell my whole life story. I haven’t done that for so long. And the thing about life-stories is they keep getting longer and more complicated as time goes on.”
She laughed at that. “I know what you mean. It could take a few 50-minute hours just to explain the X-Men.”
“It feels daunting. I’m a doctor and a teacher and a mutant superhero – talk about trying to have it all.” She chuckled at that, too. “So, we’ll start off with the therapist thinking I’ve got all the typical problems of a childless 33-year-old woman, magnified. And then on top of all the career stuff, I’ve got to tell him about Scott and me. I know an awful lot of people will think a marriage to someone like him is just doomed. It’s not the kind of relationship that many people can understand, and it’s not easy to explain how it really works for us. Worked anyway, and I hope will again. I hope we’ll be able to get married. And then once I go through all that I have to explain about Logan, too.” I paused a minute to see if she’d ask what I meant, but she didn’t, so I went on. “Then I’d need to tell him about the mission to find Kurt and the whole siege on the school and the battle against Stryker. All that before I get to what I really need to talk about.” I could feel tears well up in my eyes and my voice begin to crack.
Storm put down her tools. She touched my arm as I continued. “Deciding that the only way to save everybody else was to die there, thinking that was the end for me. And then finding out I wasn’t going to die – at least not just yet – but living as a prisoner. What they did to me. What it did to me to be so alone, so frightened, so totally devoid of hope. All the times I wished I could die, wished it were just over. How terrified I was to try to hope that I’d ever get back here. How I truly believed that everything would be okay if only I could go home. And then coming home and wondering if Thomas Wolfe was right.”
“Do you think you could go back to Dr. Leeds?” she asked, then answered her own question. “No, he’s too far away, I guess.”
The sobs overtook me and ‘Ro put her arms around me, saying I didn’t have to talk about it anymore if I didn’t want to. “I do want to talk. I don’t want to burden you, though.”
“You’re not burdening me. I’m your friend, Jean. You can talk to me any time.”
“I appreciate that, really I do.” I paused, swallowed hard, and tried to pull myself together. “You’ve been great, ‘Ro, really. Everybody has. But I feel so... defensive sometimes, so short-tempered, so afraid of rejection. I know how hard it was for everyone when I came back, how it must have felt like I was a ghost or something. I realize I made mistakes now. But I was so excited to be free and I guess I was just expecting that everyone would be thrilled to have me back.” I worked to get the bitterness out of my voice. “So it was such a let down. And I think it makes me too pushy or something and that just drives people away. It’s like a vicious circle or something. I can’t talk to Scott; I can barely talk to Charles and Hank. Sometimes, ‘Ro, I think you’re the only one who really listens to me, who really believes me and believes in me. Sometimes I don’t even believe in myself.” I felt her doubts slipping away, but I thought it best to cry a little longer, just to be sure.
“Dr. Jean Grey.”
“Oh! Wrong number.”
“Yeah. Sorry, I guess I dialed the wrong extension. I was trying to reach Scott.”
“No, you dialed the right number. I’m in his office.”
“Oh. Well, tell him to call me back when he’s free.”
“Actually he’s not here. He’s out on a mission.”
“What’re you doing in his office?”
“Just looking over some of his class notes. In case I need to sub for him.”
“How long is he gonna be gone?”
“I’m not sure. Charles thought it would just be a few hours.”
“So why do you need to sub?”
“I just thought I should be prepared, in case the mission lasts longer. I know you’re new to this, Logan. But we often have missions that start off as just a few hours and become much more complicated. Stick around for a while, and you’ll see.”
“I’ll call him tomorrow.”
“I’ll tell Scott you called. I’ll see him as soon as he gets back... I’m sure he’s eager to hear how things are going with the MPP. How’s your security review coming along? Will you be home soon? I really want to see you, to talk to you.”
“Just tell Scott I called.”
When two telepaths talk, usually the conversation is multi-layered and complex. There’s the spoken conversation, but it’s punctuated and enhanced by telepathy. The words are only one little part of what’s conveyed, with thoughts and emotions adding texture and meaning to make something that’s greater than the sum of the parts. When you’re accustomed to that kind of conversation, a speech-only one feels flat.
Charles Xavier and I were having a flat conversation. And a formal one. He was seated behind his big wooden desk, not in front of the fireplace with the comfortable seating area. I was on the other side of that large, heavy barrier. Even discounting the lack of telepathy, he wasn’t speaking to me like someone he’d known for close to two decades, someone he’d guided and taught. And loved. He was talking in a friendly, helpful way, but as one would to a stranger. He was also studiously avoiding saying my name.
“I’m glad we have this opportunity to talk,” he said. “I was pleased to hear you say you feel ready to take on more work.”
“I really want to, Charles,” I replied, trying to convey my enthusiasm through tone and reflecting again on how inferior speech is to telepathy. Still, we both had our reasons for keeping our mental shields in place. “I’m helping Hank out as much as he needs, and I’m always happy to sub when teachers are away. But I feel like a bit of a fifth wheel or something. The X-Men seem to be sufficient unto themselves, without me, like you filled in the hole or something. I feel... superfluous, I guess.” I paused, hoping he would reassure me that I was needed, but when he didn’t say anything I continued. “So that’s why I thought this MPP project would be a good fit. It’s new, and you’re still working on staffing it. I thought my skills and my powers could be helpful. I felt left out, and left out of something I could make a contribution to. I am sorry I barged into the meeting, though. That wasn’t the way to make my point.”
“That’s okay. You’ve made your point now and we can forget the other time. I do think you have something to offer the project. I’d like for you to go up to Vermont. You can meet with the Alpha Flight representatives and the FBI and try to figure out what the best way for you to contribute is. Northstar and Sasquatch are there now. You remember them from joint Alpha Flight/X-Men missions, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course,” I answered, worried a little that I said it too quickly. “And Logan’s there, too, right?”
“Yes, but he’ll be returning before you go up.”
“Oh. How come?”
“We’re trying to provide the X-Men staffing contingent on a rotating basis. Once Logan has the security review complete and the work on fortifications has begun, I’ll need him back here. You can help with some of the security renovations, I imagine. Telekinesis is helpful in that sort of situation. And your telekinetic powers are much stronger lately, aren’t they?” He asked it in his usual calm and open manner, but somehow I felt there was a note of suspicion in the question.
“Yes,” I answered. “Remarkably so. I used to be able to only lift items telekinetically that I could lift with my hands, but now... I find I can lift objects that weigh thousands of pounds.”
“Yes, I heard you had lifted one of the cars in the garage yesterday.”
“Ah, Bobby must have told you. Yes, he seemed surprised when he walked in and I had a car over my head.”
“What exactly were you doing with it? Bobby seemed to think you were doing some... repairs or something.”
“No, not really. Just seeing how much I remembered of what Scott had taught me about auto mechanics.” I smiled, and added, “Without getting myself all dirty, rolling under the car.”
“I see. Well, I don’t know that there will be any need to lift cars up in Vermont, but I imagine ability to lift heavy equipment could come in handy during the security renovations. Jean-Paul will be directing the work and I’m sure he can make good use of your powers.”
“So maybe I should go up before Logan comes back, and he can show me what has been done and what work is still in progress?”
“I think Jean-Paul can handle the transition. We’ll plan on you going next Wednesday, after Logan’s return. I may want you to escort a family up there – new participants in the program. If so, I’ll send Storm with you. It all depends on whether they are ready to embark on their journey of new identity yet. I think it will be helpful to have on site medical staff, too. Ethan has certainly been a help, of course.”
“Ethan Leeds. You knew he was up there, didn’t you? He’s in Bellows Falls.”
“Yes, of course. I just forgot.”
“He’s an essential member of the MPP team, offering psychiatric services to our MPP participants and also doing a physical exam and evaluation and making referrals as needed. But Ethan never practiced general medicine and it would be a good idea to have a physician involved other than him.” He hesitated. “You also might benefit from consulting with him yourself. You’ve been through a great deal of trauma and change. We discussed therapeutic support for you when you first... returned, but you said you weren’t ready yet. What do you think about that now? Certainly you couldn’t do better than Ethan.”
“Oh I don’t know.” I was not eager to go into therapy and explained - as I had to ‘Ro – how daunting the prospect of telling my whole life story would be.
“But that’s why I’m suggesting Ethan. You wouldn’t have to start from scratch with him. And he’d be so happy to see you. Again.” The last word hung in the air.