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Smoke Clears

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There is a girl in the north wing of the house who chokes on phantom smoke and searing heat every time she tries to sleep.

In her new bedroom, Jean closes her eyes and follows the panicked swirl of thoughts that turn each breath into a shallow gasp. She lets her own mind become like cool, clear air, chasing the smoke away, and feels her classmate inhale deeply and relax for the first time in many days.

“Jean?”

She opens her eyes. Scott is standing in the doorway. “You weren’t answering me,” he continues. “You were sitting so still, and you… looked like you weren’t even here.”

“I’m fine. I was just… practicing.” Out of habit, she doesn’t elaborate. He leans against the door, in an attempt at unaffected cool that she knows he learned from his brother. “You can come in, Scott. At least until somebody kicks you out.”

“I can? I mean, thanks.” He takes a few steps toward her bed, thinks better of it, and instead backs into her desk chair.

She stays out of his thoughts as carefully as she can. “Is everything okay?”

“Sure,” he answers. “I mean, Jubilee almost knocked me down, but I’ll live. Isn’t there a rule about roller-skating in the hallways, or something?”

Jean smiles. “I think the staff are kind of making the rules up as they go.”

“You coming into town with us tomorrow?”

“You know that as long as the world isn’t ending, I’ll be there,” Jean assures him.

“So… want to tell me what you were practicing?”

It’s an old instinct: the urge to pretend away each new telepathic skill that she learns, because she knows how most people – even some of her fellow mutants – tend to react. “Some of the other kids still have trouble sleeping. The professor has been teaching me to help them.”

“Help them forget, you mean?” Scott sounds uncertain.

Is he edging away from her now? Why should it matter? Ororo wouldn’t care about making other people uneasy, and neither would Mystique. But Scott is Jean’s friend, and she finds that she cares very much about upsetting him. “Of course not. I just find out what’s bothering them, and I make it… less present.” She considers, and then says gently, “I could do something like that for… anybody who asks.” She remembers that he left the grounds with Hank suddenly, during the rebuilding of the school. They were gone for most of the day, and when they returned, Scott asked to be put to work blasting rubble into dust with a series of glances. Eventually, Jean found out that they had gone to tell his parents what happened to Alex. “And only if they ask,” she adds. The last time she tried to enter one of her friends’ minds without permission, Professor Xavier found out quickly enough, and showed her exactly why she should never attempt anything like that again.

All Scott says is, “How many people want your help?”

“More than I expected,” Jean replies. “I mean, our home blew up. I think anybody would have trouble feeling safe after something like that.”

“Mystique would say that none of us will ever be really safe.”

“Do you believe that?”

“Sometimes,” Scott admits. “But I think that’s why we’re fighting, you know? So the future will be safer. Jean?”

“Yes?”

For a long moment, she thinks that Scott isn’t going to speak again. Then he asks, “When something’s scaring you… who makes it go away?”

“I don’t need as much help as I used to,” Jean says. Did Scott hear her breath catch at his question, as if it were strangled with smoke?

After all, she still sometimes dreams of fire, too.