The ticket lay on the mahogany table in the entry foyer, cream paper contrasting against the dark wood. It had been there since the morning, after breakfast but before everyone finished with their Danger Room sessions.
The ticket had been passed by several times, keys were put down next to it and then retrieved, it was covered when someone brought the mail in and then uncovered when someone else sorted it, it was even blown on to the floor by a stiff breeze when someone opened the door and then picked up and returned to its place on the small table.
The ticket had been stared at and contemplated, it had had fingers run thoughtfully over the printed words and carefully trace the embossed curlicues that bordered it. It had been dampened slightly when a moist finger, fresh from rubbing away a tear, had touched it.
In any other situation, the ticket would have been a prize. One excellent seat to see a performance of Handel's Messiah at Carnegie Hall, a box seat in the first tier, above the orchestra but below the second tier, dress circle, and the third tier so high up in the sky that the stage itself looked like a postage stamp.
But while everyone currently residing at 1407 Greymalkin Lane had seen the ticket, it had yet to become the topic of conversation. There were some subjects that were just too sore, some wounds that were still too raw to be examined closely. Especially at Christmas. Especially this Christmas.
As lunchtime faded into afternoon, however, the ticket could not remain undiscussed. Should it be used, and if so, by whom?
Kurt Wagner, proud owner of three different recordings of the piece to be performed, including Mozart's own arrangement (a version that he had spent years looking for), would have been the obvious choice. But he demurred, pleading a prior commitment at the seminary that nobody believed actually existed but accepted nonetheless.
Logan had scoffed at the idea of getting dressed up and 'hangin' out with a buncha blue-hairs listenin' ta old music' and proceeded to try and bully Gambit into buying the beer in a Harry's run. His actual reason for declining, something closer to not wanting to create the wrong impression should he try and fill the seat, was understood.
And so it went, each person coming up with progressively more creative reasons for not wanting to use the ticket. As sunset fell in late afternoon, the ticket remained on the table in the foyer.
It wasn't an especially warm night for December in New York, but the sky was clear and the wind had died down, so she had decided to walk up from Grand Central Terminal. Halfway there, she was already ruing the decision - however practical her shoes may have appeared when she was dressing for the evening, they were still heels and this was still a mile walk. And there was no longer any telekinesis to cushion her footfalls and literally let her walk on air.
Throughout the world, New Yorkers are rumored to be rude, boorish creatures. But even the most unsophisticated construction worker knows that there are certain beautiful women at whom one does not whistle: women of elegance and women in grief. And on this evening, as she walked up Sixth Avenue, Jean Grey-Summers qualified under both categories.
The corner of Fifty-Seventh and Sixth was crowded when she arrived, crammed with patrons waiting in furs and camel coats. A few younger couples waited, dressed in that unmistakable style that screamed graduate student: fashionably demure party clothes peeking out from old coats that had seen duty since undergrad days.
It was these near-contemporaries that she most studiously avoided, choosing instead to wait with the older generations and be comforted by their Thou Shalt Not Publicly Display Affection formality instead of subjecting herself to the surreptitious kisses and held hands of Young People in Love. It had not been that long ago that she had been the girl in the Express skirt marveling at how her beau's hands were never cold even on such freezing nights. And she did not want to be reminded of that.
She went inside and smiled politely as the usher tried to hide his surprise that someone so nicely dressed was not going to the orchestra seating. Climbing the stairs, she found the box with the ease of familiarity - that is where they had always sat, of course - and even though she strongly suspected that the seat next to her would remain empty, she did not place her coat on it.
It wasn't until the house lights came down and the overture began that she gave in to the tears welling behind her eyes.
"So, ummm... Jean..." He scratched the back of his head absently, a tell-tale gesture that he was nervous. Were anyone around to notice.
"So, ummm... Scott..." A smirk back into the phone. He was probably scratching the back of his head and staring at his feet. Jean knew that pretty much the only time Scott Summers got nervous was when there was a girl involved. And, well, being as she comprised all of the Xavier Academy's female population...
"I was wondering... I know it's after Christmas and all, but there's one performance left of the "Messiah" at Carnegie Hall, and, well... would you like to go? Bobby wouldn't be caught dead listening to classical music and Hank's still visiting relatives out in Illinois, and Warren... Warren makes me feel like a backwater farm boy whenever we do anything cultural. He doesn't mean it, but..."
"But you are and you don't want to be reminded of it?" she asked with enough of a grin in her voice that Scott didn't mind that she spoke the truth.
"I happened to live in a city. Not a big city, but a city."
"Omaha is not a city, but that's not the point. Yes, I'll go with you. When is it?" She wondered if Scott could hear her doing a happy dance with the phone.
"Tonight. I know it's a long drive down and it's short notice... you could come back to school after and drive back home in the morning... would your parents flip if they knew the Professor wasn't around?" He bit his lip as soon as the words came out - here he was intimating that something might happen...
"Scott, they send me to a school where I'm the only female within a dozen acres," she pointed out. Noticing that no one else was within earshot, she added, "and considering what I do leave out of my letters home..."
"Point noted," he agreed, relieved that she had not picked up on his own concerns. "So how do you want to swing this?"
They made arrangements to meet at Grand Central Terminal in time to catch dinner before the concert.
Jean considered the situation as she got dressed and ready to catch the train down to Manhattan. An evening at Carnegie Hall was much more a Warren thing to think of than a Scott thing. It's almost as if Scott were trying to prove to her that he could, in fact, be in Warren's league if he tried really hard. *If only he'd realize that I don't want him to be like Warren - I don't need him to be like Warren. I want him to be him.*
Her mother and sister watched her fuss over which dress to wear - both of them had already told her after Christmas dinner that they thought he was both cute and interested. Not trusting their opinion - she knew Scott a lot better than they did and she knew when he was clinging to her out of shyness - Jean frowned as the pile of clothes on her bed grew.
The effect she was looking for was somewhere around 'yes, I'm interested and I wish you were, too', but not quite as far as 'make your move, already'. Not that Scott would, even if she had decided on the dress with the scooped neck. In fact, she wasn't sure Scott would pick up on any of these fashion codes. He certainly didn't seem to register her fawning over him in the Danger Room.
Scott was waiting by the information desk as he was supposed to when Jean got to Grand Central. He was not watching for her, instead trying not to drop his gloves and the flower he was holding as he fiddled with his scarf. Considering how coolly efficient and smooth Scott was in matters X, Jean decided he was quite cute when he was bumbling. As she walked closer, Scott finally lost the battle to hold gloves and flower and scarf and it was only with a little telekinetic help that everything didn't fall to the floor to be trampled by the bustling commuters.
Realizing that the gloves should have been on the ground already, Scott pushed his glasses further up his nose and looked around. He found Jean smirking and waggled a finger at her.
"You should be careful about that. People would get suspicious," he frowned by way of greeting, his nervousness making him sound gruffer than he intended to be. "Everyone knows that Marvel Girl is a telekinetic redhead."
"But you're the one with the levitating gloves," she shrugged. In a moment of bravery, she looped her arm around his elbow. "That for me," she gestured towards the flower.
"Umm... yeah," he handed her the flame-colored rose. "I know different colored roses are supposed to mean different things, so I could be sending a message here that I might not mean or that you might want to hit me for... but I saw it... and it matches your hair, so..."
"Why thank you, Master Summers," Jean mock curtsied as she took the offered flower, still resting her arm in the crook of his elbow. She noticed that he did not seem to mind. In fact, once they got outside and the cold wind first hit them, he tightened his grip, bringing his arm close to his body and her along with it.
*Well, well, well, Scott. It doth appear that you have a few moves after all. And I bet that's one that Warren didn't teach you.*
They walked a few blocks, talking all the way about nothing in particular, when something suddenly dawned on Jean.
"Um, Scott. Do you know where we're going?"
"One block up. It's a small place, kinda quiet but they have a really good lasagna."
The lasagna was, in fact, excellent.
"So this is a Scott restaurant," Jean mused aloud as they waited for their coffee.
"A Scott restaurant?" One eyebrow was visible over red glasses.
"You somehow never end up picking the place when we all go out to eat together," Jean explained. "It's always Warren or Bobby or Hank. Or me, when I get a yen for sushi."
"And we love when you get a yen for sushi," Scott frowned. The guys hated it, but Jean would give them that look, bat her eyelashes a few times, and the four of them would rationalize their capitulation by pointing out to each other that you could in fact get a decent steak in a Japanese restaurant. "But back to the Scott restaurant thing..."
"A person's personality reflects in their choice of places to eat," Jean explained. "Warren picks places where money is no object so long as the food is good and they've got good coffee. Hank is sensitive to portion size and is partial to seafood. Bobby..."
"Bobby would live out of the Automat if we let him," Scott finished. "So now that we've finished eating, what's a Scott restaurant?"
Jean sucked thoughtfully on the teaspoon she had been using to stir in the cream. "Hmm... Quiet, a lot more interesting than it pretends to be, practical... you," she finished with a shrug.
"You make me sound like an appliance," he smirked.
"Would you rather I point out the red color scheme?" she gestured towards the walls. "You must find this place very easy to negotiate around in considering how dim the candlelight makes everything."
"I've learned to compensate," Scott shrugged. "Hank thinks my pupils are probably permanently dilated because I'm so used to low light."
"So you're a mole."
"It could be worse. I could be The Mole."
"Mole Man, wasn't that what he called himself?" Jean thought aloud. It was so hard to keep track of everyone these days.
"No super hero stuff tonight. We're off duty."
"We're also going to be late... What are you doing?"
Scott was holding the bill. "Paying. Put your purse away and don't you dare float this out of my hands. My idea, my treat."
"The guys are going to call this a date, you know," Jean warned.
"The guys also called when the two of us fought Cobalt Man by ourselves a date," Scott scoffed. Not that he wouldn't mind this being a date, just that, well, he didn't think Jean would also not mind. And he wanted to keep up the pretense for a little while longer.
"The guys have vivid imaginations, don't they?"
They made it up to Fifty-Seventh in plenty of time. Jean was amused but not surprised by the location of their seats. Not the orchestra - that would be Warren's domain - but the first tier, a box all the way to the side so that they were close to the stage but far away from most of the other patrons. It was private without being secretive, where fewer people would stare at the young man wearing dark sunglasses at an evening concert.
After the concert, they made it as far as Lexington Avenue before ducking into the subway and riding the rest of the way down to Grand Central. They caught the train up to Salem Center and, much to Scott's surprise, Jean had fallen asleep before the train cleared the Fordham Road station. With her head on his shoulder.
"So, ummm... Jean..." A voice close to her ear. Suspiciously close to her ear. Which really shouldn't have been all that suspicious. Especially considering the arm over her waist and the warm body against her back.
"So, ummm... Scott..." She opened her eyes. It was dark inside the room as well as outside, although the last vestiges of sunshine could be seen through the window. They hadn't meant to fall asleep. Honestly. If they had, Scott still wouldn't have been wearing his uniform. Or some of it.
"You really should stop by and visit more often," he murmured into her hair. "Especially these surprise visits."
She chuckled into the pillow. "I do, it's just that half of the times I come over, you're off with the new gang..."
"What can I say," he asked as he found the strength to roll onto his back. The air that was suddenly against his chest was cold and he was tempted to roll back. "Superheroing isn't exactly a nine-to-five kinda gig."
"I remember. But do you think the evil forces in the world are planning to take off for Christmas Eve?"
"I wouldn't bet on in. Magneto's Jewish, for starters... why?"
Jean leaned forward, reaching for the purse that was lying on the floor by the bed. "I got a pair of tickets to Carnegie Hall..." She showed them to Scott, who could barely make them out in the darkness of the room. "It was kind of our first date and all, even if we didn't realize it for another few months, and I know we meant to make it an annual thing, but..."
"But Professor X was playing dead last year and we didn't think it was appropriate, so we gave the tickets to your parents... My schedule is clear, at least unless we get invaded by aliens or something like that..."
"If you can't go, I can always take Hank." He could see her mock-pouting.
"I don't know if Hank can fit into the seats at Carnegie Hall anymore. You'd have to call Bobby."
"And listen to him complain about having to wear a tie? Maybe I'll ask the Wolverine. He seems like he'd be interested..."
"But not in the music. Besides, if I'm busy, odds are he will be, too."
"I'm sure, with proper incentives, he could be convinced to abandon the Dream for an evening to escort me to the concert."
"He'd settle for improper incentives. Probably prefer them, too," Scott nodded. They both knew that Jean was kidding. And if he had learned anything in the past few years, Scott had learned that for some reason, Jean was happy with him. And now it was not for any lack of alternatives. Out in the real world, armed with a college degree, Jean could be with anyone. But instead, she routinely took MetroNorth up to Salem Center and hung out with a guy who wore skinsuits to work.
"Are you angsting?" Jean rolled to lean over his body. "I'm a telepath, you know. Just because I can't see you doesn't mean I can't tell that you're angsting. And considering where we are and what we must look like, I can't imagine why you are angsting. Unless you enjoy it."
"It beats a cigarette," he offered, then failed to move out of the way as she hit him in the arm. "Ouch."
"Serves you right," she returned as she looked over at the bedside clock. "I'm going to turn the light on now," she warned. "We have to get dressed for dinner."
Scott sighed as he swung his legs over the bed and sat up. "Is there anyone in the hallway?"
"No," she answered after a moment. "You're not embarrassed, are you?"
"Embarrassed, no. It's not like everyone doesn't have a pretty good idea of what goes on when you come to visit. But I don't want to have to deal with anyone right now. Piotr's sensibilities are easily bruised, Kurt's down because his girlfriend's out of town for a few weeks, and Logan... he's gonna make some smartass comment and I'd have to suck it up and take it."
"Why take it?"
"Because the alternative is starting a brawl. And not only is that very un-leaderlike, but he'd also kick my butt."
"And that's even more un-leaderlike?" Jean chuckled. "Just wait until the Christmas party so that Hank, Warren, and Bobby can contribute a few stories. And Alex. Don't forget that your brother's coming in."
"Alex won't say anything. I still remember more than he does about our childhood. I can tell all sorts of stories to Lorna and he won't know whether or not they're true."
"I'm a big brother. I'm supposed to do these sorts of things. I get out all my aggression on Alex and then I can be the placid field leader of the X-Men. Don't tell me Sarah never tried anything similar."
"Take her stress out on me so that she could be better prepared to lead a mutant force in a battle against evil? I guarantee it."
"Hah, hah, that's not what I meant. I'm going to go shower now."
"I'll meet you downstairs."
There were times when Jean was more than happy to be out among the real world again, living like everyone else who wasn't a telepath or telekinetic. And then there were times like this, surrounded by her fellow freaks of nature, that she almost missed it. Where levitating the plates was not only encouraged but expected, where the camaraderie of a well-trained team created a warm buffer against a cold world outside.
Even if this new team wasn't nearly as much of a warm fuzzy as the last one, it had its charms. And, as she watched Kurt Wagner alternate flirting outrageously with Ororo, Moira (housekeeper, my foot!), and even herself, it had its charmers.
She didn't think she'd ever understand Scott's fear of the outside world, however. He wasn't a menace to society. He controlled his powers quite well, so well that she couldn't even imagine a time when he wasn't aware of their power. He could go out and around with her in Manhattan, meet Bobby and Hank for dinner and drinks, all without blowing anything up by looking at it.
Yet if she dared bring up this spotless safety record, Scott would shut down, withdraw so far into himself that she needed a flashlight to find him. She knew better, then, to try and bring the matter up before the concert next week. Scott would probably find some mutant menace to deal with that night rather than face the fact that it wasn't theoretically impossible that he might fire his optic blasts while at Carnegie Hall. In reality, it was no more likely than she might accidentally mind-wipe someone while sneezing. Not impossible, just not likely.
"Penny for your thoughts," Scott whispered into her ear.
"I'm thinking about how much I love you despite your neuroses."
"Oh. I won't interrupt you, then."