TITLE: Curiosity and the X-Cat

AUTHOR: Mara Greengrass

AUTHOR'S EMAIL: fishfolk@ix.netcom.com. Feedback is better than chocolate.

PERMISSION TO ARCHIVE: Please ask.

CATEGORY: Humor, S/J (a little bit)

RATINGS/WARNINGS: G

SUMMARY: "That. Damn. Cat," Scott said through gritted teeth. "Why did I say they could get it?"

DISCLAIMER: The X-Men characters belong to Twentieth Century Fox, Marvel, and many other people with expensive lawyers, not me. Hilda--who snuck in here while I wasn't looking--belongs to me.

NOTES: If this looks like a sequel to my very first X-fic, "Trash," well, I suppose it is. Sort of. Kind of. This story was originally inspired by Minisinoo's musings on the X2 trailer, before we realized the cat belonged to Bobby's family, not the X-mansion. Now, it's a pre-X2 AU where Logan's already back at the mansion. Or you could just ignore the preceding babbling and read the story. Yiddish translations can be found at the end, and thanks to Min and Naomi for helpful comments on my first draft. Thanks also to my niece Rachel, who suggested some antics for the cat.

**telepathic speech**

* * * * *

Scott loved early evening, just after dinner. That was when he often retreated to his office to enjoy the solitude and silence while the students gathered in the rec room.

All the noises seemed distant, and for an hour or so, he could pretend he had a normal job and a normal life. So when a muffled voice echoed down the corridor one evening, he was startled.

"Sugar! Sugar! Sugar, where are you?"

Scott slowly looked up from the computer screen and his new algebra curriculum and blinked, resisting the urge to shake his head. Surely he had imagined that call? Perhaps it was caused by too many late nights hunched over his computer?

"Sugar?"

As the speaker approached, Scott recognized the voice and stepped around his desk to lean out into the darkened hallway. "Rogue?" he called.

She jogged up the stairs, tugging on the end of a lock of hair. "Um, sorry to bother you, Mr. Summers, but I was looking for Sugar."

A light bulb finally came on. "Oh, the cat!"

"Mm-hmm, He was in the dorms earlier, but when we went to feed him dinner, he was gone. Peter said he saw him come this way."

"Well, I haven't seen him. Sorry."

"If you do, please bring him back."

Scott smiled. "I will, but don't worry too much. He'll come back for food eventually."

She nodded, obviously still nervous, and continued down the hall, calling plaintively. Scott watched her go, wishing her good luck finding a cat if it didn't want to be found.

Turning back to his office, Scott felt his foot collide with something soft. As he tripped and fell into the doorway, he saw a pale streak dashing down the hallway after Rogue.

* * * * *

Nursing a bruised shoulder, a slightly strained ankle, and an attitude the size of Colorado, Scott limped into the bedroom he shared with Jean. He'd ignored her mental call all the way through the mansion, not wanting to vent directly into her mind.

She looked up from the latest New England Journal of Medicine and stared in astonishment, most likely at the scowl he could feel on his face. "There you are. What's wrong?"

"That. Damn. Cat," Scott said through gritted teeth. "Why did I say they could get it?"

Jean unsuccessfully tried to hide her grin, making Scott scowl harder. "I think it was a moment of late-night weakness brought on by not enough sleep."

"I thought Professor Xavier would say no." He stomped to the bed, kicking off his shoes so he could lie on the bed next to her. "He never told *me* he had a cat as a child. How was I supposed to know he'd drag the kids out to the pound the very next day?"

Jean put her journal down on the nightstand and scooted over next to him, leaning against his chest. "He thinks it will be good for them to have something to take care of."

"Yes, but who's going to take care of me?" He finally relented, opening their mental link to show her what had happened.

She laughed aloud, and Scott relaxed a bit at the feel of her warm breath ghosting along his neck--a little ticklish and comfortingly familiar. He never completely relaxed except for moments like this.

"You laugh," Scott said, "but what if I'd cracked my head?"

"Well, then I'd put it back together." She reached up to pat the part in question.

"Hmmph."

Jean chuckled, wrapping her arm around his chest and nuzzling against him. "I think the cat's a good idea."

"They called it Sugar," he said. "What kind of name is that for a male cat?"

"Now, there you have me, that *is* a terrible name, but I'm afraid the only cure for that is for the girls to grow up a bit. Besides, I'm sure the cat doesn't mind."

"They're going to have to find a way to keep him out of the rest of the mansion." Scott flexed his ankle a bit, testing the soreness. "I just hope we don't come to regret the decision to get a cat."

* * * * *

It took less than 24 hours for Scott to wonder why he'd so tempted fate with those words. He was striding down the hall toward his classroom the next afternoon when he was startled by shouting.

"Genug! Zolst vaksn vi a tsibele mit dayn kop in drerd!"

The screaming came from the kitchen, and Scott took off at a dead run; he'd never heard such sounds from the mouth of the mansion's cook, Hilda Regenbogen.

Students stood in the hallway staring in disbelief in the direction of the kitchen, but when Scott yelled "Coming through!" they parted like the Red Sea.

As he skidded around the corner and through the open kitchen door, Scott wasn't sure what he expected to see, but Hilda screaming at an apparently empty disaster area was definitely not on the list. She was covered in white powder, from her sensible brown shoes to the top of her gray head.

In fact, white powder covered every surface, making the room look as if Bobby had frosted it--except for the line of dark patches that dotted the floor and counters, almost as if...

Sugar perched atop the refrigerator, pale gray fur liberally streaked with flour and covered in globs of what looked like chocolate frosting. His hind leg was fully extended so he could lick it clean, and he was ignoring the screaming woman with the utter disdain that only a cat can ignore someone.

"When you come down from there," Hilda shouted, her face red, "I'm gonna make you into a stew. Tut mir vey kop!"

Scott stared at the cat, then down at the floor, then at the counter, which contained a bowl of chocolate frosting. As it all became clear, he took a deep breath and stepped forward. "Hilda? I think--"

Without even a pause, she whirled around, white powder creating a haze around her. "You! You've done this to me! You let them bring that...that demon into my kitchen!"

"I don't--"

"Get it out! Out of my kitchen!" Hilda waved a hand around her. "Es gornisht helfen! Hours it will take me to clean this up, all because of one cat that can't keep its paws out of my cake flour."

Scott heard a noise behind him--most likely brave students daring to peek in--and spoke up. "I'm sure there are several people who'd be happy to help you clean up." He derived an evil pleasure from the sounds of students retreating from their post at the door, before returning to the situation at hand. "I'll find some students to help, or I will help you myself."

Hilda crossed her arms, sniffing at the cloud of dust, but she seemed somewhat mollified. "Fine. Fine. Now I am going to clean myself up." She stalked past him, dignity firmly intact.

Scott pivoted slowly to look up at Sugar, who had stopped licking himself and now studied the man below him. Shaking his head, Scott sighed. "You're a troublemaker, cat. Sugar's much too nice a name for you. I'm going to call you Puck, after another famous troublemaker."

Puck tilted his head, blinked once slowly, and shifted on his refrigerator perch.

"Oh no, no, don't even think--"

With an agile leap, Puck jumped into his arms and Scott automatically caught him, coating his face with flour, and smearing frosting across everything else.

Puck stared at Scott with apparent adoration in his unblinking green eyes. "You're starting to really annoy me," Scott said.

Puck stretched up and licked his face.

* * * * *

That evening, the bedroom door creaked a bit as Scott opened it, and he made a mental note to bring some WD-40 up from the garage.

The hallway fixture sent a long rectangle of yellow light into the room, and Scott groped for the light switch, jumping when two eyes turned to face him in the dark.

"Puck," he said with verve, "you are becoming quite a nuisance. And I hope the girls managed to finish your bath before you got in here." He flicked on the light and the (clean) cat blinked lazy eyes at him. "How on Earth did you get in, anyway?"

Laying his head on his white paws, Puck chose to ignore the question, closing his eyes again. Scott leaned in the doorway and pondered the cat. "However you got here, I'd say it's time for you to leave." Three quick steps to the bed and he reached to pick up Puck, intending to dump him with Rogue. But the cat had other ideas, managing a spectacular jump from his prone position.

Staring in astonishment, Scott realized he still stood half bent over the bed and straightened up. Puck prowled along the foot of the bed, glaring at Scott in obvious disappointment. "What?" Scott asked. "You're not my cat. You can't stay here. The girls will be looking for you."

Puck yowled.

"No appeals." Scott glared back at the cat. "And I refuse to chase you around, it's undignified." He crossed his arms and scowled, but sighed after a moment. "Mind you, arguing with a cat isn't much better."

Puck stopped prowling and sat down on his haunches. Shaking once all over, he jumped off the bed and trotted down the hall toward the student rooms.

Baffled, Scott sat on the bed. "That was...odd."

There wasn't time for Scott to consider the oddities of Puck's behavior, though. Jean arrived a few moments after Puck left and they managed to drop into bed to get a few hours of sleep before rising for another day of teaching, counseling, and general house mothering.

After a few classes, a meeting with Hank about the science curriculum, and two hours grading exams, Scott realized that if he didn't hurry, he was going to be late for Danger Room practice.

* * * * *

Scott and Bobby crept around the large block of steel obscuring their vision, all senses attuned for possible attack. Although he wasn't looking at the student, Scott could hear Bobby's breathing speed up slightly, and he smiled.

Somewhere in this room, Jubilee and Jean lay in wait, ready to pounce, and Scott gestured to Bobby. They prepared to come around the corner.

Even though it was only an exercise, Scott felt his own adrenaline pumping and he restrained a fierce grin. It wouldn't do to ruin his rep as calm, cool, and collected--no matter the circumstances.

A quick peek into the debris-scattered room showed the red flag perched jauntily in the center, just waiting for certain mutant hands to grab it and declare victory.

Scott paused for a second, mapping out Bobby's path to the flag in his mind, then gave the young man the proper hand signals.

Bobby dashed forward, hands iced up, and Scott, hand to his visor controls, turned to cover his partner from the inevitable attack.

Both women were in his view when Scott felt movement behind him. He half-turned, but before he could defend himself, something clawed and furry landed on his head.

Breath knocked out of him, he fell against the steel that had sheltered him, his vision graying out as he struggled to stay conscious. His attacker yowled and shifted.

And his visor was knocked slightly askew.

For just a split second, Scott saw Puck leaping aside and his mutation barely missed the cat as the beams slammed into the ceiling, gouging chunks out of the smooth surface.

He was too stunned to do anything but screw his eyes shut and hope Jean was in time to shunt the falling metal and concrete aside.

Head still ringing like a cloister bell, Scott heard Jean's voice in his mind calling his name before he heard her speak.

"I'm fine, I'm *fine*," he said as Jean helped him to his feet, anxiously checking for broken bones. He pulled off the visor, feeling for any cracks or dents with his sensitive fingertips.

"It's unbroken," Jean said.

"Are you sure? Maybe you should--"

"Scott!"

He didn't argue when his fiancée sounded like that, so he slipped the visor on and gingerly opened his eyes while looking away from everyone. The familiar pressure of his beams pushed against the visor but found no outlet and he breathed a sigh of relief.

"Now," he said, his tone colder than Bobby's ice, "who let the cat in?"

Jubilee and Bobby fidgeted as they looked from Scott to the crater in the ceiling. "Um, not us," Jubilee finally said. "We came in together and I didn't see Sugar then."

"Well, then how did he get in here?" Scott looked at Jean, who seemed to be working to repress laughter. "This isn't funny, Jean. We could have been hurt, and all because of that...cat." He turned his scowl on Puck, who lay unconcernedly on the ground in front of him, stretched out and waiting for someone to scratch his belly.

The door slid open behind him and Scott sighed. Only a teacher could access the Danger Room doors while people were inside and he just *knew* who it was going to be. No doubt about it--the universe hated him.

"Wow," Logan said, examining the ceiling with professional interest. "I didn't know you took capture the flag this seriously."

Scott ground his teeth. Forget the dentist bills--better a few cracked teeth than he lose his temper in front of the students. Jean smiled at Logan and Scott ground his teeth again, ignoring the ominous screeching sounds it made.

"Things just got a bit out of hand," Jean said.

Logan studied the concrete chunks on the floor. "Really? I'd love to see what happens if you lose your temper."

"Just try me," Scott muttered to himself, momentarily forgetting Logan's exceptional hearing.

"What did you say, Scott?" Jean asked.

Logan just grinned at him and cracked his neck.

Sighing, Jean looked between the two of them. **That's enough, Scott. Whatever macho game you two are playing, just quit.**

**Yes, Mom.** Scott said, continuing aloud. "Since you're here, Logan, you can run the Danger Room cleanup program and start figuring out how we're going to repair that ceiling."

Logan's grin dropped as if it had never existed and Scott put a tick in the win column. Jean just shook her head and ushered a fascinated Jubilee and Bobby off to get cleaned up.

Scott took a step forward and nearly tripped over the forgotten Puck, who still lay sprawled in happiness at his feet. Regaining his balance, he gritted his teeth again as Puck jumped up and started rubbing against his legs.

"Good to know *somebody* likes you," Logan said.

Scott didn't even have time to come up with a smart-ass response, as Puck stopped his ecstatic rubbing and hissed. Both men looked down in astonishment at the cat, fur rising as he stalked toward Logan, making the strangest sound, a kind of snarling, growling...something.

"I can't believe it," Logan said, eyebrows going up, "He's *challenging* me. The cat is threatening me."

"I guess he's got good taste."

"Oh, stow it, Cyclops." Logan glanced up at him, then back down at the cat. "I'm not scared of you, but the girls will have me for lunch if anything happens to the cat, so I'm outta here. I'll be in the control room." With a last annoyed glance at Puck, Logan stalked away.

The Danger Room door shut behind Logan, and Scott looked down at Puck. "Don't think me unappreciative, cat, but that wasn't enough to save your position here. Let's go see the Professor."

* * * * *

Still in his workout uniform, Scott stood in front of Professor Xavier's desk, resisting the juvenile urge to jump up and down and scatter dust all over the Persian rug.

On his way in, he'd passed Rogue, Jubilee, and Kitty huddled together in the hallway outside. Puck was nestled in Rogue's arms, looking thoroughly pleased with himself. He'd hissed and spat when the girls tried to take him away from Scott, but now seemed both resigned and amused.

Xavier was amused, which Scott felt didn't entirely do justice to the situation. The students probably couldn't tell, but Scott was familiar with the crinkles around his eyes that meant the man was trying not to chuckle at some amusing antic.

Scott frowned and Xavier got himself under control. "Besides the obvious," he said, "what seems to be the problem?"

His foot tapping, Scott said, "What's the problem? The problem is that cat."

"And what has the cat done?" Xavier asked, the crinkle returning.

"Leaving aside the dead mice on my car hood, the shredded newspapers outside my door, and the fact that the darn thing has apparently learned how to untie shoelaces...there's the minor matter of this morning's Danger Room practice."

"Indeed, that was an unfortunate incident." Xavier steepled his fingers, and Scott could see the grin forming behind them. "However, nobody was injured, and Logan assures me that the damage wasn't as serious as it seemed. In fact, the Danger Room is already back in use, and we should be able to fix the ceiling within the week."

"That's not the point, sir."

"What *is* the point, Scott?"

"The point is that the cat's a menace. He knocked off my goggles. You of all people should realize how dangerous that is."

Xavier leaned back and studied him. "Life in this mansion is inherently rather dangerous. Besides the obvious risk of gathering in one place, we are also attempting to train children with very strong gifts."

Scott didn't even bother to respond, just crossed his arms and tapped his toe twice.

"I appreciate your concerns, Scott, but I think the benefits of pet ownership outweigh any risks."

"Professor--"

"My mind is made up."

Scott took a deep breath and went to get clean.

* * * * *

After the confrontation in the Xavier's office, Scott started to notice Puck following him around, sleeping on a desk in his classes, sprawling in the threshold of his bedroom in the mornings, and in one memorable instance, perching on his motorcycle waiting for him.

It didn't seem to matter whether windows and doors were open or closed, somehow Puck made his way to Scott's general vicinity. His original name of Sugar was quickly forgotten and students vied to find a better name; Summers' Shadow, Merlin, and Shadowcat were all proposed, but Puck (aka Robin Goodfellow) stuck, especially after Scott did an impromptu and impassioned reading from _A Midsummer Night's Dream_ one evening. Puck he was, and Puck he would remain.

Jean, of course, found the whole thing hilarious, and laughed whenever Scott grumbled.

"You're not the one being stalked," he said one evening at dinner, looking down at the cat sitting quietly next to his chair.

Ororo smiled at him. "Surely 'stalked' is a large word for such a small creature."

"Small? The cat's 15 pounds if it's an ounce," Scott said, stabbing a spear of asparagus. "Besides, it follows me everywhere and I find that spooky. You'd think I carry tuna in my pocket or something."

Jean's lips twitched as she looked thoughtfully at the ceiling. "Is that a tuna in your pocket--"

"Thank you, that's enough." Scott shook his head in annoyance and she laughed softly. "I'm glad *you* think it's funny."

"Oh, absolutely."

"Jean, can't you read Puck's mind?" Scott asked.

She looked at him in confusion. "The *cat*?"

"Yes, read Puck's mind and find out what he thinks he's doing."

"In case you've forgotten, Puck's a cat. Do I look like Dr. Doolittle to you? I don't talk to animals, their minds are completely different."

"Oh." Scott stared at Puck, who seemed perfectly content to sit and watch him.

"I think he just wants to be your friend," she said.

Scott looked from the cat to his wife. "I don't have time for a pet or a friend. I barely have time for everything else."

"Maybe that's the point."

"Jean, now you're the one forgetting it's a cat, not a psychic."

She shrugged. "Cat. Psychic. Same thing."

He stared at her, aghast. "Who are you and what have you done with my wife? My wife the empirical scientist?"

"I'm a telepath, remember?" She laughed at him. "There are more things in heaven and earth and all that." Sobering, she looked at Puck and Scott followed her glance. The cat slowly stood and strolled over to Jean, twining around her legs, leaving a trail of light hairs on her dark pantsuit. She chuckled ruefully and reached down to scratch his head.

Puck meowed and Scott looked down just as Puck jumped into his lap. "Puck! Dinner's not for you." But the cat showed no interest in what was on his plate and instead chose to curl up on his lap with a disdainful sniff for the rest of the teachers.

Scott froze in astonishment and everyone waited for a reaction.

"I do believe," Xavier finally said, a twinkle in his eye, "that you've been adopted."

"But I don't *want* a cat!"

Without moving, Puck plunged a claw into Scott's leg.

* * * * *

The sun was peeking up over the trees the next morning when Scott ducked into the kitchen. He could hear the whirring that heralded Hilda making breakfast, and decided to take refuge with the one person who would understand his position.

Her back was to the doorway and he grinned, sliding silently past her to drop onto a stool, just as he'd been doing for so long. Instead of jumping in alarm, she huffed at him.

"Ha, it's been many years since that particular trick worked on me, young man."

"I know." He grinned. "But it's always worth a try anyway."

She pointed a floury finger at him. "You have very strong competition. Your lady likes to lift cookies off the tray with just her mind, that Logan person startles easily and has very sharp knives in his hands, and Jubilee set off sparklers over my head the other day while I was cleaning up. I lose more glasses that way..."

Scott chuckled, and Hilda went back to making muffins, dropping sticky dough filled with blueberries into a neat row of tins. Propping his head in his hands, he watched her.

"So, nu?" Hilda asked. "What brings you here this morning? You know I won't give you a cookie this early."

"No, I don't want a cookie. I wasn't sleeping very well, so I thought I'd get up." A burbling sound behind him signaled the completion of the first pot of coffee and he smiled. "It sounds like I'm right on time." He hopped off his seat to grab a mug and the sugar.

Hilda chuckled as she slid a tray of muffins into the oven, releasing a fresh blast of warm air, scented with dough and sugar and blueberries. "I hope that you're not awake this early because of a problem with Jean."

"Nosy, aren't you?" He tried to glare at her.

"Nosy? Perhaps. But that's an old lady's prerogative." She shrugged as she lined up flour, sugar, and baking powder on the counter. "If you didn't want me to pry, you wouldn't have come here."

"Huh. I suppose you're right. Are you sure you're not a telepath like the Professor?"

"No idle flattery, young man. And you still haven't told me what's wrong."

"It's just..." He hesitated. "Everyone else has laughed at me, so I'm feeling touchy about this."

Hilda didn't respond verbally, throwing an eloquent look over her shoulder from her position at the refrigerator.

"It's that damn cat," he said finally.

"Puck?"

"Do we have another one?"

"I should hope not. So, what's the problem?"

Mug halfway to his mouth, Scott stopped to stare at her. "What's the problem? The cat's a menace, a...you called it a demon!"

She chuckled. "Ah well, I was angry. You, of all people, should know that I forgive."

"Noooo. I seem to recall that you hold on to a grudge until it dies and then you bring flowers to its grave."

"Only in special cases." She waved a hand in dismissal of the minor point. "But the cat was acting according to its nature. As you were acting according to yours when your gifts first appeared."

Scott tried the glare again, but it had just as little effect. "Don't try to make this about me. The cat is a chaos magnet of the first order."

Hilda's expression grew serious and she leaned across the counter to pat him gently on the cheek. "And you, bubbeleh, could use a little chaos in your life."

Incredulous, Scott found himself momentarily speechless. "Are you kidding? If I had any more chaos in my life, I could write the sequel to Gleick's book. I live in the *epicenter* of chaos. What I need is a little order."

"That's not true. You may be surrounded by the chaos, but you don't let it in. The only person who gets in is Jean, but she simply provides more order."

He shook his head. "I don't understand."

"While I hate to resort to this modern slang--so tasteless usually--I think I will borrow a phrase from Kitty: 'You need to lighten up.'"

"If I lighten up, people die." Scott's hand crept up to touch the frame of his glasses.

"So serious?"

"Yes, so serious. Somebody has to be. Hell, even the Professor thinks this is hilarious."

"He's a very smart man. Perhaps he's seeing something you don't."

"I don't believe it." He put his coffee cup down with a deliberate click, although he wanted to throw it. "I thought *you* would see my side after what Puck did to your kitchen."

"There was no permanent harm done." She looked around, pride in her tidy kitchen evident. "And the girls apologized so nicely--"

"After I threatened them with no TV."

"And Puck licked my hand and I gave him some salmon and all is well."

"I thought you'd understand."

"I do, Scott darling, I just don't agree. Do you know what my mother used to tell me?"

"Oh no..."

"No, you haven't heard this one before. My mother, she would say 'A kats ken oykh kalye makhn.' Even a cat can cross your plans. It means--"

"I know what it means."

"How long have I known you?"

He blinked at the apparent non sequitur, but knew better than to argue. "Ten years."

"You were such a sad child when you arrived here. Closed off, hurt, angry, afraid."

"With good reason."

"Yes, of course, for all the best reasons. But it's time to grow out of that. The bad things will come when it is their time and your stubbornness will not delay them an instant."

"Thank you, Confucius."

A meow from the doorway interrupted the scowling and staring match they were about to engage in. Puck strolled in, tail held high.

Hilda smiled at the cat. "Right on time. You know where your breakfast is."

Puck twined between her legs, rubbing his chin against her legs, while Scott sighed. "Great, the cat's gotten to you, too. Is this a conspiracy to drive me insane?"

Turning back to her baking, Hilda just smiled, while Puck came around the counter and looked up at Scott.

"Don't look at me like that."

Puck blinked, then sat on his haunches, tail wrapped around his legs, the white-spotted tip flicking slowly up and down.

"What? She said there's breakfast. What do you want from me?"

Hilda interrupted. "I'm no cat expert, but I think he wants to be petted."

"So let him go find one of the girls."

"He wants you."

"Why?"

"Because he likes you."

Scott looked down. Puck just stared back and Scott sighed, certain Hilda would be annoyed if he didn't do this. Slowly, he got off the stool and knelt down beside Puck, who watched without moving anything but the tip of his tail.

When Scott stretched out a hand, Puck's tongue stole out to lick it, damp sandpaper scraping across his knuckles. Puck's fur was as soft as he remembered and the cat tilted his head to be certain exactly the right parts were getting scratched.

"There, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Hilda asked.

Puck ignored her, leaning into Scott's hand with ecstatic abandon. "But I don't *want* a cat," he said.

"Perhaps you need one. I think it's good to have your life turned upside down once in a while."

Scott stood up and Puck yowled at the sudden loss of scratching. "I've got to go."

"Think about what I've said, yes?"

"Yes."

* * * * *

As Scott moved through his appointed rounds, he kept an eye out for Puck, waiting for the cat and his usual tricks. But no gray mound lay across the entrance to his classroom, no newspapers were shredded on his office desk, and no purring furrball jumped in his lap at lunch.

It started to make him nervous, waiting for the other shoe to drop, but gradually he relaxed. Night fell, dinner--mercifully uninterrupted by a cat nipping at his toes--ended and the mansion's residents scattered to the winds. Scott waded through the hallways of the residence, watching the mass of children in transit.

Bobby and Rogue jogged by, going to claim the upstairs television for the weekly viewing of "Friends." In pursuit, Jubilee yelled something about calling the couch.

Scott grinned as Kitty popped her head through the ceiling to ask Theresa to bring popcorn with her. Nearly tripping over Peter's legs in the middle of the hallway, he peered at the bulky young man's pad. For some reason, he was lying on his back, sketching the carved ceiling panel in the middle of the hall. Scott shrugged.

Ororo came through a door, shrugging on a black jacket embroidered with vaguely Asian patterns. "Oh, there you are, Scott. Jean and I are going to the movies, would you like to join us?"

"No thanks," he said.

"Are you sure? It's 'Pirates of the Caribbean.' I know you like pirate movies." She absently patted Artie's head as he went by.

"I'm sure." He smiled. "Just remind Jean she's got an early class."

Ororo shook her head. "Yes, Father," she said, striding toward the stairs.

Continuing on his rounds, Scott leaned into the rec room to find Hank hovering over tables set up for chess. Six small heads briefly looked up, then resumed their solemn contemplation of the boards. Scott made a mental note to offer a class in strategy and tactics when these kids got a little older.

A pile of youngsters climbed all over the couch, playing some kind of game whose rules only they knew. Scott winced for the reupholstering he saw in his future. He wandered down the hall and a light outside the window caught his eye--Logan lighting a match for his cigar. Sam and Ev leaned against a nearby oak tree, arguing vociferously over something, probably baseball. Logan had discovered--of all improbable things--an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport that had made him the idol of a certain portion of the student population.

Meandering led Scott to the steps and he walked downstairs to the emptying corridors. When he looked at his watch, he realized it was a bit after 8. At a loss, he leaned against a wall and tried to decide what to do.

Well, there were the algebra quizzes to grade and utility bills to review before they got paid and Ororo wanted him to price out art supplies for a new watercolor class.

A burst of laughter from the library dragged his attention away from contemplation of his endless work. The Professor and Betsy were trying to teach Paige and Lila to play bridge and it seemed to be causing a great deal of amusement.

Scott scowled at the realization that everyone seemed to have a hobby but him. That had been an admirable trait hours before. Now, it felt pathetic.

Automatically he reached out for Jean, smiling as she and Ororo sang falsetto along with the Beatles on the radio.

**Love, love me do,** she sang to him, her amusement skating across his mind for a ticklish moment. **What's wrong?**

**Nothing. Never mind.** He shut down the connection so she couldn't feel how peevish her happiness made him and strolled down the corridor to stare out the windows into the dark.

* * * * *

A week later, Scott was back in his office for an after-dinner work session and the darkened hallway was blessedly quiet--the only noise the hum of his printer and the whir of the computer's cooling fan.

Scott was trying to fill out paperwork for the state of New York, one hand on the computer mouse and the other resting on a warm lump on his desk.

He scrolled up and down a page that was supposed to explain things to him and pondered editing the text for clarity and sending it back to the state. His musings were interrupted by a piercing meow. Without looking up, he said, "What's that, Lassie? Timmy's stuck in the well?"

Scott jumped as Puck nipped at his hand, and he grinned at the cat, who stared at him like he was a mouse about to be pounced upon. "What?"

The cat stood and stretched, then took a few steps toward the edge of the desk. When he turned his head back to look at Scott, the message was unmistakable. "Well? Are you coming or not?"

"Can't I at least finish what I'm doing?"

The imperious yowl left no room for interpretation, and Scott grinned. "Okay, your majesty, I'm coming."

Under the watchful eye of his cat, Scott shut down his computer and turned off the lights. In the near-dark of the room, Puck's eyes glowed and Scott picked him up, cradling him against his chest.

The cat nestled happily against him, swiping a rough tongue across his hand, and Scott strode out of his office toward the mansion's living quarters.

"You know, Puck..." Scott looked down at the cat. "I still think you're a pain in the ass."

--end--

* * * * *

Hilda's Yiddish can be loosely translated as follows:

Genug = Enough

Zolst vaksn vi a tsibele mit dayn kop in drerd = You should grow like an onion with your head in the ground

Tut mir vey kop = My head hurts

Es gornisht helfen = Nothing helps or It's hopeless

A kats ken oykh kalye makhn = Even a cat can cross your plans

Bubbeleh = sweetie, dear, young one