TITLE: Flirting With Objects
SUMMARY: When Scott loses a bet to Jean, she comes up with a...unique way for him to pay up.
WRITTEN FOR: Kalimando SCENARIO REQUESTED: Scott loses a bet.
CONTINUITY: Somewhere between X1 and X2.
NOTES: The title is from an essay by Jean Baudrillard. Heh. Thanks to Medie, Cassie, Trollprincess, KayJay, Yahtzee, Bluebraces, Tasha, my mother, and most especially Mo for answering my questions.
The sun was almost directly above the mansion and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Under most circumstances, this would please Scott, but today he'd been hoping for a violent hurricane. A monsoon. Maybe a tornado?

A light breeze drifted through the shrubbery, carrying the scent of azaleas. Scott groaned and tried to step backward.

Jean patted Scott on the cheek as she herded him out the front door. "Look at it this way: If you're lucky, maybe Magneto will attack on the way there."

"I wish," he muttered, scowling at her as she leaned her head back and laughed.

Ororo came down the stairs at a jog. "I could accompany you, if you need help."

"Oh no." Jean shook her head firmly, waving her back. "No way. He lost the bet fair and square and he's not wriggling out of this." Ororo shrugged and turned down the hall toward the kitchen, unsuccessfully hiding a smile.

Birds chirped in the trees, as if they were also laughing at him and Scott decided the entire universe hated him. "If I'd known," he said, almost pleading, "that Jubilee and Angelo were capable of behaving themselves in class for an entire week, I would never have agreed to the bet in the first place."

"You're a pessimist," Jean said, crossing her arms.

"A realist." Scott corrected her as he checked his pockets.

Heaving a sigh, Jean watched him. "The keys are already in the ignition. Your driver's license is in your wallet in your right pocket. The car is waiting and you have to go now."

Scott wavered. He could beg. Maybe if he offered back rubs for a month? To spend less time working on the jet? Anything else?

Her smile beatific, Jean pointed toward the Ford Explorer sitting in the drive. "Go."

Scott manfully suppressed a whimper. "Ave, Caesar, morituri te salutamus." Turning, he trudged down the walk toward his doom.

"Don't be so dramatic, Scott. You're not actually going to die." She closed the front door with a resounding thud, which echoed in the courtyard.

Really, Scott thought, there was only one thing that would make this moment even worse. He thanked whatever deity might be listening that Logan was still off on his quest, then looked around hastily, lest the universe teleport him back in time to witness this humiliation.

"C'mon, Mr. Summers," Jubilee called, leaning out the window of the SUV, "it's almost 12 o'clock! The mall closes in nine hours and we've got a lot of shopping to do."

Scott rubbed his temples and got into the driver's seat, glancing around to make sure nobody was missing. No, there were Jubilee, Rogue, Kitty, Betsy, Monet, and Paige, all lined up in their seats looking like cats with their eyes on a particularly tasty fish.

Jean opened the door and leaned back out. "Oh, and try and look interested, would you, Scott?"

Scott decided he hated his life.

Very few people knew that besides his unusual visual skills, Scott also had the more common ability of passive absolute pitch: He could identify and name individual notes or groups of notes. It was useless, he'd found, since he couldn't produce those notes on command, just recognize them--an extension of his excellent memory.

All of which made for a great party trick and an absolute hatred of mall music, which always seemed to be transposed to a different key or played at a nonstandard pitch.

It gave him a headache every single time.

Scott paused at the door, glaring through the glass with loathing at the milling hordes. Jubilee took his left hand and Paige his right.

"It's okay, Mr. Summers," Paige said in what was meant to be a kind tone, but came out sounding like a parent trying to convince a child that shots weren't really that bad. "It's just one day at the mall," she said, "how bad can it be?"

"You're kidding, right?" he asked as they led him through the doors.

"Okay," Jubilee said, taking point. "We agreed we'd hit Hot Topic first, right?"

Monet sighed. "If you insist. However, I find the store quite wearying."

Scott realized he was in the odd position of agreeing with Monet about something. Proving that anything was possible at least once.

"I promise we'll take you and Betsy someplace appropriately snooty before the day is over," Kitty said with a grin.

Betsy and Monet both sighed.

"As long as I get to go to Old Navy for pants," Rogue said.

"Yes yes," Jubilee said. "Let's go. We've got important shopping to do, ladies."

Scott followed in their wake as the strangely assorted gaggle of girls swept semi-majestically down the corridor. He winced as the public address system blared out a hideous instrumental version of "Stairway to Heaven."

The procession came to a stop in front of something that looked like a nightclub. "This is Hot Topic?" Scott said, his voice faint. "Are you sure--"

But the girls were already in the store and Scott dashed in, black and orange lights winking off...was that a collar? A chain?

If he lived through this day, Scott decided, he was going to kill Jean for not warning him that there was something that looked like an S&M dungeon in the local mall.

There were corsets over there and satin things...and...

His students were happily congregated on the other side of the store looking at jewelry and t-shirts. Monet and Betsy were laughing at Jubilee as she waved her hands at a rack of t-shirts, and he decided to let them sort that out themselves.

Paige's mouth was pinched in mild disapproval and Scott went to stand with her. "Not your favorite store?" he asked.

She shrugged. "I don't know what my momma would think of it."

"Paige, c'mere," Rogue called. "I need you to look at these earrings."

Scott hid a grin as Paige forgot her misgivings and dashed over to inspect the apparently vitally important accessory. Then he resolutely turned his back on the wall of terrifying unmentionables and concentrated on keeping Kitty away from clothing that bared too much of her skin.

Fortunately for Scott's nerves, Hot Topic was the most terrifying store they visited. Victoria's Secret ran a close second, but fortunately, when they got there, the girls strictly ordered him to stand outside the entrance with the fathers, boyfriends, and husbands.

Scott was irresistibly reminded of a doctor's office, with a corner full of men avoiding each other's eyes and trying not to blush. Leaning against a fake pillar, he was briefly glad that he couldn't see colors, as the overwhelming amount of pink would otherwise be sickening.

Although the pink couldn't possibly be as bad as the fact that the music coming from overhead had moved on to AC/DC's "Highway to Hell." Scott wondered if it would really be a problem if he punctured his eardrums to survive the day.

It seemed to be days before his giggling students emerged from the store, but his watch claimed it was only 20 minutes. He frowned at them, trying to decide if he was supposed to ask anything. Certainly he didn't want to see what they'd bought. He squirmed at the thought. No, his responsibilities as the man in loco parentis definitely didn't extend to supervising the purchases of unmentionables.

Jubilee grinned at him and the blush he'd been fighting promptly emerged. He glared at her and she grabbed Kitty's arm. "C'mon," she said, "let's go get coffee!"

Scott sensibly dove out of the way as six girls made a run for Starbucks. Fighting Magneto was one thing, but getting between teenage girls and a chai latte was suicidal.

Betsy and Monet finally gained control of the outing and the group moved on into the more expensive niches of the mall. Scott raised an eyebrow as he caught a glimpse of the price tags in Lord & Taylor, and most of the girls were obviously restricting themselves to window-shopping here.

Betsy, however, made a beeline for a complicated piece of black fabric that seemed to have straps or...something. Monet tilted her head this way and that as Betsy held it up in front of her, then started to mutter arcane incantations concerning accessories and silk and...Scott walked over to where Paige was pointing to a flowery dress that looked like nasty wallpaper.

"I'm telling you, my gramma had a housecoat that looked just like that," she said, covering her mouth to stifle the giggles.

Kitty nodded. "Mine too. Maybe it's back in fashion."

"Kitty," Jubilee said, peering at the dress, "that pattern was never in fashion."

Scott jumped when someone sniffed. Reminding himself it might be a bit of a giveaway to hit someone with his beams, he lowered his hand from his glasses and looked at the woman behind him.

From the bun resting atop her head, to the glasses attached to a chain around her neck, to the severe dark-colored suit, she was the very image of a librarian, if hell had a chief librarian. Her tag insisted that she was the floor manager in the store.

Jubes and the woman eyed each other warily and Scott wondered if he was going to have to break up a fight.

"Is there a problem?" the manager said, her lips missing a sneer by a hair.

Scott opened his mouth but Rogue beat him to it. "No, ma'am, no problem. We're just looking at the clothing."

"Perhaps," the manager said, "if you don't enjoy the clothing we sell, you might move on to somewhere more suitable to your tastes." She flicked a glance over Paige's denim and t-shirt, Jubilee's yellow jacket, and Rogue's enveloping scarf. "Might I suggest the Wal-Mart down the street?"

Scott's jaw dropped and there was a frozen moment where he didn't know what everyone was going to do.

"Pardon me," Monet's smooth and cultured voice said as she strode over. "Do you work here?"

The manager smiled approvingly at Monet, whose long legs were encased in skin-tight pants and her upper body draped in a maroon sweater. "Yes, I do. Can I help you?"

Betsy came up beside Monet and smiled brightly. "Yes, you can."

"You see," Monet went on, "we were just about to spend hundreds of dollars in your store, buying the latest fashions."

"But then you insulted our friends," Betsy said, still smiling. "So I think we'll go spend our money at Nordstrom instead."

Monet gestured imperiously at Scott and the others. "Come along, everyone. We'll go to Nordstrom and then you must test the new Vera Wang fragrance at Sephora."

She and Betsy swept toward the entrance in unison, looking very grownup and graceful.

"Vera Wang?" Scott said, trailing after them. "I thought she did clothing?"

"Oh no," Kitty said. "Don't get M started please, or we'll never shut her up."

Behind him, Scott glimpsed the saleslady still standing where they'd left her, jaw drooping and glasses sliding slowly down her nose.

Take that, he thought.

Old Navy was a relief, Scott decided, two hours later. It looked respectable. It didn't overwhelm his eyes with weird lights and reflections. It didn't stink of perfume and makeup and lotions. And the salespeople left you alone, which was nice.

Most of the clothing was relatively harmless and the colors weren't eye-searingly awful. Scott took a deep breath and thought perhaps, just perhaps, he might make it through the day.

Jubilee dithered over a rack full of cropped shirts, and Scott went over to try and help. He figured it was simple self-preservation: If he helped her pick one, it might not give him a heart attack when she wore it, and perhaps they could leave the mall sometime this decade.

He glanced around and saw Paige and Kitty in the back of the store by a sale rack of the odd skinny pants they'd seen everywhere, Monet hovering (figuratively, not literally) by the door, and Rogue had her head bent over a nearby pile of scarves, with Betsy looking on.

"I just don't know if this color works on me," Jubilee said. "What do you--oh, never mind." She popped her gum and waved at Rogue.

Behind his glasses, Scott rolled his eyes. He could never decide if she said things like that on purpose, to needle him, or if she really kept forgetting about the side effects of wearing red glasses. It was always hard to tell with Jubilee.

There were several male voices a few racks away, and part of his brain paused to listen to what they were saying.

"Dude, the one with the blonde hair is totally hottest," one said. "I bet she's never done it. I could be her first."

"No way," another voice said, "the black chick is hotter. I'd totally do her."

"What do you think the scarf is hiding?" a third voice said.

Jubilee was still talking to Rogue about the shirts, so she didn't even notice Scott sliding away and circling around the young men who were talking. All three had the backwards baseball cap and baggy jeans look of boys trying to look like gangsters, which wouldn't have endeared them to Scott under any circumstances, but especially not when they were leering at his students.

Not being battle-trained, they didn't notice Scott until he stood directly behind them. "You know," he said, watching them jump with surprise, "any one of those young ladies you're eyeing could kick your ass with one hand tied behind her back. And I wouldn't need either hand."

His voice grew lower as he spoke, and even the apparent leader--a particularly repellant specimen in need of a bath--stepped back, nearly tripping over a wheeled cart.

"In fact," Scott continued, crossing his arms and flexing his biceps, "I would recommend that you go somewhere else to ogle, because if you so much as stand next to one of these ladies, I will return you to your parents minus at least one portion of your body."

Eyes wide, the boys stumbled away, tripping over each other in their haste to get away from the crazy man, nearly knocking over piles of sweaters and vests.

A slow smile grew on Scott's face. Now that was fun.

Betsy pushed through a rack of denim jackets and stomped up to him, scowling. "You ruined it."


"I was just about to--"

"Wait!" Scott put up a hand to stop her. "Whatever you were about to say, I'm sure it's against school rules, so don't tell me."

She put her hands on her hips and waited.

"Unless..." He weakened. "Did it involve them seeing spiders?"

Betsy grinned. "Tarantulas. Big hairy ones."

"I didn't hear that," he said with a firm nod. "Let's go. I'm tired of this store."

Betsy grinned and efficiently rounded up her classmates to make their purchases.

Scott found himself smiling. His kids really could take care of themselves, couldn't they? And they took care of each other, which was even better.

Scott lost count of the stores they visited throughout the afternoon and early evening, although he vaguely remembered something about eagles and an endless array of stores selling music and...something about a debate over the coolness of opaque stockings worn with shorts. That couldn't be right, could it?

Hands laden with bags, Scott was about to elbow his way through the doors when he stopped and tilted his head. The public address system was playing "I Will Survive."

With a chuckle, Scott followed his students into the parking lot.

"Now that wasn't so bad, was it?" Rogue asked as they stepped off the curb, and she smiled at him from under her white streak of hair.

Scott slowed his walk to consider the question. Really, it hadn't been all that bad. They were good kids, even if he would never understand their music, their dress sense, or many of their preoccupations. And it was sort of nice to get to know them better. "No, it wasn't so bad," he agreed. "But you should still take Jean or Ororo next time."

Rogue laughed. "So...what are you going to do to get Dr. Grey back for this?"

Hands full, Scott couldn't put a hand over his heart, but he projected sincerity with all his might. "I lost the bet fairly, Rogue. I wouldn't try and get revenge."

"Mm-hmm." She paused, narrowing her eyes. "So, what are you going to do?"

Shrugging, he looked skyward for a moment. "I don't know. Logan's still got my motorcycle. Maybe for my birthday, I'll take her motorcycle shopping with Bobby and Peter and Angelo."

"Ooooh." Jubilee turned around and stared at him. "That's cold."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Scott said with a straight face.