Title: The Giving Season (part 4 of 4)
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Disclaimers, etc. located in Part I
"M'rie? ...M'rie, wake up."
With a stifled groan, Rogue rolled over in bed, and instinctively wrapped the blankets more tightly around her bare arms--not because she was cold, but to avoid accidental contact with the small figure who stood beside her bed. With her wispy blonde hair and large blue eyes, eight-year-old Kristen Mayhew looked just like Cindy Lou Who from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas".
"Mmmph... what is it, sweetie?" Rogue mumbled. Made softhearted by her frustrated nurturing instincts, she was seen as a sort of big sister by many younger children at the school, who often called upon her at all hours to read stories or to scare away monsters under the bed. She assumed now that perhaps Kristen's own 'Ghoulie' in the closet needed a talking-to, even if it *was* Christmas Eve.
But instead, Kristen announced matter-of-factly, "I heard Santa Claus on the roof."
As she sat up and reached for her gloves on the nightstand, Rogue looked at the clock. It was not yet six a.m., but she knew morning would soon be breaking. "Santa was probably here and gone a few hours ago. He knows people will be waking up soon. Are you sure it wasn't a squirrel or a bird?"
Kristen shook her head emphatically.
Rogue let out a resigned sigh and stood up, pulling on her robe. "Okay. Let's go see." She took Kristen's hand, and together they crept down the hall. When they reached the stairs, Kristen peeked eagerly through the banisters, but there was no sign of Saint Nick unloading packages below.
They went downstairs, just to make sure, and Rogue sat on the bottom step with a warm feeling inside as she watched Kristen explore. The little girl's eyes grew wide as she saw that the heap of presents under the tree had doubled in size overnight, and that an empty cup and plate now sat in place of the milk and cookies she had personally left for Santa Claus.
"You were right," Kristen conceded sagely, coming back to where Rogue sat. "Santa must have been here earlier."
"That's right." Rogue grinned. "By now, I bet he's in California, because it's not morning there yet. Do you suppose a lot of the movie stars out there in Hollywood are on his 'naughty' list?"
The joke made Kristen giggle. Rogue shrugged. "Okay, come on. Back to bed for a little bit."
"But I'm awake now," Kristen protested mildly.
"Well, I'll tell you what. You can pick out a present to go ahead and open, so you can play with it in bed until everybody else wakes up. It'll be our little secret. Okay?"
Smiling happily, Kristen went to the tree and chose a package with her name on it, which she opened on the spot. She was soon clutching a brand-new Barbie doll as she followed Rogue upstairs.
When the child was settled in bed once more, Rogue went back downstairs to clean up the wrapping paper discarded on the floor. Just as she reached the bottom of the steps, she could have sworn she heard the sound of the front door closing. Her heart skipped a beat at the thought of a teacher finding that a present had already been opened, but there was no sign of anyone else stirring in the house--except for Puck, who wandered over to rub against her leg. She smiled and bent down to scratch his ears, but when she withdrew her hand, she found a residue of gray-brown dust on her glove.
"Where have *you* been?" she asked the cat incredulously.
He merely stared up at her with a faint mew.
Rogue returned to her room, but she was unable to go back to sleep. She laid quietly in bed until she heard the rest of the household beginning to awaken; then she dressed and went downstairs to help the teachers manage the impending chaos. It was Professor Xavier's rule that breakfast came first, even on Christmas morning, which meant that the impatient younger children needed some coaxing to eat.
Throughout the meal, Rogue watched and waited for Logan to appear, but there was no sign of him.
When the grownups were finally finished with breakfast, having allowed ample time for the kids to get some nourishment inside them, the Professor gave the signal that prompted a stampede to the Christmas tree--which, after the Puck debacle of the day before, was now wired securely to the staircase banisters. Bobby and Scott took the job of checking labels and handing out presents, and the room was soon awash in a sea of crumpled paper as students and teachers alike opened their gifts.
Sitting in the midst of a noisy group that included Kitty, Jubilee, and Theresa, Rogue received her presents with quiet appreciation, but she felt a growing disappointment in her heart as Logan remained absent. He knew about the skating party; she had told him herself. Evidently the prospect of a hockey game had not enticed him to stay at the school that day, after all.
Once the presents had all been unwrapped, most of the students scattered with their new toys and gifts. Rogue simply sat watching the teachers clean up what looked like the path of a good-sized tornado. The women had turned it into a comical contest: Ororo created miniature whirlwinds to sweep up the discarded paper and boxes from the floor, while Jean used her telekinesis. Kurt and Scott had become their respective teammates, and were bagging the trash for them, the apparent object being to fill a bag the fastest.
For a moment, Rogue felt a stirring of bitter envy. She wondered why she couldn't have had a useful ability like Storm or Miss Grey, instead of a power that hurt people whether she wanted to or not.
Feeling a tap on her shoulder, she turned to find Bobby smiling brightly at her. "Hey. I've got something for you."
"But you already gave me--" Rogue began.
"Yeah, I know. This is special, though." Seizing her gloved hand, Bobby pulled her over to the other side of the tree, out of the busy teachers' line of sight. He reached beneath his jacket and held up a small, square package wrapped in holly-patterned paper. "Here."
Delighted and curious, Rogue opened the gift. Nestled within the paper was a beautiful scarf made of pink silk, so soft and transparently sheer that she was almost afraid to touch it.
With a smile, she opened her mouth to thank Bobby--but before she could speak, her boyfriend grinned slyly and pointed upward. In puzzled surprise, she looked up to find that they were standing beneath the mistletoe Peter had hung on the staircase rail.
Then, before she had a chance to protest, Bobby raised the end of the scarf to her face and leaned forward to kiss her through it.
Rogue's heart nearly stopped as she squeezed her eyes shut. The fabric of the scarf was so fine and so thin that she could feel the chill of his breath... and then the warmth of his lips. In that instant, she was terrified that the silk would not be enough to protect him from her mutation.
The veiled kiss lingered for a long, agonizingly wonderful moment, and then Bobby withdrew, his psyche safely intact. Catching her breath, Rogue opened her eyes, and he smiled at her.
"Merry Christmas," he said softly.
Before Rogue could even begin to sort out a coherent reply, they were both startled by Scott as he leaned around the tree--patently feigning ignorance of what had just happened. "Hey, are you guys about ready to skate? Some of the others are getting ready to go out now."
Shooting Bobby one last glance, which was full of sheer amazement at his audacity and the strength of his affection, Rogue turned to Scott and nodded. "Yeah, sure..."
She stepped past Scott and went upstairs to dress for the outdoors, never seeing the discreet low-five that her teacher and her boyfriend exchanged behind her back.
A few minutes later, Rogue came downstairs to find a noisy group of both teachers and students, bundled up in scarves and jackets and carrying their ice skates. Scott took the fore as they all filed outside and made their way over to the basketball court, which Bobby had frozen into a perfect ice rink the evening before.
When the court-turned-rink came into view, Rogue stopped in her tracks... for there, at last, was Logan.
The Canadian was aimlessly stroking back and forth across the ice with his hands on his hips, waiting. He was wearing a very old and worn pair of hockey skates, which Rogue recalled helping to put into storage last spring... and suddenly, a lot of things made sense. The sound Kristen had heard above her room early that morning must have been Logan digging the skates out of the attic. It even explained the layer of dust on Puck's fur, if the curious cat had somehow climbed up there with him and gone snooping.
All of which was, at the moment, entirely irrelevant. What mattered was that her friend was *there*.
"Logan!" Rogue exclaimed, running forward to meet him as he moved to the edge of the ice. He graced her with one of his rare warm smiles as he leaned forward to accept her offered hug.
"'Bout time you showed up," he murmured dryly.
She laughed and gave his ribs a squeeze. "*Me*? It's about time *you* showed up! Merry Christmas, Logan."
"Yeah... you too, kid." Ducking his head slightly, Logan pulled away. He glanced at Scott, and Rogue knew that words unspoken passed between them, because Scott folded his arms with a rather cocky grin. Logan snorted faintly in response and turned back to Rogue, shrugging his powerful shoulders.
"So are we playing hockey, or what?"
"Only if I get to be on your team," Rogue answered with a smile.
Logan grinned fiercely. "Throw in the Iceman, and we got a deal."
With a blanket across his lap and a cup of cocoa in his mittened hands, Charles Xavier sat in the morning sun and watched a rip-roaring hockey game on the ice. Logan's team was far and away in the lead--much to the chagrin of Scott, the captain of an opposing team that was on the verge of mutinying against him by conceding the game. Relishing the impending victory, Logan looked genuinely happy for once, smiling and sometimes even laughing with uncharacteristic ease.
To Charles, the game was an interesting study in leadership. Where Scott had discipline and a tactical mind, Logan had charisma and unpredictability. For all the friction between them, it was a contrast the Professor appreciated, because he was grateful to know that both of their qualities were on *his* team.
A mixed cheer and groan went up as Logan scored one more goal, and Scott's team finally surrendered for good. The players scattered across the ice, the victors and vanquished alike congratulating each other for a game well played.
Laughing and breathless, Jean--who, naturally, had played on Scott's team--skated to the edge of the ice where Charles sat. "That was more exercise than I get in *ten* danger room workouts."
"You played very well," Charles replied. "By the way, remind me to buy Logan his own pair of ice skates, as a belated Christmas present. That old pair isn't going to survive such hard play for very long."
Jean shrugged. "They did the job today. Anyway, if Logan could wear one of Scott's uniforms, I *knew* he could wear his old skates." She grinned mischievously. "Think we should tell him?"
"That he beat Scott in a pair of Scott's own skates?" Charles smiled. "I think that would be unnecessarily cruel to your fiancÃ©."
"Hey, it was his idea."
Charles chuckled, but his thoughts turned pensive as his gaze wandered back to the students on the ice. Kitty was showing off the twizzles and mohawks learned in past skating lessons, while Bobby and Tommy were kicking around a pinecone in a rather dangerous game of frozen football. He watched them all without really seeing them, his mind elsewhere for a moment.
Jean smiled sympathetically at her mentor. "She'll be here, Professor."
Turning, Charles grinned crookedly at her. "I really should remember to be more careful with my thoughts around you. I'm discovering how difficult that is to get used to."
"I didn't have to read your mind," Jean replied warmly, and tossed him a wink before she skated across the ice to join Scott. From the looks of things, he was fixing to challenge Logan to a rematch.
It was going to be a very long afternoon.
Some distance across the snowy grounds, Ororo heard only faintly the sounds of another ice war brewing. She was not far from the front gates of the school, walking with Kurt; or rather, walking *behind* him, as the agile teleporter bounded happily through the snow ahead of her. Their visit to church the evening before had left him in a state of inexhaustible good cheer, and even the earlier hockey game had not succeeded in tiring him.
"Hey, slow down!" Ororo laughed, jogging forward to catch up with him. Kurt did not reply, but bounced over the top of a snow-covered hillock... and did not reappear.
"Kurt?" Ororo called in puzzlement, climbing over the top of the mound--only to find him sprawled on his back in the snowdrift beyond, vigorously flapping his limbs in an effort to form a snow angel. The resulting shape was very oddly proportioned, due to the scythe-like sweeps of his long tail, and the sight caused her to burst out laughing.
Kurt responded with a sly smile.
Suddenly his tail flicked out like a whip, coiling around her ankle and pulling her off balance. Ororo let out a small shriek of surprise as she tumbled into the snow beside him--but Kurt was there to catch her.
He did, and he put his arms around her, drawing her close. His gentle yellow eyes gazed into hers.
"I like this," he murmured comfortably.
Ororo blushed and smiled. "You're going to ruin your snow angel."
"I don't need it," Kurt replied softly, stroking her cheek. "I have a *real* angel here with me now."
A small shiver slipped down Ororo's spine, and it was not a bad feeling at all. She closed her eyes with a contented sigh, resting her head on Kurt's shoulder, and for a moment simply enjoyed the quiet pleasure of laying beside him in the snow on a beautiful winter's day.
"Oh... good morning..."
Both mutants sat up with a start, turning toward the source of the awkward greeting. Helen stood on top of the snow mound, apparently having stumbled across the pair while following the clamor from the ice rink across the grounds. She was not alone, either: standing beside her were a couple whom Ororo had not met, but could only assume were Allison and Roger Hale.
Neither appeared to notice Ororo at all. They were far too busy staring at Kurt--Roger with open wonder, and Allison with nervous incredulity. Yet to her credit, despite what Ororo had heard about her, the woman did not run screaming from what must have looked to her like a Smurf from hell.
Maybe there was hope for her, after, all.
As for Kurt, he did not object to their staring, but gazed shyly back at them. "FrÃ¶liche Weihnachten," he said in a small voice.
Roger's eyebrows arched in an expression of pleased fascination, and to Ororo's surprise, he responded in kind. "Ihnen gleichfalls!" Then, with an almost childlike unabashedness that was somehow quite charming, he murmured in an aside to Helen, "This is amazing."
Helen cleared her throat, giving the mutants a somewhat embarrassed smile. "Ororo, Kurt... I'd like you to meet my daughter and son-in-law, Allison and Roger."
Having discovered an unfrightened new friend, Kurt extended his three-fingered hand, which Roger shook without hesitation. Allison edged closer, and although she flinched slightly as the blue mutant turned his amber gaze upon her, she held out her own hand. He took her trembling fingers very gently in his own, and gave a slight bow, causing her to smile hesitantly. The couple then exchanged handshakes with Ororo, who smiled reassuringly at them both.
"The Professor will be happy to see you," she said to Helen, then glanced at the Hales and added, "*All* of you."
Allison smiled weakly, prying her uneasy gaze away from Kurt. "I'm trying, at least."
"There is nothing to be afraid of here," Kurt answered softly.
Putting his arm around Allison's shoulders, Roger smiled. "We know that. All of this is just..." He paused and chuckled. "Like I said--*amazing*."
"The skating party is still in full swing," Ororo informed them. "The Professor is there. Come this way."
As Charles had anticipated, a testosterone-laden exchange of words between Scott and Logan resulted in a hockey rematch. The battle lines were reforming, with a few defections to the opposition on both sides--including Jean, who went over to Logan's team, much to Scott's horror and Charles' amusement.
As the teams shuffled into position, the Professor's gaze was drawn away from the ice by the sense of a familiar presence. Smiling gladly, he turned to see Ororo and Kurt approaching him, with Helen and the Hales in tow.
"Merry Christmas," Charles said warmly, when they were close enough to hear him.
Helen smiled. "Merry Christmas, Charles," she replied, putting her arm around Allison, who gave her a brief glance full of subdued but very real appreciation. The younger woman's hand was clutched in Roger's, but he was proving himself the sportsman Charles had guessed him to be, and his attention was riveted to the ice as the game proceeded. Giving Allison a reassuring grin, he released her hand and sauntered to the edge of the rink to watch.
"I'll bring out some more hot chocolate," Ororo volunteered tactfully, and turned to head for the mansion. Kurt lingered briefly, his rather nostalgic gaze resting upon their guests, but he hurried after Ororo when she prompted him with a tug on his tail.
Allison herself was gazing wistfully at the students and teachers gliding across the ice. Her hands clasped over her abdomen, her cheeks coloring slightly as she turned a hesitant glance to Charles. "They all look... so happy."
"Many of them have had far less good in their lives than your child has to look forward to," Charles replied softly. "For some, the greatest gift is simply to *be* alive."
A tear slipped down Allison's cheek, and she brushed it away, returning her attention to the hockey game as a means of avoiding Charles' or her mother's gaze. "I wish Kenny could have been here."
"He'll always be with us," Helen answered gently.
"And *I* will be here for you," Charles added. "I want to help you with anything you may need, Allison."
The once-and-future mother sniffled and turned to face Charles, smiling ruefully. "Just time... for now."
Two hockey games later, the residents of Xavier's School trooped back inside--collectively nursing a few bruises, but otherwise in good spirits. There was a minor incident when Tommy was caught cheating with his telekinesis, but otherwise the games were fairly played, with Logan's team besting Scott's by two out of three. A few of the victors insisted that the opposition was only "allowed" their sole win, and this became a subject of good-natured but heated debate as the students shed their cold-weather gear.
Roger had eagerly joined Logan's team for the final game, borrowing a pair of ice skates to substitute for a worn-out Jubilee. He played well, although watching him on the ice had caused his wife and mother-in-law a great deal of amusement. As the group went inside, he rambled cheerfully to Allison about the highlights of the game, and she listened with demure attentiveness.
Following the couple with Helen at his side, Charles felt a great sense of quiet accomplishment. Allison was beginning to make peace with her fears--even if she had not yet realized it--and she had rediscovered the love of her husband and mother in the process. Restored as a family, they could face whatever the future might hold for Allison's unborn child; Charles was certain of that.
As they neared the Christmas tree, Helen fell out of pace with Charles' wheelchair, but a moment later she called his name as she caught up with him. Turning, he watched her advance toward him with hands behind her back. He considered a quick peek into her thoughts, but decided not to spoil the surprise.
"I wanted to thank you for what you've done for Allison... for all of us."
"The deed itself was far more than its own reward," Charles replied with a smile.
"Maybe," Helen grinned, bending down beside him. "But I thought a little something more was in order." With that, she held up the sprig of mistletoe which she had plucked from the staircase banister.
Charles uttered a low chuckle. "Very busy little weed, that."
"I don't doubt it," Helen replied mischievously, and leaned in for a firm kiss--which Charles returned.
Lurking unobserved in the hall, Logan smirked and turned away, setting out to look for Jubilee.
*I won the bet fair and square this time, Firecracker...*
Logan was sidetracked in his search for Jubilee by the tantalizing odors wafting from the kitchen. Having worked up a considerable appetite during the hockey games, he meandered that way, only to find his fellow teachers busy preparing Christmas dinner. While Ororo and Kurt were fussing over the vegetarian dishes, Jean and Scott were practically wrestling with an enormous turkey, the former holding it steady as the latter struggled to saw into it with a large carving knife.
Ever helpful in his own perverse way, Logan stepped forward. "Move over," he said peremptorily to Scott. Unleashing one claw with a sharp *snikt*, he made a single neat swipe at the bird, and a serving-sized chunk of meat flopped into the plate beside the serving platter, bones and all.
Unexpectedly, the Professor's voice spoke up behind him. "Logan, you will please refrain from doing *that* at the dinner table. Remember that one of our guests is an expectant mother, and should not be alarmed."
One eyebrow arching, Logan turned, sheathing the claw even as he gave the Professor a salute of sarcastic acknowledgment. "Sure thing, Smoochy."
The Professor did not move, and his expression did not change, but Logan winced as he felt a sudden, brief stab of pain in his head. He glared at the telepath, but before he could voice a protest, Ororo looked up from her green bean casserole and interceded.
"Logan, would you mind helping Kurt with the cookies?"
Not sure whether he should like the sound of that or not, Logan stared at the weather witch. She smiled and nodded toward Kurt, who was thoughtfully arranging Jean's sugar cookies on a tray amidst sprigs of holly and pine. For a food item, and especially one which the kids would demolish in a matter of minutes, it was a display of aesthetics that Logan found absurd.
"You know that 'domestic diva' woman went to prison, don't you?" he rumbled, stalking past Ororo on the way to Kurt and the cookies.
Undeterred, Logan glanced back at Xavier. "I thought your girlfriend likes to do this Keebler Elf crud. Why isn't *she* helping out around here?"
The Professor refused to rise to the baiting. "In point of fact, Helen will be hosting *us* at Old Willows Place on New Year's Eve, and I didn't want her to trouble herself for Christmas as well. Besides, she has provided the eggnog for today's festivities."
Logan's head came up sharply. "Eggnog?"
"It's *non*-alcoholic, Logan," Jean informed him with a roll of her eyes.
The Wolverine simply let out a defeated sigh.
In contrast to the hockey battles and kitchen sniping, Christmas dinner proved to be a relatively peaceful affair. The small tables in the dining room had been pushed together to form a single long table, dressed in a scarlet tablecloth and tall candles, beautifully appointed with the Professor's finest bone china. Here the residents of Xavier's School gathered, joined by their three human guests; Helen sat at Charles' left hand, with Allison and Roger beside her.
Throughout dinner, Charles paused often to smile to himself as he surveyed his students and friends.
Kurt said grace in German before the meal. Jean and Scott sat together, both slipping scraps of turkey to Puck under the table--each unbeknownst to the other. Logan lurked at the far end of the table and behaved himself, every now and then exchanging a few words with Rogue and Bobby. Jubilee made faces at Ororo's casserole, but smiled saccharinely each time Ororo looked in her direction. Allison and Helen settled deep into conversation, mending the old wounds between them, while Roger observed the two women he loved with quiet happiness.
These were the moments that made all of Charles' dreams and efforts worthwhile.
When dinner was drawing to a close, and just as thoughts began to turn toward dessert, Charles called the gathering to attention by chiming his fork against his glass. As all eyes turned to him, he looked around at the diverse, expectant faces ringing the table, and smiled in quiet affection.
"I propose a toast," he said clearly, raising his glass, "to friends."
"To family!" Helen suggested with a smile, glancing from Allison to Charles.
Allison met Roger's tender gaze with a blush, then turned to Charles and added softly, "To the future."
"Hear, hear," Scott said firmly, raising his glass, and a cheer of agreement mingled with the chime of glasses from one end of the table to the other.
(c) 2004 Jordanna Morgan - send feedback