Ghost of Christmas Past

She kissed him, just a peck on the cheek and the warmth of her hand on his neck for a moment. "Merry Christmas, Scott," she said, friendly, pleasant. Eyes sparkling.

He smiled back. "Merry Christmas, Jean." As she stood there, Logan came up behind her, and caught her around the waist, pulling her off balance as she screamed slightly. Scott nodded to him, a little stiffly. "Merry Christmas to you as well, Logan."

Logan returned the nod, the half-smile on his face declaring he knew exactly how much that casual line cost Scott. "To you as well, Slim."

Scott turned away, surveying the room. Raucous, crowded, but full of good cheer. Screaming students throwing streamers and peanuts. John and Bobby spiking the punch, but he'd pretend he didn't see that. The Professor surveying everything from his chair, surrounded by the essence of Christmas spirit - a family the size of which had never been seen before, with all its struggles and problems and loves. And yet, even smack bang in the middle of all this, seated between Ororo and Kitty, he felt isolated, alone.

He watched as Logan and Jean wrestled with their Christmas cracker. Jean took the paper hat, and placed it on Logan's head, laughing all the while. Last year it had been him, Scott, sitting beside Jean, wearing the paper crown, leaning over to kiss her like that. But not this year. Not for months. Not since Logan came back.

He made it through the meal, but fled as soon as he could, squeezing out of the room between two giggling girls. The corridor was dark, cool and blessedly empty. Half a dozen steps down from the dining hall, he paused, leaning his forehead against the cool wood of the wall with a faint *tink* from his glasses. The blood in his temples beat against his skull. He felt a headache building. In the old days, Jean would have given him a scalp massage. Before everything he'd planned for his life fell to pieces.

With a sudden burst of noise, the door to the dining room was opened, light spilling out into his haven. Scott reached for the nearest door, fleeing through, away from this intrusion. Into the den, more cozy than usual tonight, with a fire lit, and the heavy drapes drawn against the cold night outside. There were two deep leather armchairs pulled up by the fire, and Scott crossed the room, dropping into one and sinking into its creaking depths. It was peaceful, isolated, and he leaned his head back.

His seclusion was not to be, however. He was barely settled when there came a faint tap at the door. His brow creased in a frown; ignore it, Scott, and maybe it will go away. The knock was repeated, a little louder, a few moments later. Obviously whoever was knocking was not going to be fobbed off with silence. "Come in!" he called.

The door opened, then shut quietly. The muffled sound of heels coming closer, then Ororo came into his circle of vision. Scott realised with a jolt how stunning she looked tonight, in a silver sequined halter top and tailored black trousers that flattered and displayed her wonderful figure. With her hair almost glowing white in the firelight, she looked like a monochrome delight. She was holding two glasses, passing one to him. He took an experimental sip as she sank into the chair opposite him.

"Punch," he diagnosed correctly. "You know John and Bobby added a little something extra."

"So you did nothing about it as well," she replied with a smile, stretching out her long legs and crossing her ankles.

Her smile was easy to return. "Well, what with it being the season to be jolly, and all the young kids already in bed, I figured it couldn't hurt."

"You are most likely right." Ororo took a sip of her own punch, and waited until he had done the same before she continued: "Would you like to talk about it?"

Scott knew she didn't mean the punch. "No. Not particularly."

She gazed into the fire. It bathed her face with a warm glow. Scott wondered what sort of light it brought out in his glasses. "I saw you leave the dinner," she noted. "I did not think you were going to the bathroom."

Scott shrugged, turning his half-full glass of punch in his hands. "I just didn't want to be there any more."

"The atmosphere was a little overwhelming," Ororo agreed blandly.

He wasn't fooled. "I said I didn't want to talk about it."

"I think you should talk about it."

The directness of her eyes on his was almost startling, but he swallowed it. "Why?"

Ororo's turn to shrug, and look back at the fire, breaking the eye contact. "Because it has been months since you and Jean broke up, and you have not discussed it with anyone."

They sat in silence, Ororo looking into the fire, Scott looking at her. The firelight was striking sparks off the sequins on her top, he noticed. The circle of light seemed gathered close around them, these two in the chairs by the fire's warmth. Very cozy, so close that if Scott leaned forward, he could reach out and touch her hand, lying on the arm of her chair. The other one held her empty cup - when had she finished all her punch? A warm atmosphere, a good friend... and Scott realised he did want to talk.

So he did.

"I dreamt about her, you know," he began in a low voice, no change in Ororo's posture indicating she was listening, or had even heard him, but somehow he was sure she had. He let his head fall back, into the stiff embrace of the leather armchair, as the memories came tumbling out as words. "The same dream, from the first moment we met. Just like that moment, she comes towards me in the Professor's office. But then things get - ah - different." No blush on his cheeks, just the warmth of the fire. "I've never had those sort of dreams about anyone else, just Jean."

So easy once he started talking. Why hadn't he done this earlier? It was like a burden removed from his chest. "I don't think it was Logan's fault, really. I think Jean and I were deluding ourselves. Neither of us were very experienced, and we just took our relationship for love. We were such good friends, so close, so comfortable... it was all so easy, but it was never heated. Logan just... exemplified the possibilities we were missing. We were falling apart long before he came back. That was just the catalyst, the thing that prompted the action."

At some point she'd stopped looking at the fire, and started watching him. The light cast half her face into shadows, delineating her fine features. "I am sure you were not so philosophical about all this at the time," she said quietly.

Scott laughed a little. "Of course not. Logan was there, and obnoxious, and so easy to blame. And it was so difficult, because it wasn't just Jean flirting with him, it seemed to be the entire female population of this place. Why was that, Ororo? What's so fascinating about him?"

"He is wild," she answered, without hesitation. "He is untamed, out of control. He is something thrilling and animalistic, and just maybe they could tame him."

Something in her voice, in her face made him ask: "They? Not you?"

No change in expression as Ororo shook her head a fraction. "I have all the forces of nature at my fingertips, Scott. Do you honestly think the prospect of taming one man, however wild, excites me?" She laughed then. "Besides, I admire control and restraint. He has neither." She tipped the punch glass up to her mouth, catching the last tiny dribble. "So, if you are reconciled to the end of your relationship with Jean, why did you flee the party tonight?"

Scott let out a long sigh, sinking back into the chair. "Memories," he admitted. "The ghosts of Christmas past. Perhaps they're the last step - the only things I have left to renounce, to recover from."

With a creak of leather, Ororo stood, pure grace. "Hiding from them will only make them stronger," she admonished, and held out her hand to him. "Come. You must face your ghosts."

She was right, and it would be cold and lonely here without her, and suddenly it seemed too difficult to wrestle with all of this by himself. Far easier to drain his punch, and place his hand in hers, and let her lead him back to the party, with all its noise and bustle and Logan and Jean.

Dinner was well and truly over. An impromptu dance floor had sprung up at one end of the room, with Rogue and Bobby apparently playing DJs. Conversation groups were scattered through the room. Scott trailed vaguely after Ororo, making a conscious effort not to scan the room for that familiar red hair. They stopped by the refreshment table.

"They are in the far corner," Ororo noted, taking his glass and refilling both it and hers with punch.

"I didn't want to know," Scott muttered.

"I know. But not knowing is just a different sort of hiding."

She was right. Again. He turned to look, spying them easily through the crowd in between. Sitting on a couch in the corner, close, his arm around her shoulders, although Jean was talking with one of the students. Unconscious. Scott used to do that. But not any more. No more. Still a pang, but a good pang. A healthy feeling, not a bitter twisting. He turned back to Ororo, who looked faintly pleased.

"Part two of your therapy," she said, "is to dance."

His response was automatic. "I don't dance."

She smiled, that smile that was so easy to return. "I know that too," she noted, passing him his glass of punch.

He looked at it. "It's going to take more than one of these to get me on a dancefloor."

In the end, all it took was for her to hold her hand out again. She led him to the centre of the knot of dancers, who stepped apart for the sight of Mr Summers dancing. The song playing was something indistinguishably modern, with a thumping bass, light melody and moaning vocals.

He had no idea what he was supposed to be doing.

Ororo rolled her eyes slightly, and smiled up at him. "Come on, Scott. You can dance." She stepped closer to him. Taking his hands and placing them on her hips, her own hands holding them there, she began to move slowly with the beat. "You can feel the rhythm," she said, more quietly now that they were so much closer. "You are in control."

And Scott realised that he did feel the rhythm. At first he mimicked her movements, but soon it flowed through him, and he moved himself to the music. She smiled at him, raised her hands to his shoulders, and let him lead for the short remainder of the song. As the music died down, she stepped back a little. "You are a natural," she congratulated him with a broad smile, before leaning in to ask conspiratorially. "And how are the ghosts?"

He smiled back. "What ghosts?"

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