Deck the Halls

Textual Poaching Alert: Marvel owns everyone, although Social Services would have stripped custody long ago...

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la...

It's good to be home for the holidays, even if it means surviving my parents' holiday party. I haven't been back for more than a day trip since I started school.

"Jean! How nice to see you!"

"How are you Mrs. Corrigan?" I smile politely as I get squeezed too hard in a hug. "Merry Christmas."

"And a good one to you as well. I'm fine, except for the gout and my hip that keeps acting up. But that's neither here nor there. You're looking wonderful. Your parents tell me you are doing splendidly at your new school."

That's because I only tell them half of what goes on there. "I'm doing all right," I shrug innocently. "The class size is so small that I can't help but get personalized attention."

"I have to confess that I'd never heard of the Xavier Academy before you enrolled, Jean," Professor Robert Gresham, a colleague of my father's, walks over to join the conversation. "We certainly haven't gotten any graduates from there at the university."

"I'm actually one of the charter students," I explain. "Professor Xavier is looking to try some alternative methods when it comes to pedagogy and since he's an acquaintance of Dad's, I get to be a guinea pig. But I'm grateful for the opportunity." Am I really, though?

Gresham nods. "Charles Xavier? I should have guessed. Xavier's always been running on a different track from the rest of us in the education business. Very much an auto-didact, he is. I'm surprised he wanted to take on students."

"Self-reliance is very heavily stressed," I agree. "But we're actually a very close-knit student body." The team that defeats super-villains together...

"Is Xavier still fascinated by the occult?" Gresham asks with a smirk. "Years ago, he wrote several articles on telepathy and other kinds of hocus-pocus that he tried to assure his readers were all among us. If it weren't for his brilliant work on the treatment of trauma victims, Xavier would be considered quite the crackpot."

I smile benignly. Very few people outside of my immediate family know about my powers. Hocus pocus, hmm? I don't think Professor Gresham would appreciate a demonstration right about now, else I'd levitate him to the ceiling.

"Your mother says you get to go on quite a few exciting field trips," Mrs. Corrigan regains her voice.

"Oh, yes, we go all over and get to see some very interesting things, not to mention meet a wide variety of people," I agree heartily. Magneto, the Blob, Unus, the Maximoff twins, Mastermind, and, of course, the Toad. "Professor Xavier is most generous with our travel plans. We have rarely a dull moment."

I get through the rest of Professor Gresham's and Mrs. Corrigan's questions without having to dance around the truth too much. We get interrupted by my sister at the piano starting to sing Christmas carols and I manage to slip away for a little while. I come downstairs when I start to hear people leave.

"Finally," My father groans in relief as the last guest leaves and he closes the door with a wave to the departing. "I'm glad we only do this once a year."

"Indeed," Mom sighs, surveying the rooms filled with cups, saucers, dishes, glasses, and the other debris that a party, no matter how populated by university faculty, leaves behind.

"I'll clean up," I announce.

"This is too much for you, honey," Mom shakes her head. Left unsaid is that she's scared of me using my telekinesis with the good china.

"I've been training every day, Mom, you'll be surprised. Watch," I mentally pick up all of the napkins and other garbage and float them over to the trash bag my sister is holding. I'm already standing in the doorway between the kitchen and dining room, so I can watch the dishes and silverware float directly into the dishwasher without incident. After I get the first round of saucers in, Mom takes her hands away from her eyes - she obviously hasn't gotten over the time I dropped her great-grandmother's vase all those years ago. By the time I'm done, however, she's almost beaming.

"Fantastic," Dad kisses me on the cheek. "Xavier's really teaching you to get a handle on your abilities."

"Just watch me with the Christmas presents tomorrow morning," I smile.


"Xavier Academy, may I help you?"

"Scott? It's Jean. What are you doing around? I thought you were going to spend Christmas with Warren and his folks."

"I... ummm..." I can almost see Scott scratch his forehead like he always does when he's been caught and doesn't know what to say. "It would have been too awkward. They would have felt obligated to get me some sort of gift and, well, since they have all that money, no matter what I brought it would have looked shabby."

"You know Warren doesn't care about that and I'm sure his parents wouldn't think poorly of you. It's the thought that counts. So you are spending the holiday with the Professor? I called to wish him a merry Christmas."

"Actually, he's been gone since the day after everyone left. One of his secret missions, didn't even tell me where he's going or when he'll return, although I suspect he'll be back before you and the guys come back."

"No he won't. I'll be there in about two hours. Pack what you'll need for the next few days. I am *not* letting you stay there alone for Christmas."

"I'm not alone."

"Mrs. Cavendish doesn't count and she's taking most of this coming week off anyway. I'll see you around three."

I don't let Scott get a word in edgewise. I take a quick shower and explain my plans to my parents before I wheedle the car keys from Dad. They have no problem - they actually offered to house any of my fellow students for the holidays as we live closer to the school than anyone else.

For someone so cut out to be a leader of men - not to mention someone so cute - Scott can be so remarkably insecure. Maybe it has to do with growing up in an orphanage. I don't think it has anything to do with Scott being a Nebraska boy in New York, which is what he always tries to brush it off as.

As I suspected, Scott is not packed when I get to the mansion. He intends to try and talk me out of having him stay the rest of the holiday and I'm not going to let him.

"Come on 'Fearless Leader'," I mock, using Hank's choice name for Scott. "You can either go pack or I can float all of your clothes out to the car by myself."

"But..." his voice trails off when he realizes I'm serious. "I appreciate the offer, but I don't want to stay with your parents. I kind of like being here."

"By yourself?"

"I know you can't understand, but yeah."

"Try me."

"Try you what?"

"Try explaining to me why you'd prefer to be here in this huge house all by yourself. It's dead silent here."

"Exactly."

"Exactly?"

"I grew up in an orphanage. Eight boys to a dorm room. Silence was unheard of - pun intended. Privacy, quiet, free time... the novelty hasn't worn off yet. It's not that I don't like hanging out with you and the guys, but I like hanging out without you guys, too."

I nod after a moment. "I'll buy most of that, especially since it explains why you can be found periodically wandering around the grounds by yourself, but I still want to know the real reason you're here alone. As I recall, you got offers from all four of us to visit for the holidays. If you didn't want to go to the Worthingtons', you could have stayed with Hank or Bobby or me and nobody would have felt snubbed.

"Silence may be golden, but you shouldn't be by yourself during probably the most family oriented time of the year."

He sighs and runs his fingers through his hair. "I have none - you guys and the Professor are as close as I get to family. I hate getting reminded of what I'm missing. I know you don't mean to be rubbing it in, but that's what it feels like. The family dinners, the presents... I don't have any ugly sweaters I have to wear because my great-aunt knitted them especially for me. I don't have any crazy relatives sending me fifty pounds of fruitcake."

"That can be considered to be a good thing."

"It is and it isn't. When I was at the orphanage, every year they'd farm out the kids to spend Christmas with families around town. We'd get some little present from the host family and then the present that the orphanage got for us, and we'd open those while the foster kids were opening their piles and piles of presents. And every year, there were a few presents that the kids liked - some cool toys or something - and a whole bunch of things that they'd hate but have to play with or wear because they were from family.

"My presents were never personal. I never got clothes because no one ever knew my size - stuff got handed down at the orphanage until it couldn't be worn anymore. I never got the game I wanted because nobody ever asked. I'd get whatever was on sale at the toy store or maybe a book."

"So I guess I should stay away from the books next year, huh?" I smirk. That was what I had given him right before I went home.

"Huh? Oh, no, I wasn't complaining about what you got me. You got me a book that I actually want to read. You picked out something you thought I'd like, and that's what's important. It could be a book or a pair of mittens, it doesn't matter if there was consideration behind it."

"Did you want a pair of mittens?"

"Me? Mittens? Uh, no, I was just using them as an example. I'm a gloves man," he smiles, that lopsided smile that first made me think of him as something other than just another one of my classmates.

"You said that you think of us as family, right?"

Scott nods.

"Then could you possibly consider spending time with me and just think of my parents and sister as accessories? We can pretend it's not a holiday, that you're just coming over for dinner. I know how well you cook - you need all the help you can get with Mrs. Cavendish off today."

"I should resent that, but I know better."

"Smart boy. Bring stuff for tonight - we'll all be in a food coma after dinner and it'll be too late to drive you back - and I'll bring you back here tomorrow, okay?"

He nods without saying a word and I sit in the chair in the foyer while he goes upstairs to get his things. Even if I didn't have a wicked crush on Scott - and sometimes I wonder if it isn't a little bit more than that - there are times when all I want to do is hug him until he can't breathe anymore.

I'm so into my own family life, especially now that my sister's gotten out of that annoying pubescent phase, that I forget that not everyone's in the same boat. Especially since Scott is so darned secretive about his feelings. And here all I was thinking about was finding a subtle way to get him under the mistletoe that we have hanging in the entryway to the living room.

I am shaken from my reverie by the sounds of Scott coming down the stairs. He's got a shirt and tie on and I'm about to get on him for being too formal when I realize he's wearing his Felix the Cat tie. He's also changed into the glasses that Warren got him for his birthday - the frames are much more stylish than his everyday ones - and you can see a lot more of his face with them. He looks gorgeous in them, but since they aren't really good for chasing bad guys around, he only wears them when he's sure we'll be able to pretend to be civilians for the whole time.

"Not bad, Mr. Summers," I try to sound casual. He mock-bows.

"And for my next trick, I'll employ proper table manners and social etiquette," he grins. "Actually, I wanted to ask if we could stop somewhere so I could pick something up. I don't want to show up empty handed."

"Only if you promise not to get any more food. Mom's been going crazy all day as it is."

"Promise."


The drive down to Salem Center wasn't too bad considering that it's in the direction of the city and it's one of the biggest shopping days of the year. In fact, I'm going out with my mom and sister after I get home.

"So I guess I'll see you after the weekend," Scott says, really to his shoes, as we sit in the car. His increasing awkwardness as we've spent time together yesterday and today only make me more certain that Scott notices that I'm a girl. Especially when he turned as red as his glasses when I finally did catch him by the mistletoe.

"Yeah, although don't be surprised if Warren calls and wants to do something before then," I reply.

"Did he say something before he left?"

"No, but if he's feeling at all how I'm feeling, he'll call. And for propriety's sake, he'll call you before he calls me."

"How are you feeling?" Scott looks up in half-horror, half-curiosity, as if he's sure if I'm going to say that I know he likes me and he's terrified to know my reaction. As if I had the guts to tell him.

"Like I'm away from my family, or at least like I'm away from the people that know me best," I sigh. I've been thinking about this for a while. "I've spent my entire vacation pretending I'm normal and more and more, I can't help but feel like that's a lie."

"Your family knows that you're a mutant," Scott points out. He watched my command performance with the dishwasher last night.

"But nobody else does. And my parents and sister certainly don't know exactly how I use my powers. I showed them my wool cards - they think I've improved my abilities just by learning to sew telekinetically. I don't dare tell them that their little girl is fighting the forces of evil."

"Hmmm. Yeah, I guess that's not exactly dinner table discussion," Scott agrees after a pause.

"You, Hank, Warren, Bobby - you are the only ones who understand what it's like to have to pretend that nothing exciting is going on while carrying your X-Men costume around. I'm not the Jean Grey that left home to go to the Xavier Academy, but I can't tell anyone. The falseness is getting to me, and I expect to Warren and Bobby and Hank as well."

Scott nods and I can tell he understands.

We sit there facing each other, both dying for the other to make the first microscopic step towards the other so we can kiss and get this awkward dance over with. But nothing happens. Marvel Girl and Cyclops, two of the newest, most amazing crime-fighting team around are unafraid to battle either the Master of Magnetism or just plain Mastermind, but to face rejection? We're both chicken.

"So I guess I'll see you in a few days then, Marvel Girl," he smiles wryly at me.

"Until then, Cyclops," I return the expression. We both appreciate the irony.

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