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Long Dark Hallway Blues

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Waking up was like being drenched with ice water. Not the way ice water was now, but shocking like it had been when he was a kid, before the cold sank into him, all the way through. He sat up in bed and gasped for breath, waiting for his heart to stop pounding and willing himself to let the images go. He didn't look over at the empty bed, lumped with sheets and blankets he'd left because making it up was too much like acknowledging that St. John wasn't coming back. But he still felt like smashing things, and frost began creeping over his quilt where his hands were gripping too hard.

He flipped the covers off in disgust and dug around in the teenage wreckage of his floor for a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt that didn't stink too bad. A sniff or two to test, and he was pulling the clothes on, and making his way down the darkened school hallways. Weak gold light flooded in from the windows at the end of the corridors, and he walked faster despite himself, hating how memories of soldiers long gone could spook him. It wasn't the invasion so much, though that was bad enough, all the little kids squealing and running in terror, and so much adrenaline coursing through him that he hadn't even noticed at the time how beautiful and brave Rogue looked in her black nightdress and bare arms. That night had felt like the end of the world, but it was only the beginning of the end of something else entirely, and that was what chased him down the hall.

No light spilled out the kitchen door into the hallway, and he was glad for the solitude, until he cleared the doorway and nearly jumped out of his skin at the sight of two glowing yellow eyes floating above the table. He screamed and later he'd wonder if he'd sounded like a total girl. A sheet of cold shot out from his fingers by sheer reflex, and there was a quiet *bamf* as the eyes disappeared before the ice reached them, then the lights were on, and Kurt was standing next to the light switch looking sheepish.

"Entschuldigung. It is only me. I didn't mean to startle you; I forget to turn on the lights sometimes because I do not need them."

Bobby smiled back and tried to pretend his heart wasn't hammering against the inside of his chest like it wanted out. "Hey, no problem. Sorry I nearly froze you."

"Pfft," he waved a stubby blue hand. He walked back to his place at the table, where a bowl of chocolate ice cream sat with a spoon stuck in it, now frozen into a block of solid ice. When he saw it, he laughed. "I think a new bowl of ice cream is needed, though, yes? Would you like some?"


Bobby sat at another place at the table and watched Kurt pull two bowls out of the cabinet and go about the task of filling them with ice cream. "Chocolate Brownie is okay?" he asked, and Bobby answered again, "Sure."

Kurt's thick brown robe was slit up the back to make room for his tail, and he had blue and white striped pajamas underneath and battered brown slippers on his feet. The pajamas must have had a hole cut in them, or maybe he had his clothes made special with a place for the tail designed in. Some of his clothes had to be tailor-made, maybe his pajamas were too. What would it be like to be so obviously different? To not have the option of passing? Did he even feel the stares anymore? At least he'd escape the tortures of the coming out talk: weighing the pros and cons, trying to figure out if it was worth the risk, if the person mattered to you enough to bother, and then if they mattered that much, worrying that being a human refrigerator would be just a little too freaky for them to handle. Well, not a human refrigerator, obviously. A mutant one.

The tail flicked back and forth as Kurt scooped, then reached up to scratch absently at his shoulder. Graceful, Kurt was always graceful and Bobby was sure that if he had a long blue tail he'd be knocking everything off every table he passed. But Kurt always seemed to know exactly where every part of his body was and arrange himself in space with the utmost, instinctive, thoughtless care. Like a dancer, almost. Well, duh, he was an acrobat - that was practically the same thing.

"Did you like performing?" Bobby asked as Kurt set the bowl of ice cream on the table in front of him.

White, pointed teeth flashed in a big smile. "Ach, the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowds. Yes, I liked it very much." He sat down, pushing the still-frozen, half-eaten bowl out of the way and setting the new one its place. "Since everyone is going to look anyway, I thought I should give them something to look at. It was nice to be applauded for what I can do. It was, what's the English, creative? Artistic, yes? Like a dance in the air, and we tried to make our act ever more beautiful, not just flipping back and forth and not falling down. I miss that part."

"Do you ever think about going back?"

He shook his head with a wry sort of smile and swallowed a bite of ice cream. "The circus people accepted more than the normal people, but I was still different. Other people in the circus looked strange, but no one else could do things like I could. Here, I still look different, but there are others who are just as strange in their own ways. No one minds." He cocked his head at Bobby like he was looking him over. "Life changes, Bobby. Chapters of life end and new parts begin. If you cling to the old things, you won't notice what's good about the new."

"Huh. You're pretty smart for a blue guy, aren't you?"

Bobby wasn't sure if it should be called a blush when someone got bluer instead of pinker, but whatever, Kurt looked shyly pleased. His tail floated up from behind the table, wrapped itself around Bobby's spoon and offered it to him. "You should eat your ice cream before it melts," he said with a teasing smile.

They ate their ice cream, and Kurt told Bobby about how ice cream in Germany was more like Italian ice cream, less sweet and fatty and without so many different kinds of things inside. And after they'd finished and rinsed out their bowls, Kurt shooed him off to bed and wished him pleasant dreams. Bobby yawned as he closed the door behind him and the bedroom didn't seem quite so empty.