The Great Marriage Boondoggle
AUTHOR'S E-MAIL: [email protected] Feedback is better than chocolate.
PERMISSION TO ARCHIVE: Yes, just let me know.
CATEGORY: S/J, Humor, romance, action, drama, more or less in that order
RATINGS/WARNINGS: PG for a little mild innuendo
SUMMARY: Spring fever hits the school and Jean has just the solution.
DISCLAIMER: The X-Men and the X-Men movieverse belong to Marvel and Twentieth-Century Fox and other entities with expensive lawyers.
NOTES: I suppose this is sort of a prequel to my Baby series, in a "Mara's view of the movieverse" kind of way. (Oh, and I'm randomly throwing in comic characters wherever I want them. Hey, I needed more students and teachers.) My early reviewers know who they are, and thanks for suggestions. Special gigantic thanks go to Min for pushing me to write the *whole* story, even when I wanted to be lazy and skip the most important parts because they were *hard*. Big hugs for nipping my laziness in the bud, and sure enough, this story is vastly better for it.
DEDICATION: To Avi, who solved a plot dilemma early on a Sunday morning, before I even had a chance to finish explaining it. Thanks, love, that's what marriage is all about.
* * * * *
Scott and Jean's bedroom was a fascinating mix of their personalities.
It ranged from painfully neat to dreadfully messy depending on the day of the month, time of the year, and whether one of them had gotten frustrated looking for something. The dresser was generally covered in hairbrushes, hand lotion, and earrings, and the chair often held unshelved books and unironed pants. The decorations were minimal, as neither Scott nor Jean was inclined to waste a great deal of time on knick-knacks or color schemes.
But amidst the clutter of two busy lives, you could find a few clues about the couple; for instance, a framed photo of a redwood forest, a human skull (actually realistic-looking plastic, but Jean never told students that), a blue flowered throw rug, and a few charming crayon portraits done by the younger students.
The two teachers didn't spend a great deal of time in their room, but the time they spent was precious, because this was the only room in which they were guaranteed privacy. Not that students didn't knock on their door at all times of day or night, but no student without a death wish would open this door without permission.
So, the bedroom was where conversations they didn't wish to have overheard took place, where they were able to vent their frustrations and speak freely to their spouse.
On this particular evening, Scott flopped bonelessly onto the bed and looked up at Jean. She crossed her arms and leaned against the dresser. "Rough day?"
"Spring," he said, flinging an arm across his eyes dramatically, "when a young man's thoughts turn to-"
He moved his arm and stared up at her in mock dismay. "And you're the telepath? Good grief, we're doomed." She reached over and whapped him with a pillow. "No," he said, grinning around the edge of the pillow, "a young man's thoughts turn to sex, of course. And this is nowhere more evident than among our upper-level students."
Jean laughed and sat on the bed next to him, stroking his forehead lightly. "Ah, yes, what was I thinking?"
Scott tossed the pillow away and put his hands behind his head. "The kids are absolutely impossible this time of year. Flowers blooming, hormones springing up all over..."
"It's not just the boys."
"You're right. This afternoon, even Kitty divided her time between staring longingly at various boys and staring longingly out the window."
Jean started to say something, but closed her mouth as a wondering expression spread across her face.
Scott reached out through their psilink, but all he got was a vast sense of amusement. "Jean?"
She blinked, then focused on him. "Hmm?"
"Oh, I've just had a wonderful idea." She gave him a wicked grin, and he felt a little nervous. "Why don't we take advantage of this natural propensity?"
"I've always meant to introduce one of those exercises where the students have to take care of an egg or a sack of flour to learn about being a parent."
"Please," Scott said with a sniff, "eggs don't *begin* to represent the difficulties of parenting."
"I know. But what if we make the kids pretend to be married? Pair them up, make them create a household budget, essentially live together?"
"Are you *trying* to encourage sex?"
Jean waved off his objection. "We'll put the fear of the Professor in them. Trust me, if they're going to have sex, they'll do it anyway. You're a man, you should know that."
Scott contemplated the ceiling for a long moment as he ran the plan through his mind and it came up cherries. He started to grin. "Oh, this could be *very* interesting."
"And educational," he said quickly.
"Mm-hmm." Jean lay down on the bed beside him and they started to plan.
* * * * *
The Professor was a little less sanguine about the whole thing, but he finally agreed when his two oldest students practically begged. The other teachers also signed on, although Warren raised an imperious eyebrow and predicted the whole thing would be a hell of a lot more trouble than it was worth.
* * * * *
At a hastily-organized assembly of the upperclassmen three days later, Jean and Scott presented the new project. Gathered in one of the larger classrooms, the students waited, shuffling their feet, cracking gum, tapping pens, and applying make-up. It could almost have been any American classroom, except for Kitty putting her hand through a desk to check for paper, and the way Remy kept kinetically charging up small objects to watch them pop.
But Jean and Scott were so accustomed to these little details that Jean closed Jubilee's compact with the same off-hand air that Scott had when he swept Remy's debris into a handy trash can. The students eventually settled down and Jean and Scott stood in front of them with an air of excitement.
"For one week," Scott said, "you will all pretend to be married."
Rustling and whispering, then snickering, followed this statement.
Scott ignored them and continued. "We will assign your partners," he said to the accompaniment of groans, "and in the coming week, you will have a series of assignments to complete together."
"The ground rules are," Jean said, "you must spend all waking hours that are not spent in class together. However, there will be no sleeping together." Groans mixed with nervous laughter. "You must do your daily activities together. And by together we mean the same activity, not just in the same room. If one of you wants to watch television, both of you watch television. If one of you wants to play ping-pong, both of you play."
"You're going to learn about partnership and compromise," Scott said. "Or else you're going to drive each other nuts." That got genuine laughter.
"Can I ask which you and Dr. Grey have done?" St. John piped up from the back of the room.
"No," Jean and Scott said at the same time. They grinned at each other, and Jean continued, "Here are the pairs: Rogue and Bobby, Jubilee and Remy, Kitty and St. John, Betsy and Jono, Rahne and Kurt, Dani and Sam, Paige and Angelo."
Immediately, various students poked each other in the ribs, snickered, and pointed. The established couples blushed furiously, and the others tried to look aloof. Sam mock-glared at Angelo on the other side of the room. "You better take good care o' my little sister."
"You betcha, bro," Angelo said, sketching a salute as Paige rolled her eyes.
They divided students into their pairs for the first activity: planning their wedding.
Scott tried not to laugh as Jubilee and Remy fought over where to hold the event (words like "swamp" and "soulless desert" could be heard from their corner of the room), and Kurt and Rahne settled in happily to pick favorite hymns and bible verses for the service.
**Looks like we succeeded in engaging their interest,** he thought to Jean, receiving a strong sensation of smug in return.
Listening to the students bicker reminded Scott of his own wedding, in the very recent past. //When I told the Professor I wanted a simple wedding, I'm surprised he didn't laugh at me. When I told Jean I'd created battle plans, so how hard could a wedding be...she did laugh. So hard that Logan came into the living room to see what was going on.//
Scott looked at Jean, sitting beside Dani, head tilted as she listened to the teen, and he thanked whatever fates controlled his life that she was his wife.
//After all the drama of planning, the wedding didn't go too badly. As we figured, my parents refused to show and hers, well, they didn't spit at me, so that can be considered a bonus.//
Although he wasn't sending his thoughts, Jean obviously felt them, and she looked up. A tiny smile chased across her face, a smile meant just for him.
**Thinking about our wedding?** she asked.
**Maybe you *are* a telepath,** he responded.
**Ha ha, very funny.**
They paused briefly while Jean moved over one seat to mediate between Jubilee and Remy.
**At least we didn't disagree on where the ceremony would take place,** Jean said when she was done.
**People pay a great deal of money to rent mansions not nearly as nice as this one.**
**I was surprised my parents didn't object more strongly to the non-sectarian ceremony.**
**I'm sure the Professor had a hand in that. He might not meddle with their minds, but I doubt he'd object to awing them into submission.**
Jean chuckled. **I think you're right. They've always been slightly awed by him. New Money faced with Old Money.**
**Do you actually remember the wedding?** Scott asked.
**Not really. I remember how beautiful 'Ro looked in the bridesmaid's dress. And how handsome you looked in the tuxedo. Oh, and our first dance.**
**I don't remember how 'Ro looked. I only had eyes for you.**
**Liar,** Jean thought, but Scott could feel her pleasure.
Betsy's voice pulled him from the conversation.
"You *must* be joking." In those four words, the young British telepath managed to convey her disdain for her partner Jono, her embarrassment at being involved in this project, and her conviction that everyone else would agree with her.
//Is that part of her mutation or could she *always* do that?// Scott wondered with some amusement, as heads turned to look at her.
Jono looked stubborn, quite the accomplishment with only the upper half of his face and body language with which to convey emotion. However, his annoyance could be seen in the minor leakage of plasma from his chest.
Jean nodded to Scott to show she'd handle the situation, and he went back to contemplating the other couples.
//Bobby and Rogue will do just fine on this part. The fun will come later.// He could see their heads bent together over a piece of paper, making up an invitation list. Scott smiled to himself as Bobby carefully diverted his "wife" away from thinking about her estrangement from her parents. //There's hope for him yet.//
"What do you mean, not get married in a church?" John asked incredulously. He'd been sulking in a corner and letting Kitty make most of the plans, nodding now and then to show he was listening.
Scott headed over to their seats, knowing what was coming. //Intervene now or let it heat up?// He looked at Kitty's face. //Intervene, I think.//
Sliding smoothly into a seat facing both of them, Scott asked, "So, how's the wedding going?"
Kitty crossed her arms and glared at her partner. "This...this...goniff wants me to get married in some skanky church."
Scott smothered his grin. "I know what the word goniff means, you know." John looked like he wanted to ask, but hated to admit ignorance.
Her fair skin turned blotchy as she blushed. "I just couldn't get married in a church, Mr. Summers. Even if I was marrying him. I mean, I'm still Jewish."
John looked confused. "But you don't do any Jewish stuff, so why do you care?"
"Well, I don't see you doing any Christian stuff," she snapped, "unless eating Christmas cookies counts."
John couldn't quite figure out how to counter that. "But...that's what people do, they get married in a church."
"Not my people." Kitty's expression was implacable.
//Okay, time to jump in again,// Scott thought. //It only goes downhill from here.// "There are plenty of nonreligious options," he said. "Judge, ship captain, justice of the peace. Perhaps one of those might be more appropriate."
Kitty nodded vigorously. "That'd be fine. Just as long as there's no Jesus stuff involved."
"Is that okay, John?" Scott asked, and the teen nodded, a little reluctantly perhaps, but as long as he agreed, it was enough. "Well, then I'll leave you two to keep planning."
When all the wedding plans were finally turned in (from Dani and Sam's small and inoffensive ceremony to Rogue and Bobby's extravaganza), they dismissed the kids for the rest of the day.
"Remember," Jean said, "you're stuck with each other for the rest of the week, so behave."
"If you have any problems, you know where to find us, or ask one of the other teachers," Scott said. "Oh, and you can start thinking about tomorrow's assignment, creating a family budget."
The teenagers jostled their way out, already arguing about how they were going to spend the rest of the afternoon.
**I think the concept is beginning to sink in,** Jean thought to him as she chivvied the last students out the door. **They're enjoying this.**
**Good,** he replied. **Softens them up for the difficult bits still to come.**
**You're evil, Scott. I like that in a man.**
* * * * *
In between grading algebra exams that afternoon, Scott amused himself by wandering around the mansion to check on the students' progress. Kurt and Rahne were curled up under an oak tree reading, and they looked (in his opinion) absolutely adorable. Rahne had taken to wearing her half-wolf form more often, since Ororo had overheard Kurt saying he thought it was beautiful. Scott had to resist the urge to pat them both on the head, because they would undoubtedly resent it.
After playing basketball for a few minutes with some of the younger kids, he found Jubilee and Remy working off their aggressions in the gym conducting a "can you top this" display of gymnastics. Remy executed a vault so intricate that Scott couldn't quite work out what was involved, and his eyes widened. //Wow, if we've inspired these two this much, I can count the whole exercise a success right now. Always assuming they don't kill each other, of course.//
Not wanting to interrupt, he left the two of them to their competition and continued his ramble. Noise drew him toward the front of the mansion, and to the door of the rec room.
Logan was stationed just inside the door, probably to enjoy the festivities, and he flashed a sardonic smile at Scott when the latter leaned in to see what all the commotion was about.
Scott blinked in mild astonishment at the sight of Paige and Angelo having a screaming fight in the middle of the room, with many of the rest of the kids cheering for one side or the other.
"I can't believe I'm stuck with *you* for the next week," Paige yelled, foot stamping on the floor and hair flailing like Medusa's snakes. "You're such a *jerk*!"
Scott's eyebrows rose, just as the Professor contacted him. **Scott? Is everything all right down there? There's a great deal of agitation, and I am in the middle of a rather serious phone call.**
**That developer again? Don't interrupt the call, everything's under control. Just a bit of an altercation. I'll handle it.**
Since it didn't look like it was going to erupt into immediate physical violence, Scott sidled closer to Logan. The room was loud enough that nobody even noticed his entrance. "What happened?" he asked.
With the air of a man who firmly believes he isn't a gossip, Logan leaned over and said, "Well, Angelo wanted to watch WWF, and Paige informed him that professional wrestling was 'uncouth' and 'puerile,' not to mention fake."
Scott stared at him. "They're arguing over wrestling?"
"No," Logan said, shaking his head, "they're arguing because Angelo called her a 'ho with no taste.'"
Scott closed his eyes and groaned. "Well, not exactly the best start to a marriage. At least they didn't hit each other."
Scott glared through his glasses at the other man. "Thanks for the optimism. I guess I'd better break this up." And he waded into the mass of teens, dragging out a chastened Paige and Angelo. Logan just laughed at him as he left the room.
* * * * *
"So, what did you do with the happy couple?" Jean asked, leaning against his office doorframe an hour later. She'd obviously just come out of the lab, as bits of her hair were wisping out of their bun.
Scott looked up from the geometry textbook he was considering adopting for next year. "Hmm?"
His wife looked amused, her lips quirked into a small smile. "Paige and Angelo?"
"Oh, you've heard."
"It's the talk of the school," she said.
Scott leaned back in his chair, grinning. "I just gave them a little marital counseling."
He put on a serious expression, and folded his hands in front of him. "I believe I suggested that name-calling was rarely constructive. I made some suggestions on the art of compromise. Oh yes, and I sent them both off to watch your tape of the Branagh and Thompson version of 'Much Ado About Nothing.'"
She smiled. "Cruel man."
"Do you think they'll understand the message?"
He shrugged. "You never know. Stranger things have happened. Did you just come by to ask about Paige and Angelo?"
"That, and to see if you were planning to eat dinner."
Scott looked at the clock on his desk. "Oh, I didn't realize how late it was. Yes, I'm on my way."
* * * * *
The events of that night's dinner were not exactly what Scott had in mind when they planned the marriage project. In years to come, he would wince when reminded of the effects of plasma fireworks on macaroni and cheese. Not to mention how long it took to get stewed tomatoes off the ceiling.
He could never remember exactly how it all started--which Jean insisted was a psychological defense mechanism--but his memory began right about the time the plate of peas landed in his lap. He might have been willing to ignore a flung pea or two, in the interest of high spirits, restricting his response to a generic glare around the room to maintain his hard-ass reputation. But an entire plate (plate and all) flying across the room, over Jean's head, to land in his lap...that was a bit much.
In the moments after it landed, dead silence dropped across the room, a heavy blanket composed of student fear and teacher astonishment. It lasted for about ten seconds, during which time Scott simply stared across the room at the obvious culprits (the ones with the guilty expressions on their faces and peas stuck in their hair and fur).
Then, in that critical moment when Scott was preparing to stop the entire thing, several of the kids apparently decided if they were in trouble, they might as well have a little more fun. Almost simultaneously, Remy charged up a bunch of grapes, Jubilee hefted her macaroni and cheese, Jono readied his tomatoes, and Angelo started in on someone else's peas.
Scott's eyes widened and he started to yell, but it was too late. Jean did her best to telekinetically shield the teacher's table as grapes began popping right over their heads, showering them with pulp. That was followed by the macaroni and stewed tomatoes, and peas that whipped around the room like tiny guided missiles.
Scott's face was bright red, the Professor looked more or less apoplectic, and then...
Ororo started to laugh.
The joyous sound bounced off the ceiling (right near the tomatoes) and set almost everyone off. Within minutes, the entire room was laughing, even Scott.
However, by the time the situation had been sorted out and everyone safely sent off to bed, Scott was having second thoughts. He expressed them to Jean that evening as they got ready to go to sleep.
"Maybe Warren was right," he said to her as she washed her face. Watching Jean was one of his favorite activities, so he stood within arm's reach, leaning against the marble sink.
She scrubbed a citrusy-smelling liquid across her nose and considered his statement. "No, I don't think so. Certainly, Warren predicted trouble, but I think the kids will learn enough to make it worthwhile."
She leaned over to rinse off the liquid and Scott couldn't resist any longer. Swinging around, he stood directly behind her and leaned his body against hers so he could put his arms around her waist and squeeze. He bent over and nibbled on the back of her neck.
Laughing, she sputtered through the water dripping down her face. "You do realize that doesn't make this process any easier?"
"Of course. I'm not here to make things easier." But he let her finish her evening routine and they slid into bed, automatically spooning together. Eventually, when they started to fall asleep, he'd turn over, but they always started the night in this position.
But Scott found himself thinking instead of falling asleep as he nuzzled up against Jean's neck. He felt her roll over and rest a hand on the side of his face. "What's wrong, Scott? I can feel you worrying and it makes my head itch."
"I'm not worrying exactly," he said. "Thinking. About us. About partnership."
Jean stroked his hair and he sighed with pleasure. "We're a pretty good team," she said.
"We teach together. Run the school together. We're X-Men together. But we can't exactly model a normal life for the kids. We don't have to do most of the things we're having them do in this exercise."
"Do you think they don't understand that?" She snuggled in closer, resting her forehead against his. "But this exercise isn't really about teaching them to budget or raise children. It's about conflict resolution and compromise. And that we *can* model for them."
Kissing her on the lips, Scott thought about what she'd said. "I suppose I'm wishing for them the childhood I had until..." He trailed off and she pinched his side. "Hey, what was that for?"
"No moping," she said. "We're providing the most normal childhood we can under the circumstances."
The Great Marriage Boondoggle (as Warren was calling the project) hadn't cancelled *all* the classes, so the kids had some short breaks from their spouses the next day. Scott noticed with some amusement that his students had stopped flirting in class, although there was still some staring out the window to contend with. Jean suggested they work with that and hold this day's session outside, so the students convened on the front lawn. The sun beamed happily down on the impossibly bright grass (kept that way through hard labor and copious application of the Professor's fortune).
As he waited for the rest of the students to arrive, Scott sat on a bench enjoying the view of the school grounds, the oak trees, meticulously-laid flower beds, and the garden statuary. He idly wondered how long a developer would need to ruin it all by building condominiums.
Sprawling on the ground like puppies exhausted from a romp, the students started their next assignment. (That is, after the obligatory complaints about insects, grass stains, lacking pen or paper, things forgotten inside...)
"We've assigned each of you a salary," Jean began from her perch on a bench next to Scott.
"When do I start getting it?" Bobby piped up with a grin. "And doesn't this mean I don't have to finish high school?"
Jean laughed. "Sorry to disappoint you, but it's all pretend money. You each have a salary as well as a list of the expenses you need to account for. Now, to make this doable in a day, we haven't included *everything* you would deal with in real life. But there's enough to give you an idea."
Scott picked up from there. "You have until tomorrow morning to finish this, but it's going to take longer than yesterday because you'll need to do some research on prices. We've given you approximated costs for expenses you'd have difficulty estimating on short notice: mortgage, health insurance, groceries. But we want you to be realistic about everything else. If you budget for a movie every weekend as part of your entertainment, use the actual cost of a movie here in town, plus popcorn and a soda. Use the web or advertising to determine the prices of anything you don't know."
"This is just basic math," Kitty said with some disappointment, as John glared at her. "We just have to make the numbers add up."
Jean smiled at Scott as she answered. "First, you need to *agree* on the math. Second, I think you'll be surprised, if you try to be realistic, how easy it is for your numbers to not add up."
"Before you leave this afternoon," Scott said, "we want to see a list of the items you want to include in the budget. Don't worry for the moment about costs, just list everything you think the two of you need to live."
The kids huddled over their papers to begin the budgeting process, and Jean and Scott settled back to enjoy the sun and wait for the inevitable.
Scott had just finished preparing an assignment for his statistics class, when the first cries arose into the cloudless sky.
"How can you *possibly* buy that much clothing?" Bobby asked, looking absolutely astonished.
**That's what I wanna know,** Jono broadcast to everyone.
Rogue and Betsy exchanged identical glances of exasperation over their recalcitrant spouses.
Jean was broadcasting so much amusement through their link, it was all Scott could do to keep from laughing.
"I mean, you can't need to buy new clothing every week. Can you?" Bobby's voice sounded a bit incensed now.
Rogue sat up from where she'd been lying in the grass and put her hands on her hips. "Well, what would *you* know about it, Mister 'I'd Wear the Same Pants Every Day If I Could'?"
"Really," Betsy chimed in. "I can't imagine why you're picking on my clothing habits, Jono. Surely you must have to replace your oh-so-goth wardrobe now and then. Not that we could tell."
**Yeah, but not every day. And my clothing doesn't cost a tenth of what yours does.**
"Well," Betsy retorted, "at least *I* don't feel the need to buy every CD put out by every band in America."
**Okay,** Jean thought to Scott, **I think it's time for me to step in.**
He nodded and continued to monitor the rest of the students. Things went fairly well for another half hour, until the rise of a debate on thriftiness and spending, with Kurt, Rahne, Dani, Sam, Paige, and Jono on one side, and the other kids opposing.
"When our Mom used a paper towel to dry her hands, she didn't throw it out, she let it air dry, so she could use it again," Sam said, practically growling. Paige nodded vigorously beside him.
"Why th' hell would she do that? Paper towels are meant to be thrown out, that's why we *have* them." John looked like he couldn't decide if he was amused or annoyed at the others' obtuseness.
"Because we couldn't afford to buy lots of them," Paige said. "With all the kids, Mom had to make every penny count."
"Well, we don't have that many kids," Jubilee said, "and between the two of us we make plenty of money, so I don't see why we've gotta be as careful as all that."
Scott was about to interject, but he shut his mouth and sat back when Dani jumped in. "My parents always did that, too," she said. "Even during the times we *had* money, we did the same things, because you never know what's going to happen."
**Yeah,** Jono said, **what if one of you loses a job? When m'dad lost his, we hadn't saved anything, and it was bloody rough for a while.**
The debate raged for a good ten minutes before Jean and Scott called a halt to it, sending the teams back to their respective corners to resume their task.
**I think I've learned something from the kids today,** Jean sent, her mental voice sounding thoughtful.
Scott sent back his agreement. **Neither of us came from poor families. We weren't in Warren's league, but we were never hungry, never lacked for things. Then, the Professor took us in. We've probably taken possessions and money for granted as much as the other kids have.**
**I've never taken you for granted.**
**Love you, Red.**
**Love you, too, Cyclops.**
* * * * *
Jean was tidying when Scott finally made it to the bedroom that evening. The dresser was almost entirely clear, and she'd even dusted. He found her cross-legged on the bed, peering with suspicion at a book, when he opened the door.
"Where, oh where," she asked, eyebrows rising as she looked up at him, "did we acquire a copy of 'Passion and Promise'?" The paperback--which she held up gingerly between two fingers--featured a scantily-clad couple embracing on a generic beach. Scott peered a little closer, trying to decide exactly where the woman's hands were placed. "Scott?"
"Hmm? Oh, where did we get it?" He tilted his head to one side. "It's not yours?"
Her eyes narrowed. "You know I *hate* these things."
"Maybe it's 'Ro's?" He tried his most innocent tones. "She's very fond of beaches and scanty clothing."
He grinned at her, unrepentant. "Actually, I confiscated it when Jubilee was trying to read in class a few days ago. I suppose I forgot to return it." He plucked the book from her fingers and dropped it by the door. "Must remember to do so tomorrow. I'd rather she read that than nothing at all."
Sweeping Jean off the bed and bending her over his arm (causing her to drop the other books she was holding), Scott intoned, "Jean, my darling, run away with me. Leave behind your sordid life, and let us spend the rest of our days together on a sunny beach, with no care greater than sunburn."
She chuckled, holding onto him to keep from falling over. "It would be nice, wouldn't it? I think that's why I hate those romance novels."
"Nonsense, a little harmless escapism," Scott said, kissing her nose and putting her back on her feet.
"It's not the beach that bothers me," she said, picking up the books she'd dropped on the floor. "It's the godawful unrealistic view of relationships the kids get. Not to mention the unrealistic view of sex."
Scott compressed his lips, but couldn't help himself, "You mean my throbbing-"
"Be quiet," she said, glaring at him and trying to look stern.
His serious expression failed miserably, but he managed to convert his laugh into a cough. "Yes, you were saying?"
She shook her head and sat back down on the bed. "It's just that a steady diet of these romance novels gives the kids the impression that romance is everything. Every woman should fall in love at first sight--the right man will show up, sweep you off your feet, and you'll live happily ever after."
"You know, last night you were telling me I didn't give the kids enough credit to understand that we don't lead a normal life. Now, I think you don't give them enough credit to understand that these books are fantasy. That romance is a little more complicated than it's portrayed and sex isn't as neat and tidy."
"I suppose you're right," Jean said with a sigh.
"Were you traumatized by a romance novel at an early age?" he teased, sitting next to her on the bed and putting his arm around her shoulder.
Leaning her head against his, she asked, "How do we show them that love has bad parts and good parts?"
Scott smiled. "Oh, there are good parts?" He turned his head and kissed her gently.
"Of course," she murmured against his lips.
"Then don't second-guess yourself. The kids will get there when they're ready," Scott said as he drew his wife back onto the bed.
* * * * *
The subsequent days followed the same pattern: classes in the morning, meeting for a marriage-related activity in the afternoon, and bickering students in the evening.
Certain moments stood out in Scott's memories of the week, however.
* * * * *
It was back to the classroom as the students figured out how to divide up household chores. Astoundingly, trouble came in the form of Dani and Sam--the couple usually voted least likely to cause trouble for the teachers--and a culture clash. "What does this bit say?" Sam asked, squinting at Dani's suggested division of labor.
She leaned over the desk and read upside-down. "Minding the children."
"But for that many hours a week?" Sam looked honestly confused.
So did Dani. "Yeah. So what?"
"Isn't that your job?"
"What do you mean, 'my job?' They're your kids, too." She eyed Sam like he was an alien. Their accord from the previous day, over the issues of thriftiness and poverty, was apparently over.
* * * * *
The walls of the classroom echoed with raised voices, as the couples wrangled over career issues, such as what to do if both were offered good jobs in different locations. Scott made a mental note to check the vents to this room, as the air conditioning didn't seem to be working very well. Or possibly John was more annoyed than he looked. Scott wandered over to check on Kitty and John, but they seemed to be dealing fairly well with their challenge.
Scanning the room to see where he might be needed, Scott's eyes landed on Angelo, who looked smug as he passed his paper over to Paige. Scott had long ago decided that a smug Angelo was an Angelo who was probably going to get slapped, so he drifted toward the pair.
Paige's eyes widened and her eyebrows rose as she read what Angelo had written. "Are you really this dumb, or is it an act?" she asked.
Scott stifled an inappropriate chuckle as the blonde girl asked a question that he'd been longing to ask for over a year.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Angelo asked. Scott could see other conversations slow and stop as the kids tuned in for possible entertainment.
"Did you even stop to think that I might *like* my job?" Paige's voice began to rise precipitously. "What makes you think I'm gonna follow you around the country like a calf that's lost its momma?"
Angelo looked dumbfounded.
"Why shouldn't *you* have to follow me?" Paige asked.
"Well...you're...you're..." Angelo stopped. Scott leaned against a desk, pleased the boy at least had enough sense to not finish that sentence.
"I'm *what*?" Paige asked ominously, hands clenched in front of her. "A woman? What does that have to do with anything?"
//Oh well. At least Angelo didn't say it.//
"Well," Angelo began, "I mean," his eyes brightened as he found an out, "I make more money than you do. So, shouldn't my job come first? Whadda ya think, Mr. Summers?"
Scott was amused by the blatant plea for help. "I think that depends on whether money is your motivation in life."
Most of the listening kids looked blank, and Scott shot a thought off to his wife. **Ah, a teachable moment, but why do I think I'm going to have a hard time convincing them money isn't everything?** He could hear her chuckle in his mind, and she settled in along with the kids to await his answer.
Scott took a deep breath. "Look, if the most important thing to you is wealth, then sure, you should go where the money is. But what if the highest-paying job you could find was in," he paused and looked around, "Alaska, Remy?"
The Cajun paled and shook his head firmly. "Non," he said, "not enough money in de world to take me dere. Too cold and lonely."
Scott turned to Rahne. "And what if the highest-paying job was working for Senator Kelly?"
She frowned. "I could ne'er work for someone like him."
"Neither could I," Scott said, smiling at her. "My point is, there are factors to consider other than money."
Jean spoke up from the other side of the room, and heads turned. "Do you think that my first choice of occupations was teacher and part-time superhero, with an occasional break to splint broken arms?"
There was some laughter from students, and a few thoughtful looks. Kurt asked, "What *did* you want to do?"
Scott sent his love through their link as she spoke. "Medicine, medical research," she said quietly. "But I'm needed here."
Jean was trying to catch the eyes of each student as she spoke. "That's the thing about being a grownup. Sometimes you have to do what's best for other people instead of yourself."
"Sometimes," Scott said, "part of teamwork is doing things you didn't want to do, or not doing the things you really wanted. That's life. If you make the best of it, instead of complaining, you end up a lot happier."
Scott saw a lot of thoughtful looks from the kids that afternoon.
* * * * *
After the drama of the previous day, the assignment to plan a vacation was good for several chuckles. Jean and Scott decorated the classroom with festive travel brochures and helped the students compare the merits of beaches, mountains, and cities.
Jubilee and Remy were in complete agreement for once, settling almost immediately on lazing around a beach in St. Thomas. "It's warm and sunny," Jubilee said with satisfaction, Remy nodding furiously beside her.
Betsy, on the other hand, turned up her nose at every suggestion made by Jono. Jono was broadcasting clearly enough that Jean could pick him up, and she passed it on to Scott for the entertainment value.
**Where the bloody hell do you want to go?** Jono "shouted" so loudly that all conversations in the room stopped and everyone turned to look at him. Betsy pursed her lips and stared down her nose at him, and he slammed his fist into his forehead repeatedly. They eventually settled on a combined trip to San Francisco and Hawai'i, which Scott thought was a little odd, but he wasn't about to interfere in any agreement between the fractious pair.
* * * * *
When the students tried to set out their rules for raising children, cultural clashes came to a head. The assignment was made more difficult when half the students tried to insist they were never even *having* children, so why did they need to do this activity at all?
Moments after handing out the assignments, Scott turned to see Rogue almost in tears. **Jean? I think I need to talk to Rogue and Bobby privately. We'll be out in the hallway if you need us.**
**Got it,** Jean said, without missing a syllable in her conversation with Rahne and Kurt, (who were insistent they shouldn't pass their mutations on to their children).
Scott leaned in between Bobby and Rogue, the former looking grateful for the help, the latter annoyed by the intrusion. "Come on," he said, "let's go in hall and we can talk about this."
Rogue didn't say anything, but she followed him through the door. The door thunked shut behind them, cutting the noise level down to almost nothing, and Scott leaned against the wall next to a gold-framed mirror. Rogue turned to look out a nearby window and crossed her arms, while Bobby hovered next to her.
Scott glanced past Rogue, through the window, at the steady rain beating down on the lush school lawn, creating puddles on the basketball court and making the daffodils bend on their stems. Ororo had been in a pretty chipper mood when he last saw her, so presumably the rain was natural, but it certainly made everybody look and feel gloomy. He turned back to example number one: Rogue, whose usual agreeable posture had been replaced by a stubborn set to her jaw. //Poor kid,// he thought, //I sure hope Jean and Hank come up with something to help her.//
Bobby looked anxiously between Rogue and Scott, and he kept trying to pat Rogue's shoulder comfortingly, but she shrugged him off each time. Scott could tell Bobby's level of concern by the frost slowly coating the window.
Scott moved over to lean against the window next to Rogue and took her hand. "I know it's tough for you. Believe me, there's no one at this school who knows better how hard it is to have a mutation out of control."
Her gloved hand lay unresistingly in his and he handed it over to Bobby, who gripped it like a lifeline, his blue eyes wide. Rogue didn't look at either of them, but she let Bobby hold her hand.
"You've got to trust us," Scott continued. "And part of that is trusting that Jean and I wouldn't have you do this activity if we didn't think it was important. Giving birth isn't the only way to have children, you know."
Rogue finally looked at him. "Huh?"
"You could adopt. Every city has children who've been abandoned because of a visible mutation or handicap. They need someone to take care of them."
"That's right," she said.
"And for all we know, Jean and Hank might solve the puzzle of your mutation next week, and then wouldn't *you* feel silly."
She smiled slightly and Bobby relaxed. The damp chill that had been building in the hallway retreated.
"Why don't you and your husband here go back to the group," Scott said, "and make some plans. It doesn't matter where the kids came from, they'd still be yours."
Rogue studied his face for a second and then suddenly she hugged him. It was a Rogue hug, head carefully held away from his, but it was definitely a hug. "Thanks, Dad," she whispered. Grabbing Bobby's hand and dragging him behind her, she disappeared back into the classroom.
Scott stood in place for a long moment, a silly grin on his face, glad nobody was watching.
**You okay there?** Jean called.
**Mm-hmm. Just savoring a little breakthrough moment.**
**That's nice. Don't savor too long. Betsy says no child of hers is going to public school. Paige and Angelo are at it again, something about whether or not children should be allowed to watch television. Oh, and Rahne and Kurt are arguing about spanking children and it's gotten heated enough that he's dropped into German and all I can understand of her is the occasional "och." I'm not certain how they're arguing if they can't understand each other, but they're managing it somehow.**
Scott chuckled and took a last look out the window before opening the heavy wooden door to the classroom. The rain was letting up.
* * * * *
For the final activity, Scott and Jean roped in the other teachers to provide more one-on-one feedback as the dialogues progressed. The teachers were there to probe the students' responses to their crisis, ask questions, and point out things they'd missed.
Jean and Scott spent several hours devising the crises, developing lesson plans for the other teachers and choosing which students they'd work with. The afternoon of the final day looked like a big party, with students and teachers mingling and almost everyone showing some interest in the project. Scott, knowing teenagers and adults as he did, had arranged for snacks, so cookies, doughnuts, and popcorn were carefully placed around the classroom, along with sodas for all.
Rogue looked so pleased that Logan was there, that he seemed mollified about being dragged into the whole thing. Scott smirked internally as he watched the big bad Wolverine ordered around by Rogue. //Please. He's a bigger softie than I am.//
Jubilee and Remy relaxed when Hank bounded into the room and straddled a chair. //Good choice. They both like Hank and he can steer them without their realizing how hard they're thinking.//
Rolling up to Rahne and Kurt, the Professor smiled gently at two of his favorite students. //Not that he'd ever admit that,// Scott thought.
Ororo hugged Paige and Angelo when she joined them, and Paige looked more relaxed. //If there's anyone who can get those two to think instead of fight, it's her.//
Jean smiled as she sat down with Betsy and Jono, but hers was the iron fist in the velvet gaze. //Time to bring home a few truths to Ms. Braddock, and I don't envy Jean the task. Then again, I don't envy Betsy either, I certainly do *my* best to stay on my wife's good side.//
Debate over whether or not it was a good idea to match Dani and Sam with Warren had lasted well into the night before the entire project began. In the end, Jean won with her contention that the conflict between his wealthy background and their impoverished backgrounds would prove instructive. Scott kept quiet on his suspicion that Jean intended it to be educational for both sides, and that she looked forward to Warren learning a little something from the kids as well.
This left Scott with Kitty and John, to mediate the differences between the two, which were substantial.
Scott distributed the sheets to the students, and the final day of the Great Marriage Boondoggle got under way. He was just opening his mouth to begin his explanation, when a wailing sound interrupted him, causing heads to shoot up in alarm all over the room.
The adrenaline pumped through Scott, but outwardly he became even calmer. "The school is under attack," he said.
Although they had drilled for this numerous times, somehow nobody had ever reckoned with a pile of powerful teenagers eager to protect their home. So, when Scott ordered his charges to head down to the safe rooms, he met a resistance worthy of the Second World War.
As the rest of the teachers scattered for their posts, Scott argued with the resistance leaders and official spokesmutants: Dani and Sam.
"Why're you teaching us to fight if we don't get to do anything except run and hide?" Sam asked.
"You're here to learn," Scott said, already distracted by reports coming in from Jean and the Professor.
"We're mostly about to graduate," Dani said, her hands clenched.
//There's no time to argue.// Scott shook his head sharply, hoping he wouldn't regret this. "Fine, everyone join your assigned teacher. Do what they tell you. If they say duck, then I want you on the ground. Go!"
The kids were gone in moments, Kurt grabbing Rahne's arm and bamfing away, Jubilee and Remy dashing away, both glowing with the energy of their powers, Paige taking a moment to strip away a layer of skin to reveal a surface that was probably adamantium.
Scott didn't linger any longer, taking off at top speed for his post, Kitty and John pounding behind. He was already revising defense plans to take advantage of the powers added to the available list.
**Professor? Tell everyone student reinforcements are on the way. Then have Kurt do some scouting over on the east side. I've got an idea.**
* * * * *
**I can feel at least 10 individuals coming toward the gatehouse, and another 10 behind the basketball court,** the Professor told Scott moments later, as the latter made his way toward the front of the mansion.
**What does Kurt say?**
**He can't see anyone, Rahne doesn't smell anyone, and I can't feel any minds there. The same is true for the stable side.**
**So they're just coming from two sides? No protection from telepaths? They can't be professionals. Never mind, we'll think about that later. Before they get a clue and spread out, get Logan, Hank, Warren and their kids outside where they've got some room to act.**
**I will let you know as soon as we have visual information,** the Professor said.
Scott's mind raced. He dove into a small closet tucked under the main stairs, pulling out an emergency visor to replace his glasses, as well as other handy supplies, which he tucked into his pockets. Then, he continued down the hall to crouch near one of the tall windows, peering through the glass.
Scott motioned to John, who flicked open his ever-present cigarette lighter, ready to shape the flame. Kitty, prepared to become intangible, hovered by her classmate waiting for instructions.
**They are not mutants,** the Professor said. **They are armed, masked humans. We must do our best not to harm them.**
**Yes, sir. Let's see how many we can trap before they catch on.**
The next few minutes were a flurry, as Scott filtered mental reports from the Professor, Jean, and even Betsy at one point, issuing instructions to his troops. They quickly took a number of the intruders out of commission (although not as permanently as Logan wished), and Scott could see glimpses of several of the remaining men from his vantage point.
There was a twist in his guts as he peered through the window, across the picturesque grounds. //Damn it, this place was supposed to be a sanctuary for the kids. First Mystique, and now this.//
**Logan reports that Rogue managed to lure two, and he knocked out one while Bobby froze the other in place. That's nine,** Professor Xavier said, dragging Scott out of his momentary reverie.
**We've got visuals on three here," Scott replied, **that means there are still eight others on the loose.**
**Yes. They seem to be hovering around the edges.**
**Well, they probably didn't expect a private school to be this defensible. Not to mention they've probably noticed some men missing. Okay, Kitty, John, and I can take out these three.**
Then, from outside Scott could hear percussive sounds that had to be gunshots. "Damn," Scott said both aloud and to the Professor, "no more time to plan, let's move."
Scott motioned to Kitty and John, and put his hand to the pressure point on his visor. Kitty grabbed their hands and they phased through the wall at a run. Scott's last sight of John showed the boy's eyes closed as his arm entered the wall. Scott grinned tightly and as soon as they were through, he ducked behind a pillar.
In their positions behind hedges and garden walls, the intruders froze in shock at the sight of people moving through walls. A belated couple of gunshots rang out, two going through still-intangible Kitty, and one brushing past Scott. A tight burst from his visor knocked the nearest gunman into a tree. Flame shot from Kitty and John's position and slammed into the back of another man aiming a gun at Scott.
The intruder yelped and rolled on the ground to put out the fire on his back. The third man stood and stared in utter shock, his gun slack in his hand. Scott knocked him over with a low-level blast, then ducked down. He scanned the area, looking for anyone they might have missed.
**Three down, Professor.**
Kitty and John, hand-in-hand and intangible once more, were also looking for other intruders. Scott jogged down the steps toward the man hit by John's flame. Fire out, the man's eyes were wide behind the ski mask he wore and he tried to jump and run. Scott grabbed his arm, swung him around, and slugged him in the jaw. The man went down hard, and Scott quickly dragged him over to where Kitty and John knelt, still looking around them.
Pulling some lightweight cord out of his pocket, Scott handed the unconscious man over to them. "Tie him up. I'll get the other two."
John bent over to tie hands and feet, while Kitty kept a hand on his shoulder, ready to phase them out at the sign of any trouble. Scott nodded with satisfaction and quickly dragged the other two men toward the teens.
He was just going to call the Professor for a report when the sun disappeared, covered almost instantly by a thick blanket of clouds. The wind began to pick up, moaning and rustling the leaves on the trees.
**Scott?** Professor Xavier called. **Ororo needs assistance.**
**On my way.** He looked at John and Kitty. "Make sure they're tied securely, then get under cover, but keep an eye on them." They nodded.
Scott started to work his way around the mansion, past the topiary and ivy-covered walls. **Professor? Betsy? Jono? Are there any intruders between here and there?**
**I don't see anyone, Mr. Summers,** Betsy replied.
**What's the situation?**
**Ms. Munroe is pinned on the roof in Remy's favorite spot. Paige and Ange are knocking out two men, but there are two more.**
Scott came around a corner in time to see Paige, her metallic skin a dull gray in the low light, slam a fist into the face of a man held by the long outstretched arms of Angelo. Scott didn't slow down, just kept going. Around another garden wall, a man in front of him turned, and Scott blasted him without a pause.
That left one man shooting at Ororo, a dim figure through the clouds and swirling winds of her powers. Scott took aim at the last man, but couldn't get a clear shot. He started to edge through the trees. Before he could act, lightning stabbed out of the sky, blinding him. The crack of gunfire stopped.
Scott ran forward, as Ororo floated down from the roof, worry in her expression.
"Is he..." She swallowed the rest of her sentence.
Scott and Ororo knelt over the prone figure, and Scott checked his pulse. "His heart's beating." The sky lightened almost instantly, and the ozone tang in the air retreated.
Then Scott stiffened. **Professor? Where's the last one?**
**All of the intruders are safely in custody,** the Professor said as Scott saw a flicker of movement to his right. He whirled, hand to his visor, as Sam walked out of the trees, a man slung over his shoulder. Dani--head held high--and Warren--wings folded neatly--followed Sam. Both teens struggled to contain their proud grins and Warren's expression was absolutely priceless, looking rather like a combination of shock and pride.
Scott's eyebrows rose as Sam dropped the man on the ground in front of him, a dog bringing a rat to his master. Warren rolled his eyes, then said to Scott, "I didn't even see him coming. Dani projected the image of a monster, which distracted him and Sam took him out."
Sam and Dani's grins emerged, so broad Scott thought their faces might split. "Quick thinking," he said, nodding his head at them, "very impressive." Then, he looked at the people gathered around him. "So, did we leave any of them *awake*?"
All he got in response was a round of blank stares.
**Professor? Any chance of someone to interrogate?**
* * * * *
It took a good ten minutes before the chaos was sorted out enough to get one of the few conscious intruders to Scott. Meanwhile, he occupied himself making sure all the unconscious ones were loaded into the back of an anonymous white van Logan found parked at the end of the long driveway.
Scott was standing by the gatehouse fountain when Remy and Hank finally carried out a man tied hand and foot with numerous loops of rope, almost a mummy of white clothesline. The look on Scott's face made Hank grin. "I am not responsible for this man's state. Jubilee was assigned the task of restraining him and she became a bit...overenthusiastic."
Scott let out a huff of breath. "Well, better safe than sorry. Besides, I refuse to offer a class in 'henchman tying' so I suppose this is the result."
Hank chuckled, then propped the struggling man up in front of Scott and loosened the ropes enough that he could stand upright on his own.
Scott stepped forward and yanked the ski mask off, revealing a thoroughly ordinary thug, short brown hair sticking upright in tufts and a nose that looked like it had been broken a few times. He was trying to look tough, not easy when you'd recently been tied up by a teenager chewing bubblegum.
Scott looked him up and down, then pushed his face near the other man's. "Just what the hell did you think you were doing shooting at my kids?" He spoke quietly, but put all his anger over the students' safety into his voice.
"We didn't know you was muties," the man said, with a hint of whine. "He just hired us to scare you off with the guns and stuff, we wasn't even supposed to shoot anybody, just shoot near 'em."
"Who hired you?" Scott asked.
"Jackie Silver," the goon said immediately.
Scott took a step back and stared at him. He'd been expecting the government, Magneto, anything except the name of the local real estate developer who'd been pestering the Professor all week. "You must be joking."
"No way. I didn't sign on to get hurt, this was supposed to be a milk run, scare off a few kids, I got no loyalty to Silver."
"Why did he want to scare our kids?" Scott blinked, then answered his own question. "Scare the kids, get the parents to take them home, shut down the school, build condos. Jesus." Scott stared at him. "What the heck are we going to do with you?"
The guy jumped a little at that, his feet stumbling on the paving stones. //Huh, he must have seen Logan in action to look that worried.//
"We're not going to kill you," Scott said, adding under his breath, "tempting as it is for the scare you gave us."
**I heard that, Scott,** Jean said.
**Then you know I'm joking.**
**True.** Scott glared at the man. **So, shall we turn them over to the police?**
**The Professor hasn't seen any signs that anyone has contacted them, so they won't be here unless you decide to call. It seems that our nearest neighbors are chalking the noise up to youthful exuberance.**
**That's pretty tolerant for Westchester.**
**That's minding your own business.**
**Huh. So if we want the police, we need to call them ourselves.**
The Professor joined the mental conversation. **I have no desire to draw attention to the school.**
**But we can't simply let them go,** Jean said firmly. **I'm calling now.**
**Can I let Logan have a little chat with them first?** Scott asked hopefully. **I'm finally finding a use for him.**
**Scott,** Professor Xavier began.
**But Daaaaad, you never let us have any fun,** Scott whined.
Jean's laughter tickled his mind like champagne bubbles and even the Professor managed to send some amusement.
With a sigh, Scott looked at the man standing in front of him, then over at the teachers and students who had gathered. "Okay everyone, time to clean up and come up with an explanation of how a bunch of schoolteachers knocked out a van full of thugs. The police will probably be here in a few minutes, so get moving."
"We're just gonna turn them over?" Bobby asked.
"I think this guy and his buddies are well aware that it's best if they leave us alone in the future."
The man nodded his head furiously. "Oh yeah. We're not stupid. You couldn't pay me enough to go up against you again. Plenty of safer jobs out there."
"And it might be best if you didn't mention what you saw here," Scott said quietly. "Safer all around."
* * * * *
Two hours after the first alarms sounded, the police had come and gone and the defenders could be seen sprawled on the front lawn recovering under the late afternoon sunshine. Jean and Hank were ministering to minor wounds, while the other teachers worked on mansion clean up. Scott and the Professor were in the latter's office, where they could talk in private while keeping on eye on everyone.
"We will do a full debriefing later," the Professor said, "but I must say I'm most pleased with everyone's performance. The children took orders much better than I expected. And your story was convincing enough the police required only minor attention from me."
Scott nodded absently from his seat by the window, where he was watching Jean inspect a gash on Rahne's leg. The young woman was curled up in Kurt's lap, and he gently stroked her arm. Jean didn't look worried, so Scott decided he wouldn't worry either.
"I'm sorry, sir," he said, turning around, "what did you say?"
Professor Xavier smiled. "Just that the children did a good job. Why don't you go outside and tend to your troops? I think they'd appreciate a few words from you. I'm going to do a final scan with Cerebro."
"No, you should be the one-"
"They're yours. You lead them, not me. Now go on, I'll be out in a few minutes. I know they'll worry until everyone has seen all the teachers safe and sound." The Professor rolled out of the room, leaving a pensive Scott to watch the scene outside before heading out the door.
The moment he stepped outside, he was besieged.
"Is Professor Xavier okay?" Rogue asked, her brows furrowed.
"He's fine. Just doing a quick search with Cerebro."
Jubilee danced around him, unable to squelch the tiny plasma sparkles that shimmered around her hands. "Didja see? Did Hank tell you? I burned 'em from one side and Rem here blew stuff up on the other and they didn't know if they were coming or going!"
"You did a great job," Scott said.
"And you should have seen the way I found them and Jono blasted them," Betsy said, looking happy, for once. "I even knocked one of them silly with just my mind."
"A great job," Scott said again. He continued to move through the group of kids, trying to stop and praise each one.
"Mr. Summers?" Kitty looked up from where she and John were leaning back-to-back. Her face showed exhaustion, and somehow she looked more adult than she had earlier in the day.
Scott shook off his ruminations. "Yes, Kitty?"
"Do we still have to do the final assignment?"
Scott stifled a grin as John covered his eyes and other students groaned and flopped down onto the ground. He couldn't leave them in suspense for long. "No, the Professor and I have decided that this afternoon could stand in lieu of that final assignment."
"How'd we do?" Sam asked from where he sat with his sister.
All heads turned toward Scott, and he took a deep breath. "As I think you can guess, you all passed. You passed with flying colors. We're proud of you, and your willingness to protect the others. You worked with your fellow students, you listened to the orders of the teachers, and protected the school."
Scott looked at the kids as he spoke. "Perhaps best of all," he said, "the teachers report that each pair worked together as if you'd been doing it for years, just as we've practiced and hoped. I think you've all learned the value of teamwork, perhaps not in the way we intended you to learn, but that's a lesson in itself."
Every face was turned toward him. "For all your arguing this week, when you needed each other, you were there. Remember that. Hold onto it."
And unexpectedly, the kids started to cheer. Faces shining, they clapped for him, for each other, they hugged and jumped up and down. Bobby and John pounded him on the back, looking abashed when they realized what they'd done, but still grinned at each other.
Then Jean stood beside him, her love flooding through their link, warm and bright. "It's okay, Scott," she said. "We won today."
"No, they won."
* * * * *
The sun was long set, the proud and excited teens finally tucked into bed after a raucous celebration. Scott and Jean stumbled into the bedroom, where the click of the door latch allowed them the illusion that they could, at least briefly, shut out the rest of the world. The warm color of the walls and simple decorations had rarely looked quite so welcoming.
Scott flopped bonelessly onto the bed, followed quickly by Jean. They lay like that for a few minutes, just enjoying the silence, before Jean started to chuckle.
Scott rolled onto his side to look at his wife, tucking a pillow under his head. "What's so funny?"
"Everything," she said, shaking her head slowly. "The kids, us, the other teachers, the past week." She stopped chuckling, and looked right at him. "We're actually remarkably lucky. Did you know that? With all the challenges we face, we're here, we have our friends, a bunch of wonderful and aggravating students..."
Scott brushed a lock of silky hair out of her face and ran his fingers from her forehead down to her chin, before leaning down to kiss her. "Sometimes I think I'm the luckiest man in the world."
She smiled up at him.
"Then Logan pisses me off. Or Bobby freezes the water pipes. Or Betsy pitches a fit over the quality of tea we serve."
She stared at him for a moment before beginning to laugh again. "Oh, Scott," she managed through the laughter as he grinned at her. "You just can't let a romantic moment go by without comment, can you?"
"Shut up and kiss me," he said.
And she did.