Scott can't put his finger on it, but it's nagging at the back of his mind as Remy spins the top. If the boy were to use even a fraction of his power, he might have sent the thing straight down through the living room floor. But Remy has other things on his mind – his eyes move to Jean on the opposite side of the circle – and he simply gives the dreidel a careless twirl. The toy blurs, teeters for a moment (something is wrong with this game) then falls on its side.
Jean, who has been sitting with her chin propped on her hands, lifts her head so that she can clap. "Shin! " she cries. "Remy owes two gelt!" Her chest shifts with her hands, and Scott can't help looking before he looks away. He is pretty sure that's the same dress Jean wore for last year's holiday party. But she isn't wearing it on the same body -- she's almost fifteen now -- and her movements don't always account for that fact. Scott and Remy both look at her (if Ororo were here, she'd be laughing her ass off) and catch a flash of the top of her breasts. It's nothing indecent; just not what he's used to seeing. She looks like a woman.
Scott averts his eyes, and looks at Remy instead. (Scott makes a point of watching eyes. He knows that no one can see his, behind the glasses. It feels like an advantage, even when he can't think of any reason he should need one.)
Remy keeps looking. "Of course, cherie." He reaches into the small pile of foil- covered chocolate pieces by his elbow, picks up two, and a third for good measure, so that, as he places them with the other tokens in the middle of the circle, he can croon, "Three coins in the fountain." Ever since his voice changed, Gambit thinks he's Harry Connick, Junior.
"Children." Professor Lehnsherr walks into the living room and steps over Scott, then Jean. Never looking up from his book, he says. "Aren't you a bit old –?"
"Erik –" comes Xavier's warning voice, from the corner. His wheelchair rests next to the other man's favorite spot at the end of the sofa. Lehnsherr crosses the room, raises his eyebrows in a picture of innocence, and leans down to kiss the crown of his partner's head. Xavier sighs and returns to his own book.
"It's a dreidel game, Erik," says Jean. "My friend Abby taught me –"
"I'm sure she taught you very well." Lehnsherr sits, still not looking her way, and starts to read.
Just for a second, Jean's jaw clenches and her hand tenses around the top. Then she smiles, shakes her head to toss long hair over one shoulder, and hands the toy to Scott.
(Something is wrong with this game.)
If they have to be playing, Scott wishes they were playing outside. Football or basketball, or ultimate Frisbee -- something that, in a best case scenario, offers the opportunity for incidental casual violence. If he could be anywhere he wanted right now, he'd be alone in the Danger Room, letting loose with an optic blast at whatever was in front of him. He wants to do something about this pounding headache, the persistent tension in his muscles.
(That isn't what's wrong with this game. In a moment he'll know.)
Scott takes his turn, while Remy is still lamenting his bad luck. "If only we were playing by my rules. . ."
"You wanted to play strip dreidel," says Scott pointedly. He nods at Jean's considerable pile of coins. "At this rate you'd be naked, and nobody really wants to see that." He spins a Nun -- 'N' for none, he remembers -- and the turn passes to Jean.
The top falls (something is wrong with this game). Jean looks at the letter and whoops "Gimel!" She's won the whole pot and, as she sweeps it towards her, Remy starts crooning "Pennies from Heaven." He's annoying the hell out of Scott, but at least his singing isn't half bad. As for Jean –
She answers Remy's song with a tune of her own. "My dreidel's always playful. It loves to dance and spin. A happy game of dreidel, come play now let's begin."
"That's not even right," Scott snaps. He doesn't have to follow their eyes, this time, to know everyone in the room is looking at him. He didn't mean to speak so loudly but now, he has to say something. " That's not the dreidel song, Jean. That's the Looney Tunes theme."
(That isn't what's wrong with this game, but for right now it will do.)
"Oh, it is not," Jean protests. (It is). "My friend Abby taught me that song, and she taught me this game, when we were kids. When I wrote to her and I asked her about Jewish traditions for –" and she hits the first sound like she has something caught in her throat "—Chanukah, she sent me this dreidel and –" She lets out an exasperated sigh and appeals to the highest authority she knows. "Erik!"
Lehnsherr looks up, flips a page in his book, and says. "I hate to agree with Scott –" His voice rises as though he is going to say more. Then he snaps the page and Scott realizes there isn't any more.
"You hate to agree with me," Scott says, through clenched teeth, "but I'm right."
"Erik," comes Professor Xavier's scolding voice. "Sometimes it's hard to tell which one of you is the teenager."
"Far be it from me to dispute the authority of Jean's friend Abby," Lehnsherr answers. Scott's fist tightens and he pushes up on the balls of his feet, because he's fairly hardened to sarcasm directed at him, but Jean hasn't done anything but try and make everyone happy. Scott doesn't want to play the game, and Remy just wants to look at her breasts. It isn't Xavier's religion and Lehnsherr doesn't care. But Jean thinks that she's doing this for all of them, and that's the only thing that ought to matter. Scott crouches, ready to spring up as though the beams pounding the back of his eyeballs are bursting to escape his whole body. He rocks on his feet, and pictures the motion of the small clay dreidel (something is wrong with this game).
Then Lehnsherr looks at Jean, and his features soften. "I only mean, dear, that there is no need to carry on for my benefit. I never played this game. The holiday is largely a commercial invention, for the sake of American girls and boys who might otherwise be seduced by Christmas."
"Oh. That's silly of me." Jean smiles, but there's a little tremor in her voice.
"Jean," Xavier begins, with a chastising look at Lehnsherr. "You aren't being silly. It's very thoughtful of you –"
"I'm fine," she assures, looking around at everyone before she picks up the top and gives it an aggressive spin. (She isn't fine. It isn't her turn, it's Remy's, and Jean is never one to skip a turn). The top twirls, fast, and Jean leans down to stare at it intensely as it spins. (Something is wrong with this game). And it spins and it spins and it spins and . . .
"Jean!" Scott slams his hand down on the toy. Under his palm, it continues to vibrate.
"I didn't do it!" Jean jumps back and crosses her hands over her shoulders. "I didn't do it, I didn't do it." Her hand rises to her mouth, and she murmurs, "I didn't mean to."
(Scott knew something was wrong with this game. The torque on the spins was off; the probability of outcomes skewed further and further from random).
"Jean," Scott begins cautiously. "How many rolls in a row did you win?"
She covers her face. "I'm so embarrassed."
"Embarrassed?" repeats Gambit. Jean looks up and in an awestruck voice the boy says, "Can you do that with dice?"
"Gambit!" Scott's thumbnail digs into his knuckle. He might be drawing blood. "This isn't funny."
"Nothing funny about it, mon ami. Gambit and the little lady –" He winks at Jean, who isn't looking at him anyway. "- we walk into a casino, I tell everyone she's my luck and. . . Laissez les bons temps rouler."
"Okay, first," says Scott. "You're fourteen years old. Nobody's letting you into a casino. Second. . . you're not French. So cut it out. Next – That thing where you refer to yourself in third person? It just has to stop. And finally --"
"Scott!" He feels Jean's hand on his chest, and he looks down in her eyes and he realizes – "Scott, why are you shouting?"
"Lady's right," says Gambit. "Who cares?"
"Who cares?" He reaches down to touch Jean's hand and he knows what he's going to say, but he is distracted for a moment by the warmth of her skin. She has been his closest friend since he came here, more than a year now, but she is skittish about touch, and he has never held the warm fingers of her hand for anywhere near this long. "Because –" he stammers, finding her eyes. "Jean, if something is happening with your powers that is out of your control –"
Scott. The voice sounds in his head and he looks up at the two teachers. If it were possible, Scott would swear that Lehnsherr's eyes are laughing. Xavier is watching them with his mouth pressed tight, and the words sound in Scott's head. Let it be, Scott. It's being taken care of.
"Let it be?" Scott drops Jean's hand and steps toward Xavier. "Let it be? It's being taken care of?"
Lehnsherr cocks his head at the other man, and Scott realizes that Xavier hasn't said the words to anyone else. "It's being taken care of? " says Lehnsherr. "Is that our official position now?"
Scott whirls on him. "She's not an 'it'. She's Jean."
"Scott –" Now her hand is on his shoulder, and he can't look back at her, because it's easy to pretend he's standing up for her, but he doesn't know if that's what it is. He doesn't even know if that is what she wants, and if he looks at her he might know for certain that it isn't.
"You," he says to Xavier. "You – this is, this is -- bullshit." He says the word and Gambit whistles, and now they're all looking at him only maybe Jean is looking at his back because he won't turn around and see her. "If you're going to act like you're putting me in charge here – but then you don't tell me anything – why?"
"Yes, Charles." Lehnsherr turns toward Xavier. "The boy poses an interesting question."
"I wasn't talking to you!" Scott answers. Then, because he likes the way the word made him feel, "This is bullshit."
He is out of the room without knowing how he got there. In another moment, he stands outside the French windows, on the patio, looking out over the garden. He realizes he has forgotten his coat, but he doesn't go back in. He has managed to get out of the room without looking at Jean. And besides, Scott Summers has left behind the days when he could run away. Any moment now, the door will open behind him and he doesn't know who, but one of them will step out to place a jacket or a sweater or a warm blanket over his shoulders and tell him that the things that were said are not really things that were meant and, because he needs it to be true, he will allow himself to believe. Until that moment, Scott fastens his arms tight around his shoulders, shuts his eyes against their own pulsing force, and breathes in the seconds of pure cold solitude during which he is once again a runaway.