The Nightmare's End
by Rowena Zahnrei
He called himself Logan, but he didn't know if that was his real name or one he'd picked up somewhere over the course of his long life.
At least, he assumed it had been long.
Thanks to the experiments of the recently deceased Colonel Stryker—the man responsible for plating his skeleton with the practically indestructible metal known as adamantium—Logan couldn't remember anything prior to fifteen years ago. And, even with the healing factor that kept his true age a mystery, he was quite clearly far older than fifteen.
Logan was tired of the mystery. He was tired of the gaping void in his head, teasing him with random images that could be memories or nothing more than dreams. Try as he might, he could never remember the things he wanted to remember—where and when he was born, what his true name was, had he ever been married...
But it seemed the irony of his life was that the things he wanted to forget stuck with him.
It had been a week. An entire week since Jeannie's sacrifice. Seven days since the dauntless, brilliant red-head who had caught his eye and burrowed into his heart had done the impossible.
Jean Grey had called upon the astonishing powers within her to hold back the raging tide of water that had burst through the dam—flooding the underground Alkali Base, the dark lair of Colonel Stryker and his twisted scientists. At the same time, she had imbued the X-Jet with enough juice to fly away to safety. Jeannie had saved them all, but the cost had been her own life.
He'd had the nightmare before. It came in flashes, in bright bursts of fragmented memory...
Rippling water. A goldfish pond. Tentative laughter, the salty taste of a crispy cracker rolled in flavored seaweed lingering in his mouth. A deceptively delicate flavor.
A woman...dark, crescent eyes sparkling with love, the rich colors of her silk kimono putting all the flowers of the restful garden to shame. He leaned in for a tender kiss, knocking over the small bottle of saki, the two of them laughing as the contents spilled into the fishpond...did goldfish get drunk?
Sunlight and shadows, the wild surf crashing against the rocky shore. Mount Fuji silhouetted in the distance. And there she was again, reaching out to take his hand, resplendent in her traditional wedding clothing...he had never seen anything so beautiful...
She was in his arms. But, something was wrong. Her eyes were cold, glassy, staring at nothing. Her dark hair brushed against the woven mat as he knelt, rocking her lifeless body in his arms, a pain, a rage unlike any other he had ever known searing his soul...
But, he wasn't in Japan. He was in Canada, kneeling in the deep snow. Only, now it was Jean he held in his arms, her russet hair wild and unkempt, tousled by the biting wind, her bright, sorrowful eyes memorizing all the details of his rugged face as she brushed a gentle hand against his bristly cheek...
Logan sat up in bed, panting and sweating, the details of the recurring nightmare already fading from his memory. He reached up to bring a hand to his forehead, and nearly poked his eye out with a deadly adamantium claw. With a colorful swear, Logan retracted his claws, got to his feet, and headed for the door, not caring where he was going or where he'd end up.
He needed to fight something. He needed to scream. He needed to punch a hole through the wall.
As he turned a corner, Logan's sharp eyes noted a dim light shining under the new guy's door. His sensitive ears picked up the faint SCRITCH SCRATCH of a pen on paper.
So, the Nightcrawler was awake too...
Turning on his heel, Logan marched back to his room. He had a katana in the closet, somewhere. He didn't know where it had come from or how he had obtained it, but he did know it was a darn good sword.
Maybe it was time he took the Elf up on his offer.
Christian,# my dear friend,
How can I possibly begin? No doubt right now you are thinking your father was right about me all those years ago when he said I was a devil. It seems you can't walk down a single street or even turn on a television these days without seeing a sketch of "The White House Assassin." Yes, yes, I know it is not a very good likeness, but you cannot deny a certain resemblance to yours truly. How many other blue men with golden eyes and pointed ears can you point out in a crowd? Well, perhaps there are a few. But the scars have to be a dead give away.
Christian, please believe me when I tell you all this is not as it seems! I can explain...##
Kurt Wagner shook his head with a frustrated sigh, throwing the pen down and rocking back in his chair with his knees pressed against the underside of his desk.
"I can explain," he muttered in German. "Yeah. Right. Oh, hello Christian, I'm just writing to tell you that last week I attacked the President of the United States with a knife! But it wasn't really my fault, you know. This twisted military man called William Stryker made me do it with mind control!"
Kurt let his chair drop back to the hardwood floor with a THUD and ran a three-fingered hand through his short, indigo curls.
"Oh, yes, that sounds really good," he said, his voice laced with sarcasm. "He's sure to believe that."
Pushing himself to his feet, Kurt slumped his shoulders and dragged his tail over to his bedroom window.
"Ach, maybe if someone could explain to me what happened this would be easier? I still keep thinking I'll wake up to find myself back home with the Munich Circus."
He chuckled slightly, but his eyes remained haunted.
"I really should stop talking to myself now, shouldn't I. Most of the people here already think I'm strange. I'm the freaky blue man with the foreign accent and all those creepy scars. Ooh, and did you see his tail? And what about those feet?"
Kurt leaned his palms against the broad windowpane, casting his yellow gaze over the grounds of the Xavier Institute for the Gifted. Peaceful, nighttime shadows cloaked the vast, tree-dotted lawn, but Kurt Wagner's luminescent eyes could cut through the darkness, allowing him to pick out every detail of the lovely garden far below.
"Perhaps the students think I'm deaf, even with these pointed ears," he said. "But, I don't want them to think I'm crazy as well!"
"Talkin' to yourself, bub?"
Kurt gasped and turned, a hand pressed to his chest. The man who had spoken leaned against the door frame, an unlit cigar lodged in the corner of his mouth.
"'Cause if you were talkin' to me, I gotta tell ya I don't know a word of German."
"Ach, Herr Logan!" Kurt managed to smile. "I did not hear you knock."
Logan stepped into the room.
"That's 'cause I didn't," he said, striding over to the desk and peering down at Kurt's unfinished note.
"Hmm," he grunted. "I didn't think people actually wrote letters anymore. Not with all this e-mail and instant text messaging crap they've got now."
Kurt smiled a little self-consciously and hurriedly tucked his letter into a nearby folder, out of view.
"Well, I have always had...trouble...when it comes to computers," he confessed, his tail twitching uncomfortably. He waved a three-fingered hand at Logan. "Those tiny little keys don't seem to have been designed with me in mind. I have similar problems with most telephones." He shrugged. "Besides, I like letters. To me, they seem more personal somehow."
Logan nodded his understanding.
"So who's this one to?" he asked, gesturing to the folder.
Kurt lowered his eyes.
"It is to one of my oldest friends," he told him, his voice soft. "Christian Gunther. We have known each other since we were children."
He looked up, his expression brightening.
"Christian is an aeronautical engineer, you know, as is his wife," he said. "They have a nine year old son, Amil." Kurt smiled fondly. "Every time the circus passed their way, they would always come to visit me."
He tilted his head, regarding Logan curiously.
"Why have you come, mein Freund? It is well past midnight."
Logan gave a careless shrug.
"Everyone else in this place is asleep," he grunted. "Well, except for that Jones kid. And he's not much for conversation."
"You wish to talk, then?" Kurt asked him.
Logan shook his head.
How did he— Firmly repressing a sharp glare, Logan sighed. The Elf was perceptive, he had to give him that.
The burly Canadian shook his scruffy head again.
"I wasn't actually gonna bug you about this until tomorrow mornin', but seein' as you're already awake..."
He pulled his katana from behind his back.
Kurt's eyes widened slightly as he took in his friend's meaning.
"If you've nothin' better to do. I'm feelin' some of that tension and aggression you were talkin' about the other day buildin' up, if you know what I mean."
A slow grin spread across Kurt's narrow features.
"Ja, actually," he said. "I have been feeling rather frustrated of late myself. So, Herr Logan, do you want to walk to the Danger Room, or shall we take a more direct route?"
"No way, Elf," Logan stated. "I'm not fallin' for that one. You know those jaunts of yours make me sick to my stomach, an' I'm not about to give you any advantage."
"I will see you there, then, mein Freund. Don't take too long, OK?"
And with that, Kurt Wagner vanished in a theatrical BAMF of sulfurous smoke.
To Be Continued...
#Christian and Amil appear in Excalibur #77: Lowest Common Denominator, which inspired my story "Echoes of Love." I made up their last name and Christian's occupation.
##Translated from the German
Chapter 2: Part Two
Logan strode through the Danger Room's heavy electronic doors, only to stop short at the unusual sight that met his eyes. The indigo acrobat, Kurt Wagner, stood balanced on one hand in the center of the cavernous metallic space. And, he was juggling three swords, using his other hand, his flexible feet, and his long, prehensile tail to keep the weapons in the air.
Kurt shot his friend a broad, upside-down grin, then he pushed off with his arm and flipped through the spinning circle of swords, using his tail and both hands to snag all three before they crashed to the gleaming floor. Kurt straightened, his arms and tail spread wide, then bowed to his audience.
"What do you want, applause?" Logan teased.
"I got bored waiting," Kurt explained, walking over to Logan. "Not bad, nein? I used to do that to draw the crowds. Amanda and I would stand in the middle of the town square and she would announce the circus was coming while I juggled. The funny thing was all those people were convinced my toes and my tail were nothing more than clever props." He shrugged. "I suppose they just chose to believe whatever came easiest. In any case, it was good for me. When they thought I was wearing a costume I could walk through the streets without hiding my face."
"You plannin' to use all three of those," Logan asked, pointing to Kurt's long sabers with his one katana.
"Well, that depends on how you want to play this," Kurt told him. "This is your game. You choose the rules."
"Very generous of ya, Elf," he said.
Kurt inclined his head politely.
"All right," said Logan, "since this is our first match let's keep it simple for now. One sword each, no powers. Consider it a warm-up. Match ends when one of us is touched by the other's sword. Arm, torso, don't matter, just so long as it's above the belt."
"Jawohl, mein Herr," Kurt agreed. "One sword, no powers."
He teleported over to the far wall and carefully placed his two extra swords in their respective cases.
"I found these in the weapons closet, you know," he called over to Logan. "They're pretty well balanced, but I do miss my own swords. Once my legal situation here has been sorted out, I must find a way to track down and contact my old circus."
A flash of smoke, and Kurt was back in the center of the room.
"Anything else?" he asked.
"Yeah," Logan said. "None of those flips of yours. This'll be a straight sword fight. Everyone's feet stay on the ground. And no tail."
"Very well, it's a deal. But I must warn you, even with all these restrictions you still don't stand a chance."
Logan smirked, a gleam of challenge glinting in his flinty eyes.
"We'll just see about that," he rumbled, tossing his sheath across the room.
"So, mein Freund," Kurt said conversationally as they raised their swords in a brief salute, then lowered themselves into the classic "on guard" position. "What are you fighting for this night?"
Logan narrowed his eyes.
"What do you mean?"
"Every good fight has a purpose," Kurt told him. "Otherwise the two of us would be merely two men trying to poke each other with pointy metal sticks."
Logan's eyes narrowed further.
"I know what you're up to and I told ya before, Elf. I don't spill my guts that easy."
"Ach, well. It was worth a try, nein? En guarde!"
Kurt leapt into action, moving at once into an aggressive offensive attack. Logan hadn't expected that. It was his natural instinct to attack first, and it went against the grain to be forced into a defensive position so quickly.
Kurt was well aware of Logan's discomfort. He was a keen observer of human nature—a skill he'd learned out of boredom, and necessity, during the tedious times he had been confined to the circus because of his appearance. Not all towns were as tolerant of blue, demonic-looking Gypsy acrobats as Kurt would have liked. Right now, the way Logan moved his eyes told him that the shorter man was looking for a way to turn the tables on him, to put Kurt on the defensive.
A small smile spread across Kurt's indigo face. Logan's concentration was completely focused on manipulating the direction of the fight. He was falling right into Kurt's trap.
Kurt performed a quick double retreat, relinquishing right of way to Logan and giving his opponent the opportunity he so desperately wanted. Kurt, however, anticipated his movements, quickly parrying Logan's blade and reestablishing his attack. Ducking his blade under Logan's with a deft flick of his fingers, Kurt fell into a deep lunge, jabbing the center of his opponent's chest with the tip of his sword.
Match over, he backed up a few paces, watching with an amused grin as the realization dawned on Logan's face.
"That's one for me," the German said. "Care to give it another go?"
"You did that on purpose, didn't ya," Logan growled. "You had the whole thing planned."
Kurt's smile grew into a grin.
"Of course. Is that not what is meant by strategy?"
Logan grunted, a small smile of his own spreading across his rugged face.
"Not bad," he admitted. "But I'm on to your tricks now. Let's go."
"Same rules as before?" Kurt asked, moving to take up his own position.
Logan shot him a devious smile.
"Nah. Let's make this interesting. Still no powers and no tail, but you can do your circus tricks if you want and we can move wherever we want. Also, those other two swords are up for grabs. Whoever gets to 'em first can use 'em. Match ends only with a touch to the torso."
"Got it," Kurt said.
The two friends saluted each other, then Logan backed away, circling the Elf on the balls of his feet like a boxer waiting for the right moment to pounce.
After several confused moments, Kurt guessed what his opponent was up to. Logan was trying to catch him off guard. He wanted to give himself a chance to break away so he could be the first to reach the extra swords resting in the corner some fifteen feet away. Kurt raised an eyebrow, the gesture lost in the shadows of his gently curling hair. It was a cunning plan. But not cunning enough to fool the Incredible Nightcrawler.
Nightcrawler lunged, forcing Logan's sword down hard as he leaped up onto his opponent's shoulders. From there, Nightcrawler launched himself high into the air, tucking his knees to his chest for a double aerial somersault before landing gracefully on his feet barely two meters from the swords. In the time it took Logan to pry his chin off the floor and run over to him, Nightcrawler had undone the clasps of the first sword case and was ready to meet the fierce Canadian head on, armed now with one sword in each hand.
With a roar, the raging Wolverine raised his katana above his head with both hands, too furious at the way Nightcrawler had used him as a springboard to realize that once again he had left himself wide open to attack. With a grin, Nightcrawler darted forward, tapping Wolverine's chest with the tip of his sword then playfully cartwheeling away before the sharp katana could split his skull in two.
Kurt spun his left sword between his thick fingers like a cheerleader's baton, raising his right hand to stifle a pointed yawn.
"That's two to me," he said, examining his thick, yellow fingernails. "Really, mein Herr, you will have to do better than that. We barely even touched blades during that so-called match."
He stopped spinning his sword and looked straight at Logan.
"You really must learn to control that temper of yours, mein Freund," he said seriously. Then, he smiled. "It takes all the challenge out of this game."
Wolverine's flinty eyes widened in rage, but Logan's more rational mind grudgingly accepted the truth of Kurt's words.
"Fine, then," he growled. "We'll do this again. No rules. Anything goes. But this time the match only ends with a touch to the neck."
Kurt's eyes widened.
"Are you sure that's fair?" he asked.
Logan wrinkled his nose.
"What do you mean, fair?"
Kurt smiled like a wicked little boy as he observed, "Well, you don't have a neck."
Before Wolverine could move to throttle him, Kurt laughed and offered a placating wave of his hand.
"Nein, bitte, don't get mad. I was only teasing," he assured him. "A touch to the neck it is. Ready?"
"You're gettin' cocky, circus boy," he growled. "And that's good. For me, that is. Get on yer guard. I'm not lettin' you off so easy for that last crack."
"At last!" he crowed. "A real challenge!" He graced Logan with a short bow, never taking his eyes from his opponent's face. "It will be a pleasure mopping the floor with your backside, mein Herr."
"We'll see whose backside will be moppin' what when I'm through with you, bub. Now, cut the chatter. Let's fight!"
The two opponents saluted as before, but as Kurt came on guard, Wolverine leaped forward. Startled, Kurt parried the fierce blow, his arm shuddering under the force of the Wolverine's attack. Wolverine battered at the taller man, his sword a gleaming flurry of bright flashes as Kurt desperately worked to block each blow, using both his swords in concert.
Wolverine had been telling the truth. He was no longer holding anything back, and the raw anger powering his attack was truly alarming.
A slow grin crept over Nightcrawler's scarred features. If that's how it was going to be, two could play at that game. As Wolverine spun on him with a ferocious roar, Nightcrawler disappeared in a BAMF of sulfurous smoke.
Wolverine gave a hacking cough and stumbled, thrown off balance when his sword met nothing but air. That teleport at such close range was wreaking havoc with his highly attuned senses. The sound still echoed in his ears as the sharp scent of brimstone stung his nostrils. The bright flash and the lingering smoke caused his flinty eyes to tear, blurring his vision. For a moment, it was as if he had been blinded. For that reason, he was unprepared when Nightcrawler came at him from a completely unexpected direction, letting loose with a roar of his own - this time armed with a complete set of three swords.
Wolverine turned to face the sound, his sword at the ready though his eyes certainly weren't. But, Nightcrawler wasn't about to be that easy on him. Confusing the furious Wolverine with a series of rapid-fire teleports that filled the room with acrid smoke, Nightcrawler dropped onto him from above, knocking the burly Canadian to the floor before gracefully rolling to his feet.
Nightcrawler could easily have ended the match there. Wolverine was lying prone on the ground, slightly dazed. It would have taken merely the slightest flick of his wrist to bring the tip of his sword to the fierce Canadian's neck. But, where would be the fun in that? Nightcrawler's brilliant grin only broadened as Wolverine climbed to his feet, his claws extended and a murderous rage gleaming in his dark, tearing eyes.
"Have at thee, vile cur!" Nightcrawler jibed, leaping once again to take the offensive.
Wolverine threw his sword aside, using his adamantium claws to swipe at Nightcrawler's blows with an astounding strength powered by all the pent up anger, guilt, and frustration he had been bottling up inside ever since Alkali Lake. At the sight of the change in his opponent's eyes, Nightcrawler upped the energy of his attack. It was working, just as he had known it would.
Then he sobered, his heart already aching in sympathy at the thought of what he was about to do to his friend. Still, he knew if Logan was to heal, he first had to face his pain. Then, maybe, the nightmares would finally end.
"There was nothing you could have done, you know," Nightcrawler told him, hooking his swords into Wolverine's claws and pushing the thicker man back with his foot. He leaped to stand over him as Wolverine swayed and quickly regained his balance. "It was Doktor Grey's choice to make. Nothing you or anyone else could do would have stopped her from leaving the jet."
Wolverine lunged at him again, swiping and clawing so fiercely that Nightcrawler couldn't block him with his swords and was forced to teleport out of his range.
"I should have noticed," Wolverine shouted, charging Nightcrawler with his claws outstretched. "What's the good of havin' these animal-like senses if I can't even see what's goin' on right under my nose?!"
"Doktor Grey was a telepath," Nightcrawler reminded him, spinning in place to block Wolverine's blows with his right sword and the one in his tail. "And a very powerful one at that," he went on as Wolverine fell back slightly to regroup. "If she didn't want you to notice something, you wouldn't notice it, no matter how sharp your senses are."
"You stupid German freak," Wolverine roared out in his painful rage. "You don't know the first thing about it!"
Nightcrawler's golden eyes flashed dangerously and he met the Wolverine's attack with renewed force. Wolverine went on, tears streaming from his eyes, although he certainly wasn't aware of it.
"Why didn't you teleport sooner? Why didn't you go the moment we realized she was gone?!"
"I can't teleport where I can't see!" Nightcrawler growled back, clenching his pointed teeth as he strained to keep Wolverine's claws from piercing his chest. As he pushed him back, he brandished his swords and lunged forward.
"You would have if that had been 'Ro out there," Wolverine retorted, meeting Nightcrawler's lunge with a swipe that cut straight through his right blade, causing three shards to fall to the ground with a sharp CLATTER.
Without missing a beat, Nightcrawler quickly transferred his left sword to his right hand, using his tail to toss his remaining sword to his left hand.
"If it had been Ororo, I would have been even more careful to be sure I knew exactly where I was going," Nightcrawler shot back. "What good could I do anyone if I 'ported into a tree or a hill?"
Wolverine was sobbing openly now, his blows coming fast and thick as he channeled his grief and guilt into rage.
"We shouldn't have just left her there," he roared. "For all we know, she could have survived! She got us out. Why not herself?!"
"Herr Professor scanned the entire area," Nightcrawler reminded him, blinking as Wolverine destroyed a second sword. It was sobering to realize he only had one left. He would have to be very careful how he used it, especially with Wolverine in this unstable state. "He couldn't pick up her mental signature anywhere. We all did our best. Doktor Grey did not want to be saved."
"How dare she!" Wolverine howled. "What gave her the right to do somethin' so stupid! She's supposed to be smart, smart enough not to buy into all that 'the good of the many' crap! Why is it that everyone I come to care about DIES ON ME!"
Wolverine let loose with another guttural roar as he lunged at Nightcrawler yet again.
Nightcrawler teleported out of the way, then came at him from the side, allowing Wolverine to take the offensive as he strategically backed around the room, meeting him blow for blow and block for block. When it seemed Wolverine had finally cried himself out, Nightcrawler jumped high into the air…
Logan was startled to find the Elf perched on his shoulders, the cool metal of Kurt's remaining sword resting against his neck.
"Feel any better, mein Freund?" he asked gently.
Logan snarled, but it was only a half-hearted attempt to keep face.
"Get offa me, you blue Elf!"
Kurt flipped over Logan's head, landing several feet in front of his friend.
"You owe me a beer."
Logan blinked up at him, rubbing his eyes fiercely against his sleeve.
"It's the rules," Kurt said. "I won every match. That means you owe me a beer."
Logan stared at him, regarding the tall, blue man carefully. He saw no sign that the Elf was laughing at him for losing control as he had. He also saw no sign of the loathsome pity he had half-expected. If he had seen these things, he might have just severed the Elf's head from his shoulders and had done with the whole thing—the X-Men, Xavier's Dream, everything.
As it was, though, all he saw were the calm, accepting golden eyes of the man who had forced Wolverine to face his pain and had not only survived the experience, but strangely enough, still wanted to spend time with him.
Staring into Kurt's patient, scarred face, Logan suddenly realized how long it had been since he'd had a real friend. A peer, an equal who could understand him and who liked the same things he did. None of the other X-Men seemed to qualify. Scott was a prick and nothing anyone said would change Logan's mind about that. Logan respected the Professor, but he didn't exactly put him in the "friend" category. "Good guy authority figure/rich guy who thinks he knows better than everyone else" more covered Logan's view of the Professor. Ororo was nice and very attractive, but she had never really seemed interested in him, and now the signs indicated she had set her sights on Kurt. Rogue was a sweet kid, but she was just that: a kid. As were all the other students at Xavier's school.
Logan reflected that out of all of these people, it was only Kurt—the deceptively shy circus acrobat who had barely been with the team for a week—who had been willing to make the effort to really get to know the fierce, enigmatic Wolverine.
"You're good," Logan admitted, walking over to retrieve his katana and its scabbard from the floor.
Kurt shrugged, understanding Logan was not just referring to his skills as a swordsman.
"Ja, I know."
Logan smirked, shaking his head.
"Was?" Kurt asked. "Would you rather I put on an act of false modesty and denied the truth? Besides, you are the one who said 'anything goes.'"
"Yeah. I guess I did."
Slipping his sword into its scabbard, Logan turned to his friend.
"So, Elf, what do you drink?"
"What do you have?" Kurt shot back.
"Then that's what we'll drink. When I get some money, though, I'll have to buy some real, German beer."
"That so? Then I guess I'll have to bone up on my fencing skills."
Kurt tilted his head.
"'Cause the next time we do this, I'm makin' sure you're the one buyin' the drinks."
"Ach, so you did get something out of our little match. That is very good to know. But, Logan..." He grinned, his sharp teeth flashing in the room's artificial light. "It's only fair to warn you that next time I won't go so easy on you."
"Wha—?" Logan gaped. Kurt had stood up to Wolverine's consuming rage and not only survived but manipulated the situation in his favor. And he claimed he had gone easy on him? Before Logan could say anything more, however, he noticed Kurt was laughing again.
"I'm only joking, mein Freund," he chortled. "Honestly, I haven't had a workout like that since I left the circus. When you broke that second sword, for a moment I was truly worried I would not make it out of this room alive."
Now it was Logan's turn to grin.
"It's almost seven in the morning," he observed, looking at the large, digital clock on the wall. "Think we've got time for our beers before the kids come down for breakfast?"
"Ach, it is a Saturday," Kurt pointed out. "If today is anything like last weekend, we should have at least an hour before anyone comes. Shall we go?"
Logan's grin broadened.
"After you, Elf."
To Be Continued...
Chapter 3: Part Three
Ororo Munroe strode into the mansion's kitchen and peered around at the cabinets, wondering whether she should cook breakfast for the students or just break out the cereal and milk.
The sound of laughter drew her attention to the dining table in the next room, and her eyes narrowed in disapproval at what she found there: Kurt and Logan with beers in their hands, a couple of empty bottles already lined up in front of them.
"Drinking before breakfast?" she scolded in her best "teacher" voice.
The two men jumped, and Ororo crossed her arms over her chest.
"I'm surprised at you - and especially you, Kurt. What kind of example is this for the children?"
Kurt stared at her like a boy caught with his hand in the forbidden cookie jar. He slouched in his chair, his dark face flushing royal purple under the weight of her sharp tone.
Logan just leaned back in his chair and took a defiant swig.
"The kids ain't here," he told her.
"Even so," Ororo said, "the Professor has one rule about drinking in the mansion. And that rule is no alcohol."
Kurt's eyes widened as though he had been suckerpunched.
"You mean that rule applies to the adults as well?" he asked, clutching his beer. Logan laughed at the expression on his face.
"Usually," Ororo said with a slight frown. "Wine or beer is occasionally served at dinner. But never in the morning. And certainly not before breakfast."
"C'mon, 'Ro, give us a break," Logan grumbled. "We had a long night. And the Elf's certainly earned his beer."
Kurt shot his friend a grateful look.
Ororo's expression went from confusion to concern.
"Why?" she asked. "Did something happen?"
"Nah," Logan assured her with a careless wave of his hand. "But the kid here beat me three times in a row at sword fighting. And, as you can probably guess, that takes some doing."
Ororo's large, blue eyes widened in sudden understanding and she turned a sly, affectionate smile to Kurt.
"So," she said, "I see you've been working your magic on Wolverine now." She grinned warmly, causing Kurt to blush. "Logan's right then. You've earned your beer. I'm sorry I yelled at you."
Kurt blushed harder, trying to hide the rather silly smile he couldn't suppress by finishing off his last swig of beer.
"I'm done now anyway," he told her, rising to place his empty bottle in the corner recycling bin. "Erm," he cleared his throat. "Would you like some help making breakfast, Liebchen?"
Ororo smiled at him, her blue eyes shining in that special way that made Kurt feel positively weak in the knees.
"Any help you could give will be deeply appreciated," she told him, reaching out to squeeze his hand in hers.
Logan watched as the rest of the world, including him, fell away around his two grinning friends.
"I'll just be goin' now," he said, tossing his own empties in the bin with Kurt's. He smirked when the loud clatter didn't break their locked gaze.
"Bye, Logan," Kurt managed, but his voice was distant.
Logan shook his head in amusement as he exited the kitchen. Yeah, they had it bad. Real bad. It would be a miracle if breakfast was even started before the kids piled into the room...
"So," Kurt said after a long moment. "What did you have planned? Waffles perhaps? I believe there is some mix in the cupboard."
"It's all right with me, if you really want to go through the trouble of making them all," Ororo said. "I was thinking more along the lines of cereal and milk to tell you the truth."
Kurt opened his mouth to say something, but he gasped instead, his golden eyes widening as he raised a hand to his head.
"Kurt," Ororo asked, concerned, "what is it?"
Kurt blinked a few times, then shook his head as if to clear it. When he looked back at Ororo, he seemed anxious.
"It was the Professor, in my mind," he told her. "He wants me in his office right away."
"It must be important," Ororo said, her brow furrowed. "Charles usually avoids such intrusive contact."
"I am sorry, Liebchen," Kurt apologized. "I would like to stay—"
Ororo cut him off.
"Think of it this way," she said. "The sooner you go, the sooner you'll be back. I'll still be here, don't worry."
Kurt returned her smile, his golden eyes soft as he took her hand in his.
"You won't even notice I was gone," he said, kissing her hand then stepping back to vanish in a BAMF of sulfurous smoke.
Professor Xavier was on the phone when Kurt appeared in his office. He raised a finger to Kurt, motioning for him to wait.
Kurt nodded silently and jumped up to crouch on an overstuffed chair, his long tail lashing nervously behind him.
"Yes, Mr. President," Xavier said after a long pause, his face serious. "Yes. In fact, he's here right now."
Kurt froze, his spine stiffening with dread.
The President of the United States, the man he had attacked while under Stryker's influence, was on the phone. From the somber look on the Professor's face, this couldn't be good.
Kurt shivered, his tail wrapping itself tightly around the arm of the chair.
Was he going to be deported? Would the police be coming to arrest him? Would he have to spend the rest of his life in some federal prison, or would they just stand him in front of a firing squad and get it over with quickly?
The Professor was talking again.
"You do? Well of course... I'm sure he'd be delighted. One moment, please.
"Kurt," Xavier whispered, "the President wishes to talk with you."
Kurt looked up in surprise as the Professor held the phone out for him to take. Trembling slightly, Kurt reached out and pressed the phone to his ear. As he did, the Professor smiled. Kurt tilted his head, wishing he knew what was going on.
"Hello? Mr. Wagner? You there?"
It had to be the President's voice. Kurt swallowed hard and nodded before remembering the President couldn't see him over the phone.
"Ah, ja. Yes. Yes, sir. That is, I mean..." Kurt winced. He must sound like a perfect idiot. "Yes, Mr. President. I am here."
"Good," the President said. "And don't be so nervous! I'm calling with some good news."
Kurt's eyes widened. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears.
"Yes indeed, Mr. Wagner," the President said. "I wanted to tell you in person before the press conference this morning. I read through the files you X-Men gave me last week very carefully, and I must say I am appalled by what has been done to you and to all the other mutants Colonel Stryker abused. I assure you, we in Washington do not condone this kind of wanton behavior. After reviewing your records, and the psychological profiles provided, it is the courts' conclusion that you should not be held criminally responsible for the actions you took while under the influence of Stryker's mind control serum. And I must say, I concur with their findings."
Kurt felt as if the floor had dropped out from under his chair. He was in free-fall. He was floating. This phone conversation couldn't be real.
"W-was?" he managed. "Do...do you mean...?"
"That's right, Mr. Wagner. I signed your pardon this morning. Fact is, now I think about it, you probably saved my life that day."
"What do you mean?" Kurt asked.
The President's smooth voice seemed suddenly uncomfortable.
"I saw it in your face, when you...um...had that knife...? Your eyes... They seemed so blank and then, after the gunshot, something changed. The instant before you...teleported is it?"
Kurt nodded again.
"Ja, that is right."
"Teleported," the President repeated. "It was like you were...waking up... Disoriented. I could have sworn you were at least as terrified as I was. That's what decided me. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I don't think I could have brought myself to believe what I read in those files. Stryker may have put that knife in your hand, but I saw you choose to drop it, Mr. Wagner. And for that, I owe you my life and this nation owes you its gratitude."
Kurt couldn't speak. He couldn't think. He felt the tears on his face, but he didn't care. His heart was full to bursting, but his throat had never felt so tight.
"Mr. Wagner?" the President asked. "Are you there?"
"Ach," Kurt gasped out, his mind in a whirl. "Ja. Yes, Mr. President. Danke. Ich kann es nicht ausdrucken! Ich kann nicht sprechen...ich kann nicht... Ich bin Ihnen sehr dankbar, Herr Präsident. Sehr, sehr dankbar! Dankeschön!"
The President actually laughed.
"I'll take that as a thank you. Is Professor Xavier still there?"
Kurt sniffled slightly and nodded, not even realizing he had reverted to German.
"Ja, mein Herr. Er ist da."
"I have a few more things I need to discuss with him before the press conference. It's been a pleasure talking with you, Mr. Wagner."
"Und mit Ihnen, Herr Präsident. Dankeschön!"
"Ja," Kurt whispered, handing the phone back to Xavier with a trembling hand. "Auf Wiedersehen."
At the sight of Xavier's smile, Kurt's face burst into a gigantic grin of its own.
The President had pardoned him! He was no longer a wanted man, no longer the White House Assassin!
Kurt fell back in his chair, positively dizzy with elation, hot tears streaming down his face as he turned his grateful gaze to the ceiling.
"Gott sei Dank!" he managed, before his voice was swallowed up by sobs.
Some minutes later, Kurt became aware of a kindly hand on his shoulder. Blinking through his tears, he realized it belonged to Professor Xavier.
"Ach," he sighed with a sniffle. "The President must think I am a fool, nein? Crying to him in German like that." Kurt chuckled self-consciously, wiping his eyes with the spade of his tail.
Xavier smiled kindly.
"Actually, no," he said. "Your heartfelt reaction only reinforced everything I had told him about you. I assure you, he was quite impressed. He does not doubt he's doing the right thing by pardoning you."
Kurt struggled to slow his breathing and to calm his racing heart.
"I must tell Ororo," he said. "I—I left her in the kitchen. I have to tell her."
"Then go, my friend. And be sure to watch CNN at nine-thirty. That's when the President will be giving his press conference."
"I will, Herr Professor," Kurt said. "And thank you for calling me. I don't think I have ever felt so happy!"
With a final, brilliant smile, Kurt vanished from the Professor's office with a bright BAMF.
Ororo looked up from her bowl of waffle batter and smiled. Her smile faded, however, when she saw her friend's tear-streaked face and his red-rimmed eyes.
"Kurt," she gasped, rushing over to him. "What is wrong? What happened?"
Kurt surprised her by grinning, his dark face brightening like the sky at sunrise.
"It was the President on the telephone," he told her. "He spoke with me."
He reached out to take her hands in his, pulling her close with his tail, too excited to really think about what he was doing.
"He pardoned me, meine Liebe," he beamed at her. "He pardoned me! He told me it may have been Stryker who put the knife in my hand, but I was the one who dropped it. He told me he owed me his life!"
Squeezing his eyes shut against a fresh wave of joyful tears, Kurt pulled Ororo into a close embrace, laughing like an idiot as he spun her around and around until her feet left the floor.
Ororo gasped in surprise, then grinned at him as he set her down, reaching up to trace the scars on his cheek with her slender fingers.
"I told you it would happen," she said warmly. "You just needed a little faith."
Kurt laughed again, smiling at her with pure affection.
"There is a press conference on CNN at nine-thirty," he told her excitedly. "Then the whole world will know! But, I had to tell you first. I am innocent!"
Ororo looked into his exuberant face, her crystal eyes flickering slightly as her broad grin softened into something more. Slowly, she leaned forward, only stopping when her nose actually brushed against Kurt's.
Kurt was afraid to move, his muddled brain completely unable to make sense of what was happening. Surely, she wasn't wrapping her arms around him. She couldn't be running her hand up through the curls at the back of his head. There was no way she was actually pulling him closer, pressing her lips against his...
"Mein Gott," he breathed so softly the words were barely audible, his lips moving against hers as he returned her kiss.
This was real. This was real and it was wonderful and he never wanted it to end. Their kiss could have lasted for an eternity and still it would have been too short.
"I'm proud of you, Kurt," Ororo told him, hugging him one last time before pulling away from his possessive tail. "But I've got to go if I don't want those waffles to burn."
She squeezed his hand and smiled at him.
"Your waffle and mine will meet you on the sofa at nine-thirty for that press conference," she said. "The kids will just have to miss their cartoons today."
Breathless and lightheaded, Kurt blinked after her departing back, an enormous grin spreading over his midnight features.
"She kissed me..." he said softly, his grin stretching wider in joyous disbelief. A low chuckle began to grow within him and he shook his head, his golden eyes wide and glowing.
"Never before... I never would have... No one ever..."
Unable to contain his skyrocketing emotions any longer, Kurt abandoned the empty kitchen with a bright BAMF, reappearing on the highest point of the mansion's roof just as his low chuckles exploded into deliriously happy laughter. Kurt spread out his arms and turned his face to the morning breeze, wanting to embrace the entire world in his joy.
"Thank you, God, for smiling upon me this day!" Kurt exclaimed in heartfelt German, his eyes filling with grateful tears. "I don't know what I did to deserve such blessings, but I promise I will never take them for granted! For the first time I feel my life truly does have purpose. And more than that," here his laughter reached a crescendo, "I think I'm in love!" he cried.
"Ororo Munroe kissed me, God!" he shouted from the rooftop. "Did you hear that? She kissed me, and I kissed her back!"
As Kurt collapsed onto the roof, wracked with uncontainable giggles, he realized he knew how to finish his letter to Christian. He knew exactly what to say and how to say it. He'd gotten Logan to open up to him, the President had pardoned him, and he'd just been kissed by the most beautiful woman he had ever met. For the first time in a long, long time, Kurt Wagner felt he was sitting on top of the world, and he knew his life would never be the same.