A/N: Third person POV chapter. A small break from the boys to see what everyone else is upto. If you read, I hope you like!
Wondering River, Alberta
The girl was getting tired.
Been a week since she’d slept in a warm bed, or had a proper meal. Sleep deprivation is generally so inherent to the teenage life that she didn’t mind so much. But God the hunger… and she’d always been such a big eater. Praise the Lord for Southern appetites and high metabolism rates.
But now she was so tired. She had to find a place to stop. Soon. Or she was afraid she’d be forced to employ… other… means… of regaining her energy.
She stretched out a lithe left arm on the cafeteria table at which she sat. Another lazy graceful movement rested her left temple on the arm, closing her eyes. Every adult who passed her took one look and sympathized. Poor Doctor Grey. Working so hard, must be exhausted… losing herself in work to ignore the pain in her heart… look what that thankless bastard did to her… oh poor Jea…
“Knock it off.”
Sharp hazel eyes shot open, perfectly timed with the sharp rebuke, and everyone shut up their… well, thoughts. As best as they could.
Her telepathic bond with her friends Ro, Warren and Hank was stronger than everyone else but honestly she didn’t need to read their thoughts to know what they were thinking. Their cautious presence alone, the softened footfalls and the occasional caresses on her shoulders were enough. She knew they cared. She knew they were worried. It was a gesture duly appreciated but really people. Back off already. Jean Grey was fine.
There was once a time that Jean could not control her telepathy and her head would be flooded with strange voices of all the people surrounding her twenty four seven. One little girl next door used to suffer from night terrors, but she wouldn’t be the only one waking up screaming in her bed. Compared to that, Jean’s days in the straitjacket actually weren’t quite so bad after all.
Thanks to Professor Xavier, she now had much better control. She could read people’s minds, random thoughts and such but only if she deliberately tried to. Day after day, her control grew and it even gave her the potential ability to uncover the hidden depths of the human mind, that an individual may not be aware of himself.
The bell struck lunchtime and soon the place was bustling with kids from ages ten to eighteen. All significantly vocal about everything and nothing that goes on in a typical day in the lives of young mutants. And Jean, seemingly asleep amid the loud chatter, smiled. Trust the kids to be too self-engrossed to wonder about her being there or to bother her. They should be pretty used to seeing her chilling out in the cafeteria by now.
She loved it here. Here, she could peacefully immerse herself in whatever unblemished innocence still remained within the walls of Xavier’s mansion. Eavesdrop on the daily gossip and chatter – often witty, sometimes prosaic but always, always so comfortably… usual. Normal.
Well okay… as *normal* as it could possibly get given their situation. Professor worked very *very* hard to achieve this culture of comfort and security for the kids and for that Jean was glad. The kids were strictly shielded from the X-Men related struggles outside, regularly updated sure, but always with a constant assurance that everything was under control. Jean didn’t want to think of what they’d tell the students if this situation with the Right got out of hand. More than it nearly did.
Jean shuddered, trying to push away the harrowing memories of a month ago. Struggling not to re-visit the image of Scott… broken and bleeding…
Get a grip, she told herself. Concentrated on the noisy kids around her instead.
A few minutes of indulgence later, Jean stood up, not wanting to leave but there was work to be done.
Jean winced… no one called her (or was supposed to call her) that except Scott. She turned to face the teenager in question. St. John.
Ambling over with a slow gait that he probably thought made him look older and/or manlier, coming to a halt closer to his teacher than appropriate or necessary. Jean resisted rolling her eyes.
“I was wondering, Jean…”
“Doctor Grey, John.”
John blinked and half-smirked. “Doctor. Grey. I was wondering… that Biology paper due tomorrow? See I’m having some trouble interpreting all my research and… could really use some… *personal attention*.”
At a proud six feet tall, Jean towered three whole inches over the teenager, and she put her height advantage to good use. “I would love to, John, but unfortunately my schedule for today is jam-packed.”
“How about tomorrow then?”
She smiled. “The paper’s due tomorrow.”
“Which is why we must get together as soon as possible Doc.”
Jean smirked, then turned to walk away. “I’m sorry, if you’d come to me sooner…”
John wasn’t giving up yet. “But I didn’t know until last night…”
Jean paused and narrowed her eyes at him. “That you’d need my help?”
John stared right back, an impish smile yearning to break out on his lips. “That… you’d be available now to um, *tutor*… after… hours?”
It didn’t take long for Jean to probe his thoughts further to confirm what she’d feared. Then she did roll her eyes.
He *knew*. Wouldn’t be long before all the kids knew. That is if they didn’t already.
Jean turned on her heels and stomped out of the cafeteria. She was not about to go back there to seek solace for some time now.
“How do the students know?”
Ro looked up from the paper she was grading at the tall woman striding into her office like a storm (no pun intended), and took off her reading glasses.
Jean just glared at her, hands on her hips. Ro sighed and stood up.
“Well, they are *mutants* you know. And frankly Jean, I’m surprised the secret lasted as long as it did.”
“It’s only been like a month and three days, Ro.”
Ororo Munroe gently approached her friend. “Yes, and still too early to hope you’d stop counting I suppose?”
Jean looked away. It still seemed like yesterday, she couldn’t believe it was already a month and three days, since Jean and Scott broke up. In fact, they’d mutually decided to call it quits just hours before the Right’s attack.
//Worst damn day of my life.//
And yes, she was still counting much to her own chagrin and dismay. There was enough turmoil and upheaval in the mansion right now, they didn’t need to throw another bombshell into the mix. Scott and Jean’s relationship was supposed to have been forever. It was supposed to be this… rock, solid like the very foundation of the Xavier’s Institute for the Gifted. A benchmark that the teenagers could look up to whenever they spoke of trust. And love.
“I’m just… never mind.” Jean sighed and changed the subject. “Any word?”
Ro let her have the exit. And besides, she had some news much worse than Jean and Scott’s breakup being outed to the whole school. She sighed, went back around her desk. Knowing from experience, it was best to put a little distance between herself and Jean right now.
“Uhh yeah about that… I was just coming to find you…”
Alarm bells went off in Jean’s hyperactive brain. “What’s wrong?”
Storm sighed. “I can’t seem to reach him, unfortunately. He’s not picking up his cell phone and hasn’t checked in since last night.”
“What?? Storm why the fuck didn’t you tell me this before?!?”
Ro had known Jean would react like that. She knew her friend would forget that Storm was the leader of the X-Men now. And by God she didn’t wish to rub that in Jean’s face, so she just stood quietly, waiting for Jean to calm down. Jean bowed her head for a moment, got herself under control.
“I’m sorry. What do you plan to do?”
Ro nodded once, and quickly slipped into field leader mode. “We know he is somewhere in Northern Alberta. I have the coordinates the Professor sent him to.”
Jean huffed and looked away, then looked back at Storm again. “The Professor won’t be back until tonight. We can’t wait that long, what if something’s happened to him?”
“There is a recent hit on his credit card for gas in a town called Loughlin City, after which the trail goes cold. I’m thinking we could start there. But my instincts are telling me that we should just give him more time. Scott can take care of himself and if we jump the gun now, he might not… take it so well if you know what I mean?”
Jean frowned. “No. I don’t.”
Ro pursed her lips, but it had to be said. “We have to show him that we trust him, Jean. It was our overzealous protectiveness of him that drove him out of here in the first place.”
“He is sick, Ro. And he doesn’t have his powers right now. Of course we should worry about him!”
“But you were smothering him! Jean think about it. He felt like we were all treating him like an invalid. Treading on tiptoes around him ‘cause we couldn’t figure out how to deal with the fact that he may not be one of us anymore.”
Jean lashed out at that, knocking the frames of pictures off Ororo’s table even though she was standing a good three feet away.
“Of course he is still one of us! I can’t believe you said that.”
Ro sighed, exasperated. “You’re missing the point. Scott wants to do this job and prove to us, and to himself that he belongs here. If we intrude in any way, he will assume that we don’t trust him and there is a good chance we might lose him forever. Please tell me you understand this?”
The telepath bit her lip, struggling to come up with something, anything that would help refute the truth in Ro’s words. “Okay, I know you’re right, Ro. But I cannot put his mental health over his physical well being right now. We can deal with his issues later, once he is back. Safe! But right now, God I just need to know he is okay. Please Ro?”
The field leader relented at last. She was a woman after all, her maternal instincts probably stronger than Jean Grey herself, even when it was about Scott. But she was also supposed to be making an objective decision in the long-term best interest of the X-Men. Damn it! Ro wondered how the hell did Cyclops do it. “We really ought to give him till this evening, don’t you think?”
Jean just… *looked* at her, and Ro grimaced. “All right. But there is still the matter of tracking him down. Alberta is a huge region. I tried triangulating via the cellphone signal but it seems to be switched off.”
That is when Jean started to leave.
“I hope you’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking.”
Jean schooled her face into the most innocent frown she could manage before turning to face Ro again. “What?”
Ro sighed loudly. “Jean, you can’t.”
Doctor Grey glared for a second at her best friend. Then turned and decisively walked out the room.
“It’s too dangerous!”
//Dangerous my ass.//
Like Jean could ever possibly care for her safety over that of Scott’s. Ro may be *field* leader, but this wasn’t just a mission, this was about finding him and bringing him home safe. So what if he wasn’t her fiancé anymore. So what if he didn’t love her, she still did… and she’d probably never stop.
The Professor wasn’t here either. Jean was going to take the Cerebro for a test ride and there was nothing anyone could say or do about it.
Everyone in the village prayed that night.
They prayed not for the sun to come out or the freezing cold to abate. Nor did they need more food on the table or more brandy in their hip flasks. None of that this night. All they prayed to their respective Gods for, was to keep their families and loved ones safe from… the monster. The giant ugly abomination whose angry roars sent shivers of abject fear down every mortal spine as he hurled a snow-clearing truck out of his way with his bare hands. The evil incarnate who skewered the sheriff and the innkeeper Mr. Norris on his huge claws when the poor men couldn’t possibly give him the information he wanted.
The little inn was demolished in his wake and folk had no place left to drink and dine and hustle after a hard day’s work. Inter-state buses were diverted away from the town of Wondering River after news spread of the attack. The monster was unstoppable… moving northward at horrifying speeds, chasing something. Someone. A young girl.
Everyone prayed to their respective Gods that her death be swift. So the monster would just leave already.
0400 hours. The girl was packed and ready to go. She felt guilty but she had no choice. The kind old man who ran this rundown B&B had given her a place to stay without asking for a deposit. And now the girl was running away before he or anyone else woke. Two nights and one day in one place was long enough, she had to start moving. And stop taking advantage of the only nice person she’d met all week.
Like hell was Canada supposed to be mutant-friendly and all! But at least they wouldn’t be having that damn registration law up here, she mused.
//Better to be an anonymous freak than an official one.//
But if this was supposed to be the new land of the free, for mutants that is… where were they? She did find one yeah… but couldn’t gather up enough courage to go up to him.
//No wonder people are psyched. We *are* scary.//
The mutant… Wolverine was it? Well he wasn’t exactly the socializing type. She was amazed how that other guy, young and clean and mighty well turned out even in that shitty old dump, had gone up to the mutant outside the bar. And how Wolverine almost crushed his neck with his bare hands. She should know… she was right there, had almost made up her mind to hitch a ride before the other guy cut in. Probably did her a favor.
//Better him than me I say.//
Quietly she slipped out the inn and walked down the snow-covered sidewalks, tracing her way down to the nearest highway.
//Where do you go when you’re lookin’ for mutants?//
The girl sighed, gazing up and down the sloping road. That’s right, she had no plan. When she ran from home she had no notion in her head but to get out, as far away from the people she loved and could possibly hurt as possible. But running into the Wolf guy that night had given her an idea… there were hundreds of thousands of mutants out there. Alone she was vulnerable, helpless. But if she found some of her own… kind, maybe life wouldn’t be so hard anymore?
She trudged on, finally reaching a major intersection where she was sure to be able to hitch a ride with someone. Twelve minutes later was in a truck whose driver told her he could take her all the way to Plamondon. Cool. Didn’t know where that was, couldn’t possibly care any less.
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