The Day the Earth Stood Back
by Rowena Zahnrei
Kurt Wagner woke up with the sun warming his face and a song brightening his heart. The day of the dance had finally come, and Kurt couldn't remember ever feeling so excited.
Yesterday, he had finally worked up the courage to ask the most intelligent, most beautiful girl in school to be his date for the Sophomore Social and - he was still reeling from the joyous wonder of it - she had said yes! Nothing could dampen his spirits on this day, absolutely nothing! Not even the long line that formed outside the bathroom every morning. He could wait for his shower. Kitty Pryde, his beautiful Katzchen, had said yes! He was now just a schoolday away from the most perfect moment of his life: the moment he would hold the fair Kitty in his arms and dance with her until the world fell away, just like in the movies!
Still in a dreamy haze, Kurt teleported directly to the dining room where the platters and plates were already set out for their breakfast...a plan forming in his mind. He knew Kitty was almost always the last of the students at Professor Xavier's Institute for Gifted Youngsters to climb out of bed in the morning. If he worked fast, he might catch her before she got up.
Mindful of her distaste for 'unhealthy' foods, such as meat, white bread, and eggs, Kurt quickly piled up a vegetarian breakfast on a plate, put the plate on a tray along with the necessary utensils, napkins, and a large glass of orange juice, and with a soft BAMF teleported with it directly to Kitty's door. Knocking courteously with his tail, he waited for the door to open.
A moment later, Rogue poked her tousled head around the door to the room she shared with Kitty.
"Kurt?" she asked, still somewhat bleary with sleep, her Southern accent even deeper than usual. She had not yet applied the layers of pale make-up, black lipstick and eyeliner that added to the air of vaguely menacing mystery that surrounded her. Kurt was surprised for a moment at just how young and how pretty she looked without it.
"Guten Morgen, meine Schwester," Kurt greeted happily. "I have come to see the fair Kitty. Is she awake yet?"
Rogue blinked, and her sleep-blurred eyes focused on the tray Kurt was holding.
"What is that?" she asked, a small smirk growing on her face. "Breakfast in bed?" Her smirk expanded into a grin when she saw Kurt's expression fall slightly in response to her amusement. She reached out a gloved hand and patted him reassuringly on the shoulder.
"That's real sweet, Kurt. Ah'm sure Kitty would appreciate it, only she's never quite herself first thing in the morning, y'all know what ah mean?"
Kitty's grumpy whine muffled its way out of the room.
"Rogue? Tell whoever it is to go away. I'm, like, trying to sleep over here!"
Rogue's eyes crinkled in amusement.
"See what ah mean?"
"Ja," Kurt answered with a smile of his own. "But even the morning blues cannot withstand a dose of elfish humor, nein?" He stepped gracefully past Rogue, who opened the door wider to accommodate his tray.
"Good luck, Elf," she said, striding out into the hallway. "Ah've gotta go take my place in the shower line."
Kurt nodded, then shyly approached the lump of blankets that was Kitty.
"Guten Morgen, Liebling," he said softly, reaching out with his tail to tap her gently on the shoulder. "It is a beautiful day, and it is time for you to wake up."
Kitty groaned and rolled over, flipping the blankets over her head.
"S'not, like, even six-thirty yet." she grumbled.
"But, look what I brought for you," Kurt said brightly.
Kitty rolled over to face him, peering out from under the blankets with an annoyed glare.
"What do you want, Kurt? What are you, like, even doing in my room? Isn't this, like, totally against school rules and stuff?"
"Probably. I didn't really think about that. I just thought you might appreciate having your breakfast delivered to you this fine morning." The fuzzy, blue teenager held the tray out to her, suddenly concerned. "I hope it is not cold."
Kitty sat up and blinked, trying to wrap her sleep-encrusted brain around Kurt's gesture.
"What? Why? What is all this?"
"It's a healthy breakfast, just like you like. No meat, cheese, bacon, sausage, pancakes, eggs, toast, butter, or milk. Just fruit, granola, fried tomatoes and mushrooms - fried by Fraulein Ororo in a non-stick pan with no butter, just in case you didn't know - plain oatmeal, orange juice, and fresh nut bread. For you, Liebchen."
Slowly, Kitty reached out and dubiously took the tray from the beaming Kurt.
"Wow, Kurt," she said. "Like, what brought this on?"
Kurt could feel himself blushing and prayed that his dark, indigo fur would hide it.
"Well," he said softly. "I was just so happy that you agreed to accompany me to the dance tonight. I-I wanted to do something nice for you in return."
Kitty stared up at him, taken completely off guard by the soft sincerity of his tone. The Kurt she knew was a rambunctious trickster, a hopeless show-off, and somewhat irresponsible when it came to using his powers in public. The Kurt she was now seeing was a sincere, nervous, fragile boy with the gentlest eyes she had ever seen. The contrast was so striking that Kitty found herself speechless for a moment. She covered up her confused emotions by taking a bite of breakfast.
"It's very good," she said, inadequately. "Thank you, Kurt."
Kurt grinned delightedly.
"I am pleased that you like it, Katzchen," he said gallantly, clasping her hand and finding her eyes with his own. "I will see you tonight, then, meine Liebling."
He kissed her hand gently, his fuzzy skin tickling her briefly, then let her go and took a step back, vanishing in a theatrical flash of sulfur-scented smoke.
Kitty stared blankly at the place he had been, the full tray balanced carefully on her lap and the lingering smell of Kurt's teleport the only evidence that her strange morning visitation had even happened.
To Be Continued...
After spending half the lunch period searching, Scott Summers finally found the object of his wrath perched on a tree branch in a decidedly not-normal way. A normal boy would sit on the branch with his legs dangling, perhaps even straddle the branch. Kurt crouched with his long toes curled invisibly around the branch and his elbows leaning against his knees in a perfectly balanced position that would be impossible for a normal human to keep up for more than a few seconds. To Scott's ruby-quartz shielded eyes, he looked for all the world like a giant monkey, just - thankfully - without the tail.
"The purpose of that image inducer is to make you inconspicuous in a crowd, Kurt," he snapped angrily, startling the younger teenager so badly, he had to stick his tail out to regain his balance. Scott gasped at the sight of the long, blue tail, which seemed to float in mid-air several inches from the rest of Kurt's hologram-shielded body.
Flustered and disoriented by Scott's intrusion into his happy, Kitty-oriented daydreams, Kurt gracefully leaped off the branch and quickly curled his tail around his leg, where it once again became invisible behind the holographic projection.
"Oh, hi, there, Scott!" he said, offering the older boy a weak smile. "I did not hear you come. You were looking for me, ja?"
"Ja," Scott repeated acerbically.
Kurt's hologram-brown eyes narrowed in confusion.
"Is something wrong, mein Freund? You look kind of upset."
"Wrong?" Scott snapped, using his greater height to menace Kurt backwards until his back hit the tree trunk. "I'd say something is wrong. Your complete and total irresponsibility is what's wrong! I heard a group of kids talking today by my locker. Can you guess what they were talking about?"
Kurt shook his head with an attempt at a carefree shrug.
"No. I don't have a clue."
"You got that right, Fuzzy Elf. One of them was saying how she thought she had seen a blue 'creature' with a long tail standing near Kitty yesterday afternoon." The tall teenager took another menacing step towards the cringing Kurt. "I wonder who that 'creature' she was referring to could be?"
Kurt tried to flash an innocent grin, but it came off as more of a pained grimace.
Scott glared invisibly behind his ruby-quartz glasses and took another step forward.
"When you asked Kitty out yesterday, did you by any chance happen to turn off your image inducer?"
Kurt could no longer hold his gaze. He looked down at his holographically shod feet and slumped his shoulders.
"I didn't think that anyone would see me under the trees," he said softly. "I just-I just wanted to ask her as me, you know? I wanted her to see me when she answered." He grinned, a touch of humor lightening his pained eyes. "You know how chicks dig the fuzzy dude!"
Scott rolled his eyes behind his shades.
"Oh, grow up, will you, Kurt! You could have ruined everything pulling a stunt like that! You, better than any of the others, should understand how important it is to keep the nature of our true powers a secret, at least for now. Do you want to cause a panic at this school? Because it's just that kind of stunt - that and the little balancing act you were doing just now on that tree branch - that will make it happen. Get it?"
"Got it," Kurt whispered, his eyes downcast.
"Good," Scott said, stepping back a little. "Just keep that in mind the next time it comes into your fuzzy blue head to pull a stunt like that. And at the dance - make sure the batteries are fully charged, OK?"
Kurt nodded dejectedly.
"Ja. Fully charged. I got it."
Scott looked down at him and sighed, shaking his head.
"Come on man, I know it's hard, but it's for your own good, you know."
Kurt looked up at him, his large eyes blazing with an incandescent fury.
"Oh yeah? What do you know about it? What can you know about it? You've only got to hide your eyes. Ooh, big deal! How would you like it if you had to walk around in a costume every day just so that people won't scream and run away, or even try to kill you? You're telling me to grow up? To get a clue? Well, right back at you, dude!"
With an unusually bright, smoky BAMF, he was gone.
Scott leaned against the tree trunk, a hand to his forehead.
"Well," he said to himself. "That went well."
"You're right, Scott, Kurt can be totally immature at times. But you have to keep in mind that before he came here he lived a pretty sheltered life. I mean, can you imagine what it must have been like growing up looking the way he does, and without an image inducer?"
"I know, Jean..." Scott sighed. "But, when the safety of all of us is on the line, I'm not going to lighten up on him. He's got to learn some responsibility."
"I agree. But you must be careful, Scott. Kurt is still coming to terms with his identity. Believe it or not, the image inducer may actually make that more difficult for him. If you push him too hard, he could either come to resent you and it, or else become completely dependent on that thing and still resent you for it."
"Hey, guys," a chipper voice came from behind them. Scott and Jean turned around to face the newcomer.
"Hey, Kitty," Jean said, and smiled. "What's up?"
"Like, have either of you two seen Kurt?" Kitty asked. "I've been, like, searching for him since school, like, ended! I, like, totally need to tell him something and it's really important."
Jean turned to Scott, who looked slightly sheepish.
"Yeah, well, I haven't seen him since lunch. Maybe you should ask Rogue where he is."
"That's, like, the first place I went after the bell rang, but she hasn't seen him since, like, this morning."
"Well, maybe he went back to the Institute," Jean suggested. "It's not like he has to drive there like the rest of us."
Kitty rolled her eyes and clapped her palm to her forehead.
"Oh, right! Duh! I'll bet that's where he is. Thanks! See you two at the dance, OK?"
Jean smiled back.
"OK. Bye, Kitty."
"What do you think she wanted to tell him?" Scott asked once she'd gone, running as fast as she could to catch the late bus, the school bus that departed an hour after the regular buses to accommodate students who participated in after school activities.
"What do you think I am, a mind reader?"
Scott smirked and shook his head.
"Ooh, that was bad, Jean. Really bad."
Jean smiled and stood up from the bench where they had been sitting since Jean's soccer practice ended.
"Well, the dance starts at six, but Duncan Matthews and his friends are picking me up at five-thirty. That means I've only got about three hours to get ready. We'd better get going!"
Scott's eye twitched at the mention of the blond football star's name, but he shook off his anger and stood to take her hands in his.
"Do you really think it'll take that long for you to make yourself beautiful?"
Jean flushed slightly.
"Well, you don't expect me to go looking like this, do you?"
"Why not? From where I'm standing, you don't need any improvement. Even in jeans, you'd be the most striking girl on the dance floor, Jean."
Scott squinted behind his glasses, recognizing something awkward in that sentence but not quite sure whether it was what he'd said or how he'd said it.
"That's sweet, Scott, but we really should be getting back. Come on, I'll race you to your car!"
Scott sighed deeply as he watched her departing back, then he straightened, a familiar mask of friendly indifference settling easily over his pained features.
"Hey, wait up!" he called, loping forwards on his long legs. "Even if you beat me it won't do you any good! I'm the one with the keys, remember!"
To Be Continued...
Kitty hiked up the long driveway to the Institute, surprised to see a strange man with short, sandy hair standing on the grass looking up at the mansion with his hands in the pockets of his long coat. This man wore a thick sweater even though it was an unusually warm March afternoon. Curious, and with more than a little trepidation, Kitty walked up to him, prepared to phase if the stranger proved to be dangerous.
"Hi, there," she said.
The man jumped, surprised, and turned to her. He had a pleasant face, long and narrow, with large, gray eyes. He smiled when he saw her.
"Guten Tag, Fraulein," the man said in German, his low tenor voice as gentle and pleasant as his face. "Are you a student here?"
"Um, yeah. Well, uh, sort of," she said, eyeing him suspiciously. His accent was faint, and sounded almost more British than German. "I actually go to school at Bayville High, about a mile or so down the road. I just kind of, like, live here at the Institute."
"Strange," he said, returning his gaze to the mansion.
"What is?" Kitty asked.
The man shook his head, his bright eyes crinkled with disbelief.
"All of this," he said, encompassing the Institute and its grounds with a pale hand. "It all looks just as it did twenty years ago! I can't understand it. Or rather, I have a theory but it's too impossible to be credible. There must be another explanation."
He stepped closer to her, fixing her with an intense, searching stare that made her want to squirm.
"Bitte, Madchen, may I ask your name?"
"Hey, you first," she snapped back. "This is private property, mister. Who are you and what are you doing here?"
The man took a step back, surprised by her hostility.
Something about the oddly graceful way he moved triggered a flash in Kitty's mind. Her eyes narrowed and her lips grew tight.
"Hey, wait a minute!" she cried. "That's you, isn't it!"
She stated more than asked the question, advancing on the confused German in annoyance.
"What kind of dumb game are you playing, Kurt?" she demanded. "You know the Professor said that image inducer isn't a toy. And, what's with that stupid deep voice, anyway? Are you, like, getting a cold?" She snorted. "Don't tell me this is your way of backing out of the dance tonight!"
The man's gray eyes widened and his mouth dropped open.
"Katzchen!" he gasped, his hands starting to tremble as he backed slowly away from her. His long, narrow fingers divided at the middle in a manner reminiscent of the Vulcan salute.
"Nein! Bitte, Gott, this cannot be possible. The consequences...if I even crush a plant while I'm here...meine Kinder!"
"'Kinder'?" Kitty repeated in confusion. "Kurt, what are you—?"
But, he vanished in a BAMF of sulfur-scented smoke, leaving the rather frightened Kitty to call out across the grounds: "Kurt? Kurt! Where did you go? KURT!"
"What's up, Half-Pint?" a gruff voice asked from behind her. Kitty spun around to see Logan. The burly Canadian frowned down at her in concern.
"It's Kurt, Mr. Logan," Kitty said. "He's acting really weird. It's like, I came home, right, and he was, like, standing here looking up at the mansion. He must have, like, changed the settings of his image inducer or something because he was, like, way taller with short, sandy hair. Seriously, he looked like he must have been, like, forty years old or something!"
Logan creased his brow.
"Forty, you say?" He barked a short laugh. "I wonder what the Elf is up to this time. He give you any clues?"
"Not really. But he's been acting, like, really weird all day. I mean, first he brought me breakfast in bed—"
Logan raised an eyebrow.
"Breakfast in bed?" he teased. "What for?"
Kitty twitched uncomfortably, twiddling her thumbs as she answered.
"Well, it's like, he wanted to do something nice for me because I, like, sort of told him I'd kind of go to the dance with him tonight."
"Sounds like something the Squirrel would do."
Kitty sighed, seemingly embarrassed though Logan wasn't sure why.
"Yeah, I know, but he was acting so weird when he did it! All shy and nervous and stuff. It kind of creeped me out. Then at school, I didn't see him at all and usually all of us from the Institute eat lunch together. And then, after searching for, like, ever, I got back to find him like I told you. It's real weird, Mr. Logan. I don't get it."
Logan sniffed the air, searching for any lingering scents with his highly attuned senses. His eyes widened in shock.
"That can't be right," he muttered.
"What?" Kitty asked, stepping closer to the Canadian. "What is it?"
"Stay here, Half-Pint," Logan said gruffly. "I'll get to the bottom of this little mystery."
"But, Mr. Logan, if Kurt's—"
"I said stay here, Kitty. I'll be back."
Kitty shrugged and moved to sit on the stoop.
"OK. I'll be, like, right here if you need me, OK?"
Logan didn't answer. He had already picked up the trail of his quarry.
"You can turn that thing off, kid," Logan said, his gruff voice cool and confident despite the fact that his heart was pounding with apprehension. "I know who you are."
The German blinked up at the Canadian from his miserable hunch against the thick trunk of a huge oak tree.
"I knew you would find me, sooner or later," the pale man said tiredly, and straightened his back. "I just hoped it would be later."
He rose gracefully to his feet without the use of his hands, a small smile spreading across his pale features as he looked down into Logan's inscrutable face.
"How are you, mein Freund?"
Logan squinted his flinty eyes as he peered up at the taller man, his mind rebelling against everything his senses were telling him. The German's smile faded when he noticed Logan's not so subtle sniffing.
"Was?" he asked, half amused and half insulted. "Do I really smell that bad?"
Logan's eyes narrowed.
"I can't figure you out, bub," he admitted. "My nose is telling me one thing, but every rational bone in my body refuses to believe it."
The taller man sighed, his narrow face drawn with anxious dread. When he spoke, his voice was as soft as a private prayer. He was clearly talking to himself more than his companion, but Logan's sensitive ears picked up each and every word.
"No matter what happens, there is no way I can avoid impacting things here," he said, his gray eyes tight with emotion. "You and young Katzchen have already been affected, as has everything I have touched since my arrival. And it will only get worse if I try to hide."
The German looked down at the bulky watch on his wrist for a long moment, then, with the air of one who has just made a life or death decision, he pushed a large, yellow button on its side.
Logan squinted his sensitive eyes as the image of light that had surrounded the taller man flickered and faded out, revealing a slender, blue man in an elegant black suit. His fuzzy, two-toed feet were unshod. His pointed ears poked through his short, wavy hair, and despite his obvious anxiety he held himself with a confidence and self-assurance that marked him as a leader. He was clearly past thirty, but his dark, indigo face was still unlined. He regarded Logan with alert, golden eyes only slightly crinkled at the edges.
"There," he said, stretching out his arms and waving his long, spade-tipped tail in a slow, exaggerated motion. "You see? It's just me, Logan. A bit older, perhaps, but still the same old fuzzy elf." He smiled, revealing his pointed fangs. "Still confused?" he asked with familiar humor. "I know I am."
Logan's eyes widened in astonishment at the sight of the tall, lean man before him as everything his senses had been telling him began to fall into place. However, the reality they pointed to was impossible.
"Kurt?" he asked, his voice uncharacteristically uncertain.
"Of course, mein Freund."
Logan took a step closer.
"That was my name the last time I checked. Although, I have also been known to answer to Nightcrawler."
Logan goggled, a very rare expression for him.
"What happened to you, Elf?" he exclaimed. "How did you get like this?"
Kurt closed his bright eyes and sighed.
"I'm afraid that is a very long, very difficult, and very dangerous story. I am not certain I should tell it here. What is certain, is that I need help. The longer I stay here, the greater the chances that I might change something that should not be changed. A glance, a word, an intake of breath at just the wrong moment, anything I do here could have repercussions that could change...everything."
He opened his eyes and turned his gaze to the fluttering Spring leaves above his head.
"I must get home as soon as possible. I am a danger to myself and all of you until I do."
Logan shook his head, at a loss for words.
"Come with me, Elf," he said at last, his brow furrowed with concern. "We're going to see the Professor."
Kurt worked hard to keep his expression neutral, but Logan sensed an increase in the German's heart rate when he mentioned the Professor. His eyes narrowed as he took in Kurt's black suit, but he wisely kept all his thoughts to himself. In that moment, he knew the Elf was right. His presence here was dangerous, and the sooner he went back where he came from, the better it would be for everyone.
Scott pulled up the long driveway of the Xavier Institute just as Logan came around the building with Kurt. He stopped short, causing Jean to be jolted violently against her seatbelt.
"Ugh!" she grunted. "What is it, Scott?"
Scott could only point. Jean followed his finger and her jaw dropped.
"Oh, my God! But that can't be—"
"Kurt!" Kitty exclaimed, jumping up from the stoop where she'd been impatiently breaking a stick into small pieces. "My God, Kurt, is that really you?"
"Kurt, man, I am so sorry!" Scott said, running up to him on his long legs, Jean close behind him. "When I told you to grow up, I didn't mean for you to take me so literally! How did this happen, man?"
Kurt stared at Scott, his dark face a study in amazement.
"S-Scott?" he said softly. "Cyclops? But, it must be you. Mein Gott, but you look so young! And you, Jean...!"
He trailed off, looking very tired as an unbearable wave of fear, grief, and loss passed over him. Jean gasped and quickly strengthened her mental shields. Kurt's yellow eyes narrowed and his lips twisted into a small, wry smirk.
"Well," he said, "I suppose I can no longer deny what has happened. Somehow, I am here and now it's up to me to deal with it."
He sighed at the curious, confused looks on his friends' faces, then forced himself to smile.
"Hello, my friends," he said. "My name is Kurt Wagner and I'm from the future, corny as that may sound. And, if I'm ever going to get back to my home, I'm afraid I'm going to need your help."
Before anyone could respond to that alarming statement, a deep, cultured voice sounded in each of their heads.
*X-Men, please report to my office at once*
A very strange look passed over Kurt's face. Jean regarded him curiously, but he just flashed an easy smile at her and shrugged.
"Since Logan and I were headed to see the Professor anyway, I hope you won't mind if I join you." He sighed again, his tail shuddering slightly in response to all the worries swirling through his mind. "I only hope we can fix this before it's too late."
As the small troop filed into the mansion, Kitty ran up to talk to Logan.
"If this guy is really, like, from the future and stuff," she asked softly, her eyes darting to make sure the adult Kurt wasn't listening in, "then what happened to our Kurt?"
Logan shook his head, his dark, flinty eyes filled with concern.
"I don't know, Half-Pint. I just don't know."
To Be Continued...
Bayville, NY USA
Friday, 3 October 2034
The alert signal flashed on the control panel, accompanied by a soft BLEEP.
Marti lowered her over-large feet from the control panel and deactivated her holographic game cube, leaning forward to flick the switch that would activate the intercom.
"Dad, wake up! There's a signal coming in for you from New York. It's not marked private or anything. Do you want to take it in here or would you rather I directed it to your room?"
Marti smirked as the sound of her father's yawn echoed tinnily over the intercom.
"I'll take it in there, Marta," he said at last. "And, sweetheart, do you think you could scrounge me up a mug of that mud we so affectionately refer to as coffee?" He yawned again, louder this time. "I think I'll need it if this call is what I think it is. Though why Scott would call here so early is beyond me. It must be one in the morning where he is!"
Marti responded with a short salute, even though she knew her father couldn't see it. "Sure thing, Dad," she assured him. "I'll be back before you can say BAMF!"
Reaching out with her long, indigo tail, Marti quickly flicked the switch to break the intercom connection and teleported to the kitchen in search of Meggan's infamous morning coffee.
Kurt Wagner stretched out his sleep-stiffened muscles and rolled over in bed, pecking his wife's cheek with a brief 'good morning' kiss.
"Duty calls, Liebchen," he said, rolling out of bed and pulling a sweatshirt over his pale-blue pajama top. "See you at breakfast, OK?"
"Yeah...breakfast...sure," she mumbled sleepily. She blinked her heavy eyelids and looked blearily up at him. "Just do me one favor, my dear?"
"Anything, meine Liebe," Kurt assured her, hopping up onto the footboard and curling his four long, fuzzy toes about the rounded wood.
"Don't 'port 'till you're out in the hallway. Between you and Marti it's a miracle my sense of smell is still intact."
Kurt's narrow, aristocratic features fell into a mock pout as he theatrically clapped a tridactyl hand over his heart.
"Ach, this from meine own Frau!" The agile leader of the British superhero team Excalibur tumbled onto the bed, crawling under the blankets and gathering his wife up in his arms.
"But I thought you said you liked my cologne," he teased, kissing her gently.
His wife giggled.
"Not when it's Ode du 'Port, and not at six in the morning!" she exclaimed, shrieking as his tail crept around her waist and playfully began to tickle her through her nightgown.
"Stop that!" She squirmed, near breathless from laughing. "Quit it, Kurt! Honestly, you act more like a child than the children themselves!"
"That never seemed to bother you before, Liebchen," he retorted, unwrapping his tail from her slender waist and leaning in to kiss her neck. "Have I told you that I love you yet this morning?"
"Not quite," she said with a wickedly suggestive smile, "but I've always been told that actions speak louder than words."
Kurt's pale, yellow eyes opened wide, his expression one of exaggeratedly scandalized shock as he jumped up into a crouch, his spade-tipped tail swaying behind him.
"Meine Dame!" he gasped. "Don't you know there are children sleeping in the next room?"
His wife fixed him with a playful grin, tossing her dark hair and propping her head up on her palm.
"That never seemed to bother you before, Liebchen," she shot back at him with a wink.
Kurt grinned at her, deep affection shining in his glowing eyes.
"Ach, meine Liebe," he sighed. "As much as I would like to stay and play, I'm afraid that duty calls me. Scott is no doubt wanting my monthly report and I've already kept him waiting nearly ten minutes. You know how agitated he gets when I keep him waiting."
"I know," she said, and smiled. "That annoyed look he makes when his lips get all tight at the edges - it's priceless!"
"So, if I am to avoid getting treated to yet another lecture on my so-called irresponsibility from Herr Tightwad himself, I am afraid I must leave you, meine Frau." He kissed her hand, then started traveling up her arm. "Ach, but I don't want to go!" he whined.
Laughing, his wife pushed him away.
"Go on, get out of here you fuzzy elf." She grinned. "We'll have plenty of time to play later. Think of this as just another of the many burdens of command."
Kurt grumbled good-naturedly and leaped gracefully from the bed.
"I never asked to be the leader, you know," he said.
"I know, my dear. But you were the one elected to the post - a unanimous decision if I remember correctly - and we couldn't ask for better. Now, go talk to your friend. I'll get dressed and meet you in the kitchen when you're through."
Kurt stepped out into long corridor and graced his wife with a formal, parting bow.
"Your wish is my command, meine Dame!" Then he laughed. "I guess now we know who the real leader is around here," he said, his words fading as he vanished in a theatrical BAMF of sulfur-scented smoke.
Alice Wagner chuckled affectionately and set about making the bed.
"Hey, Dad!" Marti greeted with a pointy-toothed grin, holding her father's favorite coffee mug out to him with her tail. "It's Uncle Scott on the line."
"I thought so," Kurt said, "and thanks for this." He took the steaming mug from his eldest daughter and ruffled her short, red curls. Aside from her red hair and green eyes, with her fuzzy, indigo skin, pointed ears, tridactyl hands and feet, and her long, spade-tipped tail the young teenager was the very image of her father.
"Dad!" she squealed, her London accent thickening in her annoyance. "Get off! I have enough trouble controlling my hair without you tousling it."
"If you got out of my chair, Liebling, your lovely curls wouldn't be so easy for me to reach," he said, gingerly sipping at his coffee.
"Ack!" he sputtered, his tail shuddering in reaction to the bitter taste. Even with cream and sugar it was awful. "Urg! Yeech!"
Marti giggled at the expression that crossed his face as he struggled to swallow.
"Tell Meggan her coffee improves by the day," he said cheerfully, once he'd recovered. "I don't know if it's her recipe or the number of tastebuds this stuff is killing off, but by the end of the year this muck might even be drinkable!"
Marti laughed harder and got up out of the control chair.
"If you and Mum woke up earlier, you wouldn't have to worry about killing your tastebuds," she said. "You could beat Meggan to the kitchen and make the coffee yourselves."
Kurt raised his eyebrow at his daughter.
"Or, since you always seem to be up and about at the crack of dawn, you could prove yourself a thoughtful, considerate daughter and make it for us."
"Who, me?" Marti exclaimed, her green eyes theatrically wide. "Condone the use of a harmful drug like caffeine?"
Kurt snickered, taking his place in his chair and risking another sip.
"Your mother and I taught you too well," he said. "Now it's coming back to bite us." He waved her away with his spaded tail. "Go wake up your brother and sister, and check to see if Eliza and Samuel are up yet. You've all got to get ready for school, and I've really got to take this call."
Marta snapped to attention with a quick salute, then vanished in a BAMF of familiar blue-black smoke.
Kurt grinned with proud affection as he turned to the control board. He was still chuckling when Scott's holographic image appeared before him.
"Guten Morgen, mein Freund!" Kurt greeted the spectacled man cheerfully. "I am very sorry to have kept you waiting."
Scott shook his head, waving off the apology.
"No, Kurt, it's me who should be apologizing. I'm afraid I woke you up for some bad news."
It was then that Kurt noticed the drawn, pale look that had taken hold of his friend's stoic face. The few strands of silver that streaked his brown hair at the temples looked more prominent than they had the last time Kurt had seen him. Even with his ruby-quartz glasses shielding his eyes, it was clear that whatever this news was, it had hit the elected leader of the international X-Men organization very hard.
Kurt instantly sobered, straightening his posture and placing his coffee mug down on a small table.
"What is it, Scott?" he asked, his golden eyes wide with concern. "Is everything all right at the mansion?"
"Yes, yes, everything here is fine. Jean's good, the kids are good, everything's fine." He sighed again, reaching up under his glasses with a long finger to wipe a tear from his eye.
Kurt felt a cold hand grip his stomach. He swallowed hard as a sudden feeling of foreboding entered his heart.
"Scott, is it...it's not the Professor?"
Scott drew in a sharp, shaky breath, turning his gaze to the ceiling.
"I'm afraid you've hit the nail on the head," he said with a miserable attempt at a smile. "It happened just a few minutes ago. I just got the call myself. Professor Xavier d-died at..."
He trailed off, trying to regain control of his trembling voice.
Kurt found himself blinking back tears of his own. He wished he could reach out to touch his friend's shoulder, to offer him some support in his grief, but he was stuck in Excalibur's control room. An entire ocean separated him from his friend.
"It's OK, Scott," he said softly. "Professor Xavier was a father to us all. It was his dream that made this world what it is today. You don't have to hide your tears from me."
Scott gasped out a strangled sob, leaning against his own control panel.
"I know, Kurt. I know."
He took in a deep, strengthening breath and straightened, a mask of professionalism settling over his anguished features.
"It was an aneurysm," he said, his voice completely devoid of inflection. "He was at his home in Hawaii. It came suddenly and the doctors assured us that there was no pain." He bowed his head for a brief moment, then looked back up at Kurt. "The funeral will take place here at the mansion, next Saturday at three o'clock. It'll be a huge affair; international dignitaries in attendance and so on. Jean's insisting on handling the organization. Your team is invited, of course."
"Of course. I will make the travel arrangements and alert the government that we won't be available at that time." He smirked. "MI-6 will just have to handle things on their own until we get back."
Scott raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, dear. Are you sure that's a good idea? Remember what happened when you took time off last Christmas and they lost the Underground Bomber. And that guy wasn't even a mutant!"
Kurt chuckled half-heartedly.
"Well, we'll just have to take that chance. This is a time to be with family, and that means you and the rest of the X-Men. Have you contacted Storm and Evan in Africa yet?"
Scott shook his head.
"No, you were the first. Is Rahne still in Scotland?"
"Yes. And Logan has been staying with us here at the manor for the past two weeks. I'll tell them."
"Thanks, Kurt. I'll see you soon."
With that, Scott ended the transmission. Kurt sat back in his chair and curled his knees to his chest. How could he tell the children?
To Be Continued...
Professor Charles Xavier looked up from his computer screen at the loud pounding at his office door. He didn't even have to use his powers to determine the identity of his visitor.
"Come in, Logan," he called out, his expression drawn and serious as he reflected back on why he had called his X-Men together.
The door opened and the children filed into the room, followed closely by Logan and...
Xavier sat back in astonishment as his eyes fell on the tall, shadowy figure standing just inside the plush office. The dark man's golden eyes narrowed with concentration and his tail wrapped tightly around his leg as he struggled to shield his roiling emotions from the world's most powerful telepath. Xavier quickly raised his own mental shields, but kept them relatively weak. On principle, he was unwilling to peer into a mind so determined to retain its privacy, yet when the safety of his students could be at stake, he didn't want to miss any signs that this man was not who he so obviously and impossibly appeared to be.
"Charles," Logan said with a rough gesture towards the taller man standing beside him, "I'd like you to meet Kurt Wagner. Says he's from the future."
The Professor maneuvered his wheelchair around his desk and held out his hand to his visitor.
"The pleasure is mine, Herr Wagner," he said courteously, pronouncing the W as a V. Kurt raised an eyebrow at the formal address, but favored him with a polite smile as he took the Professor's proffered hand.
"Danke," he said simply.
The Professor regarded him, loosening his shields still more.
"Tell me, Herr Wagner, how did you come here?"
Kurt grimaced, his expression one of total concentration as he worked to maintain his own shields.
"Sorry, Professor, but no can do...too dangerous. Although I am starting to wonder if it was not an accident." He surprised the Professor with a wink. "And you can stop that probing, mein Herr," he said with a small smile. "Aren't you always the one telling Jean it's rude to peek?"
Jean giggled behind her hand at the expression that crossed her mentor's face. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, though his eyes took on a defensive look.
"If you are indeed Kurt Wagner, as you claim, then surely you understand the need to-"
To everyone's surprise, it was Logan who cut him off.
"Look, Chuck, I think you'd better listen to the man," the gruff Canadian said. He tapped his nose. "I've already verified his identity or I wouldn't 'a brung him to see you. The Elf's tellin' the truth."
The door opened and Rogue, Evan, and Ororo stepped into the room. The tardy trio stopped short, excuses and apologies dying on their lips as they caught sight of the increasingly uncomfortable Kurt Wagner. In an attempt to ease the suddenly high tension level in the room, Kurt smiled and offered the newcomers a friendly wave.
"Hello," he said.
"What the heck is this?" Rogue asked bluntly. "Kurt, you been messin' with your holowatch again?"
"Yeah, man. 'Cause I mean, seriously, dude, this new look doesn't suit you."
Kurt straightened, his tail lashing behind him.
"I beg your pardon," he said, trying hard not to feel insulted by his young friend's assessment.
Ororo couldn't bring herself to stop staring, her blue eyes wide.
"Charles," she said, her deep voice weighty with cautious trepidation, "is this what you called us here to discuss?"
Charles sighed and wheeled back to his place behind his desk.
"Actually, no," he said. "This development came as much of a surprise to me as it did to all of you. However, I'm afraid the real reason for this meeting is even more disturbing. It seems that-"
"Wait a minute," Evan cut him off, his eyes darting nervously towards the suited figure standing by the desk.
"Evan!" his aunt scolded.
Evan was too agitated to pay her any attention.
"Are you trying to tell me that this," he pressed on, gesturing to Kurt, "is for real?" He attempted a laugh, but it fell rather flat. "No way, dude! This has got to be one of the blue man's pranks. I'm not gonna fall for it."
"It's no prank, Porcupine," Logan growled, causing Rogue, Evan, and Ororo to turn their stunned stares to him. "And if you know what's good for you, you'll keep your questions and comments to yourself. Let's all just listen to what Charlie's gotta say. Then we can discuss the Elf's problems."
"Dankeschon, mein Freund," Kurt thanked him as, slowly, attention turned from him to the Professor.
Xavier cleared his throat.
"For the past several weeks now," he said, "the National Weather Bureau, along with several other scientific groups and agencies, has been detecting a number of unexplainable, intermittent disruptions to the earth's magnetic fields. The only explanation I can come up with is that this has something to do with our old friend, Magneto."
Xavier waited patiently for the startled reactions his words had prompted to die down before he continued.
"Using Cerebro to track the Brotherhood's movements, and with a little detective work by Logan, I was able to discover the location of Magneto's new base of operations."
He turned his flat-screen computer monitor so the others could see it.
"These are the blueprints for a machine that appears to be an equivalent to Cerebro. However, rather than amplifying psi-waves, this machine is designed to locate new mutants by detecting the unique electro-magnetic signature given off at the moment their powers manifest."
"Meaning that Magneto will be able to trick other frightened kids into joining his twisted cause like he tried to do with Alex," Scott said with a scowl, remembering how Magneto had once manipulated his younger brother and himself into attacking their friends.
"It gets worse," Xavier said darkly.
Kitty couldn't repress a shiver. Kurt noticed, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. For some reason, the friendly gesture seemed to make her even more uncomfortable. Kurt removed his hand and stepped away from the group, half-vanishing into the shadows of the corner as the Professor went on.
"The machine is not yet fully operational," he said. "Although it is very close. Once it is completed, its activation will temporarily change the earth's electro-magnetic signature."
"But, the effects on the weather patterns..." Ororo started, too disturbed to complete the thought.
"Precisely," the Professor said. "Not to mention satellites and navigation systems and all manner of electronic equipment... We could be looking at a world-wide crisis."
"But, like, why would Magneto want to do something like that?" Kitty asked. "I mean, it's like, this seems kind of drastic just to get a few new recruits, you know what I mean?"
"Not if you're lookin' to start a war, Half-Pint," Logan growled.
"That doesn't sound like Magneto's style," Jean protested. "I mean, the guy's ideology is a little skewed, for sure, but he's about mutant superiority, not war." She turned to the Professor, her green eyes wide with trepidation. "Am I right?"
The Professor sighed.
"The day is rapidly approaching when we mutants will no longer be able to hide from the outside world," he said. "All my life I have worked to ease that introduction, to prepare us all to meet the inevitable fear with compassion and knowledge rather than violence. Although Erik understood my ideals, he never believed humanity would live up to them. He's readying himself to meet their violent bigotry with his own, to fight eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth, firmly believing himself to be in the right. I don't believe he is willing to start a war against normal humans, but he is more than ready to fight one."
Kurt furrowed his brow, deep in thought, absently rubbing at his left shoulder. His golden eyes were fixed on his holowatch. It was one of the hardest things the Professor had ever done to keep from picking up on his raging emotions. Jean, however, winced and quickly squeezed her hands to her temples.
Scott was instantly by her side.
"Jean, are you all right?" he asked anxiously, trying to catch her eyes.
Jean tossed her long, red hair and straightened, looking slightly sheepish.
"Yeah, I'm fine, Scott. But, I'm not so sure about him."
All eyes turned to Kurt, the sudden attention startling him out of his disturbing thoughts.
"I can't help you," he blurted out, his yellow eyes haunted. "I can't risk changing things. I can't risk losing...everything."
His voice trailed off until the last word was little more than an anguished whisper.
"What are you talking about?" Scott demanded. "Are you saying you know what Magneto's up to?"
Kurt narrowed his eyes at the boy's tone.
"There are some lessons that can only be learned through experience," he stated, his voice firm. "I'm sorry, Scott."
"Oh, that's great, Kurt. That's just great! Why don't you just-"
"Scott," the Professor warned before the angry boy could say anything more.
"But, Professor, with this guy here instead of our Kurt we're one short. How are we supposed to-"
"Scott," the Professor said again, his voice sharp.
Scott's mouth snapped shut and his shoulders straightened.
"I have never been much of a believer in predestination," he said, speaking to everyone but looking at Kurt. "I'm sorry, Kurt, but as far as I'm concerned, your past is my future. And from where I'm sitting, that future hasn't been written yet.* Although I respect your decision to try not to interfere, you must have seen by now that that is impossible. Your very presence here is affecting each of us. Besides that, we are one short, and your powers and experience would certainly aid us greatly should you choose to help us. I'll leave it up to you."
Kurt stood straight and tall as he stepped forward, imposing in his black suit.
"Charles," he said, slipping out of his deferential shell and addressing the Professor as an equal. "I know what will happen if I agree to help you in this. I can see the consequences stretching out before me like so many dominoes."
He leaned forward with his hands pressed flat on the desk, looking the Professor straight in the eye.
"Charles, I have the benefit of hindsight, a power I am finding more terrifying than you can know. Even if you don't believe in predestination, you must acknowledge the danger in that."
The Professor leaned back in his chair, his brow furrowed as he considered Kurt's impassioned words. There was so much hiding behind them, so much begging to be read between the lines, so much the Professor longed to know. This dangerous knowledge was a temptation he could not resist. He still had one card left to play.
"Very well," he said. "But, if you can remember going through all this as a teenager, learning of Magneto's plan and facing him with the rest of the team, can you tell us where that teenaged Kurt is now? Apparently, he vanished when you appeared."
Kurt turned away, his hands shoved deep in his pockets and his tail wrapped around his ankle.
"That has been disturbing me more than anything else," he admitted. "I can't remember sitting at this meeting before. I can't remember confronting Magneto over this machine. And I know I can't recall anyone ever mentioning a visit by an older version of myself. I fear the domino effect has started already. If it continues, everything we have worked for, everything we achieved-" he cut himself off, his head snapping up abruptly as a sudden thought occurred to him.
"Just when did your Kurt vanish?" he asked. "Was he teleporting at the time?"
Jean and Kitty turned to Scott. Scott turned red.
"Well...um...the last time any of us saw him he was teleporting, yes. It was during lunch. I noticed something strange about it-it was kind of brighter than usual. But, I just put that down to anger." He shrugged, looking rather sheepish. "He was sort of upset at the time."
"I was attempting a teleport when I found myself yanked here. I lost consciousness upon my arrival. I had only just awoken when Kitty found me."
Kurt furrowed his brow, his swaying tail curling and uncurling as he paced across the room.
"I have been trying to figure this out," he said distractedly, apparently talking to himself, "and until now it just didn't make sense. Tesseract isn't nearly powerful enough to enact a time- warp like this...something had to have weakened the space-time continuum enough for her to- ...And perhaps with the trans-dimensional aspect from the teleport..."
The young X-Men looked at each other in bewilderment, wondering just what this strange, adult version of their friend was babbling on about. They jumped in surprise when Kurt suddenly spun on them, his golden eyes bright and intense.
"Charles," he asked, "when was the most recent of these electro-magnetic disturbances you were talking about?"
Xavier tapped at his keyboard, then used his mouse to scroll down the screen.
"12:36 this afternoon," he said, his own eyes brightening as he caught on to what Kurt was suggesting.
Kurt nodded, his lips tight.
"If it was Magneto's machine that caused your Kurt and me to switch places in time-for I assume that is what has happened-then in order to fix this situation I'm afraid I must change my previous decision."
"You mean you're going to help us stop Magneto?" Evan asked, starting to get excited.
Kurt nodded with a deep sigh, his thick fingers running over the large, golden band on the second finger of his left hand.
"I have to."
The next time he lifted his head, his golden eyes were twinkling with a familiar glint of mischief.
"But don't even think about asking me what happens in the future. Especially you, Charles. Because I won't tell."
The Professor blinked.
Kurt smiled knowingly.
"When are we going, Professor?" Scott asked.
Jean and Kitty suddenly looked very nervous, their eyes shifting to the clock over the Professor's desk and their thoughts shifting to the up-coming dance.
"Tomorrow afternoon," Xavier answered, to the audible relief of both girls. "Magneto's new base is located in Montana under an iron-rich mountain in the foothills of the Rockies. You will all need to become familiar with the layout before you leave. That means tomorrow morning will be spent in the Danger Room."
"And tonight will be spent at the dance!" Evan crowed. "Time to shake that tail, right Ku-"
He broke off, suddenly remembering that his friend wasn't there. At least, not the version he knew.
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence.
"Oh, Kitty," Jean said suddenly, her green eyes widening with a sudden realization, "I'm so sorry!"
"Why are you sorry for her?" Evan asked. "It's Kurt that's missing, off in the future somewhere."
A muscle in Kurt's jaw twitched as he went back to twisting his ring, melancholy homesickness leaking from his lash-shadowed eyes.
"With Kurt gone, Kitty doesn't have a date, Spyke," Rogue explained, rolling her eyes at having to spell out the obvious.
"Oh," said Evan. "Bummer." Then he shrugged. "Well, I guess you could come with me," he offered. "It's not like it would be a date or anything, but if it would make you feel better..."
Kitty was looking decidedly uncomfortable under the weight of the collective concern of her friends.
"Um...that's, like, real nice and everything, Spyke, but, like, um..." She scrunched up her shoulders, then let it all out in a rapid-fire stream. "I don't, like, actually need a date because I'm, like, going to the dance with Pete and that's, like, what I needed to tell Kurt in the first place which is why I was, like, looking for him for, like, hours after school and everything!"
Her friends were taken aback by this news, particularly Rogue.
"Kitty, how could you do that?" she asked. "How could you make a date with that crass jerk and leave Kurt in the lurch? Did you even consider Kurt's feelings? Ah've never seen him so happy as he was this mornin'. Ah mean, he brought you breakfast in bed! If a boy did that for me, ah wouldn't just turn around and make a date with someone else!"
Kurt blinked from his spot in the corner, then he tilted his head with a slightly amused smile. He remembered that. He chuckled softly to think how positively elated he had been when Kitty had said yes. He strained his memory, trying to recall the dance itself, but to his concerned annoyance it was all a blank. Shaking his head, he turned his attention back to the conversation raging before him.
"It's not like that!" Kitty was protesting angrily. "The only reason I even, like, said yes to Kurt in the first place was because Pete, like, already said he'd go with another girl. I mean, it was, like, the day before the dance and everything and if Kurt hadn't asked me I would have been, like, totally dateless!"
Rogue shot her a look of pure disgust and turned away. Jean shook her head. Kitty's face crumpled, her large eyes filling with tears.
"I so totally didn't mean for this to happen," she cried. "It all happened so suddenly! It was like, Pete came over to me at lunch and said that other girl couldn't go. She was, like, grounded or something. And then he asked me and I was like, I don't even know and before I knew what was happening I'd said OK. I didn't even remember Kurt until Pete had gone back to his table, but as soon as I did I started searching for him."
Her shoulders trembled as tears trickled down her flushed cheeks.
"And now, I, like, don't even want to go with Pete anymore!"
Kurt couldn't allow this to go on, not on his account. Moving forward, he crouched down to her height and tucked a thick finger under her chin, lifting her eyes to his gentle smile.
"Please, don't be so upset, Katzchen," he said to her, his voice soft. "I'm certain your Kurt would understand. Trust me," he assured her, his smile broadening. "I know him better than anyone else here."
Kitty sniffled, jerking her head away from his hand.
"No, he'd, like, hate me," she mumbled miserably.
"Never," Kurt protested. "Believe me, the only thing Kurt would want would be to see you have a wonderful time at the dance. So, dry your eyes, stop feeling so guilty, and go have fun with your friend, Pete."
"Oh, God, he would be like that, wouldn't he," Kitty sobbed. "I don't even, like, deserve a friend like him!"
"Nonsense," Kurt started, but Kitty startled him by falling forward into his arms, leaning her head against his shoulder as she cried. Kurt stroked her long, brown ponytail in a fatherly fashion, unexpectedly finding himself struggling against tears of his own as he wondered if he would ever again hold his own children like this.
After a few moments, Kitty pulled away, looking up at Kurt with reddened eyes.
"I, like, know you're not, like...well...exactly the Kurt I know and everything," she said hesitantly, "but, I was wondering if, like, you might want to, maybe, go to the dance with me anyway?"
The room seemed to freeze in time as everyone waited to hear how Kurt would respond.
Kurt blinked a few times, deeply touched but highly aware of the awkwardness of the situation. He sighed.
"Katzchen, Liebling," he said gently, "I thank you for your kind offer, but I am afraid that the age difference between us would make it inappropriate for me to take you to the dance as a date." Before she could protest, he held up a staying hand. "However," he continued, "I will agree to go as your personal chaperone." Kitty tilted her head, wiping her tears from her eyes with her sleeve. A personal chaperone sounded kind of romantic. "That way you can still enjoy yourself with your friend Pete, but since I will be there as well we can share as many dances as you like," Kurt explained. "How does that sound to you?"
Kitty pretended to consider his offer, then broke into a huge grin.
"Sounds great, Fuzzy Elf," she beamed, wrapping her arms tightly around his waist as he rose to his feet. "Thank you so much!"
Kurt smiled affectionately down at her, stroking her back with the spade of his tail, then using it to gently pry her away.
"When does this dance of yours begin?" he asked.
"Six," she answered promptly.
Jean glanced at the clock, then gasped.
"Oh, my God!" she exclaimed. "I've got less than half an hour before Duncan gets here! Gotta go!"
With that, the tall red-head dashed from the room, followed closely by Scott's bitter gaze.
"Well," the Professor said, amused, "it seems this meeting is adjourned. Have a wonderful time, everyone, and remember-be safe!"
"We will, Professor!" the remaining teens exclaimed as they filed out the door, laughing and chattering with Logan and Storm trailing behind. Kurt remained, suddenly seeming very uncomfortable.
"You handled that delicate situation very well, Kurt," the Professor commented as he wheeled out from behind his desk.
"I've had some experience with kids," he said simply. He cleared his throat. "Erm, I was wondering, Herr Professor, if there might be some clothes I could borrow for the dance? They don't have to be fancy or anything-I can use an image inducer to hide them-I just don't feel comfortable going in this suit."
"It's a very handsome suit, Kurt," the Professor said, somewhat confused.
Kurt looked slightly bemused.
"Thank you, Professor," he said, his tail twitching, "but honestly, I don't feel right attending a dance in it."
The Professor looked thoughtful, forcibly restraining himself from peering into Kurt's mind. It was getting more difficult by the minute.
"Scott is slightly taller than you are," he said at last, "but still, I believe his clothes would come closest to fitting you. I'll ask him, shall I?"
"Please." Then he noticed a light flashing dimly on his holowatch and groaned softly. "Ach, verdammt piece of outdated refuse..."
"What is it?" the Professor asked.
"This holowatch is very low on batteries. Do you think I could borrow one of the spares from my old room?"
"Of course, Kurt. They are yours, after all."
Kurt nodded as he turned to leave.
"Thank you, Professor. Have a pleasant evening."
"I will, Kurt. Enjoy yourself at the dance."
Kurt grinned, his golden eyes twinkling. For that moment, the Professor could clearly see the mischievous teenager he knew shining through the man before him.
"If nothing else," Kurt said, "it'll be certain to bring back memories!"
To Be Continued...
*TNG reference: Captain Picard said something like that in the Season 5 episode 'A Matter of Time.'
"Come along, into the jet everyone," Alice Wagner called, taking a head count as the children filed up the ramp and into the cabin. "Suzie, that had better be a maths book. We'll be back by Monday, and that means you still have to study for that test."
The twelve year old groaned loudly, tossing her long, blue hair. Suzie was the only one of the three Wagner children without a tail. Her skin was pale and clear, her hair a bright, azure blue, and her ears came to delicate, elfin points.
"The maths book is in my bag, Mum," she said with a golden-eyed scowl. "This one's just to read on the jet." She held up a spy novel with a bloody knife on the cover.
Alice shot her a 'you better be telling me the truth, young lady' look, then turned to Marta, who was flipping through a worn Horatio Hornblower novel.
"Marti, make sure Edmund's strapped in good and tight."
"I know how to do it myself, Mum," Edmund protested, his long, sky-blue tail lashing in agitation. "I've only flown in the jet a thousand times!"
"Even so, love, this will be a three hour trip over nothing but freezing water, and I just want to make sure you're strapped in properly."
"I can do it properly!" the eight year old argued, stamping his sneakered foot. "I'm not a baby! I don't need Marta to do it for me!"
"Oh, just let him do it, Mum," Suzie sighed, taking her own seat and strapping herself in with practiced ease. "When he messes it up, then he can ask for help."
Edmund stuck his pink tongue out at his older sister, who shot him a superior, golden-eyed glare in return.
"Everyone arguing?" Kurt asked cheerfully as he breezed through the cabin, pausing for a moment to give his wife a brief peck on the cheek before taking his seat at the controls. "Your mother getting good and exasperated?"
Alice shot him a look as she took her own seat just behind the cockpit.
Kurt grinned at her.
"Wunderbar. Nice to know everything's back to normal."
His expression sobered for a moment as he recalled the tears that had so closely followed the news that Grandpa Charles had died. He had allowed the children to miss school that day in a fit of compassion that Brian had not entirely approved of. But, then, he hadn't known Professor Xavier as Kurt did. Brian saw only a rather intimidating, brilliant, highly-influential old man. Kurt saw a kind, altruistic humanitarian who had always been more like a father to him than a leader or a mentor. Xavier had always loved the children of his first students as his own grandchildren, and they had loved the old man dearly in return. A day off in his honor was the least Kurt could give them after suffering such a painful loss.
Kurt's throat tightened and his golden eyes began to sting. Blinking hard and taking in a sharp breath through his nose, he quickly replaced his pained look with a smile, trying hard to keep his voice light.
"Now, we just have to wait for Logan, the Stuarts, and the Braddocks and we'll be off to Scotland."
"But, I thought we were going to New York," Edmund piped up from where he was struggling with his straps. Marta was hovering over him, just waiting for an opportunity to dart in and do it right. Suzie snickered, her pale face turned towards the window.
"We are," Kurt explained, his attentive expression mirroring Marta's as he watched his son's struggle. "But we have to pick up your Auntie Rahne first." His eyes narrowed at the tangled mess his youngest had made of his safety straps. "Are you sure you don't want any help with that, Liebling?" he asked.
"I can do it!" he insisted fiercely.
Kurt held up his hands.
"OK. That's fine with me. But, consider this, mein Junge. The weaker man is always the one who refuses to acknowledge his weaknesses. Can you tell me why?"
Edmund stopped his struggling for a moment as he considered his father's question. Marta surreptitiously untangled the straps, but made no move to fasten them.
"Erm," Edmund said, "um...because if you know what your weaknesses are, you can work harder at what you're good at?"
Kurt raised an eyebrow.
"And how would that help you?" he asked.
"Because then you wouldn't have to worry about doing what you're bad at?" Edmund tried.
"Hmm," Kurt said. "An interesting idea."
Edmund smiled, but his face fell again at his father's next question.
"But, if you ignore your weaknesses and never ask for help, doesn't that mean that you'll always be just as weak as you were before, no matter how hard you work at what you're good at?"
Edmund looked slightly blank, then he sighed, plucking at the straps with a five-fingered hand, his hazel eyes lowered.
"Are you trying to tell me to ask for help with these stupid straps?"
"I'm suggesting you should ask to be shown how to fasten your straps properly. That way, you can learn to do it for yourself. You will be turning a weakness into a strength."
He turned to his eldest daughter.
"Marta, sit down next to your brother and teach him how to strap himself in. We're not lifting off until Edmund can do it right."
"OK, Dad," Marta said, taking her seat and using her own straps to demonstrate the procedure.
"I see I'm just in time for the daily lecture," Logan's voice rumbled from the back of the plane.
"Uncle Logan!" the children chorused from their seats, bright grins splitting their small faces.
"Hey, kids," the burly Canadian smiled, striding up the aisle and leaning against the back of the empty co-pilot's chair. "Hey, Alice," he nodded.
Mrs. Wagner smiled.
"Good evening, Logan," she nodded in return.
Logan turned to face the pilot.
"Hey, Elf," he greeted Kurt, keeping his voice soft so the kids couldn't overhear. "How you holdin' up?"
Kurt fixed his golden gaze straight ahead, taking in a slightly shaky breath.
"It's going to be very hard, mein Freund," he said, keeping his voice just as soft. "To come face to face with the reality of it all. Right now, I can still hardly believe it's not all just a bad dream, you know?"
"Yeah, I know, kid. I can hardly believe it myself." An inscrutable expression settled over his rugged features as he ran a thick hand over his own ageless face. "Charlie's gone."
"The earth will shake." Kurt finally looked at his friend. "Have you heard? The PM's going, and President Davidson as well," he said. "Think she'll give a speech?"
"After all the ones Charlie gave her, it'll only be fair," Logan said with a smirk.
"There'll be world-wide press coverage too," Kurt said. "And a great deal of political posturing, that you can bet." He wrinkled his nose in distaste. "The ambitious will flock in and fight for the chance to link their name with that of 'the visionary who ushered in a new age of peace and understanding for all humanity to share,' to quote the newspapers." He sighed. "I suppose it's impossible to insist this ceremony be closed to all but family and close friends?"
"Yep," Logan said. "Charlie's made too much of a name for himself. This will be headline news for days. You got your patter down for when the vultures attack?"
"Nee. I'll just improvise, like always. It's fun to annoy reporters."
Checking the time, Excalibur's leader glanced back towards the ramp.
"Logan," he asked, "did the others say just when they'd be turning up? It shouldn't be taking them this long to get ready. We're only going to be there for two days."
"We're here!" Kitty's voice called from the back of the plane where she was walking up the ramp. "Alistaire's still stowing the luggage. Oh, and Meggan told me to tell you they shouldn't be much longer. Eliza's been giving her some grief about the packing and Samuel's helping Brian with his suits."
"Will Uncle Brian be OK if he leaves England?" Marti asked. "Doesn't he draw his powers from here or something?"
"He should be fine as long as he keeps his suit intact," Kitty assured her. "Hopefully we won't be called on to do much fighting during the ceremony."
The kids laughed, but the adults knew Kitty was only half joking. It always seemed that whenever the X-Men gathered together, trouble soon joined them. Kurt shared a look with Logan and Alice, then turned his gaze to the front window. His expression instantly brightened. Meggan and Brian Braddock were just entering the hangar, their teenaged twins in toe.
"Ach, there they are at last," Kurt announced, turning just in time to see a look of delight cross Marta's dark face the instant before she teleported out of the jet.
Edmund scrunched up his nose, and it wasn't in response to the residual teleport stink.
"This is getting ridiculous," he sighed, repeating what his mother had said on numerous occasions.
Alice snorted with uncontainable laughter, and Kurt cracked a smile. Marta's obvious crush on the older Samuel Braddock was something of a running joke at the manor.
"They do make a cute couple," Kitty observed, leaning over the back of Kurt's chair. "Primary colors; red, blue, and yellow." All four Braddocks sported hair the color of butter.
Kurt shook his head, his lips pursed with fatherly protectiveness.
"I still say she's too young for this kind of thing," he protested. "She is only fourteen years old."
"Sounds just right, if you ask me," Alice commented from the back.
Kurt shot her a look.
"I would have hoped for your support in this, meine Frau," he said.
"Not this time, love," she smiled. "Marti's just being a normal, healthy teenaged girl."
Kurt stiffened, his golden eyes widening as her words sparked a sudden, horrible thought.
"What do you mean by that?" he asked.
Alice rolled her eyes.
"Calm down, Kurt," she shook her head. "It's just some innocent hand holding. I don't think they've even kissed yet."
"You don't think?! And what do you mean 'yet'?"
Logan shook his head in bemusement.
"I can't believe I'm hearin' this from the teenaged Casanova himself."
"Not at fourteen, I wasn't," he pointed out. "At fourteen I was still with the circus. We worked very hard and had no time to waste on that kind of thing."
Alice raised an eyebrow.
"Oh yeah? Then what's all this I've heard from your foster mother about you and a certain girl? Jimaine, I think her name was..."
Kurt blinked, then scowled, caught in a trap of his own making and unable to think of a way out without lodging his foot deeper into his mouth. Logan let out a loud guffaw, thumping the back of the chair with his fist.
Suzie sat up in her chair, her amber eyes wickedly curious.
"Tell us about what Dad was like when he was a kid, Uncle Logan," she shouted out from the back.
Kurt flushed under his fur and turned to face the front, praying the others would finish up with their luggage soon so he could take off and, hopefully, bring this embarrassing line of conversation to an end.
"Oh, let me!" Kitty begged. "I've got a good one."
Logan nodded, willingly handing the stage over to her. Kitty grinned broadly.
"OK," she said, "Whenever a girl walked by-any girl-Kurt would always puff out his chest like a peacock and run his hand through his hair. Like this-watch!"
Kitty struck a pose and ran a hand through her short, brown hair, doing a very bad impression of Kurt's accent as she said, "Cheecks deeg the fahzzy doode, ja?"
The small cabin exploded with laughter. Kurt tried to scowl, but his lips kept twitching upwards against his will.
"All right," he said. "I'll admit to the hair. But, I know I never said anything so hokey."
"Come on, Kurt!" Kitty grinned. "You can't tell me you don't remember that." She winked at Suzie. "He would try it on me all the time before your mother came to the Institute. He never got anywhere, though."
Suzie and Alice snickered.
"This from the girl who used 'like' after every other word and thought for certain that she'd found true love with that villain, Lance Alvers?"
"That is like, so totally not true," Kitty protested, unable to keep a straight face as she burst once again into a fit of laughter.
"What's so funny?" Professor Alistaire Stuart asked curiously as he stepped into the cabin. The slight, slender scientist was closely followed by Captain Britain himself; Brian Braddock, whose muscular bulk suddenly made the small space seem ten times more cramped.
"We were just teasing Kurt," Kitty explained, still gasping with giggles.
"Oh," Brian said, taking his seat. "Sorry I missed that."
Meggan's large eyes melted with sympathy as she stepped lightly towards the cockpit to rest a comforting hand on Kurt's shoulder.
"Don't take it too hard, duckie" the empathic metamorph said. "They only do it because they care for you so much."
Kurt struggled not to roll his eyes.
"I know, Meggan," he assured her, patting her hand kindly. He worked to hide his embarrassed annoyance from her by attempting to project genuine gratitude. "And thank you very much for your concern."
The empath smiled brightly, then skipped away to sit between her husband and her children.
"Is everyone aboard?" Kurt called.
The usual rousing chorus of "Yes, oh great and fearless leader!" rang out in response.
Logan took up his position as co-pilot as Kurt pushed the button to raise the ramp, turning to watch it rise. As he did, his eyes caught sight of Marta crouching on the back of her chair, her tail lashing as she engaged in a giggly conversation with Samuel, who was seated in the chair just behind hers.
"Marta, come on," he said sternly, startling her so she nearly fell into her chair.
"Sorry, Dad," she gasped, hurriedly strapping herself in.
"Edmund, you all set?" he asked, his sharp eyes doing a quick examination of his son's safety straps. They seemed to be secure.
"Yep," Edmund grinned. "And I did it myself, too. Mum said I did it perfectly."
"True story," Alice verified, crossing her fingers over her heart.
"Well, then, that's good enough for me," Kurt smiled. Turning back to the controls, he slipped his sleek, sliver headphones over his wavy hair and set about getting the plane ready for take-off.
"The skies are clear, and-surprisingly enough-we're exactly on schedule," Kurt announced as he taxied out of the hangar. "To pick up Rahne should be the work of just a few minutes. We should arrive in Bayville just in time for dinner. Remember, there's a five hour time difference between here and New York."
"But, we already ate," Edmund said, confused.
"Trust the bottomless pit to tell time with his stomach," Kitty grinned, turning to the kids. "Did I ever tell you about the time your father ate fifteen super-sized Gut Bomb burgers in one sitting? No? Well, then, to truly appreciate this story, you must first understand that the local Gut Bomb was like a second home to Kurt..."
Kurt couldn't suppress a warm smile as he listened to Kitty's story. Even when the jokes and laughter were at his expense, it was times like these that he truly appreciated being a part of such a large and loving family. Projecting a wave of deep gratitude to the spirit of Professor Xavier, wherever he may be, Kurt skillfully eased the jet into a vertical take-off and sped away into the darkening sky.
To Be Continued...
Standing in the foyer of the Xavier Institute dressed in an old sweat suit Scott didn't mind him cutting a tail-hole into, Kurt Wagner dug through a stack of dusty old records. After a few moments, he found what he was looking for. With a soft cry of triumph, Kurt carefully slid his prize from its protective cover, holding the small, vinyl record like the precious, irreplaceable treasure that it was.
It wasn't that he was much of a Buddy Holly fan, or even the fact that this single-in perfect, mint condition as it was-was worth a small fortune to collectors. The surge of emotion that caused his fingertips to tremble as he gently eased the record into place on the Professor's ancient turntable was caused by something far more personal. As the sensitive needle crackled its way into the groove, Kurt found himself being swept away on the tide of nostalgic memory to the gentle melody of 'True Love Ways'.
Kurt had laughed the first time he heard the song, ignorant nineteen year old that he was. The rather high-pitched, nasal timbre of the singer's voice had just been begging to be mocked. He and Bobby had romped around the foyer doing bad impressions of Buddy Holly's singing until suddenly, and completely inexplicably, the new girl had risen from where she had been lying on the rug behind the sofa, hidden from the boys' view, and run crying from the room.
Stunned and guilty, Kurt had teleported after her, desperate to know what had upset her so. Finding she had locked herself in her room, he had tried every trick he knew to charm her out, but nothing had worked. Finally, just as he was about to give up and leave her to her sulking, the door had opened and Alice Dhoraji* had stepped out into the hallway...
"I'll have you know, that was my father's favorite song you ruined," the slight seventeen year old said angrily, her dark, almond-shaped eyes cold. "He used to sing it at night, to put me to sleep." Her gaze hardened, her delicate features drawn with angry pain. "That was before he died."
Kurt took a step back, his eyes wide.
"I-I'm sorry," he stammered, deeply shamed by his ignorant insensitivity and at a loss as to what to say. "But we really didn't know that you were there. If there's any way I can make it up to you, please tell me."
Alice fixed him with an appraising glance, her expression softening somewhat as she sighed. When she looked back up at him, her glittering eyes were filled with challenge.
"If you are serious about wanting to make it up to me, I can think of only one way."
"How?" Kurt asked, eager to be of service.
"I've heard you're pretty good with swords," the girl said with a toss of her silky, black hair. "That you used them sometimes in your circus act, back before you came to the Institute."
"Yeah," Kurt acknowledged carefully, wondering if she was headed where he thought she was and starting to feel slightly on the spot. "Well, I know a little. I haven't practiced in years, though. What of it?"
"I was the captain of the fencing club at my old school," Alice informed him, her posture straight and confident. "And I challenge you to a match."
Kurt had left the circus before he had the chance to learn much more than the basics of fencing. The carefully choreographed fights had looked good to an audience, especially when combined with a complicated acrobatic routine, but in reality they were little more than beginner exercises. Kurt had always wanted to lean more-it was a not-so-secret dream of his to become an expert swordsman like his childhood hero, Errol Flynn-but the busy life of a full time student who also happened to be an X-Man often kept that dream from surfacing. As it was, he hadn't even picked up a sword since he was fifteen. If she was as good as she implied, it was certain that she would clobber him without even breaking a sweat.
Even so, Alice's challenge intrigued him. Since her arrival two weeks ago, he and the others had tried to make her feel welcome, but she had seemed so distant and cold. No one even knew what her powers were. Now, she was opening up to him, and for some reason that touched him. Slowly, a broad grin crept over his narrow features.
"Sure!" he said brightly. Then softer, "I'd like that."
To his surprise, Alice blushed furiously and turned away.
"I'll see you in the Danger Room at noon, then," she said briskly. "I'll bring the swords. Don't be late."
With that, the young English girl vanished back into her room, closing the door behind her.
Kurt was still grinning as he teleported back to the foyer and gingerly turned off the record player, being extra careful so his thick fingers wouldn't jolt the needle and scratch the record. Then, he chuckled. He was about to embarrass himself in front of a beautiful lady and, for once, that didn't bother him at all.
The match had gone on for nearly three hours. Kurt had been surprised at how much he remembered. Just touching a foil again brought the memories of his early lessons flooding back to him.
Far from the superior attitude he had expected Alice to display once she realized how rusty he was and how little he actually knew, Kurt had been surprised to find her encouraging him, even stopping the fight now and then to eagerly teach him some new skill or trick he could use against her. Before long, Kurt actually found himself winning a few bouts, and it certainly wasn't because Alice let him. They laughed as they fought, telling each other amusing stories about people they'd met and places they'd been. By the time Logan burst in to kick them out, Kurt and Alice felt as though they had known each other all their lives.
As Kurt walked Alice back to her room, she grinned at him, a wicked gleam shining in her dark eyes.
"What is it?" he asked with a smile of his own.
"I won," she stated with a toss of her sweat-dampened hair. "Forty-two out of fifty-four. That means I get to claim a prize."
"Anything, Liebling," Kurt laughed, grinning down at her. "Name it, and it shall be yours."
Alice bit her lip, fidgeting slightly as she struggled against a rising blush. However, when she spoke, it was with the same confident, teasing tone she had used to challenge him.
"Very well, then," she said. "For my prize, I want you to take me out to the fanciest restaurant in Bayville- your treat, of course. The winner never pays for her own victory dinner."
Kurt raised his eyebrows in astonishment, a slightly goofy grin spreading over his fuzzy features.
"If I didn't know any better, Liebling" he said with some amazement, "I'd say that sounded more like a date than a victory dinner."
Alice winked, and pushed her door open.
"If that's what it sounds like, Liebling," she shot back with a mischievous grin, "maybe that's what it is. I'll be ready at seven-thirty. See you then, yes?"
Kurt nodded, still grinning.
"Sure! OK, yes!"
Alice looked like she was going to say something, but she turned away instead. Kurt was left to stare at her door as Alice once again vanished into the recesses of her room. Just as he was about to leave, totally confused by her odd behavior, he heard what sounded like a scream. Before he could teleport to her aid, however, he was stunned to hear the screech dissolve into masses of girlish giggles.
Pressing a pointed ear to the door, Kurt slowly turned the handle and peered into her room.
Alice was out on her balcony, twirling like a madwoman, her arms spread out to the afternoon sun in ecstasy.
"He said yes!" she was giggling to herself, her face flushed and her eyes shining with joyous incredulity. "I'm going on a date with Kurt Wagner! And he said YES!"
Closing the door as silently as he could, Kurt leaned against the wall, dumbfounded by what he had just seen. Not since Amanda had a girl approached him first, and even she had never reacted in such a way...at least, he didn't think she had.
Kurt stumbled down the corridor in a daze, struck by the sudden realization that he was looking forward to their date as much as she was. Alice Dhoraji was beautiful and funny, intelligent and strong, and she knew everything there was to know about the art of fencing. And, impossibly, she had somehow developed a crush on him!
"Inconceivable," he laughed to himself, quoting from one of his favorite movies, 'The Princess Bride'.
His heart swelling with a joyous incredulity that mirrored Alice's own, Kurt flipped and tumbled his way towards the stairs, leaping high into the air before teleporting straight to the telephone to make their reservations--taking the initiative to add a special request. He was going to make sure this night would be perfect, for both of them.
And it had been...
Kurt sighed happily at the memory as he watched the record turn, recalling how stunning Alice had looked in her elegant blue dress when he had escorted her grandly down the staircase-to the good-natured whistles and ribbing of his friends. Alice had taken the teasing in stride, responding with a witty humor he found charming. Their first date together had been filled with laughter as they danced the night away on the restaurant's crowded dance floor, just like in the movies.
Kurt had been so impatient for the band to call the last number of the evening that it was a real struggle to keep his tail, which he had wrapped around his waist, hidden behind his hologram. However, Alice's small, delighted gasp and the knowing, grateful look she had given him just before she moved in close to rest her head on his shoulder, swaying gently to the music, was more than worth the agony of waiting. From that night onwards, 'True Love Ways' was their song, and that small record became their special treasure. Years later, Kurt had played it as he proposed, becoming the first of the X-Men to get engaged. And even after the founding of the peace-keeping International X-Men Organization and the establishment of Excalibur, the record remained close to their hearts.
Kurt smiled softly as he remembered how devastated Alice had been when they came home after a long mission to find three year old Suzie had accidentally run into their old record player, knocking the record to the floor and shattering it beyond hope of repair. Since then, whenever Suzie had burst in on them in a rage, complaining that Edmund did this or said that, they always reminded her that if she hadn't broken Mummy and Daddy's favorite record, she wouldn't have a little brother to torture her. It didn't always work, but it was often enough to cool her down long enough for Edmund to get a word in edgewise.
By the time the song ended, Kurt was blinking back tears. Carefully, he replaced the precious record in its cardboard cover and slipped it back among the dusty pile of neglected records that sat on the shelf below the turntable. It had a destiny to fulfill. It had to wait for the day it would be found by a very young, very homesick Alice Dhoraji.
Absently twisting the wedding band on his finger, Kurt wandered over to the large window by the front door, his troubled mind filled with thoughts of home.
Ororo Munroe was troubled, and it wasn't only because of the terrifying threat posed by Magneto. Ororo was troubled because no matter how hard she tried, she could not compose her mind enough for meditation.
She was supposed to be the untouchable Storm; calm, reserved, and always in control of her emotions. Due to the nature of her powers, such constant control was necessary. If she should happen to lose her temper, or even cry, her turbulent emotions could wreak havoc on the local weather patterns, and that was a risk she was only willing to take during the most dire emergencies.
Strangely, ever since her nephew, Evan, had joined the X-Men, Ororo had been finding it increasingly difficult to find her center. And now, her unexpected reaction to this adult Kurt Wagner had nearly caused her to lose it completely.
She had always been fond of Kurt. He was such a sweet boy, despite all he'd suffered in his life due to his appearance. Even so, his constant joking, his grating slang, and his rambunctious hyperactivity often got on Ororo's nerves.
The man she had seen in the Professor's office, however, had been entirely different. He was tall, confident, and strong, though to look into his deep, golden eyes it seemed as though the weight of the world was resting heavily on his shoulders. Ororo found herself wanting to reach out to him, to ease his painful anxiety. She had seen him twisting his ring, and she knew it was more than just an ornament. Although he hadn't actually said anything, it was abundantly clear that he was a very married man. Even so, she couldn't seem to banish these confusing emotions from her heart.
Storm shook her head, a small shudder running down her spine. This was a disturbing, overwhelming feeling, and Ororo Munroe did not like it. It was only now that she was beginning to realize what it was. Sitting in her greenhouse sanctuary, forever aloof and apart from the other inhabitants of the Institute, it was starting to seem that the untouchable Storm was lonely.
Quickly, Ororo rose to her feet. She'd had quite enough of that line of thought. Checking her watch, she straightened her shoulders and strode briskly from the fragrant, humid greenhouse. It was almost time for her to see the children off to the dance.
Ororo stopped short when she reached the foyer, struck dumb by the sight that met her eyes. Kurt Wagner was leaning against the windowsill, looking out at the sunset with his back turned to her and his tail curled about his leg. With the golden nimbus of light surrounding his slender profile, it seemed to Ororo almost as though his soul was shining through his shadowy form. It was a strange, ethereal sight, a sight that caused Ororo to gasp out loud.
Kurt jumped, startled from his thoughts, and turned to her, ruining the effect completely.
"Ach, Fraulein Storm!" he said with a friendly smile. "I'm afraid I didn't hear you come in." His golden eyes narrowed as he caught her expression. "Are you all right?" he asked, concerned.
Storm nodded quickly.
"Yes. Yes, I am fine, Kurt. It seems we startled each other, that is all."
Kurt's smile widened briefly, then he crossed gracefully over to her, walking as always on the balls of his feet.
"So, how is a lovely lady like you planning to spend this fine evening?" he asked with a small chuckle. "I must admit, I always did wonder what you, Logan, and Charles did while we children were away. Planning to have a party of your own?"
Ororo smiled at his mischievous grin, then shook her snowy head.
"Afraid not," she said. "To tell you the truth, we usually just sit around and enjoy the silence, or maybe take the opportunity to use the television for a change."
"Ach, believe me, meine Dame, I understand completely. Watching over a group of rowdy kids is certainly not easy. If I had a choice, I would make a huge batch of buttery popcorn, load the player with DVDs, and just stretch out on the sofa." He gave a dramatic sigh, causing Ororo to crack a smile. "Unfortunately, though, I cannot disappoint young Katzchen."
Ororo's eyes twinkled as she realized that despite his jesting tone, he was telling the truth. She'd never thought she would see the day when Kurt Wagner would pass up a chance to party in favor of a quiet evening at home. Her smile broadened.
"Of course you can't," she said, her ears pricking as she heard the distant thumps and door slams that signaled the coming of the children. Turning to the stairs, she observed, "And here she comes now."
As she turned back to him, Kurt took her completely by surprise by taking her hand in his and raising it to his lips.
"It has been a true pleasure to see you smile, meine Freundin," he told her sincerely, kissing her hand gently. "You really should do it more often. It would not hurt you or anyone else if you allowed yourself to have some fun once in a while."
He smiled slightly, leaning in closer as though to tell her a secret.
"Your control is better than you think," he said.
Before she could recover enough to respond, Kurt had already straightened and was moving across the room.
"Enjoyable as our little chat has been, Fraulein, I'm afraid my duty calls me," he announced, grinning broadly as he caught sight of Kitty at the top of the stairs. Ororo watched as he gallantly held out his arm to her, complimenting her violet skirt as they followed the others out the door. Kurt favored her with one last wave before catching hold of the door handle with his tail and pulling it shut behind him.
Still slightly dazed, Ororo rushed to the window, watching as the party-goers piled into Scott's red convertible. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she realized that Jean must have already left.
"So, what do you think of him?" Logan's rough voice startled Ororo from her thoughts. She turned to him, calm and aloof as always.
"This Kurt is quite different from the young man we know," she observed. "He is so secure, so comfortable with himself and with others. He is a flirt, but no longer a show-off, and he has cultivated an easy charm that is enhanced by his open sincerity. Also, his speech is completely devoid of that atrocious slang all the children use."
Logan snorted with laughter, then his face grew serious.
"Guy smelled like cryin' when I first saw him this afternoon," he rumbled. "Despite everything, he's a lot like our own 'Crawler, keepin' everything bottled up under a circus mask of smiles."
Ororo nodded, and the two watched in silence as the glowing lights from Scott's car vanished into the distance.
"'Ro," Logan said at last, "you ever wonder what it'll be like once the kids are all grown up?"
"Sometimes," Ororo admitted.
Logan nodded with a small grunt.
"It's somethin' that's always bothered me, ever since Charlie first got me to sign up for this gig. But seein' the 'Crawler like that...it's got me thinkin'."
He turned to Ororo, his flinty eyes troubled.
"I'm gonna watch these kids grow up, and I'll watch 'em grow old. I'll be around to attend each and every one of their funerals, including yours and Charlie's." He sighed deeply, gruffly shaking his head. "I often think it'd be better if I just hopped on my bike and left this place. I'm gettin' too attached to these darn kids, and that's dangerous."
Ororo regarded him through cool, blue eyes, though her heart was aching in sympathy.
"But you won't," she stated simply, knowing as surely as he did that she was speaking the truth.
Without a word, Logan stepped forward and put a blunt, hairy hand on Ororo's narrow shoulder. For once, Ororo didn't move away.
It seemed she wasn't the only one whose powers kept her alone.
To Be Continued...
*Dhoraji is the name of an ancient Indus Valley settlement. Alice is English, from Northumberland, but her grandfather was from India.
The school gym had been decorated in the classic underwater motif. Pale blue and white streamers were draped from the ceiling and some of the art students had taken it upon themselves to draw dozens of pictures of comical fish and paste them to the cinder-block walls. The room smelled of stale gym socks, ancient plastic from the greenish tarp that covered the polished wooden floor, and sweet pastries from the refreshments table.
Kurt had set his image inducer to project just a basic cover, meaning that the hologram merely colored his own features rather than making him appear as someone else. He'd had to re-set the specifications to account for his greater height and so on. When he'd first activated the watch in his old room, it had been a shock to see a sixteen year old boy with shoulder- length, ebony hair blinking back at him. Going to the dance disguised as his younger self would have been asking for more trouble than he cared to deal with. It would be much easier just to pass himself off as Kitty's German uncle, so he modified the hologram's eye and hair coloring to match hers.
The difference the hologram made was striking, though he was still recognizable to those who knew him. His narrow, aristocratic features, long nose, and almond eyes lent him an elfish look even without the pointed ears. Without his midnight fur, he appeared somehow smaller than his five feet and nine inches-six feet when he was on his toes-and somewhat frailer without the sight of his powerful tail swinging along behind him. His pale, yellow eyes were now a clear blue, and his short, wavy, indigo hair was dark brown with reddish highlights.
Kitty grinned broadly up at him as she dragged him by the hand into the already crowded gym.
"We're, like, right on time, thank goodness!" she exclaimed as the others crowded in behind her. Evan and Rogue headed straight for the refreshments table while Scott took up a scowling position against the wall, searching the room for Jean. Kurt looked down at Kitty, feeling uncomfortable and out of place in this closely packed space.
"And where is this Pete you spoke of?" he asked lightly, refusing to allow her to see his discomfort. He had to make his voice louder than usual to be heard over the thumping noise he supposed had to be music emanating from the DJ's tall speakers.
"I don't see him yet," Kitty said, casting her bright gaze around the room. "So, do you, like, wanna dance?"
Kurt grimaced slightly as he watched the dancers move. They were gyrating against each other, not so much dancing as jerking aimlessly to the thumping beat of the so-called music. Had he really enjoyed this kind of thing when he was younger?
"You call this 'dancing'?" Kurt asked, an ironic note creeping into his accented voice. He shook his head. "Nein, Katzchen, I cannot do this," he gestured to the dancers. "Here," he said, taking her hand, "come with me. Let us see if we can start something new."
Confused, but willing, Kitty followed Kurt through the throng of swaying teenagers. The DJ looked up as they approached, his neck bobbing in time to the music.
"Hey, man, what's up?" he said easily, playing with a few knobs and dials it seemed just for the fun of it. It made no difference to the din that was pounding in their ears.
"Do you have anything with a melody?" Kurt asked bluntly. "You know, something energetic that you can dance to properly, not this thumping row."
"Well, I've, like, got some Chilli Peppers and U2 and stuff," the DJ said, unoffended by Kurt's unsubtle critique of the song he was currently playing. "Maybe some Wheezer, but I'm not sure of that. Oh, and here's Nickleback."
"Got any Rolling Stones, or Beatles?" Kurt asked hopefully.
"Zeppelin? Styx? Boston? Bowie?" he went on. "I won't even dare to ask for Ella Fitzgerald..."
The DJ looked blankly thoughtful for a moment, then he shrugged.
"Don't know, dude. Might have some old stuff in the back of the van, though."
"No, never mind." Kurt sighed. "Katzchen, I'll leave it up to you. Would you like Chilli Peppers, U2, or Nickleback?"
Kitty moved behind the DJ's table to peer at the backs of his CDs.
"Can you play this one?" she asked, pointing to one of the songs.
"Can do!" the DJ nodded, taking the case from her. The thumping song ended - *Bliss* Kurt couldn't help thinking at the sudden silence - and the DJ deftly replaced that disk with the one in his hand. Almost instantly, the new music started up. Kurt grinned when he recognized the song and held his hand out to Kitty.
"Now, Katzchen, we can dance properly," he said as she took it, still surprised at how her own small hand seemed to vanish into his much larger one. The Kurt she knew was about the same size she was. It was weird to see him fully grown like this...to realize how much growing up she still had to do...
Kitty gasped as Kurt spun her towards him, his bright grin lighting his whole face.
"Just follow my lead," he said cheerfully. "You'll catch on faster than you think."
This Kurt was an excellent dancer. He skillfully tailored his own performance to make Kitty look better than she was. She would find herself awkwardly off balance, only having just enough time to realize Kurt had maneuvered her into a complicated dance position that must have looked amazing to an outsider's eye before he spun her around and started again.
Before long, a space had cleared for them in the center of the room. The other kids began to comment and applaud in awe as the smiling dancers spun across the floor. As Kitty began to anticipate Kurt's moves, she found she was really starting to enjoy herself. She'd always thought people only danced like this in the movies. It was thrilling to experience the adrenaline rush for herself.
All too soon, the song ended and Kurt dipped her into a graceful ending pose. The applause was overwhelming. Kitty straightened, her face flushed and her eyes shining with spent energy and happiness. Looking over at her dance partner, she could see him soaking in the applause like a willing sponge, his delighted grin threatening to split his face. The two of them took their bows, then Kurt took Kitty's hand in his and led her through the crowd to the refreshment table.
"There," he said, ladling into two plastic cups the ginger ale, sherbet, and Hawaiian Punch drink that seems to be present at every function involving minors. He handed one to her before taking a sip of his own. "Wasn't that more fun than that whatever it is they were doing out there? I don't know what to call it."
Kitty laughed, almost choking on her punch.
"That was, like, totally awesome! When did you learn to do that?"
"While I was growing up in the circus, Margali made sure I learned dancing as I learned acrobatics. She said it would teach me grace, and it is a wonderful way to warm up and exercise your whole body while the trapeze is in use by someone else." He tilted his head. "I thought for certain you knew that." He narrowed his eyes, straining his memory. "Or maybe it was Amanda I told." He shrugged. "Oh well. Too late now."
Kitty looked startled.
"But, doesn't it, like, bother you that you might have, like, changed history or something?"
Kurt shook his head.
"Tell me truthfully, Kitty. Would knowing I can dance have stopped you from accepting Pete's invitation over mine?"
Kitty flushed, cringing a little as she answered, "No. I guess not."
Kurt surprised her by grinning.
"Then, there you are. This knowledge has not changed your feelings for my younger self and so history has not changed either."
"Unless your dance, like, influenced some of these other kids," Kitty pointed out.
"I don't think so," Kurt said. "At least, I hope it didn't..."
Kurt covered a sudden shiver by taking another sip of punch. Looking over the cup's plastic rim, he saw a young man heading through the crowd straight for Kitty. He barely managed to stop himself from performing an embarrassing spit-take as he realized he recognized the boy.
"Ah, Kitty," he said, tapping her shoulder to get her attention away from the neatly piled marshmallow squares. "I believe your date has arrived."
The scruffy young man glared daggers at Kurt as he stormed towards the pair.
"Just who the 'ell are you, old man, and what d'you think you was doin', dancin' wif me date?" he demanded in a thick, Cockney accent.
"Pete!" Kitty grinned excitedly, taking the older boy by the hand. Kurt couldn't help but notice that the distinct stink of cigarettes clung to the boy like cheap cologne.
"Did you see me out there?" Kitty enthused, beaming. "Wasn't that, like, totally amazing?!"
"What?" Pete asked, looking at her for the first time. "Oh, yeah, whatever. Kitty, who the 'ell is this guy? He's like, old enough to be your father or somefin'!"
She looked up at Kurt, her eyes slightly misted.
"Oooh, doesn't he have, like, the coolest accent? He's an English exchange student!"
Kurt raised an eyebrow and regarded the pair with a hint of disapproval.
"Allow me to introduce myself, Herr Wisdom," he said imperiously. "I am Kitty's uncle."
Pete looked up at Kurt in confusion and alarm.
"Her uncle?!" He winced. "Ooh, sorry man. I didn't know." He paused, then creased his brow. "Hey, wait a mo. How d'you know me name?"
Kurt smirked slightly.
"Let's just say Katzchen has told me a great deal about you. I cannot say that I approve of all I have heard, however."
"Ku-Uncle!" Kitty protested, her eyes wide. "Like, what are you doing?"
Kurt sighed, remembering a much older Kitty and the crass, English spy she had fallen in love with. He hadn't realized they had met before. He and Pete Wisdom had never really gotten along. They had only tolerated each other for Kitty's sake. It had been a relief to both him and Brian when she and Pete finally broke it off and Kitty had turned her affections to Alistaire Stuart.
"I am sorry, Katzchen," he said. "It is not my place to criticize. I know that Pete has a good heart. Just see if you can get him to quit smoking this time, ja?"
With that seemingly cryptic remark, Kurt strode away through the crowd, leaving Kitty and Pete to stare in confusion at his departing back.
"Weird guy, your uncle," Pete observed. "And where's 'e come off tellin' me to quit smoking?"
"Well, you shouldn't smoke, you know. It's, like, totally killer on your lungs and stuff."
Kurt didn't hear the rest of their conversation. The wonderful feeling of exhilaration the students enthusiastic response to his dancing had given him had completely faded. The press of the crowd was starting to get to him and he began to feel slightly dizzy. No matter how old he got, he felt he would never feel comfortable in a crowd. Quickly, he headed for the exit and some fresh air.
The night was chilly and the brisk breeze helped to revive him after the suffocating heat of the gym. Kurt leaned against the rough bricks of the wall, staring up into the nighttime sky.
The dizziness had just faded when someone's small, startled cry alerted him to the fact that he was not alone. Unconsciously taking up a defensive stance, Kurt spun to face the stranger on the balls of his feet. Even with his hologram activated, his golden eyes allowed him to see through the twilight dimness as easily as if it had been midday.
He relaxed his pose slightly as he saw a tall, slender woman with thick, waist-length red hair walking hesitantly toward him with a sickly, wobbling gait. Her face was pale with shock and her mouth was slightly agape. She looked as though she had seen a ghost, or been witness to a murder.
Kurt took a few steps toward her, trying to seem as nonthreatening as possible.
"Hello?" he called out, not wanting to frighten her in case she hadn't seen him in the shadows. "Are you all right?"
At the sound of his voice, the woman gasped and brought her long, slender hands to her mouth. She swayed slightly.
Kurt rushed to support her, afraid she might faint. Carefully wrapping his arms around her so she would not feel his strangely shaped, three-fingered hands, he looked into her face.
Her eyes were wide and terrified. Her hands covered the rest of her face. Kurt winced at her expression, hoping that she was not this terrified of him.
"There, I've got you," he said gently, leading her carefully across the uneven grass and setting her down on the short flight of steps leading up to the tightly closed gym door. The thumping beat of the music could still be felt, more than heard, through the concrete wall. Kurt stood beside her patiently as he waited for the trembling young woman to recover enough to speak.
"Are you OK now?" he asked softly.
"Eric?" she said weakly, her voice so soft Kurt had to strain to understand her. Her wide, searching eyes were of the deepest blue. But, there was something about her face, something familiar that Kurt couldn't quite place...
"Eric, is that really you?"
Before Kurt could respond, the woman had leaped to her feet and was holding him tightly in a crushing embrace. He felt her warm tears against his neck as he slowly brought his flailing arms around to her shuddering back.
"Oh, Eric, I can't believe it!" the woman sobbed, hysterical and deaf to his vain attempts to correct her mistake. "I thought you were dead! I thought he'd killed you!"
"Was!" he exclaimed, shocked at the prospect of a real murder having taken place. "Who?"
"Magnus!" the woman cried, trembling harder as she held him with a frantic strength that threatened to squeeze all the air from his lungs, if she didn't crack his ribcage first. "I saw you lying there, with all that blood! And then, I just took our baby and ran. I didn't even think to check if you were still breathing, I just ran. And then there were wolves and the old bridge, and Magnus was there and- Oh! Oh, God!"
She started sobbing again, her tears thoroughly soaking the shoulder of Scott's sweatshirt.
Kurt winced slightly, dreading her reaction once she realized she was not holding the man she believed him to be. Unable to extricate himself from her grasp or to reach her with words, he simply stroked her back in the most comforting fashion he could manage, murmuring the universal, wordless sounds of soothing.
"Oh, Eric..." She shuddered, her trembling starting to slow. "The waterfall was roaring and the wolves were snapping at my heels and I tried to hold him out of the way, but I lost my balance and...and..."
She took in a gasping breath and held him even tighter. Kurt squeezed his eyes shut and tried not to groan.
"But none of that matters now!" she exclaimed. "You're alive, Eric, and so is our son! We're all alive despite him!"
She broke away at last, looking up into his eyes with a wondrous expression of awe on her narrow, elegant face.
Kurt struggled to catch his breath, trying to recover from her frantic squeezing without being too obvious about it.
"He's here too, Eric," the woman babbled, "at this very school! And he is such a wonderful boy, Eric! You will be so proud of him! He reminds me so much of you-so noble and caring and good, despite all the wickedness in the world. Despite having a mother as cold and heartless as I am. I've changed so much since you knew me, done so many things...!"
Kurt gasped as suddenly, recognition dawned.
The word was out of his mouth before he could stop it. He knew he should teleport away before any further damage could be done, but he found himself rooted to the spot, staring in unabashed stupefaction at the woman who stood before him, thousands of confused thoughts and emotions tumbling through his mind as he struggled to come to terms with what was happening.
Mein Gott, Mystique must have mistaken me for my father, he realized. I didn't know my father's name was Eric. This must be how she looked when she knew him. Did she say Magneto 'murdered' him...?
Even as these startling realizations were swirling through his mind, Mystique was already shifting her form. In the blink of an eye, the startled young woman with the long, red hair was replaced by the far more familiar, far more threatening form of Principal Raven Darkholme.
"I don't know what you think you're up to with that holowatch of yours, boy," she hissed, pointing a dangerously sharp red fingernail at him, her narrowed eyes frigid with fury, "but I don't think it's very funny. What are you doing, trying to look older so you can sneak some alcohol to your little friends? This is going on your permanent record if you can't hand the bottles over right now."
Kurt stared at her, bewildered and disoriented by this surreal turn of events.
"Was?" he said. "Nein! I would never do something like that."
The Principal's eyes narrowed even further.
"Clever how you've even managed to change your voice. But, I'll let you in on a little secret-the accent gives you away."
"All right, then, if you're not sneaking alcohol just what are you up to?"
"I am not 'up to' anything," Kurt assured her, struggling to bring order to the raging chaos that was threatening to take over his mind. "I just wanted some fresh air. Honestly. I'll go now."
"Not so fast," Mystique snapped.
He turned back to her with a sigh.
"Look, Mystique, I'm sorry about the confusion," he told her, suddenly feeling very tired. "It was never my intention to deceive you or to hurt you in any way."
Mystique was advancing on him now, her glasses gleaming in the light of a nearby street lamp.
"You are not my son," she stated, her every movement radiating suspicion. "Who are you? Why this pretense? Who are you working for?"
Kurt closed his eyes and raised a hand to his forehead. Mystique's own eyes narrowed at the way his fingers remained unnaturally paired, suddenly looking almost uncertain.
"This was all just an accident," he said, lifting his eyes to hers. "None of this was ever meant to happen. If we both just promised to forget about the whole thing, perhaps..."
He trailed off, running his hand violently through his hair with a frustrated groan.
"Ach, forget it," he growled. "It's too late to fix this verdammt mess anyway."
Looking around, using his night-vision and spatial perception to make sure they were really alone, Kurt tore the holowatch from his wrist, turning to Mystique with his arms and tail spread wide, as he had for Wolverine several hours ago.
"There," he said. "You see? No trick. Is there any way anyone could fake this tail so realistically?" he asked, waving it in her flabbergasted face. "Or this?"
In a flash of sulfur-scented smoke, Kurt vanished to reappear hanging by his tail from a nearby tree branch.
"I'm Kurt Wagner, your son," he told her matter-of-factly from his upside- down position. "No pretense, no joke, no hologram. Just one forty-seven year old mutant who has been displaced in time, probably due to some blasted experiment of Magneto's."
He crossed his arms, his yellow eyes glinting eerily in the moonlight.
"Forty-seven!" she exclaimed. "But how..."
Kurt sighed, flipping gracefully to his feet and walking back over to her.
"What would you say if I offered to buy you a drink?" he asked her. "We'll make a deal. You tell me the truth about what happened to my father and why you were running from Magneto the night you dropped me over a waterfall. In return, I'll tell you what I know about how I got here."
Mystique cocked her head, then slowly, ever so slowly, reached out to run a slender hand over his fuzzy cheek. For a brief moment, her eyes softened and Kurt thought he could see a shadow of the anguished young woman he had seen only minutes before.
"You look so much like him," she murmured, her voice uncharacteristically soft. Her dark eyes dropped and she took in a shuddering sigh.
"I always meant to tell you, Kurt," she admitted at last. "I tried once, if you remember. But something always seemed to get in the way..."
"Nothing will get in the way this time," Kurt assured her. "It'll be just you and me. My treat. What do you say?"
Mystique looked up at him, her face once again an impassive mask.
"I never make promises," she told him. "At least, none that I intend to keep. But I could use a drink."
"Wunderbar," he said. Then his eyes widened as he suddenly remembered Kitty. "Ach, Gott," he muttered.
"What?" Mystique asked, suspicious again.
Kurt sighed at her tone.
"The reason I came here tonight was because I was chaperoning a friend," he explained quickly. "If I don't tell her I'm leaving, she might get worried. I wouldn't want her to waste her evening searching for me. If I go, will you still be here when I get back?"
Mystique turned her head, her flinty eyes distant and aloof.
"I already told you, Kurt," she said. "I never make promises."
"Ja. Right." He regarded her, his yellow eyes narrowing slightly. "I'll just have to trust you, then."
With that, he was gone in a BAMF of sulfurous smoke.
To Be Continued...
"Am I really going to be on the news?" Edmund asked excitedly as he bounced out of the van and onto the verdant grounds of the Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters. "Can I see it now? When does it come on?"
"Why do the reporters always interview the Wagners?" Nathan Summers scowled in annoyance. "It's not fair. I want to be on TV too!"
"They interviewed me," his older sister, Rachel announced proudly. "And Natasha, too. She said they'd wanted to know about when Uncle Pietro was with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and why he decided to switch sides and stuff."
"Uncle Pietro's not evil," Nathan cried. "He's nice!"
Rachel shook her head.
"No, stupid, it's the Brotherhood that was evil."
"Why?" Edmund asked, his tail twitching with curiosity.
"I don't know. Go ask Tasha! Uncle Pietro is her father!"
Eliza Braddock flew over to the group and landed lightly on her toes, her long, golden hair streaming out behind her in the warm, October breeze.
"Did you know?" she asked excitedly. "Samuel and I were interviewed by five reporters in a row as we left the church with Father. Do you think we'll make it to the evening news?"
"Why does everyone get to be on the news but me?" Nathan whined plaintively. "It's not fair!"
His lip trembled as his bright eyes filled with tears.
Kurt sighed deeply as he slid out of the front passenger seat, feeling tired and drained and in no mood for childish whining.
The reporters had been relentless in their pursuit all the way up to the very doors of the church. It had taken all his training as a performer to keep up an appropriately charming facade for the cameras. If he'd had his way, however, he would have willingly and creatively told the eager vultures exactly where they could stick their microphones. So what if it would have set mutant/human relations back by decades. It would have felt wonderful.
"Alice, Liebchen, could you handle this, please," he said, shoving his hands into the pockets of his elegant, black suit as more chattering, arguing children piled out of the van. "I've got to join Scott and Evan over by the..."
He choked on the word, gesturing towards the sleek, black hearse at the head of the driveway.
His wife nodded her understanding as she bent down to scoop up the wailing six-year-old.
"Of course, love," she said, and smiled gently. "Do you know when the President is arriving?"
Kurt shrugged. He truly liked President Davidson, he was just too depressed to show any enthusiasm for her arrival.
"She and her guard should be here in about twenty minutes," he said listlessly. "That is, if they can make it past those verdammlich reporters."
Feeling too low to teleport, Kurt trudged off, waving and nodding to the friends he passed on his way to the hearse.
Scott was standing stoic and tall, talking quietly with Rogue and Evan. The trio looked up as Kurt joined them.
"Hey, little bro'," Rogue greeted, stepping up to give him a careful hug. She'd grown her white-streaked auburn hair long, until it now hung down her back in gentle waves. It tickled his tail as he curled it around her waist.
"Thanks for keepin' those reporters off my back," she said, pulling away. "Ah honestly don't know what would 'a come outta my mouth if they'd asked me one more inane question about my powers."
"I was happy to do it, meine Schwester," he smiled. "You know how I love being the center of attention."
"Ah saw your kids at the church," she said. "They're gettin' big. How old is Marti now, fifteen?"
"Fourteen," Kurt corrected, turning his gaze to where his daughter and Samuel were strolling past the crowds, focused entirely on their own little world.
Rogue took in his expression, a twinkle of mischief growing in her green eyes.
"Ah see the dudes dig the fuzzy chick," she said, her smile broadening into a grin as Kurt's jaw dropped. "She must take after her father."
"Did I really talk like that when I was younger?" he asked her, slightly embarrassed.
"And how! But, thankfully you grew out of it before your hokey slang drove us all to gang up and clobber you in your sleep."
Kurt smirked at her, then he turned to Evan, managing to summon up a genuine grin.
"I haven't seen you for ages, mein Freund," he said warmly. "How are things in Africa?"
"We're making some real progress," the spiked, bone-plated mutant said proudly. "Auntie O's still as active as ever, and we're getting new members every day. We're working to set up a peace-keeping X-chapter in each of the African nations."
Kurt raised his eyebrows.
"And I thought I was busy," he grinned. "You are being received well?"
"Oh, yeah! We're getting all kinds of government support. Even the terrorists and guerrillas are helping out! After Doomsday, it seems the whole world's finally starting to get it's act together."
"It's about time, too," Kurt stated bluntly.
Evan looked down as something caught his eye.
"Hey, Kurt, isn't that one of your old hologram thingies?" he asked curiously.
Kurt looked down at his wrist.
"Oh, right, the holowatch. I'd forgotten I'd put it on."
"Edmund found it this morning, dangling from one of the boxes that arrived from the Professor's house. He was so adorably confused when I told him what it was for." A warm glow entered his golden eyes. "None of my children have ever known the need to hide their appearance behind a mask such as this. It was when I saw that look in my son's eyes that I truly appreciated all the Professor has done for us. He has taught the world tolerance in the aftermath of a burning hatred that would have destroyed us all. He was truly a saint among men."
Evan nodded, lowering his head as a wave of sadness and loss passed over them both.
"The President's arrived!" Hank McCoy's deep voice rang out, causing all eyes to turn to the furry, sixty-four year old mutant. "Pall-bearers, take your places! Where's Jean?"
"I pray my fur doesn't go white when I get that old," Kurt whispered in Evan's bone-obscured ear. "Hank looks like the Abominable Snowman."
Evan snickered. The two men sobered at once, however, as Scott opened the back of the hearse and motioned for them to step forward.
Kurt found himself blinking back tears as he, Scott, Rogue, and Evan hefted the heavy coffin up onto their shoulders. It all still felt like a dream, like he would wake up to find he was still in bed at the manor and the Professor was still putting the finishing touches on his book in Hawaii. It was inconceivable that the Professor was really dead. The weight digging into his shoulder wasn't real. This had to be a dream.
The four pall-bearers came to a stop just beside a small, marble mausoleum that had been constructed on a hill overlooking Bayville spread out far below. Looking into the gaping blackness within, reality hit Kurt like a dive into freezing water.
This was no dream.
Together, they lowered the coffin onto a wheeled board and stepped back, watching as the President strode up the stairs to the special stage that had been constructed for the visiting dignitaries. The British Prime Minister and several other important political figures were already seated behind the podium. The President took her place before the microphones and activated her electonic notepad as the news cameras jostled each other for the best position.
Kurt left the other three pall-bearers and walked back to his family, wrapping his tail around Alice's waist as she put her arm around his shoulders. The children sat on the grass at their feet, still somewhat in awe at seeing the President and the Prime Minister in the flesh.
As the President began her speech, Suzie looked up at her parents.
"Do you know if the President signs autographs?" she asked them, keeping her voice to a whisper.
Marta shot her a look that begged the question, 'Are you mad?'.
"I doubt it, sweetie," Alice said, distractedly. "Pay attention now. This is important."
With a frustrated sigh, Suzie turned back to face the front. Alice leaned her head on her husband's shoulder as the President continued with her eulogy.
"...and for those who will always bear the hateful brands from Weapon X, that den of mad-scientists where experiments the likes of which have not been seen since Hitler's death camps were performed on innocent mutants..."
Alice winced as Kurt reached up to rub his shoulder, where he had been branded after being captured by Weapon X operatives when his holowatch failed on an undercover mission. The watch was later found to have been sabotaged at the source. It seemed a rabid mutant hater at Stark Industries, where the watches were made, had learned they were being used to hide physical mutants. Squeezing Kurt tighter to her, the two of them focused on the President's words.
"...It was when this troubled world had reached its nadir that the wisdom of Charles Xavier finally found an audience. It was his organization, the X-Men, that guided us away from the horrors of genocide and terrorism and showed the world that mutants and humans could work together in peace. Were it not for the vision of this man, and the dedication of those who believed in his Dream, the threat that Doomsday posed could have become a terrifying reality.
"In the fifteen years since the end of WWIII, it seems this weary world is finally beginning to learn the lessons it should have taken to heart after WWII. With the help of the rapidly growing International X-Men Organization, founded by Charles Xavier and led by the men and women he trained..."
"She's talking about you!" Edmund whispered loudly, beaming up at his parents.
Kurt smiled down at him with a quick nod.
"Yes, sweetling. Now, pay attention."
"...will ensure that evil men like Adolf Hitler, Graydon Creed, and William Stryker will never again come to power. Never again. We still have a long way to go before Xavier's Dream can truly be realized. Hate groups and anti-mutant terrorist organizations still run rampant throughout the world. However, with the help of the X-Men..."
Kurt jumped slightly at an unexpected nudge in his side. He turned to see Bobby Drake standing next to him, a confused look on his face.
"Hey, Kurt," Bobby whispered. "What's that kid doing over there?"
Kurt and Alice turned to where Bobby was pointing.
A young girl, one of the current students at the Xavier Institute, was walking towards the stage. She seemed dazed, as though she were in a trance.
"Who is she?" Alice asked, starting to get concerned.
"Tessa Mulvey," Kurt said. "She's new, just started last month. Scott was telling me about her, and I've been considering asking to have her transferred to Excalibur. She can bend space to cross large distances and can also move herself up to fifty-three seconds back in time. She calls herself Tesseract."
"She looks kind of sick," Suzie said, rising to her feet. "Do you think she'll vomit?"
"I don't think she's sick," Marti said, joining her sister on her feet, "but there's definitely something wrong with her. She's heading straight for the President. And I think there's something in her hand."
"Wait here," Kurt said, talking to everyone but looking specifically at Marta. "I'll get to the bottom of this."
With a BAMF of sulfurous smoke, Kurt was instantly at Tesseract's side.
"Tessa," he said firmly, taking her by the arm. "Stop. What are you doing?"
Tessa turned to him. There was something strange about her eyes. Her face was completely devoid of expression.
Kurt gasped. She was displaying all the signs of enforced mind-control. He had to get her out of there, quickly, before whoever was controlling her could cause an international incident.
Enfolding her securely in his arms, Kurt prepared to teleport them both away. But, the moment he enacted the teleport, Tessa was wrenched from his arms and Kurt found himself hurtling helplessly through a strange, soundless void. The next thing he knew, he had landed hard on a flat, grassy expanse. He barely had time to register the sight of a large, familiar building some twenty feet away before he lost consciousness...
Kurt reappeared in an empty classroom some distance from the bustling gym. Hurriedly replacing his holowatch on his wrist, he raced down the corridor, nearly slipping on the freshly-waxed tiles as he turned into the packed room. Quickly scanning the crowd for a familiar face, his eyes fell on Scott, talking by the refreshments table with a pretty young girl with dark hair.
"Scott!" he called out, and waved.
Scott's head shot up, his features brightening with relief, more than happy for the distraction. Excusing himself from his conversation with the disappointed girl, he practically ran over to Kurt on his long legs.
"What's up, man?" he asked, curious.
"Something's come up and I must leave," he explained quickly, hoping he didn't sound too suspicious. "Will you tell Kitty I'm really sorry? And please, don't feel you have to wait up for me." He shot him a conspiratorial smile. "I have my own means of transportation."
Scott nodded his understanding.
"Sure, man. Don't worry about it. Anything I can help you with?"
Kurt shook his head.
"No, sorry. This is something I must deal with myself."
He turned to leave, favoring Scott with one last grateful smile.
"Danke, Scott," he said. "I owe you one."
"No, man, it's me that owes you! Your interruption may have just saved my life."
Kurt nodded politely, favoring Scott with an amused smile.
"Then I was glad to be of service."
Kurt chuckled as he turned away, remembering how Scott had always been running from the attentions of that dark-haired girl. What was her name...? It wasn't important. He had to get back to Mystique. He wasn't about to let this unexpected opportunity to learn the answers to questions that had tortured him all his life pass him by.
And, he couldn't deny, even if she told him nothing, even if she did nothing more than glare at him from across the table, it would satisfy him just to spend some real time with his mother. Sad as it seemed, that conversation they'd had among the trees had been the longest, most sincere talk they had ever shared. He wasn't ready for it to end so soon, not when she'd actually seemed willing to accept his offer.
Kurt strode briskly down the corridor, using his sense of spatial awareness to tell him when Scott walked back into the gym. The moment he was certain he was no longer being watched, Kurt dove back into the privacy of the abandoned classroom and teleported to the stairs where he'd left his mother.
She was gone.
"Why have you never asked me what my powers are?"
Kurt blinked, coming quickly out of the pleasant, dreamy daze his thoughts had fallen into as he crouched on the railing of his balcony, his tail coiled loosely around Alice's waist and her head resting comfortably against his knee.
Alice turned her head to look up at him.
"You're the only one who hasn't asked me," she said. "I was just wondering..."
Kurt shifted his position on the railing, his tail uncoiling to twitch nervously behind him.
"Well," he said at last, "you never seem to want to talk about it. After your sessions with the Professor, you always seem so exhausted. I know that, whatever your powers are, they trouble you a lot, and I didn't want to add to that by asking you questions you didn't feel comfortable answering."
He shrugged, turning his gaze to the full moon.
"I guess I just figured if you wanted me to know, you'd tell me on your own."
Alice smiled, then quickly turned away, rubbing at her eyes.
"Gnat," she explained, though by this time, Kurt knew better. Alice didn't like to show her emotions in front of others. The obvious ways she tried to hide them, however, were just another of her little quirks he found so charming.
"That's part of the reason," she said once she turned back to him, her eyes completely dry. "But another is that you didn't want to drive me away. Even though you may not fully realize it, you're deathly afraid of being abandoned. That's part of why you're such a show-off. You need to know that people like you."
Kurt's eyes widened at this unexpected analysis, then they narrowed into cold slits.
"What do you know about it?" he snapped, regretting his outburst even before he'd finished. "You've only known me for a month!"
"That's my power, Kurt," she said, her voice a flat monotone. "I can pick up on your worst fears. I know Kitty is terrified by the thought that, one day, she might not be able to solidify again after phasing. She doesn't want to spend her life as a living ghost. Storm has a very bad case of claustrophobia. Logan is haunted by the notion that we'll all die on him someday. And the Professor is deathly afraid of spiders."
"Spiders?" he asked, with a small, disbelieving smile.
"Oh, yeah. Big, hairy spiders."
"But that's not all," she confessed, her voice barely above a whisper. "I can make those fears become real, tangible, not just to that one person but to everyone. That's why the Professor's been working with me one on one. He wants to teach me control before I can start training with the rest of you."
She looked up at him, her dark eyes haunted.
"If I happen to get frightened myself, or sometimes when I'm really angry, it can get really bad."
"What happens?" Kurt asked softly, lowering himself to the floor of the balcony and closing the distance between them.
Alice squeezed her eyes closed and turned away from him, directing her words to the silent moon.
"It happened when my father died," she told him, her voice tight. "I suppose I blamed the doctor for not being able to save him. She was supposed to be a specialist for that type of cancer after all, and..."
She broke off, shaking her head to free herself from her lingering anger.
"Anyway," she continued once she'd calmed down enough to contain her tears, "when I saw them wheeling his bed out of his room, and I saw him lying there so pale and still, I sort of lost it. Without even knowing what I was doing I latched onto that doctor's mind so tightly that I actually lost myself. I woke up from a coma two weeks later to find our very own Professor Xavier sitting next to me. If he hadn't used his powers to bring me back, I might never have woken up."
Kurt didn't even think. Acting purely out of protective concern, he wrapped his arms around her, holding her in a tender embrace that she willingly melted into.
"What happened to the doctor?" he asked softly.
"She was pretty shaken up," Alice admitted guiltily. "It seems that as a graduate student she'd worked in a lab where they ran experiments on monkeys. By the time the Professor snapped me back to reality, she couldn't go anywhere without being followed by a small army of menacing monkeys."
Kurt struggled not to laugh as Alice held him tighter.
"You're not scared of me now?" she asked, her voice muffled but her worry very clear.
"Why would I be scared, Liebchen?" Kurt asked, stroking her back with his tail. He felt nothing but sympathy for her all too familiar fears.
"I have the power to make people's dreams come true," Alice said, pulling away slightly. "Even bad dreams. I can sense their innermost fears and fantasies and bring them to life. Most people find that frightening."
Kurt shook his head.
"No, I don't think your powers are frightening. But I am curious. When you say you can bring these fears and fantasies to life, just how real are they?"
"They're as solid as you or me," she said. "But they don't have minds of their own. When I first discovered my power, I used it to make my favorite characters from books and movies come to life. But, they could only behave in character, and they would fade away after a few minutes if I stopped concentrating on them."
She smiled slightly, a little embarrassed as she admitted, "My mum used to call me Alice in Wonderland whenever she walked in to find my room filled with imaginary people."
"So, there is a good side to these powers of yours!"
He sighed theatrically, glancing at her with a hopeful, suggestive look.
"I would have loved to have the chance to play with Captain Blood. Or Zorro!"
Alice's eyes widened, then she gave him a playful push.
"There, you see!" she said accusingly. "That's why I didn't want to tell anyone! If word gets out about this, the other kids will never leave me alone!"
Kurt laughed, his grin broadening.
"I was only joking, Liebchen. If you want to keep your powers secret for now, you can trust me not to tell anyone."
Alice regarded him, her expression softening with affection.
"I know," she said. "That's why I told you."
She favored him with a mischievous smile.
"Come here," she said, gesturing him over to her. "I want to show you something."
Curious, Kurt stepped over to her. She took his hand, her dark eyes glazing over as she accessed her power.
"There," she said after a moment. "Look."
Kurt looked into his room, where she was pointing. He gasped, swaying slightly at the sight that met his startled eyes.
"I've always wanted a family of my own," he said after a long moment, his voice subdued and distant as he watched an image of himself get tackled to the carpet by two small children, a girl and a boy, both of whom looked remarkably like him. Nearby, a woman watched them play, laughing happily, her dark hair shining in the yellowish lamplight. "A real one, tied to me by love and by blood."
He turned to her, his golden eyes misted.
"I suppose it is the dream of every orphan, ja?"
"This is our shared dream, my love." Alice told him as she let the living daydream fade away.
Kurt wrapped his arms around her, and she snuggled up against him. Never in his life had he felt so warm or so loved as he did at that moment.
"Now I'm with you," she assured him, her soft voice filled with deep sincerity, "you need never fear abandonment again."
*Yet, here I am,* he thought bitterly as he swept his searching gaze over the dark, desolate school grounds, *abandoned once again by my own mother.*
He shouldn't have been surprised. To tell the truth, he really had been expecting this. Still, after all that had happened that day, this latest abandonment hurt him more than he cared to admit.
That morning he had been forced to come to terms with the loss of the man he had loved as a father. It had been difficult and painful to acknowledge the truth of his death, but he'd had his family and his friends to support him and to comfort him in his grief. By that afternoon, they too were gone. He had opened his eyes to find himself forcefully and unexpectedly separated from those he held most dear at the very time he needed them most, and now, with Mystique's latest abandonment, it was starting to feel as though his worst nightmare had finally come true.
Even when he had been captured by Weapon X, even through the months of torture and twisted experimentation he had endured, suffering treatment that would have brought Animal Rights activists flooding to Washington in a fit of righteous fury had he been a lab rat rather than a mutant, his only comfort had been his unshakable assurance that his X-Men family would never abandon him.
This time, however, it was different.
Kurt was trapped in the past, in a world that was now foreign to him. Thirty years separated him from his wife and children, and he had no way of knowing if he would ever get home. The fate of his family rested on his actions in this time. One wrong move and the life he had built with Alice, even his cherished children could vanish into nothing more than wistful dreams of what might have been, with no more reality than the living daydream Alice had shown him that evening so long ago-an evening that hadn't even happened yet!
Kurt sank heavily to the stairs, his head buried in his thick hands. He had never felt so completely alone. He shivered, suddenly cold as he wrapped his tail around his waist. Taking in a deep breath, he rubbed the fuzz of his cheek against the cool metal of his ring, all the fears and pent-up emotions he had been struggling to control all day threatening to burst from him. He couldn't hold them in any longer, and he didn't want to.
Tilting his head back, he let loose with an anguished yowl that seemed more animalistic than human. If the happy dancers in the gym heard it above the thumping baseline of the music, they gave no sign. The only visible reaction was made by a red squirrel, which caused a rustle among the treetops as it scampered warily to the ground.
Kurt had sunk so deeply into his misery that he barely reacted when a strong hand reached out to squeeze his shoulder. Slowly raising his head, blinking in the brightness of the moonlight, it took him a moment to register what his eyes were seeing. Once he did, however, his instinctive reaction shocked them both.
"Mutti!" he gasped, pulling Mystique into a crushing embrace. "I thought you'd gone!"
Mystique stiffened in his arms, taken completely off guard by the fierce hug. For the briefest moment, she allowed herself to close her eyes, to let her stony heart soften at the feeling of her son's strong arms around her as she slowly returned his embrace-the first real hug they had ever truly shared. But as quickly as it had come, the moment ended and she pushed him away, her eyes cold and dangerous.
Kurt looked stunned for a moment, as if unsure of his memory of the last few seconds. Then he sighed deeply, lowering his head in defeat and utter exhaustion.
"I'm sorry," he said, his accented voice low and thick. "I didn't..." He trailed off, shaking his head. "It's been a long day."
Mystique regarded him through cold, yellow eyes as she rose gracefully to her feet, superior and aloof.
"I did go," she told him bluntly, causing him to raise his wide, hologram- shielded eyes to her severe, blue face. "But your ridiculous howling was so deplorably pathetic I came back."
Before he could smile, she cut him off with a sharp glare.
"My car is parked out front," she snapped curtly, her expression unreadable.
In as much time as it took her to turn sharply on her heel, the blue woman had once again become the imposing Principal Darkholme. She didn't even look to see if he was behind her as she strode briskly through the neatly clipped grass.
Still overwhelmed by his roiling, conflicting emotions, Kurt stood to follow, his heart pounding in confused, angry, delighted disbelief.
'The Box'* was a little hole-in-the-wall joint located at the back of a surprisingly clean alley. Even so, the corners of Raven's thin lips turned down in distaste as she followed Kurt to the bar's dingy door.
"However did you find this place?" she asked, stepping carefully around a moldering newspaper.
Watching her expression, Kurt suddenly realized that even though she appeared to be wearing expensive high-heels, in reality she, like him, was barefoot.
"Herr Logan took me here for my twenty-first birthday," he said, and grinned, reflecting back on the memory with affectionate amusement. "The owner is a mutant. I thought it would be nice to go to a place where we could just relax and be ourselves-no masks."
He gestured to the holowatch.
Raven narrowed her eyes, but didn't comment.
"And just how are you going to pay for this?" she asked, an ironic note creeping into her cold voice. "Do they still use money in the future?"
Kurt shot her a look.
"If you must know, I took the liberty of borrowing one of my old credit cards from myself-just in case of an emergency. I didn't think I would mind." He shrugged. "I'll leave myself a note later, and the receipt so I don't blame the credit card company when the bill arrives."
Mystique peered at him over her narrow nose, as though she were looking at a curious scientific specimen.
"I think the saddest thing about what you just said is that it actually made sense," she said dryly.
Kurt grinned and moved to hold the door open for her.
"After you, Mother," he said with a flourish, favoring her with a short bow.
Mystique glared at him.
"Don't you dare call me 'mother' while we're in there!" she hissed darkly. "What is the good of being able to change your shape if everyone around you thinks you're old?"
Kurt raised his eyebrows.
"Why, Raven," he said, keeping his voice light, "I didn't realize you were so vain."
Scowling deeply, Mystique's glare hardened as she brushed past him into the dimly lit bar.
"I'll leave it up to you," Kurt said easily as he closed the door behind them. "What'll it be, a stool at the bar or a nice, private booth?"
"If you want me to tell you anything, it had better be a booth." Mystique said. "And I'll have a double scotch, straight-up, no ice."
Kurt snapped his heels together and bowed slightly, politely tipping an imaginary hat to her.
"Your wish is my command, meine Dame," he told her, walking up to the bar to place their orders.
Mystique shook her head with a slight curl of her lip and strode directly for the darkest corner booth.
"Finally," she snapped when Kurt joined her barely two minutes later with their drinks. "Must you flirt with every girl you see?"
Kurt looked confused for a moment, then he realized what she must be talking about.
"Oh, do you mean the bartender?" He shook his head. "I was just complimenting her new nose-ring. She may not know it yet, but she and I go way back."
Mystique grunted and took a healthy swig of her scotch.
Kurt raised an eyebrow, twirling his frosted beer bottle between his hands before taking a long swig himself.
"So," he said, once she'd set her glass back down on its coaster, "who wants to go first?"
"Do you mean who wants to speak first or who wants to be first to dispense with the 'masks' as you put it?"
When Mystique just glared at him from across the table, he sighed.
"All right, I'll go first," he said, pressing the relevant button on his holowatch. The bartender and the three other patrons didn't even bat an eye as the hologram that surrounded him flickered and faded out. Kurt grinned broadly, unabashedly displaying his pointed teeth.
"Your turn," he said brightly.
"Forty-seven years old and still a child," Raven muttered, her acerbic tone accompanied by a soft snort. Even so, the pale, spectacled form of Principal Darkholme was soon replaced by the striking, dark-blue features of Mystique.
Kurt's grin widened.
"So," he said conversationally, taking a pull of his beer. "How are things with you? My day's been simply atrocious, but I suppose you would have guessed that by now."
"Why don't we just cut the crap and get to the point," Mystique suggested coldly.
Kurt nodded his approval.
"An excellent idea. Let's do that. You can start by telling me just who my father was and exactly what happened to him the night you dropped me off that bridge."
Mystique grunted, her yellow eyes narrowing.
"I suppose you think you have a right to know these things," she said.
"Quite frankly, yes, I do." Kurt told her. "After all, he was my father."
"Why does that matter so much to you?" Mystique asked sharply. "You have a foster father in Germany who's been more of a father to you than Eric ever was. Then there's that deluded telepath and his pet Wolverine. I would have thought you'd have had it up to here with father-figures and male role- models living at that Institute of yours."
Kurt sighed, glancing down at his ring with an indefinable expression.
"Perhaps," he allowed. "But, even though all those you just mentioned loved and cared for me as a father, none of them actually were my father. There was no bond of blood to tie us together. We were a family, but we were not kin."
He sighed again, his voice deep and somber.
"It has been my experience that the bond between a father and his child is one of the most powerful, most rewarding connections a man can make in his life. His children are a part of him and he of them. There is nothing that can compare with that." He looked up at her, his golden eyes filled with emotion. "Surely, as a mother- -even if you never were a very good one-you can understand what I mean."
Mystique found she couldn't hold his searching gaze. She turned her head to face the bar, absently counting the liquor bottles in a futile attempt to wipe the lingering image of Kurt's painfully sincere expression from her mind. The harder she fought them, however, the stronger her turbulent memories became, until, somehow, before she was even aware of it, she found she was speaking her thoughts out loud. By the time she became fully cognizant of what she was saying, it was too late to stop the painful confession from escaping her completely.
"His name was Count Eric Wagner and he was killed when he startled Magneto during an experiment. Magneto lost control of some piece of equipment or other and it fell, crushing Eric to death and ending the experiment before it could be completed. At least, that's what Magneto told me later. I wasn't actually there when it happened."
Kurt looked up. Mystique's voice had been so quiet that it had taken him a moment to fully comprehend what she had said. Before he could open his mouth to ask her a question, however, Mystique cut him off with a sharp, deadly glare.
"Now, I think I've said enough," she pronounced with a quiet menace.
Kurt could only nod, his eyes wide and his heart full. Somehow, he knew she had told him the truth. He couldn't ask her to reveal any more than what she had already so unexpectedly given him. His own contribution now seemed paltry and worthless next to her gift.
"My day started off with a funeral," he told her, watching as she drained her glass and set it down with a slightly trembling hand. "As the eulogy was being given, a young girl walked out of the crowd towards the speaker. I teleported over to her to find out what she was doing, only to discover she was being controlled by some unknown outside source. When I tried to teleport her away from the ceremony before she could cause any trouble, she was somehow wrenched from my arms. I lost consciousness, and when I opened my eyes I found myself at the Institute, some thirty years in the past."
He shook his head, half smiling at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation even though his expression was pained.
Mystique just watched him through narrowed, golden eyes.
"The Professor and I have come up with a working hypothesis to explain how this happened." he went on. "We think the electro-magnetic disturbances caused by Magneto's latest invention may have weakened the fabric of space- time. Apparently, this afternoon found me and my younger self involved in a simultaneous teleport at the same moment as one of these disturbances. As a result, we somehow switched places in time. As far as I know, this whole bizarre theory may be wrong, but I'm afraid it's all we have to go on at the moment."
Mystique's face remained impassive as she slid her empty glass toward the center of the table.
"If you're done with your beer, I'm ready to leave," she said, morphing back into her Principal Darkholme persona.
Kurt blinked in surprise at this, but obligingly swallowed another swig of beer.
"I'm finished," he assured her, climbing to his feet and holding out a hand to help her rise. Mystique brushed past him as if he wasn't there and headed for the door.
Kurt shook his head, reactivated his holowatch, and waved a cheery farewell to the bartender. It seemed things were back to normal between them.
"We're here," Mystique announced, coming to a stop some distance from the gates to the Xavier Institute. "Get out."
Kurt opened the door to her convertible, but remained seated as he turned to her.
"Mother," he started, "I just wanted to thank you-"
"Don't," Mystique interrupted coldly. "We had an agreement, we carried it out. We owe each other nothing."
She shifted her gaze to face the front and, as she did, a sudden impulse came over Kurt, an impulse he just had to carry out before it was too late. He knew the fate that awaited her. Mystique would soon be trapped in stone by an ancient curse. Before he could save her, she would be pushed off a cliff, falling to her death as she was shattered into hundreds of stone fragments on the ground below.
Timing his movements carefully, Kurt leaned over in his seat and kissed her gently on the cheek. Mystique stiffened as she felt his velvety fur brush against her face, suddenly as still as the stone statue she would soon become.
"Gute Nacht, Mutti," Kurt said softly, and got out of the car. Before he closed her door, however, her strong hand darted through his hologram and caught his tail where it was wrapped around his waist, using it to pull him back to her.
"Why did you do that," she demanded, her dark eyes burning.
Kurt smiled through the pain her fierce grip was causing his sensitive tail.
"I always wondered what that would feel like," he told her, "and somehow I had the feeling you wouldn't give me another opportunity to try it out."
She stared at him, her head shaking slightly as she searched for a response.
Kurt's tail couldn't wait that long.
"Mother, please," he winced, "my tail..."
Mystique let go as though the twitching appendage had burnt her. Kurt rubbed it gingerly, then lashed it back and forth a few times to get the blood flowing again.
"I'm sorry, Kurt," Mystique said, her eyes focused firmly on the silent stretch of road ahead of her. "For everything."
Kurt smiled sadly.
"Don't worry about it," he told her. "I forgave you a long time ago."
Mystique looked at him, her dark eyes somehow softer than they had been.
"How could someone like you have a mother like me?" she asked.
"Just lucky, I guess," he said.
Mystique didn't return his smile.
"I meant what I said before," she told him in a halting voice. "When I said I was proud of you." She cleared her throat. "I meant that."
Kurt closed his eyes, his heart swelling with bittersweet emotion. He couldn't count the number of times he'd dreamed of this moment. Before he could say anything, though, Mystique held up a staying hand.
"It was your legs Magneto changed," she said brusquely. "With that mutant enhancement machine of his. The night I took you and ran."
Kurt blinked, looking down instinctively but seeing only a holographic projection.
"My legs...?" he asked, not fully comprehending.
"You are digitigrade, like a dog or cat. You walk on your toes with your heels in the air. His machine did that to you. I'm sure you've noted how your children can stand with their feet flat on the ground."
"I had wondered about that," Kurt said thoughtfully. "Marta is so like me in every other respect, but her feet-"
He broke off, suddenly angry as he realized that Mystique had tricked him into revealing what she had wanted to know, but not dared to ask. His anger turned to concern, however, when he saw tears shining in his mother's eyes.
"Mother," he asked gently, "are you all ri-"
"Good night, Kurt," she cut him off, and pulled her door shut tight. With a roar of her sports car's powerful motor, she was gone.
Kurt stared after the rapidly diminishing lights, his mind awhirl with all that had been said and all that had been left unsaid. As he teleported back to the mansion, he had to admit that all in all, it had been a highly rewarding evening.
To Be Continued...
*As seen in Wolverine: 'So, This Priest Walks Into a Bar' Volume 3, Number 6, although I changed the location from New York City to Bayville. *shrug* Maybe it's a chain.
What happened to the younger Kurt? Stay tuned for Chapter Eleven! :)
"KURT!" Alice screamed, running heedlessly towards the place where her husband had vanished in an impossibly bright flash of light. Tessa still lay there, her eyes wide and unfocused, her right hand clutched in a tight fist. A small crowd began to gather and it seemed that everyone started to talk at once.
As rumors began to fly-a human had set off a bomb...a mutant had tried to attack the President...Nightcrawler had been blown up as he intercepted a bomb heading towards stage...Nightcrawler had been the one with the bomb...Nightcrawler had killed the girl...the girl had killed Nightcrawler- the President and the other world leaders were instantly surrounded by Secret Service Agents, who hurriedly worked to bundle them safely into helicopters which had already been primed for take-off. The reporters followed, shouting questions and generally making the confused situation worse as the stunned X-Men worked to pull themselves together and figure out just what had happened.
"Over here!" Logan's gruff voice called from the front of the mansion. "I think I found Kurt!"
Alice crossed the lawn at a speed that put Quicksilver to shame.
"Where is he?" she demanded, her dark eyes wild.
"Over there," he said, pointing to a small, dark figure lying sprawled and unconscious under the trees. "But, Alice, there's somethin' I've gotta tell ya-"
"Tell me later," she snapped, rushing to her fallen husband. When she saw him, however, her piercing scream nearly shattered Logan's sensitive eardrums.
"What's happened to Daddy?" Edmund asked, frightened to the point of tears. "Why did Mummy scream like that?"
"I'm not sure what happened, Runt," Logan said, his rough voice surprisingly gentle as he squeezed the pale-blue boy's shoulder. "Scott," he called to the approaching leader of the X-Men. "You watch the kids. I'll try to get to Alice before she can do anything she'll regret."
Scott barely had time to nod before Logan was running towards the distraught Alice at top speed.
"This is not my husband!" she screamed once she saw him, dangerously near to losing control. "This is not my Kurt! What has happened to my husband!"
"Calm down, Alice," Logan tried to soothe her, taking her gently by the shoulders. "Get a hold of yourself. Your power-"
"I don't care about my bloody power!" Alice shrieked, stumbling as she backed quickly away from the unconscious boy at her feet. "I want my husband back!"
Suddenly, Alice stiffened, her almond eyes widening until they were almost as round as two coins.
"Uh oh," Logan said, gathering her up in his arms before she could fall. Turning back to the crowd that was gathering in front of the mansion he shouted, "Scott! Get Jean over here! I think we're gonna to be needin' her real soon!"
Kurt Wagner groaned softly as his foggy mind rose to consciousness. His right side ached, particularly his hip and shoulder where he'd absorbed the brunt of his impact with the ground. Opening his eyes took some effort, and he sat up with a sharp wince of pain, trying to get an idea as to where he was.
"Ach, man, I really do have to work on my reentries," he groaned, running a hand through his long, almost shoulder-length hair and picking out a few leaves. He groaned again as he realized his holowatch had shorted out. Again. "Well, at least I made it home."
Kurt turned his gaze to the mansion, surprised at how different it looked. It seemed bigger, older somehow. There was ivy crawling up the walls, though he couldn't remember ever noticing ivy before. Climbing awkwardly to his feet, he shook his head to clear it.
It was then that he noticed the crowd.
A group of strangers was gathered in front of the building, about twenty feet away. They were staring at him in a gape-mouthed shock that seemed disturbingly familiar. He had seen that look many times before, back at the circus, on the faces of the people who had just realized that the Incredible Nightcrawler was not wearing a costume. It usually appeared during the calm moment of silence just before the screaming started.
Kurt froze, a sudden, familiar fear gripping his heart. He could only stand there, trapped by their stares like a deer in the oncoming headlights of a car. He couldn't even think to teleport.
Then, to Kurt's deep relief, a familiar face broke through the crowd and started jogging towards him, her long, brown ponytail bouncing behind her.
"Kitty!" he cried out, waving her over to him. "Kitty, what is going on here? Who are all these people?"
Kitty stopped in her tracks, then took a startled step back, her face twisted in horror.
"Eeew! Like...like, what are you?!" she stammered, raising her arms in front of her in a protective gesture.
Kurt gasped, her words knocking the breath from his body as cruelly as a savage kick to the chest. If he was frozen before, he was paralyzed now.
Turning back to the mansion, Kitty screamed at the top of her lungs.
"Professor! Mr. Logan! Anyone, help me!"
As Kurt watched, helpless, Wolverine came charging forward from the crowd, followed closely by Professor Xavier in his electric wheelchair. The crowd gasped, and it seemed everyone began to speak at once. Kurt, however, was deaf to all but the conversation going on right in front of him.
"Kitty, what's wrong?" Professor Xavier was asking the terrified girl.
Kitty pointed at Kurt, her eyes narrowed with disgust.
"That," she said, pointing rudely at Kurt.
"Hey!" he exclaimed, his building anger snapping him out of his stunned paralysis. "Kitty, what is this? Professor-"
Kurt's words died on his tongue when he saw the look in his mentor's eyes. It was not recognition. It was revulsion.
"Logan," Xavier said, his voice sharp with unpleasant shock. "What is that? If I didn't know better, I'd say it looks like some sort of demon."
Logan sniffed deeply, making a face.
"Ugh," he grunted. "I don't know about that, Chuck, but whatever it is, it don't smell human."
Kurt could feel his world collapsing around his pointed ears as he stood there, rooted to the spot, staring at the fear and disgust twisting the faces of the people he loved, people he had thought cared about him.
"B-but...but Professor! Herr Logan...Katzchen!" he tried, desperation causing his voice to squeak, "you know me! Kurt Wagner? The blue, fuzzy dude? Can't miss me in a crowd?"
"You want I should skewer it, Charles?" he asked, not even looking at Kurt.
Kurt's yellow eyes widened. He saw the Professor shrug carelessly just before the world around him was obscured by streaming, stinging tears. Mortified, hurt, and bewildered, Kurt found himself wracked by sobs he couldn't control. He blinked rapidly, struggling to clear his vision just enough to get a good look at the roof of the mansion, then took in a shaky breath and teleported away in a BAMF of sulfurous smoke.
"Oh no," Scott said, breaking off from helping Logan with Alice to look back at the rapidly dissipating teleport smoke. "I was afraid of this. Marti," he ordered, turning to Kurt's stunned daughter.
Marta Wagner tore her gaze from her mother, looking up at him with wide, green eyes.
"Erm, yes, Uncle Scott?"
"Go find Kurt. Quickly, before he does anything stupid."
Marti straightened, then nodded curtly, vanishing in a flash of smoke.
"Jean!" Scott cried, using both his mind and his voice. "We really need you out here!"
From high above came the sound of a window sliding open. Moments later, Jean Summers floated down to land on the stairs next to her agitated husband and the entranced Alice Wagner.
"I was just trying to calm the students," Jean explained. "Have you found out what happened?"
Scott shook his head.
"Not yet." he said. "Quick, I need you to snap Alice out of this!"
"Who has she latched onto?" Jean asked, all business.
"Would you believe me if I told you a teenaged Kurt Wagner?"
Jean stared at him, her green eyes widening as she caught a glimpse of his memories through the special link they shared.
"No wonder she's like this," she gasped, turning her attention back to Alice. Taking a deep, calming breath, Jean slowly raised her hands to Alice's cold temples and closed her eyes in concentration.
Edmund clung to Ororo's long skirt, tears leaking from his hazel eyes as he watched Jean try to reach his comatose mother. Suzie stood nearby, pale and aloof, her golden eyes narrowed with fear and worry though her face was an impassive mask.
Scott turned to Rogue, and Bobby, who were standing beside him. Logan had left to keep the loitering reporters at bay.
"This is going to take a while," he said, keeping his voice low so as not to disturb Jean's concentration. "Let's see what's up with Tessa."
As the three X-Men headed across the crowded lawn, they were met by Evan's worried shout.
"Scott!" the bone-plated mutant called out from where he stood beside Tessa's prone form. Kitty and Alistaire crouched by her side, apparently checking her vital signs. "Kitty's found something! You guys had better take a look at this!"
The three X-Men ran the rest of the way to Evan's side, hoping that whatever it was Kitty had found would provide some answers, or at least a clue to the identity of who - or whatever - was behind all this.
Marti knew where to go. Her father had often told her about his favorite 'thinking spot'. The previous Christmas he had even taken her up there, proud to share his private hide-away with his enthusiastic daughter. So, when Uncle Scott ordered her to find her father, she didn't even have to think. She teleported straight to the roof of the mansion.
Marti thought she had prepared herself for anything. Her mother's drastic reaction proved that something terrible must have happened to her father. She had steeled herself, ready for the sight of blood, gore, or even mutilation. She felt she could even deal with memory loss if her father was too hurt to recognize her. The sight that met her eyes as she appeared on the roof, however, was more shocking than any of the possible horrors that were running through her nervous imagination.
A teenaged boy crouched in her father's spot, his long, blue tail wrapped tightly around his knees as he sobbed into his thick, three-fingered hands.
Tilting her head, Marti stared in amazement. Could this boy actually be...
"Dad?" she asked, her voice weak and trembling with disbelief.
The boy didn't look up. Thinking he hadn't heard her, Marti took a cautious step forward and crouched down beside him, her tail lashing nervously behind her.
"Kurt?" she tried.
It felt weird to address him by his name, almost like she was doing something wrong. But it seemed to get his attention. The boy stared up at her through wide, bleary eyes, his short, fine fur streaked with tears.
"Was?" he exclaimed, jumping to his feet. "Who are you? How did you get up here?"
"Please, try to calm down," Marti said, holding out a fuzzy, three-fingered hand just like his. "My name is Marta. I'm-" She choked slightly, unwilling to scare him further by telling him the truth. "-a friend," she finished, with an attempt at a comforting smile.
Marta lowered her hand when Kurt made no move to come near her. Instead, he shook his head as if to clear it.
"Woah," he said, his tail lashing wildly behind him. "This is way too freaky. I mean, man! You look just like me!"
This time, Marti's smile was real.
"Yeah," she said. "So I've been told. Repeatedly."
Kurt tilted his head, her smile seeming to calm him slightly.
"Can I ask you a question?" he inquired, looking down at the crowds far below.
"Certainly," she said. "You can ask me anything."
"What is going on here? It's like, this is the Xavier Institute, right?"
Kurt furrowed his brow.
"But everything's different!" he exclaimed. "Who are all those people down there? When did all this ivy have a chance to grow?"
He blinked rapidly, turning his head away from her. When he spoke again his voice was tight with pain.
"Why didn't my friends recognize me?"
Marti felt at a loss.
"Erm, perhaps if you came with me we could talk to Uncle Scott and see if he can explain everything to you."
Kurt narrowed his sharp eyes at her.
"Um, yeah. Mr. Summers. He's sort of the leader around here. He sent me to find you."
Kurt paled dramatically. His dark, indigo face took on a strange, blotchy tint that looked decidedly unhealthy. Marti could almost see the gears in his brain turning as everything started to fall into place.
"Mein Gott!" he gasped, circling her in wide-eyed astonishment. "Gott im Himmel! Bist du meine...meine...?"
"Deine Tochter?" Marti finished with a relieved smile. He recognized her! "Jawohl, Papa!"
To Marti's alarm, Kurt Wagner collapsed at her feet in a dead faint.
"So, what do you think it means?" Kitty asked, brushing the grass from her black trousers as she rose to her feet.
"'Even peace has a price'," Scott read from the crumpled piece of paper Kitty had phased out of Tessa's clenched fist. "'IX-MO will fail us all. To keep Earth strong, we must fight.'" Scott shrugged. "It sounds like some kind of warning to me. But a warning about what?"
"What's Icksmo?" Bobby asked, peering over Scott's shoulder.
Before anyone could answer him, Marti appeared in a BAMF of smoke, crouched over an unconscious, impossibly young Kurt Wagner.
"Oh, my God!" Rogue exclaimed, bending over him. "Is he all right?"
"I think so. He seemed to remember I was his daughter, and then he just...fainted."
"Wow," Bobby commented. "No one said Tesseract could do anything like that. Do you think she'll be able to...well...fix him?"
"Wait a minute," Evan broke in, "are you trying to tell me that this girl somehow made Kurt a kid again?"
"Can you think of another explanation?" Scott asked him.
Evan shook his head, feeling quite overwhelmed and completely at a loss.
"What are we going to do about it?" he asked. "Can he still lead Excalibur like this?"
"Like what?" Suzie's churlish voice came from behind the small group. "What is going on here? What's happened to Dad? Why won't anyone tell me anything?!"
As the gathered X-Men turned to face her, Suzie caught sight of Marti, crouching beside an older boy who looked strangely familiar...
"Bloody hell," the twelve year old exclaimed, rushing over to her sister and crouching down to peer into the boy's fuzzy, indigo face.
"Mummy, Suzie said a swear!" Edmund's voice piped up.
Alice sighed tiredly as she approached the group, still looking rather groggy after her ordeal. Jean walked beside her, her green eyes concerned.
"Edmund, sweetie, it's all right," Alice assured him, squeezing his small hand in hers. "There are some moments in life that just seem to call for strong language."
Edmund tilted his head, then released his mother's hand, running over to join his sisters.
"Who is this?" he inquired curiously, leaning over Kurt's prone form.
"It's Dad," Marti told him. "Tessa made him a kid again."
Edmund's hazel-gray eyes widened and his jaw dropped. He stared first at Kurt, then at Tessa, and then he turned his gaze back to Kurt.
"Bloody hell," he whispered.
Marti glared at Suzie, who actually looked sheepish.
The children looked up as their mother approached them, scooting aside to make room for her as she knelt down beside them. Slowly, Alice reached out to brush a long strand of indigo hair from Kurt's fuzzy forehead.
"Kurt, love," Alice whispered, struggling to keep the trembling from her voice. "It's Alice." She took in a shaky breath, her heart aching with guilt and fear. "I'm so sorry, Liebchen. I didn't know what I was doing...I didn't mean to hurt you...please wake up?"
The unconscious boy made no sign of movement. The three children looked at each other in wide-eyed concern, but Alice leaned forward and gathered him up in her arms, resting his head on her lap and rocking him slowly she stroked his hair.
Scott, Rogue, and the others lowered their eyes, their hearts aching in sympathy for Alice and the frightened children.
"Uughh," Kurt groaned, raising a hand to his head and slowly opening his eyes. "What happened? Where am I?"
He blinked up at the smiling Alice in confusion, then cast his bleary gaze around the rest of the small group. His bright eyes widened in stunned recognition when he saw Scott looking down at him through his ruby-quartz glasses, his arm wrapped around Jean's waist.
"Scott!" he blurted out, breaking free of Alice's gentle embrace and jumping to his feet. "Jean! Rogue?" His eyes widened further as he took in his 'sister's' long, flowing hair.
"Mein Gott, it's true!" he exclaimed, excitement slowly spreading across his dark features. "I've teleported to the future! Where's Kitty?"
"I'm right here," Kitty Stuart said, turning from where she was helping to strap the still unconscious Tesseract to a stretcher.
"Kurt, tell me," she said, "how much can you remember?"
A slightly goofy smile spread over Kurt's face as his eyes became distant with memory.
"I remember you agreed to be my date for the Social," he said dreamily. "I brought you breakfast in bed."
He blinked, his smile broadening into an excited grin.
"So, tell me everything, Katzchen," he said, his tail twitching behind him. "How long have we been married?"
Alice shot to her feet, pale as a ghost and glaring daggers at Kitty. Alistaire Stuart mirrored her reaction, only his glare was directed at Kurt. Kitty stood trapped between them, her eyes wide and helpless.
"But-but we're not..." she tried. She was relieved when Evan cut her off.
"You mean, you think 'Kitty' is your wife!" he exclaimed, incredulous.
Kurt looked around in confusion, his bewildered gaze darting to each of his friends in turn.
"You mean she isn't?" he asked, a royal purple flush rising in his cheeks as he cringed with deep embarrassment.
"I should say not," Alistaire huffed.
Kurt turned to stare at Marta, his tail twisting itself into agitated knots.
Marti looked helplessly to her mother, who was desperately struggling against tears of her own.
"He doesn't know us," Suzie said bluntly, her dark scowl masking her fear and hurt. "He really is a kid."
Jean's eyes narrowed as she gently probed his surface thoughts, searching for a way to help jog his memory. What she found shocked her so deeply she swayed on her feet as she broke contact.
"Jean, what's wrong?" Scott asked, his face drawn with worry.
Jean blinked up at him, then turned to stare at Kurt.
"Suzie's right," she said, her voice near breathless with incredulity. "We were wrong, Scott. Tesseract didn't change him after all. This Kurt Wagner really is sixteen years old!"
"How's that?" Bobby asked, squinting his eyes in confusion.
"He's a teenager," Jean told him. "This isn't the Kurt we know. Somehow, he and our own Kurt must have been switched in time."
"What!" Alistare exclaimed. "But that is impossible! The laws of physics clearly state that-"
The argument stopped as all eyes turned to Tessa, who was sitting up on the stretcher, staring into space with wide, terrified eyes.
"Who's coming?" Scott asked, trying to keep his voice gentle despite the fact that the bizarre events of the day were rapidly wearing down his patience.
Tessa shivered violently, then pointed to an empty stretch of grass just beyond the stage. A moment later, the gathered X-Men gasped in shock to see a shaft of brilliant, white light appear in mid-air and slowly spread out until it grew into what looked like a rounded door. As they watched, stunned, a shadow appeared in the center of the blinding portal. The moment the figure stepped through, onto the lawn of the Xavier Institute, the portal vanished with a snap and a small, metal orb zipped out to hover playfully over the stranger's head.
"My name is Kylun." the tall, muscular, purple-furred man announced in a deep, rumbling voice. His yellow, cat-like eyes narrowed as he turned his accusing glare to each of the gathered X-Men in turn.
"I have come to put an end to your quixotic, utopian Dream before IX-MO can cause the destruction of the world."
"Just when I was thinking this day couldn't possibly get any weirder..." Bobby commented under his breath.
Kylun advanced on him, a hand on the thick hilt of one of the two enormous swords strapped to his back.
Bobby's eyes widened, and he took a stumbling step backwards.
"Idealism can be as dangerous as hatred if it is allowed to go too far," the enormous man growled, his orange hair lending menace to his fierce expression as the long strands blew around his face in the October breeze. "Don't you realize that even peace has a price?"
To Be Continued...
Wolverine stumped down the chrome corridor to the Danger Room, already impatient for the training session to be over so they could head out to Montana. The backs of his hands were itching in anticipation of the confrontation to come and the kids hadn't even finished their breakfast yet.
As he turned a corner, another thought prickled the back of Logan's mind. He still hadn't seen any sign of Kurt that morning-aside from the noticeable dent he had put in the sausage pile before the others arrived in the dining room. After what he'd witnessed the night before, Logan was starting to grow concerned.
It had disturbed Logan to learn that Kurt had not returned with the others from the dance the night before. For someone so concerned about not tampering with the timeline, it seemed odd for him to go off on his own like that. It wasn't that he didn't trust the Elf. If anything, this adult Nightcrawler seemed even more upright and conscientious than the boy he knew. He just couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't quite right.
Kitty seemed to think he'd left because he realized he knew Pete from the future and didn't want to risk saying anything that might change things. But, when Logan pulled Scott aside, he'd gotten a different story altogether.
"He just said that something came up, something he had to deal with himself," Scott had told him with a shrug. "He wouldn't say any more. He really seemed to be in a hurry, but it didn't feel as though anything was wrong."
Logan had stayed up to wait for the Elf's return. The moment the familiar teleport stink reached his nostrils, he had tracked it to Kurt's room and peered through the half-closed door, keeping himself well hidden in the shadowed corridor.
The Elf was crouched on the edge of his bed deep in thought, affectionately stroking the frame of a small photograph. Logan knew that picture. It had been taken when the Elf was about four or five years old. The smiling boy was being held by his adopted parents just outside their home in Germany. As Logan watched, Kurt began talking to himself in German. Although his sensitive ears could easily pick up every softly spoken word, he only understood a few. It was something about family and truth and father, mother, grandmother, and children.
Logan was about to leave, feeling almost ashamed of his paranoid eavesdropping, when a faint scent tickled his nostrils. He knew that smell. The lingering aroma of imported beer nearly covered it, but it was there, and it was unmistakable.
The Elf had been out drinking with Mystique.
Logan flexed his fingers, feeling the flesh of his hand stretch over the retracted adamantium claws housed just underneath his skin, his mind filling with wary suspicion. Could the Elf have switched sides? Was this crazy mess all part of some twisted plan? Perhaps this Nightcrawler was a clone of some sort and the real Kurt Wagner was being held hostage somewhere...?
Before Wolverine could burst into the room, his claws extended and his teeth bared, he was stopped short by a single word. Didn't 'tot' mean 'dead'?
Logan shook his head in confusion, trying to recall the Elf's exact words. Did he just say Mystique was dead? No-he'd said she 'would be' dead before... something... something... her grandchildren...?
Kurt had children?
Logan's eyebrows shot up in surprise. Well, that would certainly explain a lot of the anxiety and depression he'd been sensing from the usually cheerful Elf. Even his present situation couldn't have accounted entirely for such strong feelings of separation.
Quickly cooling from his sudden rage, Logan watched as Kurt swore softly and reached up to rub at his luminescent eyes. He gently placed the photograph on his bedside table and knelt down beside his bed, his forehead pressed to his folded hands. As Kurt began a heartfelt prayer, in English, for his mother's soul, both present and future, Logan slipped silently away and headed back to his own room.
He couldn't really blame the Elf for wanting to spend some time with his mother, especially if she was dead in the time he came from. He must have seen her at the dance. As principal of the school, it was likely that she would have been there. It only surprised him that Mystique had actually agreed to talk with him. Maybe, unlikely though it sounded, that blue cow cared more about her son than she let on...
A light was flashing above the Danger Room door as Logan approached. Slowly, a grin spread over his rugged features. So...this was where the Elf had been hiding all morning. Curious to see what Kurt was up to, Logan turned and headed for the small elevator that would take him directly to the control booth.
The Danger Room had been modified to look like a rocky beach on a Caribbean island. A large, wooden ship with billowing, white sails was anchored in the harbor some distance away and a rowboat was resting on the sandy shore, complete with oars. As Logan watched, hovering between laughter and amazement, Kurt Wagner leapt into view, his three swords gleaming in the bright, false sunlight as he skillfully and gleefully took on at least a dozen snarling pirates. His holowatch was active, but he was using it only to change the appearance of his clothing, not his skin. He was dressed in a white shirt and brown trousers that seemed to have been pulled directly from the seventeenth century, and a golden hoop earring dangled roguishly from one pointed ear.
Even though he was the one outnumbered, it seemed the pirates were the ones at a disadvantage as Kurt used the sword grasped securely in his tail to hold off any who tried to attack him from behind while the two in his hands jabbed and parried so quickly it was hard for even Logan to keep track of his moves. Whenever it seemed the pirates were about to gain the upper hand, Kurt would flip gracefully over their heads with a powerful leap and come at them again from ground of his own choosing. It was such an engrossing fight that Logan couldn't bring himself to interrupt it, even when the kids began to trickle into the control room, already suited up and confused as to why the Danger Room light was on when there was no one in the corridor to meet them.
"Dude! This is better than the movies!" Evan exclaimed, and leaned closer to the window, straining for a more complete view.
"Aren't those the swords from the weapons closet?" Jean asked, turning to Logan. "The ones you were always yelling at Kurt not to play with when he first came here?"
Logan shot her a dark look.
"Looks to me like the Elf knows what he's doin'," he grunted.
Jean nodded and walked across the small room to stand next to Scott, who was scowling by the doorway.
"Like, how long has he been at this?" Kitty asked, gasping slightly as Kurt dodged a pirate's notched blade just in time to avoid losing his tail.
"Don't know, Half-Pint," Logan rumbled, trying hard to contain an enthusiastic grin of his own. "It's quite a sight, though, ain't it?"
"Sure is," Rogue admitted, breaking out of her practiced non-chalance to join Evan by the viewport window.
"I've never felt such complete focus," Jean commented, her brow slightly furrowed as she watched the fight play out below her from the back of the booth. "I think this is really helping him with all those pent up emotions he was struggling with yesterday."
"But what about our simulation," Scott protested. "This little game may be fun for Kurt, but we've got a mission to prepare for!"
Logan sighed. As much as he hated to admit it, the kid was right. Before Logan could activate the intercom to tell Kurt off, however, there was a loud BUZZZ and the holographic simulation faded out, leaving in its place only the bare, metallic space that was the Danger Room's natural state and one grinning Kurt Wagner. The kids were deeply impressed to note he was barely even out of breath after his exertion. Logan looked down at his watch. There were still seven minutes to go before the time he'd set for the training session to begin.
"There you go, Cyclops," Logan said, and smirked. "Seems the Elf was way ahead of us."
The others snickered at the slightly chagrined expression that crossed Scott's face.
"Then what are we waiting for?" the young team leader snapped. "Let's get down there and get started!"
As Scott turned on his heel and marched back to the elevator, Jean shook her head.
"Come on, guys," she said. "It looks like 'Mr. Military' has spoken."
"I heard that!" Scott's voice called out from the direction of the elevator.
Kurt looked up from the water bubbler in the hall as the kids piled out of the elevator, followed closely by Logan.
"Guten Morgen, every one!" he greeted, wiping the water from his fuzzy chin with the towel draped around his shoulders. Pressing a few buttons on his watch, the air around him shimmered as his seventeenth-century clothing transformed into a perfectly fitted version of his familiar red and black uniform. "So," he said, turning around to give them a complete picture, "what do you think?"
"It's a hologram," Scott pointed out. "Not an armored suit. How's that supposed to protect you against projectiles and stun rays?"
Kurt shot him a sly look.
"Ach, but this is a hard-light* holowatch, mein Junge," he said, holding the device out for Scott's inspection. "It's the one I was wearing when I arrived here. The image it projects is solid." His smile broadened as Kitty reached up to touch the uniform's pointed shoulders. "Almost as good as the real thing, ja?"
Kitty returned his grin.
"Like, it actually feels real!"
"That is so cool, man!" Spyke said, touching Kurt's arm.
"Um, you are wearing something under that, aren't you?" Scott inquired uncomfortably.
"Of course! These holowatches are nothing if not untrustworthy." Kurt laughed, though the memories of his capture by Weapon-X haunted his yellow eyes. "It would be very embarrassing if this watch were to go on the fritz in the middle of a battle and I were to find myself..." He cleared his throat. "Well, you get the idea."
Kitty and Jean giggled and even Rogue blushed a little.
Wolverine just checked the time.
"Fascinating as all this is, we do have a mission to prepare for, if you remember," he scolded, though he was smirking himself. As the doors to the Danger Room slid open, he said, "Now, if we'll all just step inside, I think it's about time for us to get down to business."
Kurt nodded his agreement.
"Of course. Herr Wolverine is correct, my friends."
He walked over to Wolverine as the kids filed into the empty, metal room, his tail twitching with curiosity.
"So, Logan," he said, "tell us this plan of yours. Just where is Magneto's mysterious magnetic mountain?"
As Wolverine outlined the strategy for approaching Magneto's base, a small, white mouse tilted its tiny head, almost as though it was listening. As the small group broke their huddle and prepared to activate the simulation, the mouse scurried away, slipping easily through an open access panel and up the tangled wiring to the exit high above.
*Concept of 'hard-light' holograms pinched from 'Red Dwarf'.
"Are you really Nightcrawler?"
Kurt looked up from his plate to face the young boy who had spoken.
"Ja, that's me. But people usually only call me by my codename when I'm on missions."
A younger girl flushed green.
"But, we can't just call you...well...Kurt!" She giggled nervously, then looked up at him through wide, orange eyes. "Can we?"
Kurt shrugged, uncomfortable with how the Institute students seemed to be in awe of him.
"Well, I don't see why not," he said weakly. "I mean, it is my name after all."
There was a small outburst of giggles.
Kurt could feel himself blushing under his fur as he sank lower into his chair and stabbed at a meatball with his fork.
Marti, Suzie, and Edmund watched him silently from across the round table. Kurt noted with some concern that they, too, had barely touched their food. He tried to smile at them, but they just turned to one another and shared uncomfortable glances. Kurt sighed.
This was a ridiculous situation, and it was time he did something about it. As strange and frightening as it was to wrap his head around, there was no doubt that these were his children. Kurt wanted to get to know them. He wanted to talk with them more than anything he had ever wanted in his life, and he wasn't about to let nervousness and embarrassment get in his way.
"So," he tried, keeping his voice light, "this is pretty strange, huh?"
Suzie snorted, her golden eyes fixed on her spaghetti.
"You can say that again," she said, effectively closing the conversation before it had even begun.
Kurt nodded, trying to think of another opening.
"You three are from Britain, ja?" he asked, desperately curious about their accents.
"Yes," she said. "We're with Excalibur, at Braddock Manor outside London."
Kurt's ears pricked up.
"Excalibur?" he asked, interested.
"Uncle Scott said that if you don't know, we're not supposed to talk about it," Edmund said quietly, patting his meatballs into a patty with his fork.
"Uncle Scott isn't here," Suzie pointed out, a bitter tone to her voice. "This is the 'Kid's Dining Room'."
"And just to add insult to injury, we have to be seated alphabetically, too."
Suzie shot her a teasing grin.
"Yeah. Too bad. Samuel's all the way at the other end of the room!"
Marti scowled slightly and turned her gaze back to her half-eaten spaghetti.
Kurt shared their annoyance. Being seated in a separate room from the adults, being served spaghetti and meatballs rather than the steak, chicken, or fish options offered to all those over the age of eighteen...it was embarrassing and it was demeaning. But even so, this wasn't his time and he wasn't ready to go against Scott's rules.
Well...not yet, anyway.
Edmund darted his gaze from one sister to the other, growing uncomfortable with the long pause.
"So, can we tell him about Excalibur?" he asked at last.
Marti and Suzie looked uneasy.
"Look," Kurt said, trying to ease the tension. "I don't want to get you guys in trouble. Let's just stick with the basics for now, all right?"
"Like what?" Edmund asked, looking up from his mashed meat sculpture.
"Well, we still haven't exactly been introduced. I mean, I know Marta's name because she told me on the roof, and I've gathered that your names are Suzie and Edmund-"
"Her name's not really Suzie," Edmund said. "That's her middle name."
Suzie glared at her brother and made to punch his shoulder, but Marti reached out with her tail and stopped her before she made contact. The two siblings stuck their tongues out at each other instead.
Kurt struggled to keep from laughing.
"Well, what is your name?" he asked, his eyes bright with interest.
Suzie made a face, but admitted, "It's Ingrid. Ingrid Susan Wagner."
"You mean like Ingrid Bergman from 'Casablanca'?" Kurt reached up to run a hand through his long hair as he grinned, "Man, she was one hot chick, nein?"
Marti's eyes bugged wide open, and she clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing with her mouth full.
Suzie scowled, too annoyed to realize the boy had just done exactly what Kitty had been teasing their father about on the jet.
"Yeah. That's it." she muttered
Kurt turned from Marta to Suzie, his eyes narrowed with confusion at their opposing reactions.
"But Ingrid is a beautiful name!" he told them.
"Suzie's better," Suzie muttered.
Kurt shook his head with sly, knowing eyes.
"Ach, you may think so now. But I have always felt the name 'Ingrid' to be as strong as it is lovely. That is why I believe it suits you so well."
Suzie rolled her eyes.
"You always say that," she muttered. Then she blinked, realizing what she'd just said.
"Cool," he grinned. Then he winked at her. "That future me must be more perceptive than I thought."
The three children stared at him, their eyes wide and small smiles creeping across their faces.
"You were right, Marti!" Edmund exclaimed happily. "This boy really is Daddy!"
The expression on Marti's face fell slightly.
"Well," she said, "not yet. But he will be."
Kurt cleared his throat.
"So," he said, trying to get the conversation back on track. "How old are you?"
"I'm fourteen," Marti told him, "Suzie's twelve, and Edmund is eight. And you're sixteen?"
"Ja. Are you all X-Men?"
"Well, it's different here than it is at home. At home, when I'm sixteen I can join up as a junior member of Excalibur-the English branch of the International X-Men Organization. Here, you can't join the X-Men until you're eighteen. Different countries, different leaders, different rules."
"Hmmm," Kurt said with a slight smirk. "I guess that explains why I was sent to the 'Kid's Table'."
He shook his head.
"But it doesn't seem fair," he said. "I mean, when Professor Xavier started the X-Men it was made up of nothing but kids: me, Scott, Jean, Kitty...and Evan and Rogue joined later. Why is it different now?"
"Dad says it's because his work is so dangerous," Rachel Summers piped up from the table next to theirs, where she'd been keeping track of their conversation. "He doesn't want to put us in danger until we know how to control our powers enough to defend ourselves. That's why we have this school."
Kurt narrowed his eyes, beginning to understand.
"So, then it's like you are all X-Men in training?"
"Sorta like that."
Kurt looked around the crowded room.
"And you all have powers?"
"They usually don't turn up until puberty," the girl with the orange eyes told him. "But some of the second and third generation mutants get them earlier. Like Rachel and Marti."
"Yeah," said Rachel. "I found out I could read thoughts six years ago, when I was five." The red-head snickered. "I scared Mom pretty bad."
"And I started teleporting when I was ten," Marti told him. "But I don't need to see where I'm going in order to 'port there. My sense of spatial perception is so strong that I can actually see magnetic fields, and I use them to guide me. I also have a limited sense of predetermination so I can make sure I never 'port into a person or an object by accident."
Kurt grinned with admiration.
"That's an improvement over my powers," he said. "You never have to teleport 'blind'."
He turned to the others at his table.
"Anyone else?" he asked.
Edmund nudged Suzie in the arm. Suzie shook her head firmly. Edmund smiled wickedly and turned to Kurt.
"Suzie has a power too," he said quickly, "but she doesn't like to use it."
"You little pest!" Suzie shrieked, rising so quickly she knocked her chair backwards.
Edmund stood on his own chair and leaped across the table, using Kurt as a shield against his sister's wrath.
All the Institute kids put down their forks and stopped their conversations, turning to watch the commotion with avid interest.
"Suzie, quit that!" Marti exclaimed, forcibly holding her sister back from attacking her brother. "The grown-ups are having their supper in the next room with that Kylun guy. Do you really want to make such a fuss that they'll have to come in here?"
Suzie snarled and struggled her way out of her sister's grasp, glaring daggers at Edmund.
"I'll get back at you later," she promised, picking up her chair and slamming it back into place with as much noise as she could make before sitting back down.
"Okay..." Kurt said, his eyebrows raised. "Just what was all that about?"
"It was about Edmund being a tattling brat," Suzie told him matter-of-factly. "As always."
Edmund grabbed an extra chair that had been resting against the wall and slid it between Kurt and the girl with the orange eyes, reaching out to grab Kurt's tail with his own as he took his seat. Kurt's eyes widened in surprise, and he looked down at the sulking Edmund with a soft smile, touched beyond words by the boy's unconscious gesture. Acting on impulse, Kurt wrapped an arm around the his future son's narrow shoulders and pulled him close for a brief squeeze. His heart filled as the boy returned the hug.
"Manipulative little twit," Suzie muttered under her breath. "Already has him wrapped around his little finger..."
Kurt tilted his head, regarding Suzie with curiosity tinged with annoyance.
"Are your powers really so awful that you would rather hurt your brother than tell me what they are?" he asked her.
Suzie sighed deeply and squeezed her eyes closed.
"They bother me, all right?" she snapped. "I know you always say-or you will always say-or..."
She rolled her eyes with a frustrated groan, tearing her hand through her long, blue hair.
"I know I don't have to be like her just because I have her power," she said, her words clipped and precise, "but it still bothers me, OK?"
Kurt's mouth opened slightly as he realized what she meant.
"You are a shapeshifter?" he asked softly.
Suzie scowled at her plate and nodded.
Kurt smiled gently.
"You know," he said, "I never told anyone this, but I was always so jealous of Mystique's powers."
Suzie looked up, her head tilted slightly as Kurt continued.
"When I first found out she was my mother, I kept hoping I would find I could change my shape as well." His small smile turned self-conscious. "I had my image inducer, of course, but sometimes..."
He trailed off, averting his gaze from the attentive children and pulling his knees to his chest.
"I never really understood how hard it must have been for you," Marti said softly. "You had to grow up in a time when most humans didn't even know what mutants were..."
She shook her head.
"Even now, some people get scared when they see us but most know us from the news, you know? They just smile and wave and stuff..."
She looked up at him, her green eyes shining with respect and admiration.
"And that's because of you," she said, an awed smile in her voice. "You and Grandfather Charles and all the rest of the X-Men." She shook her head again. "I can't believe I never really realized until now..."
Edmund nodded, wrapping his tail around Kurt's waist.
"Yeah," he said. "Me too."
Kurt smiled, blinking rapidly against the stinging in his eyes as he wrapped his own tail around Edmund.
"I haven't really done anything yet," he said. He tilted his head, considering. "Well...not much, anyway."
"You will," Marti assured him. "And you have no idea how much."
Kurt was starting to feel uncomfortable again. Releasing Edmund, Kurt straightened in his chair and leaned forward.
"Speaking of not doing anything," he said, "when do we get to find out what's up with this Kylun dude? I mean, what if he's the reason I'm here? Don't I have a right to know?"
Marti nodded, but it was Rachel who spoke.
"Dad said I was supposed to keep an eye on you until he or Mom came to talk to you."
"What?" Kurt exclaimed. "Why?"
"Because at sixteen you were an irresponsible troublemaker and a prankster with no respect for authority."
"Hey!" Kurt protested. "Maybe I play a few jokes now and then but that doesn't mean I don't respect authority! And where does your father come off calling me irresponsible--"
He stopped, regarding Rachel with eyes narrowed in sudden realization.
"Your father is Scott, isn't he?" he stated more than asked. "And your mother is Jean?"
"Yeah. I'm Rachel Summers. My brother Nathan's not here, though. Auntie Ororo's watching him and all the other babies in the kitchen."
"Pleased to meet you," Kurt said politely, still annoyed by what she'd said. "Scott told you all that stuff about me, didn't he?"
"Yeah. But you seem OK to me."
Kurt tilted his head, and laughed.
"Thanks," he said. Then he shook his head.
"Ach, but that figures. Scott was just yelling at me this morning for being 'irresponsible' with my holowatch. He's always so scared I'll blow our cover. That dude really needs to lighten up."
He looked back at Rachel.
"So, what's Scott say about me in this time?"
"Dad says you're a brilliant strategist and an excellent leader but you don't take things seriously enough."
Kurt looked impressed.
"Brilliant strategist, ja? How's this for strategy, then. Rachel, can you tell me where your parents and Kylun are right now?"
Rachel put her hands to her temples and narrowed her large, green eyes in concentration.
"Um, they're headed for the conference room. Kylun's all impatient and everyone else seems pensive and nervous. I think he's going to tell them something important."
"Danke, my friend," Kurt said, standing and walking over to the door.
Marti, Suzie, Edmund, and Rachel rushed after him. The orange eyed girl watched curiously, but didn't follow. All the other students were too involved with their dessert and their own conversations to pay them any attention.
"Wait!" Marti called, "Where are you going?"
Kurt turned to look at her.
"I may be sixteen, but I am still one of the X-Men. I'm going to find out what's going on."
"Then we're coming too," Suzie stated, planting herself firmly before the door. "Five kids out of nearly two hundred surely won't be missed. At least, not right away."
Kurt shook his head.
"I told you I didn't want to get you in any trouble," he protested.
"You're the leader of Excalibur," Suzie pointed out. "If we get caught, we'll say we were just following orders."
"You know that excuse never works. Besides, what if I order you to go back to your table?"
Marti straightened, pretending to take offense.
"Hey, you're just a kid! Where do you come off ordering us around?"
Kurt grinned at her performance, causing her stern face to break up into giggles.
"I like it," he said. "Very well played. All right, you can come with me. But only if you do what I say."
He turned a pointed glance to Suzie and Edmund.
"And no fighting."
Marti snapped to attention with a mock salute.
"Jawohl, mein Herr!"
Kurt stared at her, then grinned.
"Isn't that my line?"
Marti grinned back. Aside from the difference in gender and height, for that moment they seemed a perfect mirror image of each other.
"I'll take Rachel and Edmund and you can take Suzie," she suggested. "People don't tend to get sick when they 'port with me."
"Sounds like a plan. We'll go to the room just above the conference room, OK?"
"OK," Marti agreed, taking the two younger children by the shoulders.
Wrapping his tail around Suzie's waist, he nodded to Marta.
She nodded an affirmative.
Kurt grinned brightly.
"To paraphrase Herr Summers himself," he said, "teleporter to maximum, Miss Wagner! Let's go!"
There were two nearly simultaneous BAMFs, and the five children vanished in a cloud of sulfurous smoke.
To Be Continued...
Kurt came out of the teleport with his golden eyes shining, still beaming at Marta.
"That was so cool!" he exclaimed, though he kept his voice soft. "Teleporting with my own daughters!"
He turned his attention to Suzie, who seemed a bit wobbly.
"Are you OK?" he asked her.
Suzie nodded, brushing off his concern.
"Yeah, fine. Why'd you bring us here?"
Kurt's grin broadened.
"Ach, I see you have not yet discovered all the little secrets of this mansion. Observe."
Kurt moved to crouch before a small, metal floor vent. The other children gathered around him. With their pointed ears, Kurt, Marti, and Suzie could just pick up the muffled sound of voices below, but no distinct words. From the frustrated expressions on Edmund's and Rachel's faces, however, it was clear they couldn't hear anything.
"Rachel," Kurt whispered to the young telepath, "do you have telekinesis as well?"
"Yeah, a little. I'm not very good with it yet, though."
"Can you use it to loosen these screws?" he asked.
Rachel knelt down beside him and considered the screws carefully.
"I think so," she said. "Give me a second."
As the Wagners watched, Rachel scrunched up her face and glared at the screws. After a few moments, the screws began to turn and then to jiggle as they rose from their holes.
"Wunderbar," Kurt beamed, clapping Rachel proudly on the back. "We'll make an irresponsible troublemaker out of you yet."
Rachel flushed with pleasure.
Kurt and Suzie quickly finished removing the screws and Marta carefully lifted the vent from its place in the floor. As the five children peered into the dank, dusty hole, they grinned at each other, suddenly able to hear every word almost as clearly as though they'd been in the conference room themselves.
"Who's that speaking," Edmund asked softly.
"I think it's Auntie Kitty," Suzie said. "Now keep quiet."
Edmund sat back on his heels in a sulk.
Kurt shook his head slightly and scooted closer to him, taking his pale-blue tail in his own larger one and giving the spade a comforting squeeze.
The boy instantly brightened.
Marti smiled at the sight and twined her slender tail together with theirs.
After scowling for a few moments, Suzie sighed deeply and moved in closer, adding a pale, spade-tipped tail of her own to the colorful group.
Kurt winked at her.
"See," he said. "I told you your powers could be useful."
Suzie averted her gaze, then slowly returned his smile.
"I suppose they have their moments," she allowed.
Comfortable in one another's company, the five eavesdroppers turned their full attention to the adults' conversation raging below.
"So, let me get this straight," Scott said, leaning forward over the highly polished conference table. "You're from five hundred years in the future, right?"
Kylun scowled darkly from his place at the head of the long table.
"I already said that," he growled. Scott ignored him.
"And for the past three hundred years or so, the entire world has been at peace. All weapons destroyed. All militaries abolished. Violence, racism, bigotry, intolerance, all a thing of the past."
"There was still a great deal of economic strife and many epidemics. There were robberies and murders, just as there always have been. Only, the wars were fought in political debates and by huge multinational corporations."
"In other words, for the first time in its history, the human race was at peace."
"And now you want to change history to make sure mutants and humans continue to fight in order to...how did you put it...prevent the destruction of the world? Forgive me if I don't quite follow you here."
"There is no need for that ironic tone, Mr. Summers," Kylun snarled. "You could not possibly understand."
"Then, maybe if you tried to explain," Jean suggested gently. "Why did you attack Tesseract and why did you want to kidnap the President of the United States?"
"In the first place," Kylun snapped, "we did not 'attack' that child. She is completely unharmed."
"Physically, perhaps," Kitty said, "but the poor girl is terrified. By the time we got her to the medbay she was in such a panic that we had to sedate her before she did herself an injury!"
"Am I supposed to feel guilty now?" Kylun asked coldly. "What is one girl's fear beside the senseless slaughter of billions of innocent men, women, and children?"
The X-Men looked at each other, alarmed by this statement.
"So, you begin to see?" he said. "Her distress will pass, but those lives can never be restored-unless I succeed in my mission!"
"And just what is your 'mission'?" Evan asked, his eyes narrowed under his thick bone plating.
Kylun sighed deeply, his harsh expression slowly softening into one of intense pain and extreme exhaustion.
Jean furrowed her brow, bringing a hand to her temple as she raised her mental shields against the sudden onslaught of emotion.
"We are not violent people," Kylun said after a long pause. "Even my swords, the only weapons of their kind, have been designed so they cannot harm anyone who possesses true virtue and a peace-loving heart."
He reached up to touch the thick hilt of one of his swords, then sighed again as he dove straight into the heart of his explanation.
"The N'Zann arrived forty years ago, seven years before my birth. There were only a few of them at first...a scouting party as it turned out. They offered to trade technology for nickel."
"Why nickel?" Rogue asked curiously.
Kylun turned to her.
"Because it is the only metal they can use to contain themselves comfortably."
At the confused looks that response prompted from the gathered X-Men, Kylun explained further.
"The N'Zann are gaseous creatures," he informed them. "They use nickel to create flexible skins for themselves so they can travel beyond their own dense atmosphere without dissipating."
Kylun shook his head, his cat-like eyes tight with anger.
"We were such fools," he groaned. "Such arrogant fools. Centuries of peace had made us weak. We were so excited to actually meet real aliens. We truly believed they'd come half-way across the galaxy just to contact 'us'..."
He trailed off, his nostrils flaring.
"Once they realized we posed no threat to their plans, all talk of trade ended. Before we could realize that this time, talk wouldn't work, they'd already begun to strip-mine the globe. Entire continents were decimated, millions died at a time as entire cities were literally scooped into space by energy shovels, the earth and the buildings processed in the bellies of those great ships in a desperate search for every last molecule of nickel the N'Zann could extract.
"There are now only a handful of us left. Barely seventy million humans remain on all of Earth, Mars, and the Moon."
Kylun looked up, his distant eyes focusing into a sharp, accusing glare he directed at each of the gathered X-Men in turn.
"And it is because of you that the Earth and the entire human race will ultimately be destroyed," he spat. "You were the ones who founded the International X-Men Organization!" He sneered. "IX-MO...the pacifist organization that ultimately brought an end to terrorism and war throughout the world. You were the ones who taught humankind not to fear those who are different. It is because of you and your teachings that the N'Zann were able to destroy our world without a fight!"
He growled bitterly, his voice dripping with acid.
"To think that humanity cheered when the last bomb forged in hate was exploded harmlessly in space. Little did they know that symbolic act would ultimately lead to our downfall.
"My mission was to have my friend Widget," he gestured to the small, metallic orb that was darting curiously around the room, "open a portal between our two times. In order to do this, we needed a mutant in this time who could manipulate time and space to open a portal of her own in order to solidify the link. A friend of mine, a very powerful telepath, used Widget's portal to contact and manipulate your young Tesseract into using her powers on the President so we could bring her to witness the horror that is our time. We planned to return her to the ceremony unharmed, but with newly opened eyes.
"Unfortunately, something went wrong, and I was sent to find out what and to fix it if I can. All of humanity depends on it."
He sighed deeply, hanging his head slightly.
"It was a shameful plan, I know. But you must understand our desperation! We thought that if we could just convince the President of the necessity of re-opening hostilities between mutants and humans, of keeping the anger and fear just strong enough to keep Earth alert, to prevent the abolishment of the weapons that we could have used to rid ourselves of the N'Zann before it went too far..."
He took in a shaky breath, his large, yellow eyes closing with the pain of memory.
"It sounds ridiculous, I know. A group of pacifists creating a portal to the past in order to beg the leader of a nation just healing from a devastating war to reignite the very hostilities that nearly caused the destruction of the world that dark, December morning so long ago. But, better the Earth be blown to kingdom come by its own people than slowly torn apart by alien filth who care nothing for its unique beauty!
"When the N'Zann looked at us, they didn't see life. They didn't see unique cultures and peoples or wondrous animals and plants. They saw only a cheap source of raw materials, and they were more than eager to destroy that life to get at them."
"Why did you choose to come now?" Bobby asked curiously. "I mean, why steal the President away in the middle of her eulogy? Why not just zero in on the Oval Office and open your portal there?"
Kylun shot him a disbelieving look.
"Surely, I have made that clear," he said.
"Not to me, you haven't," Bobby said, rather tactlessly.
"Bobby-!" Rahne warned.
Kylun turned to her, his cat-like eyes bright with interest.
"Are you Scottish?" he asked her.
"Aye," she said. "That I am."
Kylun smiled, a gentle smile that softened his fierce face into something far kinder.
"My parents were from Scotland," he said. Then, his eyes darkened and his face tightened into its more familiar scowl. "It is now little more than a waterlogged crater, along with the rest of the British Isles and much of Europe."
Alice paled, but when she spoke her voice was steady.
"So, why did you crash the Professor's funeral?" she asked Kylun, her eyes sharp and direct. "And, what went wrong? Why has my husband been switched with a sixteen year old boy?"
"What do you mean?" Kylun asked her, genuinely confused.
"Kurt intercepted Tesseract before she could reach the President," Alice explained angrily. "Somehow, when he tried to teleport her away, he and his sixteen year old self were switched in time."
Kylun regarded her through shocked eyes.
"Is that what happened?" he asked.
"Yes," Alice snapped. "And I want to know how you plan to fix this mess you've caused!"
"I understand your anger," Kylun told her calmly, "but I'm afraid that at this point I have no more idea than you do as to what happened to your husband."
Straightening, he turned to face the rest of the group.
"We chose this day because the death of Professor Charles Xavier and the posthumous publication of his book marked a turning point for humanity. It was only after this that IX-MO gained true and lasting influence over the political affairs of the world, ultimately taking the place of the UN and the World Court as it opened itself to all humans, not just mutants. If we could disrupt that, if we could make normal humans continue to harbor their distrust of mutants, then perhaps things would change."
"Yeah," said Evan angrily. "It'll be WWIII all over again!"
"Evan's right," Kitty agreed. "There must be a better way than reigniting hostilities."
"I'm open to suggestions," Kylun said, sitting back in his chair. "I told you we are a peaceful people. If you could come up with a way to rid us of the N'Zann that does not involve centuries of violence, we would be more than happy to help you carry it out."
The X-Men fidgeted uncomfortably in their chairs, the entire weight of humanity's future suddenly thrust upon their shoulders. Before any of them could respond to Kylun's challenge, however, a soft BAMF sounded in the corner, accompanied by the faint scent of sulfur.
Alice and Scott both shot to their feet when they saw the five young eavesdroppers standing there, their faces set in expressions of somber defiance. It came as no surprise when Kurt stepped forward as spokesman for the children.
"We think we know what went wrong with Kylun's time portal," he told them. "And we've come up with a way to contact the older Nightcrawler as well."
Scott was the first to recover.
"What do you kids think you're doing here?" he demanded.
"Trying to save the world, man," Kurt retorted, looking Scott straight in the visor. "Isn't that what we X-Men do?"
To the surprise of everyone present, Scott's drawn face broke into a broad grin.
"I should have known," he said, and chuckled softly. "Were you listening in through that vent?"
"Of course," Kurt said easily. "You're the one who showed it to me in the first place. Although, I think the Professor knew we were there."
Scott nodded, still smiling though behind his visor the light had gone from his eyes.
"He did. He always knew what we kids were up to."
He waved them over to the table as Jean used her telekinesis to grab some extra chairs.
"Come on and pull up a chair," the X-Men's leader said. "To tell you the truth, we could really use a fresh perspective on this situation."
Kurt grinned and strode over to the group, but the rest of the children seemed hesitant and uneasy.
"I will not bite," Kylun assured them gruffly. "Sit down. We are wasting time."
Rachel scampered over to sit between her parents while Marti and Suzie went to sit beside their mother. Edmund chose to sit next to Kurt. Once they were all settled, Scott returned to his business-like tone.
"So," he said, leaning forwards slightly. "What have you kids come up with?"
To Be Continued...
"Hey, yo! Magnet-o! Just what is it with all this technobabble stuff? I mean, what's the plan, boss man?"
Erik Magnus Lehnsherr looked up from his soldering to pierce Toad with a cold glare.
"The plan is what it always has been," he said calmly, turning back to his work. "If humans are to learn their place, they must first recognize mutant superiority. And, if I am to teach them this lesson, I need 'intelligent' people to assist me. Hence, my own, magnetic version of Charles' precious Cerebro."
"Hey! You sayin' we're not smart?" Toad exclaimed, his large, pale-green eyes darting about the room as they tracked a fly. As his long, sticky tongue shot out to nab the swift insect in mid-air, Magneto turned to him with a superior glare.
"I believe you have just made my point for me, Mr. Tolanski," he observed coolly. "Now leave me. You have kept me from my work long enough with your pestering questions."
Toad stared at him for a moment, then hopped off, muttering under his breath as he approached the surveillance chamber, the only room in the entire underground base with a television. To his annoyance, Pietro, Lance, and Fred were already there.
"What'cha guys watchin', yo?" Toad asked as he leapt up to crouch on the arm of the battered old sofa someone had somehow snuck into the cramped room.
"Crap," Pietro told him in a bored tone of voice, though he spoke so quickly it was rather difficult to understand him. "Can you believe that with all this crazy technology, Magneto doesn't have cable or satellite TV?!"
"Yeah," Fred added, his own speech slow and deliberate. "There's nothin' on but soap operas and game shows."
"Ugh." Toad made a face.
Lance turned his glazed eyes from the fuzzy screen, acknowledging the Toad's presence for the first time.
"So, what did he say?" the lanky boy asked lethargically.
"Acck," Toad snorted, "he didn't say nothin', yo. He's just workin' to lower my self-esteem."
"Man, you been spending too much time at school! How can he work to lower something that isn't even there?"
"Come on, guys, leave the Toad alone," Fred spoke up, his small, piggish eyes narrowed. "It's not that I like the little snot-rag or anything, but it's not nice to laugh at people."
"Yeah, guys. Listen to the Blob. It's not nice to laugh at the Toad," Lance said, snickering himself.
Fred's eyes widened and he turned to face Lance, his teeth clenching as his anger rose.
"Are you laughing at me?!" he demanded.
Pietro zipped over to place himself between Lance and Fred.
"Nonononononono!" Quicksilver assured the furious Blob. "He wasn't laughing at you, man! He was laughing at...the TV. Yeah. That game show guy said something funny."
Blob took a few moments to consider this.
"Well," he said at last. "All right. I'll believe you. But nobody had better laugh at me! You know I don't like it when people laugh at me!"
"Don't we ever, yo," Toad muttered, shaking his head as Fred slowly calmed down.
"Look, dudes, I'm off to scrounge up some grub," Toad spoke up after a few minutes of watching an overweight housewife try to guess the price of a pound of cheese. "Any of you guys want somethin'?"
"We got any Twinkies?" Fred asked, his dull eyes brightening at the prospect of food.
"I doubt it, yo," he said. "Magneto's the one stockin' the shelves here. But, I'll see what I can find, OK?"
Fred nodded and turned back to the flickering television screen.
Not one of the members of the Brotherhood were looking at the dozens of tiny surveillance screens that peppered the small room. As a result, the boys were taken completely by surprise by the sound of the Toad's high- pitched screaming some minutes later.
Lance and Pietro were on their feet at once, though it took the aptly named Blob a bit longer to raise himself from the ancient couch.
"Do you see anything, man?" Pietro asked Lance as they quickly scanned the surveillance screens for anything that could have caused the Toad's alarmed screams.
"It's the X-Freaks!" Lance exclaimed angrily. "It's got to be! Who else would know about this place?"
"Yo! Dudes! Sound the alarm!" Toad gasped as he leap back into the room in a state of near panic. "It's the X-Freaks! They've broken into the base, yo! And they've got that crazy Wolverine with them!"
"Told you," Lance said, slapping the alarm button and heading for the door. "Come on, let's get a move on! We've got to head them off before they can mess up the boss's plans!"
"Magneto's lab should be just ahead," Scott said confidently.
"Like, this is way too easy," Kitty commented nervously. "I mean, we've made it this far and, like, there hasn't even been an alarm-"
She was cut off by a loud, repeating HONNK HONNK HONNK as red lights began to flash all down the corridor.
"Oops," Kitty said. "Looks like I, like, spoke too soon!"
"Come on!" Scott called as he started running towards the large cave barely ten feet away. The others followed close at his heels, Kurt taking up the rear. Suddenly, Wolverine burst out at them from an adjacent corridor.
"I met up with the Toad a little ways down the hall," he growled, his flinty eyes sharp. "That means the Brotherhood's here. We're movin' to Plan B, kids, so be on your guard."
Kurt met Wolverine's eyes and nodded once, moving to climb the sheer, metallic wall so he could crawl along the ceiling. As the X-Men charged into Magneto's lab, ready to meet the waiting Brotherhood head on, Nightcrawler kept to the shadows, carefully making his way to where Magneto himself was still bent over his nearly finished machine at the far end of the large cave.
Dropping silently to the floor, Nightcrawler crept up behind him, pressing a button on his holowatch and reaching out with his tail to tap Magneto's caped shoulder.
"Guten Tag, mein Herr," he said lightly as the self-proclaimed Master of Magnetism spun to face him. His eyes widened in shock at the unexpected sight before him.
"What-" His eyes narrowed in anger. "Who are you?"
Nightcrawler raised his eyebrows.
"I would have thought that was obvious," he said with a slight smirk, using his tail to pull a long, holographic sword from the scabbard he had just caused to appear at his waist, his golden eyes narrowing into threatening slits. "But, since you cannot guess, at the risk of sounding clichéd I'll give you a hint. You killed my father."
Magneto blinked, stepping back slightly as he took in the sight of the demonic, threatening man standing before him.
"What are you playing at, Mystique," he snapped, a flush crossing his pale face as he struggled to collect himself. "I told you a thousand times that was an accident-"
Nightcrawler interrupted him with a dangerous glare.
"Sorry, Magneto, but you guessed wrong. I suppose I should thank you for confirming your role in my father's death. It was a mystery that had haunted me all my life. Although," he said, his cold voice completely devoid of its characteristic humor. "I somehow doubt it was entirely an accident."
Magneto swallowed as Nightcrawler snapped his tail back and forth, the sword flashing as it reflected the florescent lights high above.
"However," he said darkly, "I'm afraid it is not so much my past but my future that concerns me at this moment. For, it is a future that you have put in jeopardy with this machine of yours."
Nightcrawler transferred the sword from his tail to his hand with an expert flip of the hilt, his golden eyes narrowing to deadly slits as he advanced on Magneto, causing the pale man to back into the small tool table behind him, scattering the delicate instruments across the floor.
"You fool," Magneto sneered, regaining something of his former confidence as he noted Nightcrawler's choice of weapon. "You think you can threaten me with a sword?"
The Master of Magnetism stretched out a pale, slender hand, curling his fingers as he attempted to use his formidable powers to wrench the sword from Nightcrawler's grasp. His eyes widened in alarm when nothing happened.
Nightcrawler smirked and advanced closer until the tip of his sharp, holographic sword rested just against Magneto's exposed neck.
"I believe we have much to discuss, mein Herr," he told the distressed Magneto, his voice as low and threatening as he could make it. When Magneto actually cringed, Nightcrawler shot him a wicked grin, his pointed teeth gleaming in the artificial light of the cave. He was actually beginning to enjoy this.
Toad watched from behind a thick support beam as the X-Men attacked the other members of the Brotherhood. Quicksilver was battling it out with Spyke, as usual, while Cyclops took on Avalanche. Kitty and Rogue teamed up against the Blob while Jean used her powers to help out wherever she was needed. Wolverine had tumbled through a thick wall with Sabertooth some time ago and neither had been seen or heard from since. Only one of the X- Freaks was left unaccounted for-the Toad's personal nemesis, the so-called Incredible Nightcrawler.
Toad cast his beady gaze around the cavernous room, searching the shadows and the ceiling for signs of his elusive enemy. Finally, he spotted him...or someone who looked remarkably like him...holding Magneto helpless against the point of his gleaming sword.
Toad hesitated. He didn't exactly feel comfortable dealing with swords. Swords were sharp and they were dangerous and if a person wasn't careful, he could really get hurt playing with those things. If the freakboy was carrying swords, Toad didn't want to aggravate him.
But then, he considered the way Magneto was always brushing him aside, insulting him, or worse, ignoring him as though he wasn't even there. If Toad came to his rescue now, attacking the circus freak unawares and giving Magneto a chance to escape, perhaps he would realize the Toad was worth something after all.
Gathering his nerve, Toad jumped into action, crossing the space between his pole and Magneto's machine in only four leaps.
"Yo, freakboy," he called out, putting on his bravest voice to impress Magneto, "why don't you pick on someone your own size!"
Nightcrawler turned, freezing the Toad in place with his sharp, golden glare.
"Were you addressing me, Herr Krote?" he asked coldly.
"Holy..." Toad goggled at the tall, shadowy man who was holding his boss securely by the shirt front with one powerful, tridactal hand and a long, disturbingly sharp sword in the other. He laughed nervously, his bulging eyes unnaturally wide. "Um, I'll just be going now, yo," he said quickly. "Sorry to have bothered you..."
"Not so fast, Toad," Nightcrawler snapped, snatching the Toad's leg with his long, sinewy tail before he could hop away. "The time for fighting is over. Now it's time to talk. I want you to help me gather everyone together, both the X-Men and the Brotherhood."
He tilted his head towards the frightened, mortified, furious Magneto.
"Magneto here has a little explaining to do."
"I still don't know if I like this plan of yours," Jean said, the corners of her eyes creased with worry. "Rachel is only eleven, and she's never used her powers in this way before."
"I don't like it either," Alice agreed. "What if something goes wrong? What would happen to Kurt? Why does it have to be Kurt, anyway?"
"It will be easier for Rachel to project him into the past because he belongs there," Jean tried to explain.
Alice just shook her head, her dark eyes anguished.
Jean rested a sympathetic hand on her shoulder, and Alice shot her a grateful look.
Kurt looked up at his future wife from his crouch at the edge of the highly polished table. Her fear and worry were palpable, and Kurt couldn't blame her. This was a very risky plan they had cooked up, and there were no guarantees that it would work. He longed to be able to give her some comfort, to assure her that her husband would be safely returned to her, but he'd already hurt her once. He didn't want to make the situation worse with false reassurances. So, even though he ached to talk with her, he remained crouched on the table, watching, silent and somber, as Kylun approached his future daughter.
"You're certain that you saw a magnetic disturbance just before your father disappeared," Kylun asked Marti.
"Yeah. I'd never seen anything like it. I'm sure it was more than powerful enough to knock Dad and Kurt off course. It's like Uncle Alistare said. If they were involved in a simultaneous teleport, Widget's portal could have caught them between dimensions and the magnetic disturbance would have done the rest."
"I still don't get it," Evan sighed tiredly. "But then, I never was very good at physics."
"To tell you the truth," Alistaire admitted, "I'm not all too clear on it either. But it's the only theory we have that seems to make even an iota of sense."
"Maybe to you, Professor," Bobby commented. "But how is Rachel supposed to use Widget's portal to contact Kurt in the past? We don't even know when in the past he is!"
"That is what we have telepaths for," Kylun pointed out. "It will be up to Jean to locate your friend once I ask Widget to open his time-portal. Then Rachel can use her powers to project the 'essence' of this Kurt into the past so he can contact his older self. Then, perhaps we can find a way to fix this temporal mess and get back to the more important issue of saving the world."
"Well said," Bobby nodded approvingly. Once Kylun turned away, however, he rolled his eyes in exaggerated exasperation and moved off to commiserate with Evan about the nature of gobbledygook.
"Excuse me," Rogue spoke up, "but why bother with all this astral projection mumbo jumbo in the first place? Why not just step through the portal once we find Kurt and contact him that way?"
"Do you really want to risk causing a chain reaction that could disrupt the entire timeline?" Scott asked her. "I don't think even I'm prepared to take on that much responsibility."
"But Kurt's been back there affectin' things for almost five hours now," Rogue pointed out.
"And we don't want to risk making the situation any worse," Scott told her with an air of finality. Then he sighed. "Look, Rogue, I don't like this any more than you do. Rachel is my daughter, after all, and Kurt's my best friend."
"Hey, I thought that was me," Bobby said, taking mock offense.
No one could see it, but Scott rolled his eyes behind his visor.
"Anyway," he continued, pointedly ignoring Bobby, "it would kill me to have anything happen to either of them. But something's got to be done about this fast, and we haven't been able to come up with anything better. I'm willing to give the kids' plan a shot. If nothing else, at least we'll be able to pinpoint just when he is."
Rogue nodded, but her eyes were still dark with concern.
"Widget's ready," Kylun announced. "Just say the word and he'll open the portal."
Scott turned to his wife.
"You ready, Jean?" he asked softly.
Jean nodded, her green eyes calm and confident.
"Open the portal."
With some chipper muttering and a few BEEPs, the spherical robot known as Widget quickly opened a glowing door in mid-air. Jean focused her concentration, projecting a telepathic beam through the portal as she sought out one specific mental signature.
The other X-Men grew restless as the silent search stretched on minute after minute. Kurt sighed in frustration and wandered over to the window, his tail wrapped tightly around his ankle.
Alice took in his slight, forlorn form with a small shake of her head, unable to stop her heart from going out to the boy. Slowly, she unwrapped Edmund's tail from her waist and whispered for her children to stay put. Then, she walked over to where Kurt was standing.
"Hello," she said, speaking softly for fear of breaking Jean's concentration.
Kurt jumped slightly and looked up at her, his tail lashing behind him in consternation.
"Oh," he said. "Um, hello...Alice?"
He cringed slightly as he realized he'd been fighting back the urge to call her Frau Wagner. Weird. The whole situation was just too, too weird.
Alice seemed to feel the same way.
"So," she said. "How are you feeling about this whole scheme?"
"I'm a little nervous, to tell you the truth. But I have a feeling we're on the right track."
Alice nodded, attempting a small smile.
Kurt nodded too.
"Ja. Sehr gut."
Both he and Alice were relieved when Jean's excited voice broke in on their awkward attempt at a conversation.
"I found him!" she gasped, holding her head with both hands. "God, it's a strain to hold on, but I know it's him."
She grunted slightly, then shifted her eyes to Rachel.
"It's now or never, honey," she said with some difficulty. "Link with me now. Kurt, you lie down on the table."
Excusing himself politely, Kurt left Alice and leapt up onto the polished table. Rachel reached out and took his hand in hers.
"I've got a sense of where he is," Rachel told him. "Don't worry, I really think this is going to work."
Kurt nodded quickly.
"All right, then," he said, trying to keep the nervousness from his voice. "Let's get this over with."
Rachel released his hand and put her fingers to his temples, her wide eyes seeming to burn with a raging fire as she focused her powers in ways she never had before.
To Be Continued...
"I refuse to believe that my machine had anything to do with your accident," Magneto snapped, furious at being held prisoner in his own lab by a group of children and this frightening, sword-wielding apparition from the future. Just the sight of him brought back disturbing memories Magneto had thought were long buried in the dark recesses of his mind.
It was chilling how strongly this man who claimed to be an adult Nightcrawler resembled his old friend, Eric Wagner-even with the fine, indigo fur, the large, pointed ears, and the gleaming, yellow eyes. Eric had funded Magneto's early experiments, following his falling out with Charles Xavier. The German Count had even invited Magneto to use his own castle as a lab.
But when his son had been born a mutant, Eric had changed. He had refused to let Magneto examine the boy, to let him use his machines to improve the infant's many unique adaptations. This altered attitude had been incomprehensible to Magneto, who had then turned to the Countess for support. A mutant herself, she had been far more sympathetic to Magneto's pleas, ultimately agreeing to let Magneto perform his examination-but no more. Bewildered and disgusted by his patrons' reluctance to further the causes of science, Magneto had taken it upon himself to do as he felt best.
Ravenna Wagner had handed the child over to him, then gone off to distract her husband while Magneto worked. He did perform the examination, but he also went a step further, placing the fuzzy, blue infant in his enhancer.
The child's screams had been horrendous. Before Magneto could turn off his machine, Eric had come rushing into his basement lab, beside himself with fury and fear for his son. Magneto had tried to reason with him, but Eric was beyond reason. He threatened to withdraw his support, to throw Magneto and all his experiments from the castle that very night.
Infuriated by this betrayal by the one human he had come to regard as a friend, as an ally, Magneto lost control for one brief moment. By the time he came back to himself, Eric was lying on the cold, stone floor in a spreading puddle of his own, dark blood, crushed to death by the ruined mass of one of Magneto's heavier machines.
To tell the truth, Erik Magnus Lehnsherr mourned the loss of that machine more than he did the life of Count Eric Wagner.
While he was still shaken and weak from his ordeal, Frau Wagner had burst into the room, staring in appalled shock at the gory remains of her husband. Only her mother's instincts, brought to the fore by the terrified screams of her infant son, had revived her enough to allow her to fully process the truth of what had happened.
"Monster!" she had cried, pushing past Magneto to gather her shrieking child in her arms. She gasped when she saw how his chubby, blue legs had been transformed into long, animal-like appendages. "What have you done to him!"*
Before Magneto could respond, she had shoved him against his enhancer, knocking him off balance and the machine to the floor, where it shattered into hundreds of fragments. Spitting at his feet, Ravenna had run from the castle into the cold, snowy night.
He couldn't let her get away. He couldn't let her turn him in. Rushing after her, using his powers to move even faster than he could on the ground, Magneto had found her trapped at the old bridge by a pack of ravenous wolves. As he watched, she lost her balance, and her grip on her child. The baby plummeted down into the freezing rapids far below.
Ravenna Wagner had lost her entire family in less than half an hour. And, to Magneto's relief, she blamed herself. Broken and helpless, Ravenna was like putty waiting to be molded by his eager hands.
By the time they left Germany for America, Ravenna Wagner was little more than a distant memory. The shape shifting mutant had chosen a new name for herself, and a new purpose for her life. From then on, she was known as Mystique, and she was Magneto's most loyal follower.
That is, she had been until she'd learned that her son was a student at the Xavier Institute.
And now, her son was standing before him, his sword drawn, his long, powerful tail keeping him perfectly balanced as he stood on the balls of his feet.
To Magneto, Kurt Wagner was the ultimate proof that his experiment in mutant enhancement had been a complete success. He was a perfect physical example of mutant superiority. But rather than being grateful for what Magneto had done for him, this man was accusing him of behaving recklessly, claiming his machine would cause a world-wide crisis.
He hadn't heard such blind, close-minded nonsense since his last fight with Charles Xavier.
"You must recognize how vital it is that I complete my work," Magneto argued, glaring at this impossible, adult version of Kurt Wagner, feeling the same outrage he had felt sixteen years before when Eric had regarded him with the exact expression he now saw in Kurt's yellow eyes.
"Don't you realize the chaos your machine will cause once it is activated?" Kurt pressed, his soft, German accent grating on Magneto's nerves.
"It will only be a temporary inconvenience," Magneto retorted angrily, raising his arms in exasperation. "Why is it that none of you can understand what I am doing here? Can't you see that I am working to make life better for all mutantkind? Why do you continue to harass me at every turn?!"
"Yes, yes, poor misunderstood Magneto," Kurt said in an acerbic tone. "Perhaps if you turned your creative energies to benefiting all humankind rather than limiting yourself solely to mutants, you would find yourself better understood."
Magneto sneered at him in disgust.
"You are just like your father."
Kurt glared back.
"Since thanks to you I never knew my father, I'll just have to take your word for it."
"Um, like, fascinating as all this is," Kitty piped up, causing the two quarreling men to turn their glares to her, "I was just wondering if, like, I was like the only one who is seeing, like, what I think I'm seeing."
Confused, everyone turned to look where Kitty was pointing.
A ghostly, glowing figure stood by the doorway, bathed in a soft, blue light. As it moved closer to the group, its form became clearer and clearer until Rogue gasped in recognition.
"It's Kurt!" she exclaimed. "'Our' Kurt!"
"What is this?" Magneto demanded. "What is going on?"
The ghostly teenager seemed exhausted, but exuberant.
"Mein Gott, I made it!" he cheered, looking up at the stricken face of his older self. "Wait a minute, where are we? Is that Magneto? What's going on here?"
"I believe I asked that question first," Magneto snapped.
"Dude," Evan gasped in wonder. "Are you a ghost?"
"Was?" Kurt exclaimed, alarmed by the suggestion. "Nein! I'm an astral projection. I've come to tell you I'm stuck in the future where he's supposed to be."
He gestured at the older Kurt, tilting his head slightly as he shot him an appraising look.
"I must admit," he grinned, "you look pretty good for your age."
"Danke," Nightcrawler said. "I think."
Magneto raised an eyebrow.
"Guys," said Kurt, suddenly serious. "I don't have much time so tell me everything that's been going on, quickly! There's a dude from the future here, Kylun, and he's going to try to help us get switched back."
The older Kurt nodded, firmly suppressing the thousands of questions he longed to ask-mostly concerning his family.
"We're here because it's our theory that the electromagnetic disturbances caused by Magneto's latest invention, a magnetic version of Cerebro, threw us off course in mid-teleport, ultimately causing us to be switched in time," he explained quickly.
Magneto scowled, muttering something about 'nonsense' under his breath.
Nightcrawler shot him a dark look, then went on.
"This machine is so powerful that once it is activated, it will temporarily change the Earth's electromagnetic signature, as well as causing a great deal more damage. Is that enough, or do you need more details?" he asked.
"Just a second," Kurt said. "I'll ask."
There was a pause while the astral Kurt repeated what he'd heard to the X-Men eagerly awaiting his report in the future. Nightcrawler kept his sword at the ready, his golden eyes tracking every movement Magneto made as they waited to hear Kurt's answer.
"I remember that disturbance," Alistaire said. "It knocked out my grandmother's television while I was trying to tape favorite show. Did he say it actually caused the earth's electromagnetic signature to change?"
Rachel nodded, linked so deeply to Kurt's mind that she was physically carrying out the actions of his astral self. Kurt's body lay limp and lifeless on the table, the slow rise and fall of his chest the only evidence that he was still alive.
"That could be it..." Alistaire jumped to his feet, nearly shaking in his excitement. "Kylun," he asked quickly, "do you know when the N'Zann first learned about Earth?"
"When they first arrived they said an enormous energy spike had alerted them that there was intelligent life on Earth," the large mutant rumbled. "They'd been picking up smaller spikes for a while before that, but they'd just put them down to solar flares. This one was too big to have been caused by anything but a technologically advanced society."
He shook his head, his expression bitter with disgust.
"While they were still trying to manipulate us through trade, they kept bragging that it had taken longer for that signal to reach them than it had for them to travel to Earth. They even had an ad, complete with a jingle. Something about a ratio."
"What ratio?" Alistaire pressed.
Kylun stared at him.
"You expect me to remember that after thirty years?"
"I remember precisely the date my grandmother's television went out," Alistaire said. "If we could figure out how long it took for the signature change to reach the N'Zann and add that to how long it took for them to travel to Earth, we could find out if my theory is correct."
"And what theory might that be?" Logan asked, striding into the room and closing the door behind him. "Sorry I'm late, but it took me this long to get everything squared away with those darn reporters." He smirked, rubbing his knuckles. "You won't believe the amount of...persuasion...it takes for some of them to get their stories straight."
Scott shook his head.
"Logan, you know it's never a good idea to threaten reporters-"
Logan interrupted him with a fierce glare.
"When they try to smear the Elf's good name, kid," he growled, "I'll 'threaten' them with everything I've got."
There was nothing anyone could say to that.
"So, tell me this theory, Professor," he said, turning to Alistaire. "I've been tryin' to listen in on my comlink, but since I had to keep it quiet enough for the reporters not to hear, I think I might have missed some things."
Alistaire nodded, speaking quickly.
"I think it was the activation of Magneto's magnetic Cerebro that attracted the N'Zann, as well as being the cause of the two Kurts being switched in time."
Kylun's cat-like eyes widened.
"Could it truly be so simple?" he gasped. "But you must be correct. Even the horrendous battles of WWIII would not have created enough of a disturbance to alert the N'Zann to our presence. It had to have been this Magneto's machine!"
"Wait a minute," said Evan. "You're saying all of this is Magneto's fault? Kurt's time-swapped teleport, the destruction of the Earth, everything?!"
Bobby shook his head.
"This kind of brings a new perspective to that saying, 'the evil that men do lives after them'. I mean, the guy's been dead for, what, eighteen years now?"
"He's not dead where Kurt is right now," Alice pointed out. "If we tell him to destroy Magneto's machine, what will happen?"
Alistaire looked thoughtful for a moment.
"It's hard to tell," he said. "There's no way to predict all the ramifications of such a change, even with the computer at my lab back home, but I think we can be pretty certain that if Magneto is prevented from activating his machine, the N'Zann will never even realize we exist."
"What about Kurt?" Alice asked, her dark eyes hopeful.
Alistaire shook his head sadly.
"The magnetic disturbance that caused the switch has already happened, both here and when Kurt is right now. Destroying the machine at his current point in time won't change his situation."
He took her hand, his eyes full of apology.
"I'm, sorry Alice."
Alice bit her lip, and nodded.
"Well, we'll just have to figure out something else, then," she said, trying to keep her voice light. "We've come this far, after all. We'll find a way to bring him home."
"Of course we will," Marti said confidently. "We're the X-Men."
Alice pulled her daughter into a tight hug.
"You've got that right, sweetie," she said, kissing the top of her curly, red hair.
"So we're all certain about this?" Scott asked. "Destroying Magneto's machine will work?"
"I give it an 83.94 percent chance of success," he said.
Scott almost smiled.
"That's better than I'd have thought. OK, tell Kurt. Let's put this theory into practice."
To Be Continued...
*Quoted from X-Men: Evolution, 'Shadowed Past'. Season One, Episode 10.
Magneto listened to the ghostly specter with growing impatience. The astral Kurt barely managed to get the message through before he vanished, the strain of keeping contact having exhausted both him and Rachel.
"I refuse to fall for this elaborate nonsense," Magneto snapped. "I won't let you destroy the pinnacle of my life's work!"
"We're not asking for your permission, mein Herr," Nightcrawler told him coldly. He looked around, suddenly noticing a rather glaring absence.
"Where is Wolverine?"
"The dude crashed through the wall with Sabertooth, like, half an hour ago, yo," Toad told him.
Kurt sighed and shook his head.
"Ach, I should have guessed. But, Logan can handle himself. Right now, we must destroy that machine."
"No!" Magneto yelled holding out his arms to raise a heavy section of metal piping from the floor. It fell with a CRASH as Nightcrawler quickly wrapped his tail around Magneto's neck and squeezed threateningly.
"You won't kill me," Magneto rasped.
"The odds seem pretty good that you are right," Nightcrawler allowed, tightening his grip even further. "But even so, I wouldn't place any bets just yet."
"Even if you're right and my machine does alert the aliens," Magneto gasped, his pale face purpling, "who's to say that's not how the Earth was meant to end? Besides, with that machine I'll finally be able to create an organization of superior mutants to defend mutantkind against the violence and stupidity of humans! You would be a fool to destroy it now! Don't you see, I'm doing this for you! For all of you!"
Kurt snarled, his eyes narrowing to golden slits as he bared his fangs. With one final squeeze, he released Magneto, who collapsed to the floor, clutching at his neck and gasping for breath.
"You'll find out before the end that your brand of hatred will never save mutantkind," Kurt growled darkly, his narrow features tight with painful memory. "Come on," he said, turning to the astounded teens, who were staring alternately at him, then at Magneto crumpled on the floor. "Let's go."
"Why should we listen to you, man?" Quicksilver sneered, though his nervous eyes betrayed his swaggering demeanor.
Evan stared at him.
"Dude, didn't you hear what Kurt's astral projection ghost said?" he snapped. "If we don't wreck that hunk of junk, the Earth gets chewed up by a bunch of stinkin' aliens!"
"In what, five hundred years?" Lance said. "Why should we care? It's not going to affect us!"
Kurt set his jaw.
"It is precisely that selfish attitude that has allowed the greatest monsters in history to come to power."
He folded his arms across his chest, turning a significant glare on Magneto, who had survived Hitler's death camps as a child.
"Once you put yourself above others, once you claim superiority over your fellow man, it is easy to see people as nothing more than objects or numbers or even animals. It's easy to lose sight of their faces, isn't it, Magneto."
Magneto glared at him from the floor through cold, outraged eyes.
"How dare you," he hissed, a hand still clutched to his bruised throat.
"No, mein Herr, how dare you! You are gifted with a glimpse of the future, you learn that it is your machine that causes the deaths of billions of people, yet instead of acknowledging your guilt and helping us, all you can do is stand there and try to justify yourself. You are far from superior, Magneto. You may have a brilliant mind and extraordinary powers, but you barely scrape average as a human being."
Turning from him with a disgusted sneer, Nightcrawler looked to Jean.
"Can you hold him?" he asked her.
"Yes, I think so," she said, "but not for very long. You'll have to hurry."
"No problem," Scott assured her. "Come on, guys! We've got a world to save!"
The X-Men rushed across the enormous cave, but the Brotherhood stayed behind, just watching as Jean created a telekinetic bubble to hold Magneto prisoner.
"So, what do we do now?" Fred asked.
"Yeah," Toad said. "I mean, do we believe what freakboy's ghost said or what?"
Quicksilver shook his head.
"Man, this is way outta my league. I mean, if that ghost thing was right, I for one don't want anything to do with that machine. I don't know about you guys, but if I knew I'd had anything to do with the deaths of billions of people, I wouldn't be able to sleep nights, you know?"
"This isn't our problem," Lance told them with an air of finality. "It's between Magneto and the X-Freaks. Magneto only built that machine in the first place because he didn't think we were good enough for him. So I say, forget him."
"Hey, I'm with you, yo," Toad agreed. "Let's get outta here!"
Trapped in Jean's telekinetic field, Magneto could only scowl as he watched the Brotherhood turn on their heels and slink away.
A small, white mouse lifted its tiny head and pricked up its delicate, pink ears at the sound of human voices high above and far away. Its shockingly blue eyes were strangely alert and, oddly, it seemed to chuckle as it watched a slender, blue man wrap his tail around the throat of a taller, white-haired man.
The moment the man was released, causing the ground below the mouse's tiny paws to tremble slightly as he collapsed to the floor, the sleek rodent scampered to the far end of the room, keeping tight against the wall until it spotted what it was looking for. It managed to climb into the bulky, complicated control panel with only a few false starts, scrabbling against the smooth metal of its exterior plating.
Quickly and deliberately, the tiny mouse gnawed at a collection of colorful wires, spitting out the plastic coating with obvious distaste. When it had finished its precise work in that area, it quickly turned and scampered over to a new section, where it repeated the same process.
By the time the X-Men arrived, Magneto's marvelous machine was no longer any more dangerous than a large, metal sculpture. But, since the X-Men didn't know that, they used their unique powers to blow it up anyway.
Lance and Quicksilver were struggling to hot-wire one of Magneto's jets. While they argued, Toad kept watch, crouched on the nose of the small plane and lazily scanning the room for any sign of insect life. He wasn't expecting anyone to walk in on them, which was why he nearly fell to the ground when Mystique strode purposefully into the room.
"Hey, Boss Lady!" Toad called out, once he'd recovered his balance. "What are you doing here, yo?"
"Ah. I thought so."
Moving quickly to head her off, Toad leapt to the ground before her feet.
"Look," he said, "before you go, do you think you could sorta give us a ride back to Bayville?"
Toad nodded quickly.
"OK, OK, that's fine with me, yo. I was just thinkin' that since you're probably headed that way too-"
"I'm not going back to Bayville," Mystique snapped, pushing past the Toad and heading for the jet she had arrived in. "Not yet. I no longer owe Magneto anything. From this point on, I'm working for myself. No more Principal Darkholme, no more Brotherhood, no more Erik Lehnsherr. If he wants my help, he'll have to approach me on my terms, not his."
"That's cool, yo. I can dig that."
"Good. Then leave me alone."
"Uh, yeah," Toad said, looking back at the jet where Lance and Pietro were now involved in a fist fight while Fred struggled to separate them. "Um, I would, really, yo, but it's kinda like we're stranded here unless we get some help. And I don't really see the X-Freaks dropping in to offer us a ride, you know?"
Mystique glared at him, her yellow eyes cold.
Toad cringed, but attempted a green-toothed smile.
"Come on, just this once? For old time's sake and stuff?"
Mystique rolled her eyes.
"I have some things I need to pick up at the boarding house before I leave," she said regally. "Gather up those other goons and climb aboard before I've finished the flight check. If you can't, I'm leaving without you."
Toad grinned and hopped off to tell the others.
Mystique watched him, her lip curled in disgust.
"There's a stench I certainly won't miss," she muttered as she climbed into the pilot's seat.
The X-Men returned from the smoking pile of metal that was once Magneto's prized invention to find Jean lying unconscious on the floor.
Magneto himself was nowhere to be seen.
"Jean!" Scott cried, rushing to kneel at her side.
Nightcrawler wasn't far behind him.
Jean moaned and rubbed her temples.
"Uggh," she grunted, carefully moving to sit up.
Scott supported her elbow with a strong hand.
"He started struggling and I couldn't hold him," Jean said. "I'm sorry guys."
"No, you did very well," Nightcrawler assured her. "You kept him distracted long enough for us to destroy the machine. It was almost a given that he would find a way to escape."
"Yeah," said Rogue, a hint of bitterness coloring her accented voice. "It seems guys like him always manage to get away in the end, don't they?"
"Not this time."
The startled X-Men turned as one at the sound of the crisp, prim voice that had spoken. Their eyes widened when they saw two men approaching from the corridor.
The taller man was long and lean with huge glasses, a beak-like nose, and a tiny dot of a mustache. He carried a briefcase and an umbrella and was dressed in a black suit with pinstriped trousers and a bowler hat.
The shorter man seemed significantly younger. His wild, orange hair was pulled back from his face by a red headband sporting constantly changing phrases that mirrored his thoughts. He was dressed in a grungy, over-large, dun colored tank top. His baggy trousers were weighted down with so many tools that it was a mystery how they managed to stay up. His chin was unshaven and large, blue shades covered his eyes.
"Who are you?" Scott asked, his eyes wide behind his visor.
"I," the taller man announced grandly, "am Horatio Cringebottom."
Evan and Kitty had to slap a hand to their mouths to keep from snickering.
Nightcrawler shot them a look and they struggled to sober themselves as Mr. Cringebottom continued, seemingly oblivious to their reactions.
"This is my associate, Bert."
He gestured in an off-hand manner to the shorter man.
Bert grinned, giving them a cheery thumbs-up with one gloved hand.
"Hi," the teens waved back.
"We are from the Ministry for Cross-time Transport Regulation, Monitor, and Control, Sanction Implementation Department. Our operating charter was authorized by Majestrix Opal Luna Saturnyne, by decree of the Supreme Omniversal Guardian Roma, daughter of Merlyn, Soverign of Otherworld."*
"Wow," Evan said.
The others nodded, echoing his sentiments.
"What are you doing here?" Scott asked curiously.
"I am surprised you feel the need to ask that question, boy, considering the fully unauthorized presence in this time of the man who is standing right next to you," Horatio Cringebottom said primly, peering down at Nightcrawler over his long nose.
Nightcrawler narrowed his eyes.
"I assure you, mein Herr, I did not come here on purpose. I want nothing more than to be returned to my own time."
"I know that," Cringebottom drawled. "The parties responsible have already been taken into custody."
"You mean Magneto?" Rogue asked.
"And Kylun and Widget, yes," Horatio nodded. "We have also contained one Logan a.k.a. Wolverine and one Creed, Victor a.k.a. Sabertooth. We had some trouble prying their claws out of each other, I can tell you."
He shuddered with distaste.
"Barbarians, the both of them. Disgraceful behavior."
Then he clapped his hands in a business-like manner.
"Now, for your own protection, I must insist that you all come with me."
"Where are we going?" Scott asked him.
Cringebottom shook his head with a disapproving look.
"Honestly, boy, you do ask the most obvious questions. I'm taking you to Otherworld, of course. All the holes that have been poked into this timeline-not to mention the as yet uncounted changes made through unauthorized interaction with one Wagner, Kurt a.k.a. Nightcrawler, age 47-have created a temporal anomaly the likes of which has only previously been encountered on Earth 1701!"
"Earth 1701?" Nightcrawler repeated. "Are you referring to an alternate reality?"
"Oh, right. This Earth knows nothing of the multiverse as of yet. But never mind. If you don't want to be trapped in the aftereffects of a violent time-storm as this timeline rearranges itself, you had all better come with me at once."
"Like, isn't Bert coming?" Kitty asked when she noticed the scruffy man wasn't following them as they rushed to keep up with Horatio's loping strides.
"My dear girl," Cringebottom said in a condescending tone, "how could Bert possibly repair the damage done to this timeline if he doesn't remain behind?" He shook his head, astonished by her dullness. "Honestly."
Kitty scowled in annoyance at his tone and dropped back to walk beside Nightcrawler, who patted her shoulder kindly.
"To tell you the truth," he said conspiratorially, "I was about to ask the same thing."
Kitty favored him with a small smile.
The group came to an abrupt stop as Horatio Cringebottom led them straight into a dead end. Before anyone could comment, however, the lanky man whipped out his umbrella and pressed a button on its carved handle. A beam of light shot from the metal tip and opened at once into a rounded portal.
"Right this way," he told them, stepping through the portal as though it were just a mundane doorway-and perhaps for him it was. "Step lively, please."
Looking at each other with bemused smiles and 'what the hey' shrugs, the X-Men crossed the threshold to enter the strange, beautiful dimension known as Otherworld.
To Be Concluded...
*Paraphrased from Excalibur: 'A Hatch is Plotted', Issue 42.
"Welcome to Roma's Starlight Citadel," Horatio said grandly as he led Kurt and the trailing teenagers into a large room with many windows. "This is where I leave you. There's been some trouble brewing on Earth 616 and your little temporal crisis requires me to fill out a great deal of annoying paperwork."
He tipped his hat slightly, then opened another portal with his umbrella, this one leading to a very cluttered office.
"Good day," he said curtly, then he vanished into the portal with a crackling SHAZZP.
Still blinking the spots from their eyes in the aftermath of the bright flash that had marked the portal's disappearance, the bewildered X-Men took the opportunity to look around.
"Cool chess set, man!"
Evan ran across the room to peer at the elaborately carved glass figures.
"Woah," he said, "this one looks just like you, Kurt! And this one looks almost like Kitty, only a little older!"
"Let me see!" Kitty said, rushing over to him and reaching out to touch the figure that resembled her.
"Erm...Katzchen, I don't think you should touch that," Kurt warned. "It looks like there is already a game in progress, and it would probably not be a very good idea to annoy anyone while we're here."
Kitty and Evan nodded and clasped their hands behind their backs, but they continued their eager examination of the chess set.
"So, what do we do now?" Jean asked. "Just wait here until someone comes to get us?"
"I suppose," he said. "Herr Cringebottom's instructions were rather vague on that point."
"He didn't give any," Scott pointed out.
"Precisely," Kurt said. Then, he tilted his head, his pointed ears pricking at the faint sound of running footsteps heading their way.
"I think we're about to have some company," he observed, turning in the direction the pattering sounds were coming from.
Kurt's golden eyes widened and his face broke into a huge, delighted grin when he caught sight of just who the newcomers were. Dashing to the doorway, he dropped to one knee and spread his arms wide. His children rushed into them for a joyful hug. Twining their tails together, they smothered each other's faces with happy kisses, all four of them talking at once in their relief to be together again.
Scott, Jean, Kitty, Rogue, and Evan watched the happy reunion in something akin to shock.
"Are those..." Kitty started.
"Umm hmm," Jean affirmed, her own face glowing in a reflection of their happiness.
"Wow," Evan said, not quite sure what to think. "I mean...wow. They even have tails!"
"And English accents?" Kitty observed curiously.
Evan shook his blond head.
"This is too weird, man. The K-Man's got...kids!"
His shielded eyes fixed on the giggling group on the floor, Scott slowly risked putting a hand on Jean's shoulder, his heart warming when she didn't shrug him away.
Rogue just stared at the scene before her, her expression unreadable behind her thick make-up.
Halfway across the room, Kurt laughed brightly as he affectionately ruffled his children's hair with his hands and his tail.
"Miss me?" he asked, grinning so broadly it was almost painful.
"Did we ever!" Marti exclaimed, hugging him tighter.
"That other Kurt is really smart and nice and everything," Suzie said, more reserved than her sister, "but he's not you."
Edmund sniffled against Kurt's shoulder, clinging to his father with his long tail wrapped tightly around Kurt's lean, muscular arm.
"I was so scared, Daddy," he said, his gray eyes blurred with tears. "I didn't know if you'd come back!"
Kurt brushed his son's black hair from his sky-blue forehead with a gentle hand, then he squeezed all three of them to him, rocking them slowly back and forth in his arms.
"I didn't know either, meine tapferen Kinder," he admitted, his eyes stinging slightly as he slowly released them, looking into each of their faces in turn.
"So..." He smiled. "Tell me everything. What happened while I was away?"
All three children started talking at once, their words tumbling over each other in their rush to explain the whole, crazy day.
"When you disappeared we were so scared-"
"...Mummy screamed so loud...!"
"...then Mum went into a trance and Auntie Jean had to snap her out of it..."
"...and when I teleported to the roof this boy was there..."
"...Marti said it was you, but when he woke up everyone said he was really sixteen..."
"...so they put the ceremony on hold, if you can believe it. The President even agreed to come back tomorrow once Uncle Logan explained things..."
"...he made us sit at the Kids' Table! Marti was all upset because she couldn't sit with Samuel."
"I was not!"
"...and Suzie got mad at me and I had to sit next to Kurt so she wouldn't pull my tail..."
"...and then Kurt realized I must have been seeing the magnetic disturbance that had knocked him off course..."
"...and we teleported right into the meeting! Uncle Scott looked so mad, but he actually let us stay..."
"...this big warrior guy with swords. He looked sort of like a cat, but with purple fur, and he had this little robot with him..."
"...just before they broke contact, Rachel seemed to glow, almost as though she was on fire..."
"...then these two men appeared out of nowhere and actually arrested Kylun, with handcuffs and everything..."
"...and so we ended up here," Marti finished with a grin.
"My word!" Kurt exclaimed, his own grin broader than ever. "It seems you three had quite an adventure! As for me, all I got to do was go to a high school dance and fly to Montana to blow up Magneto's magnetic Cerebro."
Marti grinned brightly, displaying her pointed teeth.
"Just another day for an X-Man, right, Dad?"
"You should know." He grinned back. "You've had such a day yourself!"
Gently breaking free of the colorful tails that had managed to twine themselves about his waist, Kurt rose gracefully to his feet and looked around.
"So," he said, "you're here, but where is everyone else?"
It was obvious to his children that when he said 'everyone else' he meant 'Alice'.
"Mum's just down the hall," Marti told him. "Do you want me to go get her?"
"Why didn't she come with you?" he asked curiously.
"She's with that other Kurt. The kid," Suzie explained. "He's still unconscious from when Rachel projected him into the past."
"And, she doesn't know you're here yet," Marti added. "We only came because I thought I heard your voice."
"Turns out, I was right!"
Kurt smiled, then his face grew concerned.
"How is Rachel?" he asked. "Using her powers in that way must have been a terrible strain."
"She's fine," Suzie said. "She's worried about Kurt, though."
"What's wrong with Kurt?" Scott spoke up, crossing the room to enter their conversation. "What did she say happened?"
The three Wagner children stared at the teenaged X-Men standing around them, looking beyond their father for the first time since entering the room.
"Auntie Jean says he's fine," Suzie assured Cyclops, struggling not to give in to a sudden urge to laugh at the familiar way the boy's lips tightened at the edges. "He just has to wake up on his own."
"Can we, like, see him?" Kitty asked.
Suzie smirked at her, recognizing her at once as a very young version of her Auntie Kitty.
"Like, sure," she answered.
Kitty blinked, then scowled, recognizing the friendly teasing for what it was but deeply annoyed just the same.
"Then let's go," Scott said, already heading down the corridor.
Marti rushed to take the lead.
"They're all in here," she said, gesturing to a large door with her tail. "It's a little smaller than that other room, but it has a big sofa where we could put Kurt."
Kurt didn't even wait for his daughter to finish her sentence. He opened the door and rushed into the room, ignoring the startled exclamations his sudden appearance caused as he headed straight for Alice.
The moment she saw him, Alice jumped up from the sofa where she had been sitting beside the unconscious young Kurt. The two fell wordlessly into each other's arms, laughing as they tried to kiss without slackening their broad, joyful grins.
Tears welled up in Alice's dark eyes and she flinched, reaching up to wipe them away.
Kurt shook his head as he caught her hand.
"Nein, meine Liebe," he said softly, using his own fuzzy finger to gently dry her eyes. "Allow me. Let's see if I can do something about that pesky gnat."
Alice laughed, a happy, half-sob of a sound, as she wrapped her arms around his neck, nuzzling her face into his shoulder.
"I was so worried, love," she confessed, her voice low and hoarse. "I didn't know if I would ever see you again!"
Kurt smiled and stroked her hair, sliding a thick finger under her chin to raise her shining eyes to his own.
"All the time I was trapped in the past," he told her sincerely, "all I could think of was you."
"You have a very rare and special gift, my love," she said, her eyes sparkling with amusement and affection.
"What gift is that, Liebchen," he asked her with an affectionate smile of his own.
She reached up to smooth his wavy hair, favoring him with a mischievous wink.
"You can make even the corniest lines devastatingly romantic."
Chuckling softly, Kurt used his tail to pull her close, leaning forward until their lips met in a tender, passionate kiss.
Kurt chose that moment to open his eyes, his slightly blurred vision clearing just as the two adults melted into their shared embrace.
"See!" the teenager exclaimed, startling everyone as he sat up, a brilliant grin splitting his fuzzy face. "It's just like I'm always telling you! Chicks dig the fuzzy dude, ja?"
Kurt's eyes shot open. Reluctantly, he broke the kiss to stare at his younger self, an incredulous smile growing on his face.
"Mein Gott," he said, shaking his head. "I really did talk like that!"
Kurt narrowed his eyes, confused.
"Like what?" he asked.
Kurt pinched the bridge of his nose, struggling not to blush as the crowded room exploded with laughter.
"Never mind," he said.
With amused, though sympathetic, eyes, Alice took her husband's hand and nestled comfortably into his arms.
"Relax, love," she said, leaning her head back against his shoulder. "He is right, after all."
"When do we get to go home?" Edmund piped up, tugging on his Uncle Scott's hand with his tail. Scott turned from his conversation with his younger self to peer down at the boy through his visor.
"According to Horatio Cringebottom," he said, "as soon as the timeline's straightened out."
"What will happen to Kylun and Magneto?" Rachel asked from her position on the arm of the sofa.
"I'm afraid I don't know that, honey," her father told her apologetically.
Scott and Jean both came to the same realization at the same moment. Their mouths agape, the two teenagers turned to stare at their future daughter, both blushing beet red and completely unable to meet each other's eyes.
"Oh, for goodness sakes!" Rachel sighed, rolling her eyes at their discomfort. "You both knew it was going to happen sooner or later. Why don't you just accept that you're crazy about each other and make it easy on yourselves?"
"She's a telepath!" Scott gasped, his face breaking into a very goofy smile.
Jean tilted her head, regarding Scott in a thoughtful, appraising manner.
"Oh well," she said at last, just as Scott was starting to fidget under her intense gaze. "I suppose I could do worse."
"Hey!" Scott sputtered, blushing furiously.
Scott and Jean Summers looked at each other, then burst out laughing.
"It's not funny!" Scott protested.
"Dude," Evan said, "yes it is."
Scott turned to him, but instantly forgot what he was going to say when he caught sight of the tall, bone-plated man behind him.
"My God," he gasped, rather tactlessly Evan thought. "What happened to you, man?"
"Secondary mutation," the older Evan explained, almost as used to such reactions as Kurt by that time. He shrugged. "It's not so bad, really."
"Easy for you to say," the teenaged Evan muttered under his breath, still recovering from his own initial shock.
"I really like your hair," Kitty told the adult Rogue. "When did you decide to, like, let it grow out?"
"Why does it even matter?" the younger Rogue interrupted snippily before her older self could answer. "What ah want to know is when will someone come to explain just what the heck is goin' on here! Ah don't know about the rest of you, but ah'm with blue boy junior over there." She gestured to Edmund. "Ah'm sick to death of all this sci-fi time-warp stuff and ah want to go home."
"Hear hear!" Bobby cheered from the back.
"Well then," a cultured, feminine voice sounded from the doorway. "It seems as though I've arrived just in time."
All the X-Men, past and future, turned at once to face the newcomer.
She was a tall, striking brunette. With her rounded face and smooth skin, she seemed surprisingly young, but her eyes were deep and ancient. She strode into the room, elegant and graceful, her long, white robes just brushing the ground as she moved. Her dark hair was pulled back in a high ponytail that somehow made her seem younger and yet, at the same time, even more regal.
"I am Roma," she said, "the Supreme Omniversal Guardian, and currently regent of Otherworld in my father's stead. I bid you all welcome to my Starlight Citadel, X-Men of Earth 723."
Rogue flushed under her pale make-up, embarrassed that the ruler of this dimension had overheard her frustrated outburst.
"Um, ah didn't mean that," she blurted out, unknowingly cutting off Cyclops just as he was opening his mouth to speak. "What ah said before."
Roma smiled kindly.
"You wouldn't have said it if you didn't mean it," she pointed out. "And I just happen to be of the same opinion. The sooner you are all returned to your rightful times, the better. Unfortunately, due to the effects of the temporal anomaly caused by Kylun's irresponsible tampering with past events, all will not be as it was."
Kurt stiffened, his eyes instantly darting to each of his children as his tail tightened around his wife's waist.
"What do you mean by that?" he asked, his words coming out more sharply than he'd intended.
Roma turned to him with deep, compassionate eyes.
"Do not fear, Herr Wagner," she assured him with a soft smile, "your family will remain unchanged."
Kurt closed his eyes, his relief almost too powerful for him to bear.
"Gott sei Dank!" he said weakly.
Alice squeezed the spade of his tail, and he smiled at her.
"The changes have been made by necessity to prevent the creation of a repeating causality loop," Roma explained. "Great care has been taken to ensure we altered the turning point that would give the most significant results while also doing the least amount of damage to the overall essence of what makes Earth 723 a unique dimension."
"And which turning point did you choose?" the adult Scott inquired.
"Since this entire situation hinged on the activation of Magneto's machine, we thought it best to retain the damage done to it by Mystique," Roma said simply.
"Was?" both Kurts chorused, rising to their feet in wide-eyed surprise.
"When did Mystique have a chance to damage Magneto's machine?" the older Kurt asked. "She wasn't even there!"
"In every dimension in which she exists, your mother is a very sneaky woman, Kurt Wagner," Roma said with a small smile. "However, it is a very rare thing for her allow herself to be influenced by her heart."
Her smile broadened.
"That drink you bought her must have gone to her head."
She winked at him, her eyes twinkling.
Kurt blinked, amazed and deeply touched to learn he had actually reached his mother.
"So," he said, and chuckled softly. "Mystique is the one who saves the world this time around."
Roma nodded, but only slightly.
"But she will need prompting by you before she will take any action against Magneto's plans," she told him. "However, since I cannot allow the future to influence the past as it did initially, this is the point where events have been slightly manipulated. Now, the young Kurt Wagner will make contact with his mother at the school dance. Once she destroys the wiring-very crafty how she did it, disconnecting a seemingly random group of non-essential systems rather than attacking the core program. Even Bert was hard-pressed to spot the damage-Magneto will believe his design is faulty and ultimately move on to another project. The N'Zann will never learn of Earth's existence, Kylun will never initiate his portal, and life will go on as it should."
"What about WWIII?" Evan asked, his voice tight with hope. "Will that be averted as well?"
"WWIII?" his younger manifestation exclaimed.
Roma quieted him with a look, then sighed, lowering her eyes slightly.
"Do you remember what Kurt told you, Scott, when you asked him to reveal what he knew of the future?" she asked.
Scott strained his memory, straightening once he recalled the right one.
"He said some lessons can only be learned through experience, or something like that," the teenager recited.
"And so it must be. As devastating as the war was, in your dimension humanity did actually learn from the experience."
"And the Professor?" the older Cyclops asked with some difficulty.
"Another important turning point that should remain untouched, I'm afraid," Roma told him.
Cyclops nodded, squeezing his wife's hand as she rested it on his shoulder.
"Now then," Roma said, her voice suddenly bright and businesslike. "It is time to open the portals that will return you to your homes."
The ruler of Otherworld waited patiently for the reactions of the X-Men to die down before she continued.
"Know this, though. The moment you step through the portal, all memory of this place and of the events leading to your arrival here will be erased from your minds. You will each be returned to the moment when you first felt the effects of Kylun's meddling. It will be as if no time had passed."
"We understand," Cyclops assured her, with a glance at his wife. "And we thank you for all you have done."
"I have done no more than my duty demands," Roma told him. Then she smiled. "But you are welcome just the same."
"Um," Rachel spoke up, "if you don't mind my asking, what will happen to Kylun and Magneto? And where did the Wolverine from the past go?"
Roma turned to face her.
Rachel met her eyes, unabashed.
"Those are reasonable questions all," the young girl was told. "Kylun is presently in custody and awaiting trial for his crime. I expect a light sentence, however, considering the desperate circumstances that led to his unauthorized tampering. Magneto, too, is in custody but since he could not have known the ultimate effects of activating his machine, he cannot be held responsible for the results of his actions-this time anyway. He will be returned to his proper place in the timeline just as you will. As for the Wolverine..."
Here, Roma turned to stare directly at Logan, who was seated next to Kurt and Alice with Edmund perched on his broad shoulders.
"...He is in a stasis cell, as is Victor Creed. We thought it would be best to keep them separated while they are here, considering the fact that they were both lost in a mindless rage when they first arrived."
Logan glowered at her.
"Well, whadda ya expect?" he snapped, glaring down the amused snorts and snickers that broke out among his gathered friends. "Put me in the same breathing space with that stinkin' bag of..."
Nightcrawler nudged him and his dark muttering trailed off as he remembered just how many children were present.
Roma tilted her head as though listening for some sound they could not hear or would not recognize if they did.
"The portals are ready," she told them, sweeping gracefully from the room. "If you would please follow me, it is time for this adventure to finally come to an end."
"About time, too," Bobby muttered, earning a friendly nudge from the young Rogue. The older Rogue seemed rather embarrassed at the way the two seemed to have bonded so quickly.
Kurt jumped off the sofa, trailed closely by Edmund and Rachel, but Nightcrawler had to tap Marti and Samuel on the shoulder to snap them back to reality.
"We're leaving now," he told his blinking daughter with a small smile, watching with amusement as the two teens suddenly realized the room was nearly empty.
"Yikes!" Marti exclaimed, grabbing Samuel's hand and rushing with him to the door with a quick, "Thanks Dad!"
Kurt sighed and shook his head, an unexpected wave of sadness passing over him suddenly. With a firm lash of his tail, he shook it off, then he strode down the corridor, following the others back to the large room with many windows.
"...and that chess set involves the Excalibur from Earth 616. Now, if you don't want an interdimensional incident on your hands, I suggest you step away."
Kurt chuckled to see the abashed looks on the faces of Evan, Kitty, and his younger self as they slowly backed away from the table.
The younger Scott smirked.
"I warned you," he said.
Roma looked at him, then turned to indicate two glowing portals right where windows should have been, as well as two matching footstools to allow easy access for the shorter members of the group.
"Due to the unidirectional nature of Earth 723's timeline, you will go first," Roma announced, pointing out the teenaged X-Men. "And have no fear," she assured them. "Your Wolverine will be returned to you shortly. Please come forward."
Scott gestured to his friends and the group from the past stepped up to the portal on the left.
"I would give you some parting words of wisdom," Roma said, "but you would forget them before you took two steps into your own dimension. So, I won't. Good-bye, and don't do anything that will cause you to end up here again."
The teens nodded, then slowly, and with some trepidation, they began to file through the portal.
As the line shortened, Kurt turned to Kitty, who was standing just behind him at the very end of the line.
"You go first, Katzchen," he told her, seeming rather agitated. "There's something I've got to do before I leave."
Kitty looked confused.
"It won't take long, I promise," he assured her quickly, breaking from the queue and teleporting directly to where his future family was standing. Smiling up at the older Kurt, he took Alice by the hand.
"My future self is a very lucky man," he told the rather surprised Alice with deep sincerity. "I never dreamed I would ever have such a wonderful, loving family. I never even dared to wish for it. But seeing you, and meeting Marti and Suzie and Edmund...all of you are my deepest, most secret dream come true. I...I just wanted to tell you that before I left. I wanted you to know, before I forgot about...everything."
Acting purely on impulse, Alice reached out to him and wrapped the boy in a warm embrace, planting a chaste kiss on his fuzzy forehead.
Kurt leaned his head against her shoulder and wrapped his tail around her waist. He didn't know what it was, but somehow, holding her in his arms felt oddly right.
"I don't care what Roma says," Kurt told her firmly, breaking the embrace. "I will remember." He smiled. "Dark hair, sparkling eyes, and a name that starts with 'A'. I can remember that."
As Alice smiled back at him, touched by the sentiment but doubtful it would work, the older Kurt blinked with the force of a sudden, startled thought. Just when had he first met Amanda...?
A soft BAMF startled him out of his thoughts, and he looked up to see his younger self waving at him from the footstool.
"Be you later, dude!" Kurt grinned cheerily. "Auf Wiedersehen everyone!"
With one last, parting wave Kurt stepped through the portal.
"'Be' you later? Ooh..." Scott pretended to shudder, facing Kurt with a teasing smile. "Now that was bad."
Nightcrawler cringed with a slightly pained grimace.
"And now for the rest of you," Roma said as the left portal snapped closed in a blinding flash of light. "One at a time, please."
As the X-Men formed themselves into an organized line, Alice hugged her husband's arm.
"He kissed my hand," she said, holding her hand out for Kurt's inspection. "Did you see that?"
Kurt hadn't, but he nodded anyway, distracted by his thoughts.
Alice giggled softly.
"You were so cute at that age," she told him, a slight squeak in her voice.
"What about now?" Kurt asked, feigning hurt.
Alice grinned at him, her eyes twinkling with mischief.
"Now you've graduated from cute and moved up to positively adorable."
"What about roguishly handsome?" Kurt said, running a hand through his short, wavy hair.
Alice gave him a playful push.
"What?" Kurt said, and chuckled. "I think that describes me pretty well, nein?"
Suzie's eyes widened.
"Marti," she exclaimed, nudging her sister in the ribs.
"What?" she asked, turning to face the grinning Suzie.
"Did you see that?" Suzie giggled. "Dad did the hair thing!"
"All right, you two, that's enough," Alice said, still smiling. "You're holding up the queue."
"What queue?" Suzie shot back, still giggling. "You're the only ones left!"
As the children stepped through the portal, Roma shook her head at Alice and Kurt.
"I'm sorry," she told them, her eyes glittering, "but you can't hold hands on this ride."
Kurt pulled away and bowed gallantly to Alice.
"After you, milady," he said.
"I thank you, Herr Wagner," Alice played along, stepping up onto the waiting footstool. "See you on the other side."
As his wife vanished from view, Kurt turned to face Roma, straightening to respectful attention.
"I know you were only doing your duty, meine Dame," he told her, "but if it hadn't been for you I don't think I ever would have seen my family again. Even if I don't remember you, I will always be grateful for what you have done for me, and my world."
He reached out to take her hand, gracing it with a gentle, courtly kiss. Then, Kurt jumped up onto the edge of the waiting portal, shooting her a playful, parting wink as he said, "At least you'll remember me now, nein?"
His words faded as he vanished, the portal snapping closed behind him with a brilliant flash.
Looking down at her hand in surprise, a small smile crept over Roma's delicate features.
"That I will, my friend," she whispered, her voice soft in the empty room. "I never forget."
Roma turned from the now clear window to face the slight, balding man who had spoken.
"The lawyers have arrived to discuss Kylun's trial date, and Magneto is making a royal fuss in the holding cell. He's demanding to talk with you."
"Tell him I'll be down there shortly," Roma said, her eyes narrowing as she contemplated all she planned to say to Erik Lehnsherr. "But I'll speak with the lawyers at once. Bring them here."
The pale man nodded, then scampered away.
Slowly, Roma's gaze turned to the chess set, and to the figure of Nightcrawler in particular. Sighing deeply, she straightened her slightly drooping posture.
She was the Supreme Omniversal Guardian Roma, daughter of Merlyn, Soverign of Otherworld, and she had a great deal of work yet to do.
What did you think? Please let me know! Reviews are always welcome! :)
Chapter 18: Earth 723 Wagner Family Photo by Kakegoddes
Here's a fun family photo drawn for this story by Kakegoddes, featuring Kurt and Alice and the three kids, Marta, Suzie and Edmund. Thank you so much! :D