A Word in Private

By Seema (seemag1@yahoo.com)

Disclaimer: A tip of the hat to Marvel Comics as they aren't mine.

Author's Note: A response to Minisinoo's challenge to write Scott and Jean fic which "involves thinking about relationships in the day-to-day, and the challenges of maintaining them ... and the fun of being in one." This one is set about a week or so before the first X-Men movie.

***

The door was slightly ajar, but Scott Summers knocked anyway.

"Yes?"

He poked his head in. "Got a minute for me?"

Jean Grey looked up, a slow smile spreading across her face at the sound of his voice. With a sigh, she shoved back her chair and rose.

"Always," she said, coming towards him. "You're a sight for sore eyes."

"I thought you could use a break." Scott handed Jean a cup of coffee and a muffin. She took both gratefully. Scott glanced at her desk; it was piled high with notebooks, folders and various medical texts. "How's it going?"

Jean sank back into her chair while Scott took the one opposite her. He waited while Jean took a sip of coffee.

"Perfect," she said after a moment, her hands still cupped around the steaming mug. "I needed that."

"I'm sorry I couldn't make it down here earlier," Scott said. Given that finals were right around the corner, for once, the students were taking advantage of Scott's office hours and asking him questions, by all rights, they should have asked much, much earlier in the semester. "I was absolutely swamped."

"It's all right, I understand. Besides," Jean said, "I'm not sure I would have welcomed the distraction before now." She pointed to a blue folder on her desk. "I finally polished my statement. I think I must have spent at least five hours on the conclusion itself. I want to strike the right tone, you know? Not too belligerent, but not too soft either." She sighed. "Now, I'm just trying to anticipate all of the questions they might throw at me and writing down my possible responses. I want to be prepared for all eventualities."

"You look exhausted," Scott said softly. "When was the last time you saw sunlight?"

"Don't ask," she said, taking a bite of the muffin. Scott knew Jean had been working non-stop for nearly twelve hours reviewing the latest research in mutant genetics in preparation for her testimony in front of Congress, scheduled for the following week; he was also aware that Jean had stopped working only once to give the Professor a status report on her progress. Scott rose from his seat and circled around the desk and pulled Jean to her feet.

"I am glad to see you, Summers," she said wearily as she stepped into his embrace. Scott kissed her lightly on the forehead and then drew her over to the sofa. She snuggled against him and Scott relaxed, loving the feel of Jean against him. It was quiet times like this when he could really appreciate how well they fit together, how they complemented each other. He appreciated the calmness and balance she brought to his life and the way she -- and only she -- could make him feel.

"I talked to the Professor a few minutes ago," Scott said. He stroked Jean's hair lightly with his fingers. "He didn't sound optimistic. His sources seem to think there's a good chance the Mutant Registry Bill is going to get the votes it needs to pass in Congress. There are a couple of swing votes, a couple of senators who may be persuaded to go either way."

Jean nodded. "I'm aware of that. The President has already indicated he will sign the bill if it ends up on his desk."

"It's a lot of pressure for you, Jean." He eyed her carefully.

She wove her fingers in with his. "I can handle it, Scott."

"I know you can."

"It's no different than presenting a paper at a medical conference and I've done that plenty of times with great success," Jean said. She twisted around so that she was leaning against the other armrest. Scott gently reached for her feet, removed her shoes and started massaging her soles. Jean inhaled. "That feels good. God, Scott, thank you."

"It's the least I can do for the cause," he meant it as a light-hearted remark, but he knew as well as Jean that her testimony before Congress would be possibly one of the most serious things she'd ever done or, for that matter, ever do. If the bill passed and mutants started registering, it would be very difficult to overturn the legislation. The quiet life that he had grown accustomed to at Xavier's School for the Gifted would be over and Scott knew it would be impossible for the students, most of them adolescents just coming to terms with their newly emerging mutations, to adjust properly if they also had the added burden of registering their very existence with the government. The safe haven Charles Xavier had built would be destroyed and Scott, as one of Xavier's first pupils and leader of the X-Men, was determined that that wouldn't happen; it went without saying that Jean shared his feelings on the subject.

He looked at Jean; her eyes were half-closed and her hair was slipping out of its loose ponytail. She was wearing jeans and a t-shirt beneath her lab coat; she'd probably put the coat on out of habit more than anything else as she hadn't worked in the lab or the infirmary since she'd started the arduous process of preparing for her testimony before the Senate. He could see the strain in the corners of her eyes, the thin line of her lips, and in the tightness of her jaw.

"Hey," Scott said gently. "Talk to me." At the sound of his voice, Jean opened her eyes.

"What?"

"You might feel like you've got to put up a brave front for all of *them* --" he pointed towards the office door "-- but this is *me*, Jean. You can tell me what's going on. The amount of work you're putting into this--" he paused, trying to think of what his next words ought to be "-- you're *not* fine, are you, Jean?"

Jean stared off into space for a minute, her eyes growing brighter by the second. She blinked furiously and returned her gaze to Scott's face.

"It's all right," he said softly. He reached across to gently wipe his thumb across the spot of moisture just below her left eye. "Let it go, Jean."

She shook her head. "I'm sorry."

"There's no need to apologize," Scott said. He watched Jean intently. "This is hard on you, I understand that."

Jean nodded sadly. "I've been trying to convince myself that it's nothing more than a medical conference," Jean said softly, "but the reality is that it *isn't*. Those senators *want* to know who we are, what we can do, where we are..."

"And you'll be able to answer all of those questions ably," Scott said earnestly. "You're a medical doctor, Jean. You know this stuff cold and I *know* that you can *do* this. Something like this is a walk in the park for someone with your credentials." He was slightly exaggerating now, but he knew that with her stellar preparation under her belt, Jean would do fine when it came to questions on the medical and scientific data; after all, she was one of the smartest people he knew. However, he knew that the emotional and *personal* angle of the testimony would be much more difficult to handle; for that reason, he didn't envy her at all.

"Dr. Jean Grey, MD, and mutant," Jean said. A note of humor underlay her tone. "Yeah, definitely can't think of anyone else better suited to go and stand in front of one hundred belligerent anti-mutant advocates."

"Not *all* of them are going to vote for the bill." At least, Scott thought, he *hoped* that there were a few left in the Senate who might be friendly towards mutants.

"No, but most of them are. You already talked to the Professor so you do know what the odds are. If I fail, Scott, I'll be letting the Professor down, the students, *you*--" Jean's voice trailed off.

"You're not going to fail."

Jean bit her lip and nodded, but he could tell she didn't believe him.

"The Professor, all of the students, you, Storm, Hank, you're all depending on me," Jean said. She shook her head. "I'm afraid of what will happen if things don't go the way we want them to." She stared at Scott. "What if the outcome has already been decided? What if the testimony is simply a formality? Regardless, if the bill passes, it goes without saying that it'll affect us all and I'm afraid you will blame me." Jean seemed startled at her own words. "Wow, I actually said it."

"That's not going to happen, Jean."

"This is what makes it hard." She made an attempt at a smile. "Your faith, everyone's *utter* faith in me. It makes it difficult to talk about the possibilities, the 'what ifs'."

Scott inhaled sharply. Jean had a point; no one in the school had talked about anything *but* the successful defeat of the Mutant Registration Act. The passage of said bill had not even been mentioned in recent days, probably because none of them were ready to accept the cold reality of what that would mean for all of them. He finally understood what Jean was going through with perfect clarity and he cursed himself for not even *considering* that Jean could very well be caught within a catch-22 situation. And he had never even *asked* her. "You're right, Jean. I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault," she said. "I don't want to think about failure either but --" she waved her hand, indicating the office "-- stuck in here with all of the most recent medical findings, I somehow *can't* think of anything else." Jean took a deep breath. "I have one thing going for me: I'm not sure that many of the senators know I'm telepathic or telekinetic," she said slowly. "I'm simply testifying as an expert in the field of mutant genetics under the umbrella of the Genetically Enhanced Rights Association."

"Which is what *you* are. An expert, that is," Scott said. "I think it's to our benefit that you're not an 'obvious' mutant. You have a chance of convincing them without having to worry about overcoming any pre-conceived notions," Scott said. He pointed to his red-quartz sunglasses, the ones which protected the world around him from the optic blasts his eyes produced; when the sunglasses were removed and Scott's eyes opened, he had the ability to punch holes through objects, not to mention human beings. "One look at me and people *know*." He couldn't help but keep the bitterness out of his voice. He'd long ago accepted the fact that he was 'different', that he had a power that needed to be controlled tightly, but he also was very aware of just how intolerant people could be.

"And what is it that they know, Scott?" Jean asked softly. She drew her legs beneath her and leaned towards him. Scott shifted his position, drawing Jean down to him so that her head rested on his chest. He tightened his arm around her. "They don't know how good you are with the students, how capable you are, and the amount of control you maintain to prevent from hurting anyone else." She reached up to caress his cheek; her fingers were still rough from working long hours in the lab, but he didn't care. "You are so much more than your mutation, Scott."

"But none of that matters to Congress."

"No," Jean said, "no, it doesn't." Her fingers curled into a fist. "But I'll make them see that *we* are people too, with dreams and aspirations and lives of our own. Passing this bill will take all of that away from us."

Scott was pleased to hear the determination in Jean's voice; occasionally, despite her obvious intelligent and various academic accomplishments, she could still be insecure, especially when it came to mutant matters. Her own telepathy was mostly shielded until the time came when the Professor deemed she could handle the cacophony of voices in her head and she struggled to move objects bigger than a bread box. In time, Scott knew that Jean would grow into her own powers, but he understood that the effort frustrated her and that her empathy with students was not feigned; she really did understand their struggle because it was the same as hers.

*The same as yours.* Jean twisted slightly so she could look at Scott.

He smiled at her. *Touché.*

*That's better.* He loved the way her mental giggle tickled at his mind. In the twelve hours Jean had locked herself in her office, he hadn't really felt the touch of her mind against his. The link was still there and he could occasionally feel her exhaustion through it and the occasional grunt of frustration, but she hadn't seemed to be aware of him, or of anyone else. Until this moment, he hadn't realized just how *much* he had missed not only Jean's physical presence, but her mental one as well. *I'm sorry. When this is all over, I'll make it up to you.*

"It's okay," Scott whispered. He gently caressed her cheek. "Preparing for your testimony is much, much more important than me. I'll still be here when you're done."

"I know," Jean said. She hugged him fiercely. "Thank you."

They sat there in silence and after a few minutes, Scott realized Jean had fallen asleep. He kissed the top of her head lightly and then holding her still, he leaned his head against the back of the sofa, closing his eyes as well.

~ the end