Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except for a certain twelve-year-old redhead in the kitchen, trying to be as quiet as a mouse. She shuffled her padded slippers across the floor, searching through shelves and cabinets. She floated a box half-full of chocolate chip cookies down from the top shelf, and stuck her nose in the refrigerator for the newly opened carton of milk.
Scott Summers had been observing the girl's movements for a while. She walked over to the dish rack and selected Ororo's porcelain plate with rose designs painted on it, and arranged the cookies neatly in a circular pattern on the plate. She waved her hand and the tall glass on the counter across from where she was standing flew into her palm. She proceeded to fill it up with milk and set it down beside the huge plate of cookies on the tray.
"Jean, what on earth are you doing?" Scott stood in the kitchen doorway with his arms crossed.
"Scott!" Jean was startled and leapt back from the tray. "What are you doing up at this hour?" She went back to tending her tray, rearranging the position of a couple of cookies.
Scott took a few cautious steps into the kitchen, not keeping his eyes off the redhead. "What are you doing up at this hour?"
"I asked you first." Jean rotated the plate ten degrees anti-clockwise.
"So?" Scott unfolded his arms and shoved his hands into the pockets of his hands.
"I'm leaving cookies out for Santa." Jean proclaimed in a joyous tone like a three-year-old would, and presented her perfectly arranged tray to Scott. Scott instinctively reached out to grab a convenient midnight snack. "Scott!" Jean reprimanded and held the tray close to her chest. "These cookies aren't for you."
Scott gave Jean a quizzical look. "You do know Santa doesn't exist, right?"
"He doesn't exist if you don't want him to." Jean exited the kitchen and headed into the sitting room. She laid the tray on the table by the Christmas tree. The fireplace that was blazing before now contained faintly glowing embers.
"It's been scientifically proven. That big dude in the red suit can't exist." Scott was indignant and wanted to prove his point.
"Who says that Santa has to a fat guy in a big red suit?" Jean was still chipper and skipped over to the fireplace to examine her sock that was hung under the mantle.
"Isn't Santa a fat guy in a red suit?"
"Only if you want him to be a fat guy in a red suit." Jean walked over to where Scott was standing. "You'd better head to bed Scott. Santa won't appear if you deliberately wait up for him."
Scott merely let out a snort and gave a shrug.
"Scott, what's wrong?"
"Cheer up Scott, it's Christmas eve. There'll be presents in the morning underneath the tree!"
"Presents are for little kids. Happy kids."
"Well, technically, you're still a kid, Scott."
"Apparently not a very happy one. I used to like getting presents like every other kid at Christmas. I used to believe there was a Santa...until..."
"Until the cra--" Jean immediately covered her mouth with her hand. "I'm sorry Scott. I didn't mean--"
"It's okay, you can say it. It happened shortly after Christmas with my grandparents. I never had a Christmas after my parents died. Santa doesn't exactly make special trips to orphanages. Maybe it's because we don't have fireplaces." Scott's chuckle was bitter.
"I'm sorry Scott."
"You don't have to be, Jean. It's not your fault. Just my dumb luck I had to grow up with bruises and black eyes rather than hugs and kisses."
"Well, my extended family wasn't exactly extremely affectionate when they discovered I was a mutant."
"Well, I guess Santa is just like everyone else out there. He must hate us muties too."
"Not this Santa."
"How do you know?"
"This Santa's different. I'm sure he'll remember your present." Jean smiled softly. "Besides, Ororo's hung your Christmas sock for you. That's a little hard to miss."
"Still doesn't explain how he's going to get down the chimney." Scott peered up the dark hole.
"Our Santa doesn't travel by sleigh, silly. He gets around on a wheelchair." Jean gave Scott a wink.
"But that's not Santa!"
"So?" Jean shrugged. "I'm going to bed. Night Scott."
Scott watched as Jean left the room and made her way upstairs.
The grandfather clock in the hallway struck twelve. Scott stirred gently. He had fallen asleep curled up in the armchair by the fireplace. The smouldering embers were extinguished and the ashes were cold. There was light out in the hallway. With his acute sense of hearing developed during the period when he functioned 'blind', he detected the presence of someone outside.
Scott climbed out of the armchair and prepared to take on the intruder. It wasn't until the person came nearer to the sitting room that Scott recognized low, rhythmic hum of a motor.
"Professor?" Scott acknowledged, standing with a slight slouch and hands behind his back.
"Scott? What are you doing up in the early hours of Christmas day? Don't you know that you're supposed be in bed?" Charles Xavier wheeled into the sitting room with a sack that suspiciously looked like it contained gift boxes.
"I...uh...I wanted to wait up for Santa." Scott flashed a sleepy, sheepish grin.
"That's a naughty thing to do, Scott," Xavier chuckled lightly and steered himself to the tree and laid the presents under it one at a time.
"I suppose I won't be getting my present from Santa then." Scott responded. "At least I know he's punctual."
"Of course you're getting your present, Scott. Santa's forgiving, even of little, petty matters." Xavier held up a package wrapped in bright red paper held together with a little bow. Attached was a little name tag that read: Scott. He motioned for Scott to come nearer. "Maybe you'd like your present now since you're up anyway."
"Thanks but no thanks, Professor. I think I will wait till morning just like everyone else."
"As you wish Scott." Xavier stacked Scott's present on top of another.
"Thank you. For doing this." Scott gestured to his present under the tree.
"Christmas is a time for giving, Scott. You're all my children. And being a mutant doesn't mean that you all should be deprived of the love and joy of Christmas."
"Santa is a tale parents tell happy kids. Christmas reminds me of what happened that fateful day when I lost Alex, Mom and Dad. I don't want to be reminded of the pain, I just wish I can let it all go, but I don't want to forget them either. I'm already starting to forget how Mom's Christmas cookies smelt and tasted. How her hugs felt like, how Alex's laughter sounded like, and especially Dad's smile. He doesn't smile too often; he was a very serious man. I just...I wish I could have my family back for Christmas. Even Santa doesn't have that kind of magic."
Charles Xavier put a hand on Scott's shoulder. "I'm sorry Scott. I know letting go is hard, but if you ever need us, the X-Men will be here for you. You're part of our family, Scott."
"Thanks for everything, Professor. But I'd still like to be able to see them one last time."
"I understand how you feel, Scott. I was orphaned too. A lot of us here are. We will be here to help you through this." Xavier smiled, and this time, Scott managed to smile back. The clock in the hallway chimed. It was now one in the morning. "Well, I'm heading off to bed now. I don't know about Old Saint Nick but this Santa needs some shuteye. You should get some sleep too, Scott. I know Jean won't let you sleep past sunrise." He gave Scott a wink. "Good night, my son."
"Yes, Scott?" Xavier stopped at the door.
"I was just wondering, Jean mentioned something about Santa leaving presents in these socks. But you didn't put anything in them." Scott had been staring at the socks hanging limp from the mantle of the fireplace.
"Oh, that's a little tradition started by Jean. Everyone in the mansion is invited to be someone else's secret Santa. You can choose not to be one. You can also choose to be everyone's secret Santa. Perhaps you'd like to surprise that someone special with an extra special Christmas gift, or secret messages and the like. Jean likes the thrill of receiving mystery presents."
"Oh. And sir?"
"Jean left milk and cookies out for you."
"Ah yes, mustn't disappoint the little angel who left cookies out for Santa." Xavier helped himself to a cookie and grabbed the glass of milk. "Good night, Scott."
"Good night, Professor."
"Wake up, Scott! C'mon sleepyhead, wake up!"
"Hmmrph?" Scott pried open his heavy eyelids and peered through his sleeping goggles.
"Merry Christmas, Scott!"
"Jean? Wha--how did you get in here?!"
"Who cares? C'mon, it's Christmas morning!" Jean was bouncing on his bed and squealing excitedly.
"Jean, it's seven in the morning. I'm sure everyone else is still in bed. It's the one day Logan doesn't drag us out of bed at five in the morning for training sessions. Go back to bed, Jean." Scott wiggled under the covers.
"Oh come on Scott." Jean tugged at his arm. Unfortunately, she had only started basic training on her telekinesis and could barely lift his arm off the bed. If not, she would have levitated Scott's entire body and dumped him on the floor. That should wake him up pretty nicely. Up till now, she could only settle for the puppy dog pout. "Come on, Scott. It's snowing prettily outside too."
"Okay. Fine, Miss Grey. I'm up." Scott had succumbed to Jean's whining. He could not stand more than two minutes of that. He stretched and yawned, crawled out of bed and swapped his goggles for his glasses.
"Yay!" Jean was still bouncing on his bed.
"Mess my bed up some more, Miss Grey, and I'm making you make my bed for me."
Jean just stuck her tongue out in response and leapt off the bed and rushed out the door. "So, Mr Summers? Are you coming or not?" She put her hands on her hips and tapped her foot.
"Girls." Scott rolled his eyes and followed Jean out the door.
When the both of them got downstairs, Ororo was already busy in the kitchen preparing a Christmas feast for dinner. Logan was heading out for his usual early morning ride. Jean was not at all distracted by the things going on around the mansion. There was only one thing that caught her attention as she made her way steadily into the sitting room and dashed to the tree.
Scott trudged in sleepily. Jean was already going through her pile of presents. As far as Scott could tell, her pile was by far the biggest, which included gifts from her immediate family. Scott just sat back and watched as Jean giggled with glee at every gift received.
"Good morning you two!" Ororo walked in with a food tray. The scent of freshly baked Christmas cookies filled the room. "I thought you guys might be hungry."
"Morning Ororo! Merry Christmas!" Jean moved across the room to give one of her instructors a hug.
"Merry Christmas to you too, Jean." Ororo returned Jean's hug. "And you too, Scott."
Scott barely managed a smile, with a sad look in his eyes.
"Scott? Is something the matter child?"
"No, Ororo. I'm fine. I just don't like Christmas that much anymore."
"That's because you haven't had a chance to open your presents yet!" Jean scurried over with his present. "Go on, open it. It'll make you feel better."
Slowly and quietly, Scott peeled the wrapping paper off. He stopped cold in his tracks when he caught a glimpse of his gift.
"Scott? Is--was that your...family?" Jean was the first to break the silence.
Tears welled up in his eyes, but Scott could not cry. His optic blasts merely incinerated his tears. "Yeah," he croaked. "I miss them so much." He traced the faces of Alex, his mom and dad tenderly with his finger.
"Well, you have us now." Jean pulled out the second picture frame from underneath and placed it on top. "We'll take good care of you." Jean gave him a big, warm hug, and so did Ororo.
"Anytime, Scott." Ororo rose to her feet. "Well, I better go check on my pies. Stay out of trouble, you two."
"Come! Let's see what our secret Santas left us in our socks!" Jean bounced over to the fireplace. She sighed when she peered into her sock. "Oh well, maybe next year I'll get something special. What about you Scott? Did your secret Santa leave you anything?"
"Don't be silly, Jean. If he didn't leave you anything, what makes you think I got--" Scott stuck his hand into his sock and felt something. "A twig? My secret Santa left me a twig. I thought he left naughty children lumps of coal?" Scott held up the dried plant specimen and examined it.
"It's not any twig, silly. It's mistletoe." Jean whispered into his ear and planted a quick kiss on his cheek before he could react.
"Uh...oh," Scott uttered, stunned. He immediately blushed a deep shade of crimson.
"Merry Christmas, Scott."
"Merry Christmas, Jean."
In the years that followed, Scott had been constantly trying to find that perfect special gift to put into Jean's sock. (He always received mistletoe from Jean.) It would be some ten years later, give or take a couple of years, that Jean would find a diamond ring nestled in a tiny velvet box in her Christmas sock.