Chapter 4: A Very Merry "X" mas
Payback from Gambit came sooner than little Minx realized during her aikido class a few weeks later. She had pretty much forgotten about the door incident, her mind overflowing with all the new information she’d been inundated with in the past few weeks. It was all a bit frightening to the teen, but it was also exciting. Never before had she been given the opportunity to focus her talents without having to worry about where she was going to bed down for the night or where her next meal might be coming from or even when. For the past six years, Minx had had to spend most of her time just surviving, but thanks to Charles Xavier, she no longer had such mundane worries. She had a nice bedroom all her own, three squares a day, lots of attention and a feeling of belonging.
All around her at the school were others like herself that could relate to and understand what she was going through and were willing to listen and even help. Jean Grey spent time with the girl teaching her relaxation and focusing techniques in order to control and extend her power. Minx was now able to vary the degree to which she super-heated and super-cooled objects rather than going full force all the time.
Storm provided a touch of polish to Minx’s rough edges, teaching her basic manners and deportment. That did not stop the girl from occasional outbursts of foul language, for which Wolverine always seemed available to deliver a stinging cuff to the back of her head as means of correction.
Cyclops taught her basic attack strategies and introduced the girl to logic, mathematics and computers while Gambit provided the physical workouts, along with Wolverine when he was not off brooding somewhere. Still on guard, yet learning to trust her benefactors, Minx was gradually, and more often than not, happily beginning to assimilate.
It was at one of the weekly workouts that the girl got her overdue lesson in consequences. Minx, along with a dozen or so students, was gathered casually around the workout mat in the gym where Remy LeBeau held center court.
“De object here,” Remy explained to his class, “is ta stay focused at all times. You must never let your opponent catch ya off guard.”
There were some nods among the students as the handsome Cajun slowly traversed the inner perimeter of the group around the mat. He continued the lesson.
“By keeping y’alls minds on your opponent and studying his moves, you den be prepared to defend and counter-attack, n’est pas?”
Minx wasn’t really paying attention to the man. Her thoughts wandered to the weekend and Jubilee’s promise to go with her to the mall to pick out some cool new outfits. She was getting sort of tired dressing in “mutant high” sweatshirts and other borrowed clothes.
The teen was considering whether or not Professor Xavier would let her get away with wearing a leather miniskirt when she suddenly felt a hand close around her wrist. Minx only had time to acknowledge that it was Remy before she found herself flying through the air.
“What the-” Minx howled as she landed with a rather rough bounce on her back on the mat. She wheezed, the breath knocked out of her, while gales of laughter echoed off the high gymnasium ceiling.
“Hey dere, ‘crouching tiger’,” Remy leaned over the prone figure on the mat, “you be awright?”
More laughter ensued.
“Yeah,” she replied weakly, “I’m okay.”
“Dis,” Remy pointed down to where Minx still laid spread eagle, “be why we need to stay focused and never assume we got de upper hand with our opponent.”
Minx grimaced as she raised herself up on one elbow, the titters dying down now as Remy dismissed the students, and they headed off for the locker rooms to change. He grinned down at the girl and offered an arm to help her up. She accepted, making little ‘ow’ noises as he pulled her upright. She felt like one giant bruise from head to toe.
“I tole you, ma Minx, payback be a bitch, non?” he teased.
Getting caught unawares while simultaneously being humiliated in front of her classmates definitely counted as payback in her book, Minx thought. “Very funny,” she groaned and shot him a disparaging look.
Minx slowly limped off to join her comrades in the locker room, leaving Remy behind, to gloat in obvious triumph. Little did he know that this was far from over as far as Minx was concerned.
Christmas at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters was usually quite a spectacular affair. Many of the children at the school were orphans or had been abandoned by judgmental parents and had never had an opportunity to enjoy Christmas and all its smells, sights and wonder. As a result, Charles Xavier spared no expense in decorating the mansion and school grounds with garlands, wreaths, ribbons and tinsel, along with candles, plates of cookies and plenty of holiday cheer.
Remy and Bobby had gone out the previous week to cut down a massive evergreen for the rec room and several youngsters were now gathered about the tree, chattering happily while they hung tinsel, lights and ornaments on its majestic boughs. Jean supervised, occasionally using her power to stop a fragile glass ornament in mid-fall when one child or another happened to fumble and drop a decoration. She also had the dubious honor of setting the gold and silver star atop the tree by using her telekinesis. Hey, it saved having to haul out the big stepladder, she joked.
While the tree was being decorated, Minx was in the kitchen, measuring cups and ingredients laid out on the countertop before her. She frowned slightly, the tip of her tongue just peeking between her lips as she studied the back of the chocolate chip package again. Her eyes still on the directions, the girl felt over and picked up the egg carton and took two eggs from the Styrofoam container. She absently set one down on the marble counter, but had to hastily snatch it up again as it began to roll toward the counter’s edge.
“Stupid eggs,” she muttered as she cracked one of them into the bowl in front of her.
Everyone was busy shopping for last minute gifts and enjoying the break from studies. Minx, having no money, had decided to make gifts for everyone instead. She had ‘borrowed’ some sketching pencils and a pad of paper from Rogue’s room several weeks ago for this purpose. Okay, she thought, I really lifted the stuff from her room, but I’ve got a good reason. The teen had secretly been drawing portraitures of each member and was planning on giving them out as presents. She had finished the last one, of Gambit, the previous day and had decided that the sketches weren’t enough.
And that’s when she had decided to bake cookies for the group as well. Professor Xavier had given Minx permission to raid the pantry and use whatever she needed for her baking project as long as the girl cleaned up after herself and was careful with the stove. She rolled her eyes at the last part. It had been three days since she had accidentally set fire to a pair of Kitty’s mittens.
“I was just trying to warm them up a little for Kitty before we went outside,” Minx had innocently explained when Storm and Scott had come running to put out the blaze.
“Next time, how about just putting them near the fireplace to warm?” Scott offered.
Minx looked down at the smoldering mittens sheepishly. “I’m really sorry, Kitty,” the girl mumbled, thinking back to her first meeting with the girl, “I guess I kinda have bad luck with your stuff, huh?”
Storm touched the girl on the shoulder and smiled patiently down at her. “You just need to learn a little more control,” the woman offered then stomped out the last of the smoking embers with a booted toe.
Kitty sighed. “Well, I guess I know what I can ask Santa for,” she laughed.
Minx shrugged to herself at the memory and returned to her cookie making. She had promised the professor that she wouldn’t use any of her powers while in the kitchen just to be safe. She set the bowl underneath the mixer blade and turned the machine on low. It hummed loudly while she began measuring flour into a cup.
A few minutes later, the eggs and sugar in the bowl looked pretty ‘combined’ to her, so Minx dumped the entire cup of flour into the mix and then choked as a white cloud of flour dust shot up from the bowl. Blinded, the teen shut the mixer off and coughed, shaking flour off of her in surprise.
“You look like the abominable snowman.”
Minx turned at the sound of the voice to see Jean by the door looking at her in amusement. Jean walked over to the girl, taking in the flour-covered bowl, counter and floor.
“I’m not sure,” Minx said, wiping the white dust out of her eyes, “I just dumped in the flour like the directions said and ‘poof’ – the whole thing exploded.”
Jean laughed and grabbed up a rag from the sink and wet it under the faucet. She brought the cloth over to Minx. “You dumped the entire amount in at once?” Jean questioned as she gave Minx the rag.
“Yeah, why? Wasn’t I supposed to?
“Um, well no.” Jean smiled. “You’re supposed to add a little at a time to avoid having the flour go everywhere.”
Jean pointed indicating the white coating of flour. Minx swiped at the counter and cabinets with the wet cloth, scowling at the package directions. “Well, why doesn’t it say so on the package then?” the girl complained.
Jean took the rag from Minx and began mopping up the mess. “Tell you what. I’ll clean up here while you go wash your face. Deal?”
Minx bent and caught her reflection in the oven glass and blinked in surprise. She did indeed look like a yeti – her face and hair completely covered in flour with only two dark eyes peeking out from the dusty visage. “I’ll be right back,” she said.
She quickly padded out the door in search of the nearest bathroom. No sense anyone else seeing her looking so stupid, she conceded to herself. Jean laughed again and rinsed out the washrag at the sink before starting on the mixer. She had nearly finished when she heard footsteps behind her and turned to face Logan, who had wandered into the kitchen following the delicious smells of sugar, vanilla and butter.
“You sure get into your work, don’t you,” he quipped lightly, taking in the flour-covered scene.
“Logan,” Jean said turning to face the man as he came up beside her, “I was just helping out our favorite problem-child.” Jean indicated the mixing bowl with its doughy ingredients. “She’s trying her hand at cookies.”
Logan arched an eyebrow at the mess on the counter. He dipped a finger into the mixture in the bowl and tasted it, then shrugged. “Well, at least ‘sunshine’ didn’t screw up too bad,” he commented, “It tastes okay.”
Jean gave him a disapproving look at his latest nickname for the girl. Logan had taken to calling Minx ‘Sunshine’ in mockery of the girl’s usual sullen, temperamental nature. Jean flicked the towel at Logan, popping him in the side.
“That’s not very nice, and you know it,” she admonished, flicking him again with the towel.
Logan caught the end of the cloth this time and gently tugged, pulling Jean close. She let him. He looked into her green eyes, a smirk crossing his rugged face.
“Whatsa matter, doc?” he said as he leaned even closer, “jealous?”
Jean stood, her heart beating a little faster than it should, as she and Logan remained still, bodies pressed up against one another. Logan breathed in her rich, intoxicating scent, the smell driving him crazy and pushing his feral instincts to the limit. Both could feel the electricity sparking crazily between them when a loud crash brought them out of their reverie. They both jumped and separated, almost guiltily.
“Oops,” Minx nastily remarked.
The girl had come back to the kitchen to find the two in a rather suspicious looking embrace and had reached over and knocked one of the cookie sheets off the counter and onto the floor to get their attention. She now stood stiffly, as Jean, embarrassed, twisted the towel nervously in her hands. Logan just glared at Minx, daring her to say something.
Jean cleared her throat and dropped the rag into the sink. “Well,” she mumbled, “ah, I guess you want to finish your baking…”
Minx shot the two adults a cool look and knelt to pick the pan up from the floor. She slapped it down noisily on the counter and strode over to the mixing bowl, making sure to stand between Logan and Jean. She shot a nasty smile to Logan.
“I think Scott said he could use some help outside hanging the lights,” she commented, honoring Jean now with a snide smile.
Logan’s jaw clenched at the mention of the man’s name, and Jean appeared utterly discomfited.
“I better go see if I can offer him a hand,” she remarked and hastily left.
Logan watched Jean go then turned back toward Minx who started adding the chocolate chips to the batter in the mixing bowl on the counter next to the burly man. She ignored Logan’s obvious annoyance and picked up a spoon to stir the chips into the mixture.
“You’re messing with things you shouldn’t, Minx,” Logan advised her.
“Funny,” Minx replied, “I could say the same thing to you.”
She stopped stirring and boldly returned his icy look, a fake smile rigidly fixed on her lips. Very few people had the courage to stand up to him, much less outright defy his warnings. He breathed deeply, determined not to lose his temper this time. But, the little brat almost made it impossible, he thought to himself.
He pointed a finger at her. “Stay outta my business.”
Minx remained silent watching as Logan stomped out of the kitchen, frustrated and angry. She shook her head and blew a stray lock of hair out of her eyes.
“Jeez, and they say teenagers have hormone problems!”
Minx was awakened early on Christmas day to the joyous sound of holiday carols being sung outside her bedroom door. She yawned and squinted at the clock, wiping the sleep from her bleary eyes. The readout glowed back at her from the nightstand - 7:20 AM. The girl groaned and rolled back over as another chorus of Deck the Halls started up outside.
“You gotta be kidding me,” she groaned as she yanked the comforter up over her head.
She tried to fall back asleep. But it was not to be because in the next instant, Kitty came through Minx’s door, literally, her body passing through the wood as if it didn’t even exist. Kitty turned the lock and flung the door wide to let in Jubilee, Rogue, Remy, Bobby and Hank McCoy, the older man dressed as Santa no less. They crowded into the room singing at the top of their lungs and were greeted with a muffled growl.
“Shut up!” Minx barked from under a jumble of blankets.
Remy, ever the scoundrel, grabbed a handful of the teen’s comforter and dragged it unceremoniously down and off the bed. Minx was left curled up on the sheet in her pajamas, wearing a look of pure loathing on her sleepy face.
“Rise and shine, l’il bit,” Remy blared in her ear as Kitty opened the drapes to let the early winter sunlight into the room.
Minx sat up, yawning once more and shook her head.
“I’m gonna kill each and every one of you,” she half-joked as Hank started up the singing once more.
The girl eyed Hank’s massive mutant form dubiously as she threw her legs over the side of the bed then stood up stretching.
“I don’t remember Santa being so furry,” she wryly commented to him, “or blue.”
Jubilee gave her friend an encouraging nudge toward the door as Rogue handed Minx her robe.
“Come on, sleepy head,” she drawled as Minx stepped into her slippers, “Yah don’t wanna miss all the presents Santa left, do ya?”
Minx mumbled something incoherently as she was led out of the room and down the hall to the stairs, the group merrily singing away.
“Did everyone take uppers this morning or something?”
“Merry Christmas!” Professor Xavier warmly greeted the carolers as they came singing into the rec room.
Jean and Scott were already there, snuggled together on the couch in matching pajamas. How disgustingly cute, Minx thought before she was dragged over to sit down beside them. Someone stuck a mug of steaming hot chocolate in her hand and she took a grateful sip.
Storm was kneeling by the Christmas tree passing out gifts from underneath its decorated limbs. Logan was nowhere to be seen. Everyone was talking and laughing as the gifts were handed out, Beast now helping Ororo with the task. Minx was somewhat surprised and pleased to see that she had several brightly wrapped packages delivered to her lap. This was like when she was little. She thought back to when her parents were still alive and the family used to wake up and run down to open gifts early Christmas morning.
Her face fell a little at the memory. This would be the first Christmas she had actually celebrated since their deaths. Sensing the girl’s emotions, Jean quietly wrapped an arm around the teen and drew her close. Minx looked up to see both the woman and Scott softly smiling back at her. It was a reassuring look.
“Why don’t you open one?” Scott nodded toward the gifts in her lap.
Minx hesitated, then grinned setting down her mug and grabbing up a parcel wrapped in red and white striped paper. She gazed down at the tag – it was from Kitty and Jubilee. She looked over at the two as they sat on the floor tearing into their own presents and then eagerly tore the wrapping from the box and chuckled at its contents.
“We saw that and like, just knew it was totally made for you!” Jubilee stated when she saw Minx’s look of delight at the bottle of perfume she now held up to admire and smell.
Scott leaned over to read the label and gave a chuckle. “Fire and Ice,” he said, “I don’t think you could get a more suitable name for something Minx would wear.”
Everyone laughed, and Minx softly thanked her friends for the wonderful gift. She snatched up another package and began to open it as Beast went into a rousing version of O Come All Ye Faithful in Latin.
This package contained several CD’s of her favorite rock groups, including, she noticed with a blush, the ever-popular Nickelback.
“Dat one be for you, cherie,” Remy called from his seat by the fireplace, as he wagged a finger at her and winked, “so ah can get mine back!”
Any further comments from the handsome Cajun were cut off as Rogue squealed excitedly and threw her arms about his neck, careful to avoid skin-to-skin contact. She had just opened his gift to her and was most pleased with the gold bracelet he had bought.
There were several large packages containing clothes from Jean and Scott. Minx gave them both a hug and spent several minutes staring at all her new outfits. She was quite overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness, and was not prepared when Professor Xavier wheeled over to her and held out an envelope with her name neatly typed on the front of it.
“What’s this?” she asked.
Xavier smiled at her. “Open it and see.”
Minx took the envelope from his hand and slowly slid her thumb under the flap. She reached in and pulled out several typed documents and scanned the pages quickly, a lump forming in her throat as she read the words. She glanced up at the professor, unable to speak, her eyes filling with tears.
“Merry Christmas, Minx,” he softly said.
The papers were legal documents for a trust fund that had been set up for Minx by Xavier, giving the girl a monthly allowance until her 25th birthday, whereupon Minx would then inherit a substantial lump sum, provided the girl remain at the school during that time as a student and then as a teacher.
Tears welled up and over, splashing onto Minx’s face as she gaped at Xavier. The room fell silent as everyone focused their attention on the teen.
“I…uh…I..I don’t know what to say,” she stumbled awkwardly and offered a watery smile to the group.
“You don’t have to say anything,” Storm gave her a gentle smile, “This is our way of telling you that you are part of our family now.” The woman came over and stood beside the professor’s wheelchair, one hand on his shoulder. “We want you stay on permanently, Minx.” Storm continued as Minx brushed the wetness from her cheeks.
“Yes,” Xavier smiled, “Consider this your home, Minx.”
It was too much for the girl. The tears flowed up once more and this time she didn’t try to stop them. “Thank you,” she cried, “I never thought I’d be a part of a family ever again, but now…”
The words died as she sniffled and rose from the couch. “I’m s-sorry I c-couldn’t afford to g-get you guys anything good,” she hiccuped and made a dash for the hall, “excuse me.”
Jubilee started after her, but Hank caught her arm and shook his head.
“Let her go,” he whispered gently, “She’ll be all right. Just give her time to compose herself.”
Xavier agreed and encouraged the group to finish opening their gifts. Rogue, her head buried underneath the lowest branches of the tree, gave a hoot and scooted backward dragging several thin packages from underneath the tree.
“Look here, y’all,” she held up the packages triumphantly, “we missed some!”
Everyone looked at one another in puzzlement not recognizing the gifts wrapped in plain brown paper and tied with what looked like shoelaces. Names had been penned directly onto the paper, and Rogue went around the room handing them out one by one.
“Hey!” Remy started upon inspecting his package closely, “These look like de laces to my hiking boots!”
The others looked carefully at their own gifts and acknowledged with some amazement, that the “strings” knotted about their packages were, in fact, all laces belonging to shoes out of Gambit’s closet.
“Dat sawed-off l’il felon has some explaining ta do,” Remy remarked as he untied the package, mindful to stuff his shoelaces in his pocket.
Gasps and ohs went up from the entire room when the portraitures were revealed. Minx’s sketches were a hit with one and all.
“Ah had no idea she was such an artist,” Rogue commented admiring the sketch Minx had done of her and Remy sitting together outside under a snowy bower of pines.
“This is amazing,” Jean said in awe.
Her sketch showed the doctor sitting at her desk in the bio-lab, glasses fallen down her nose as she was working at a microscope. “When did she do these?” Jean looked over at Scott’s sketch of himself in his full X-team suit. “I know I didn’t sit for her at any time, did you?”
Heads around the room gave a shake of admiration at the girl’s talent and impudence.
“Boy,” Jubilee remarked, “that stealth trick of hers is like so going to keep me on guard from now on.” She looked around the room. ”I mean, like, how do we know she’s not in the room right now?”
Everyone suddenly stopped and gazed around suspiciously then broke up in laughter when they realized how silly they looked. Remy flung a pillow from the couch at Jubilee as Professor Xavier wheeled himself to the center of the room and raised his voice.
“Merry Christmas, everyone!” and the room filled with cheers and laughter.
Outside the windows of the mansion, the snow fell silently, occasionally swirled by gusts of chill late December wind. Two sets of eyes peered into the rec room at the happy little scene going on inside. One pair was dark and predatory. The other set was yellow, pupil-less and belonged to Mystique. She watched the group through binoculars from her hiding place behind a snow bank as her companion growled, the sound low and utterly feral.
“Quiet,” she hissed at her companion, “we’re only here to look and listen.”
The shaggy behemoth by her side, known by his mutant name of Sabretooth, uttered another snarling growl and the woman slammed a fist into the side of his head, shutting him up. He flinched away from Mystique like a chastened pup, and turned to sniff the wind that tousled his shaggy beard and furry shoulders. Sabretooth shot his mistress a wary look.
Mystique raised her glasses once again, this time running them up to the second floor, searching the windows for movement. She stopped at a certain window and adjusted the sight, bringing the room into sharper view and froze.
A girl stood by the window, her features vaguely familiar…Mystique searched her memory and then let out an audible gasp.
“It can’t be!”
Mystique was stunned beyond belief. She watched the girl for a few moments longer then smiled, baring her teeth in a nasty grin. “Oh, but it is, isn’t it?” She gave a humorless laugh. “Little Nicole, alive and well. Where have you been hiding all these years?”
Mystique lowered the binocs and looked over to Sabretooth.
“I think our luck is about to improve.” She gave him a shove to get him moving. ”Come on, you gargoyle. We have to report back.” She shot a last look up to the second floor window of the school, “I’m sure Magneto will be quite interested in this turn of events.”
Sabretooth snuffled the air, still searching for the familiar scent of his enemy one last time. He gave up and shuffled off after Mystique, but turned and gave a sneering growl over his shoulder at the house and school grounds. He grinned, showing a mouthful of wickedly sharp teeth. He’d be back. And the ugly blue one beside him wouldn’t get in his way next time…
Minx tossed the trust fund documents on her desk in her room and walked over to her dresser for a Kleenex. She grabbed one from the tissue box and plopped down on her bed, then gave a start. She had sat down on something hard and sharp-cornered.
Wincing slightly, Minx lifted her rear on one side enough to reach under and grab the offending item. It was a small white box with a red bow clumsily tied around it. The girl frowned and took the top off the box. Her mouth opened in astonishment.
Nestled inside the little box was a beautiful sterling silver necklace and a note on a scrap of paper. ‘To Sunshine’, the note read, ‘Merry Christmas. -L’. Minx pulled out the delicate chain and broke into a grin of amusement when she noticed that is was a monogram necklace. But, instead of her name, the little cursive letters spelled Brat. Minx laughed out loud and unlatched the clasp to put the necklace on. She got up off the bed and went over to the mirror over the dresser to admire her new gift.
“Thanks, Logan,” she said to the mirror and smiled. “I hope you like your present too.”
In the darkened ready room deep underneath the school, Logan sat enjoying Minx’s gifts. He had remained asleep despite the singing and revelry across the hall earlier that morning. When he did awake, it was to a sweet, pleasing aroma tickling his nose. She had left him a heaping plate of her homemade Christmas cookies and a pint flask of Canadian whisky. Not even caring where the little spitfire had laid her hands on the alcohol, Logan grinned and snatched a couple cookies from the plate barely bothering to chew. They were fantastic. He took a nip from the flask, the whiskey spreading a warm fire down to his belly. The hooch was pretty damn good too.
Sitting on the cold metal bench of the ready room, the man took another draw from the now half-empty flask and studied the sketch in his hand. The drawing had been under the plate of cookies she had left. It was of Logan, shirtless, arms up over his head as he snoozed peacefully on his rumpled bed. The brat must have snuck in and caught him in a reflective moment. He’d have to have a little discussion with her about invading people’s privacy, he thought, but smiled to himself as he continued to peruse the picture.
“I’ll say it again,” he said to the empty room as he finished the flask and set it on the bench beside him, “the kid’s got brass.”