Disclaimer: I don't own the X-Men. Marvel does. It's just that they're so fun to play with; I can't seem to help myself! Please don't sue or steal my story. Thanks!
Synopsis: When Ororo finds her holiday spirit waning, it's up to Kurt to cheer her back up.
NOTE: This tail-sorry, tale-takes place in the Movieverse.
Once, Ororo Munroe had truly loved the atmosphere of Christmas. It was a warm, snug, caring time, the only time of year when strangers would actually smile at each other as they passed on the street rather than hurrying by with their hands in their pockets and their eyes fixed dully on the ground ahead of them. The fact that Ororo was not a Christian had never done anything to dull her love of the season. It was the caring spirit she treasured, even if she did not observe the religious festival itself.
No longer. Try as she might, the Christmas spirit refused to come to her this year. The pain in her heart left no room for it to enter.
As the snowy haired elemental strode down the plush corridors of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, she had to work hard to repress a despondent sigh. She had known this would happen, she just hadn't been prepared for how hard it would hit her.
It was Jean who had introduced her to the wonder of the Christmas spirit way back when Ororo had first come to the mansion, a bitter, angry, desperately lonely young woman who had barely a sixth grade education to her name. Jean had taught her so much, breaking through the thick shields of anger to reach the frightened, hurting girl underneath. With nothing more than her sweet, open nature (and a prod with her telepathy now and then) Jean had taught Storm, the wild orphan rain goddess of Kenya's dry savanna, how to trust, to give, to love. Now that Jean was dead, it was as though the heart of the season had been removed. The warmth had gone, and Ororo was left alone with the chill of its passing.
Still, just because she had contracted a bad case of the holiday blues didn't mean she had to spread it to the children. There was one thing, almost a tradition now, that they would be expecting of her, and she wasn't about to let them down. She had never had the experience of baking holiday treats with her family. Her parents had died when Ororo was only four years old, leaving the child to scrounge a living for herself off the streets of Cairo as a member of a loosely organized group of pickpockets. Because of her harsh, lonely upbringing, Ororo had never had the opportunity to lick a spoon clean of sweet batter or cut shapes out of rolled dough with a cookie cutter. She wasn't about to have the students miss out on helping her make the traditional holiday sugar cookies just because she was mourning for her friend. Besides, if Jean were there she would have chewed her out for continuing to harbor such a dismal attitude as she had so often when they were still children themselves.
Ororo smiled to herself as she turned the corner that would take her to the kitchen. Making sugar cookies with the kids and trying her best to enjoy it fully would definitely be the best way to remember Jean this Christmas.
Forcibly shaking her head free of gloomy thoughts, Ororo put a hand to the doorknob and prepared to push. However, at the muffled sound of singing, she stopped short. Someone was already in there, a man by the sounds of it. Wondering who it could be--Bobby? No, he couldn't carry a tune if it was locked in a music box. Piotr, perhaps? The voice wasn't deep enough. Never Logan. It couldn't be...Scott? Ororo stepped closer, straining to hear the words to the song. As recognition dawned, she couldn't suppress a grin. The song was God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and it was being enthusiastically sung in German.
Ororo pushed the door open, her grin broadening as she took in the scene before her. As she watched, unnoticed, from the doorway, she was forced to press her hands over her mouth to suppress a sudden snort of laughter.
Kurt Wagner was hanging suspended by his tail from the light-fixture on the ceiling. This in itself was a common enough occurrence and therefore all together unalarming. What made the normally stoic Ororo shake with barely suppressed giggles was the sight of the impossibly agile blue German curled almost double into himself as he eagerly stirred at some kind of brown dough in the mixing bowl he had resting on his stomach. From this strange, contorted position, Kurt was somehow managing to sing cheerfully to himself in a surprisingly clear and obviously well-trained tenor voice. He was wearing a bright red turtleneck sweater with forest green, flour-smeared trousers, and this extraordinary picture was capped off by the pointed, fuzzy, green and pink Christmas Elf hat that perched on his curly, indigo head at a jaunty angle. Suddenly, Ororo wished she had brought her camera, or at least that Piotr was there so he could capture the priceless scene in his ever-present drawing pad.
"Guten Tag, Herr Wagner," Ororo greeted with an easy smile as she breezed her way to the counter. "Wie geht's?"
The lusty singing was cut off by a strangled gasp as the startled, blue German struggled to keep his mixing bowl in place. Completely flustered and unable to keep his position, Kurt flipped expertly to the floor--causing his festive hat to fall onto the countertop--and placed his mixing bowl beside it with a trembling, tridactal hand.
"F-fräulein Ororo!" he gasped. Ororo tried to suppress a grin as she noticed how fiercely he was blushing behind his intricate scars. His cheeks practically glowed royal purple. Quickly, he cast his wide, golden eyes nervously about the room, searching for anyone else who might have seen his distinctly 'not-normal' behavior. Finding no one, he turned back to his unexpected companion.
"Erm, how--how long have you been here?" he asked, rubbing shyly at the back of his neck, his golden eyes averted from her face. The burning in his cheeks had spread to his stomach and he was starting to feel slightly sick.
Ororo smiled fondly. "Long enough to realize you have a beautiful singing voice."
If it was at all possible, Kurt blushed harder. "I...I attended choir practice sometimes, when I was a child. I would sit on the ceiling of the local church and listen as the monk who played the organ told the children what to do. Then, when I got back home to my trailer, I would try it out myself." He lowered his head even further with a small, self-depreciating shrug. "I liked the hymns they sang."
Ororo looked at his contrite posture and rolled her eyes. "Kurt, stand up," she said.
Looking up at her in surprise, Kurt slowly straightened his posture.
"Your singing is nothing to be ashamed of," she assured him. "I told you, it's beautiful." Now she grinned. "Just like you."
Kurt's eyes widened in stunned amazement, a small smile spreading slowly across his scarred face. Recovering quickly, his shy smile transformed into a spirited grin.
"In that case, Fräulein," he said, straightening theatrically to his full height, his tail lashing playfully behind him, "I will make it a point to regale you with as many Christmas songs as you like. What do you wish to hear next? Good King Wenceslas or perhaps We Three Kings of Orient Are? I know many more in German, French, Latin, Swedish--some even in English!"
Ororo chuckled. "Actually, I came here on business. It's Christmas Eve. Time for me to make the annual holiday sugar cookies."
Kurt's golden eyes lit up at that. "Those are the kind that you roll out flat and cut into shapes, am I right?"
Ororo nodded. "That's right. I usually get the kids to help with that part. They really seem to enjoy it."
Kurt graced her with an obsequious bow. "Fräulein, I offer my humble services to you in this noble enterprise. If you accept, I promise to assist you in any way possible." He grinned delightedly. "I have always wanted to make cut-out cookies!"
Ororo laughed, causing Kurt's delighted grin to broaden. "Of course you can help, Kurt! I'll be making seven batches this year, so I'll need all the help I can get!"
Kurt's smile suddenly faded to concern as he remembered his own mixing bowl.
"Ah, Ororo?" he asked, turning to find her crouched before a low cabinet filled with measuring instruments.
"Yes, Kurt?" she responded, not looking up.
"How long is the preparation time for your sugar cookies? I mean, will I have time to bake my Lebkuchen before the oven is needed?"
Ororo rose to her feet, several measuring cups of various sizes held in her hands. "Well, the dough has to chill, so it'll be over an hour before I call the kids to--" she cut herself off, her mind suddenly catching up to the second half of what he had said.
"Lebkuchen?" she repeated in confusion, her tongue tripping over the unfamiliar word. Kurt gestured shyly to his bowl and understanding dawned.
"Oh!" Ororo exclaimed, suddenly embarrassed. "Oh, Kurt, I didn't realize--I barged in on you like that and all but commandeered the kitchen--"
Kurt raised his hands to stop her. "Bitte, Fräulein, there is no need for apologies! Herr Professor has assured me that the kitchen is meant for the use of all, so there is no way it can be 'commandeered'." He chuckled at her use of the word, leaning towards her across the countertop and taking her hand. "Especially by a pirate as lovely as you, Liebling."
Ororo stared at her hand in his, then at his gently smiling face, a flush rising in her mocha cheeks. "How do you do that?" she asked softly.
Kurt tilted his head in confusion. "Do what?"
Ororo flushed deeper as she sought for a way to explain without revealing the true effect he was having on her.
"It's almost like you're two different people. Like, in here, when we're alone, you're confident, self-possessed, charming even." He grinned, clearly pleased but also slightly embarrassed. Ororo sighed as she forced herself to continue in a harsher tone. "But as soon as someone else comes in, you'll slink off into a corner, shut yourself away, keep your light hidden from us."
She stepped forward, gripping his thick fingers with her own slender ones. Kurt's eyes widened in consternation and confusion, but he didn't back away.
"Don't you realize by now that you don't have to hide from us? You are one of us, an important member of our family. We need your light, your humor," she smiled, "even your songs."
Kurt swallowed, considering the implications of what she was saying. He was so used to the fear, the almost painful shyness that overtook him whenever he came into close contact with another human being. Even the circus spotlight had been a way of hiding from others, allowing him to make a potentially deadly crowd into an adoring audience, encouraging them to believe his blue skin and tail were nothing more alarming than an elaborate costume. His very form cried out that he had been made for the shadows, for the concealing darkness of the night, for slinking and skulking and running. Even his mutant "gift," his power of teleportation, helped him to hide, to distance himself from others. Over the years since he had been forced to leave his circus home in Germany for the work he could find in America, he had become so used to being an outsider that he could barely imagine what it would be like to actually be a welcomed member of a close circle of friends.
Kurt sighed deeply, releasing Ororo's hand and running his own through his short curls. It didn't have to be that way, he knew. He was welcome here. It was his own contemptible shyness that made him an outsider now, not his appearance. But, if he did as she suggested, if he took this step to lead his life openly in the light, he would never be able to go back to the cloaking shadows that had been his refuge for so long. It would be the most frightening, the most difficult, the bravest thing he had ever done in his life. Braver even than choosing to leave the only home he had ever known after his small circus was bought out by that loathsome American who had tried to place him, the star acrobat, in the freak show. Even then, Margali and Amanda had managed to book the odd appearance in the US or Canada, inviting him out from his Boston home to join them as a guest star on their brief tours. During those times, things would be as they always had been, at least for a little while. What Ororo was asking of him now was completely different.
Turning back to Ororo, Kurt looked into her deep, blue eyes, searching for a strength he had found there once before, months ago, when she had called on him to stretch himself beyond his perceived limitations and accomplish what he had previously believed to be impossible. Even now, her trusting words were echoing in his mind ...I have faith in you...
Yes, he thought to himself, I can do this. I am not a child anymore, and I am certainly not a monster. It is about time I stopped this craven hiding.
He sighed, raising one thick-fingered hand to brush her silky, white hair gently behind her ear. His heart soared when she didn't flinch or shrink away. He smiled. A friend like her was more than worth the effort this choice would cost him.
"You are right, fairest Fräulein," he said at last in a tone as somber and sincere as his expression. "And it is very cowardly of me to behave in this childish fashion. Starting right now, I swear to you before God that I will no longer allow my fears to run my life. I will no longer hide who I am from those I care about." He smiled fondly at her, then winked. "I will openly display my roguish charm and I will even sing in the shower."
Ororo's eyes widened at that thought, and she couldn't suppress a sudden giggle. Bright Goddess, she thought, what have I unleashed on the poor, unsuspecting inhabitants of this mansion!
"Just you wait until the children pile in here to cut out their Christmas cookies," he grinned. "They will be amazed to see the Incredible Nightcrawler in action." He turned to her, a look of impish mischief spreading across his narrow features. "Would you like to know why Margali would never allow me to make cut-out cookies as a child?" he asked.
Suddenly fearing the answer, she said, "All right."
"Well," he admitted, "first of all I would eat so much of the dough that there was little left for cookies in the first place. But the real reason was that she couldn't get me to stop juggling the knives."
Ororo's jaw dropped at the sudden image she had of Kurt juggling knives in a kitchen teeming with excited teenagers. "No, Kurt, you're not going to--"
Kurt laughed. "Of course not, Fräulein!" he grinned. "But I will not be using plastic cutters to make my cookies. I have a special shape in mind."
Before she could inquire about the meaning behind the knavish glint in his amber eyes, Kurt had turned to his mixing bowl and resumed stirring. "Fräulein," he said, "would you be so kind as to locate a baking tray for me? I am afraid my hands are full."
As Ororo bent down to retrieve the tray from the drawer under the oven, a sudden suspicious thought occurred to her. Turning her head, she was just in time to see Kurt rapidly shift his gaze from her protruding posterior to a potted plant above the sink.
"I saw that, you imp," she smirked.
Kurt raised his eyebrows in an expression of utter innocence. "You told me to be myself. I even took a solemn vow! Can I be blamed for taking the advice of such a wise and beautiful lady?"
Ororo tried to look stern, but knew she was failing miserably. "Here's your baking sheet, you shameless flirt," she said, sliding it onto the counter beside the fuzzy Christmas Elf hat.
As Kurt began dropping small, round spoonfuls of the spicy-scented, nut-and-candied-fruit-studded brown dough onto the flat, non-stick tray, Ororo lifted the hat and started smoothing its soft, green and pink fluff.
"I have to ask," she said.
Kurt glanced at her, then ducked his head in embarrassment. "Ach, Kitty," he sighed. At Ororo's curious expression, he elaborated. "Kätzchen gave that to me this morning," he explained, his blue face darkening to a deep purple. "You see, Logan has taken to referring to me as an elf, and young Kätzchen thought it would be amusing if I were to wear," he gestured, "that hat, to accentuate the description. She gave it to me with such good humor and genuine affection that I had to accept it. She even stood on a chair so she could put it on my head." He smiled fondly. "She is a very sweet young girl, almost like a little sister."
Ororo nodded, then tilted her head. "How do you feel about the nickname?" she asked.
Kurt smiled. "I must admit, being called an elf is a vast improvement from being reviled as a 'demon' or a 'devil'." He shrugged. "Far from being malevolent, it has an air of mischief and humor to it that I find I rather like."
"All right then, Elf," Ororo grinned, placing the hat once again upon his curly head. "We'll both of us be Santa's helpers today. You finish up with your Lebkuchen and get them in the oven while I get out the ingredients for the sugar cookies, OK?"
"Jawohl, meine Dame," Kurt said with a mock salute, his finger sticky with cookie batter.
The oven was already preheated to the correct temperature, and it was the work of a moment for Kurt to slip his tray of spicy doughballs onto the rack. He crouched there for a moment peering at his baking cookies through the small window in the oven door like an eager child, his tail wrapped around his ankle and his mind swirling with memories of Christmases past. To Ororo's mind, the image was perfectly charming.
"Penny for your thoughts," she whispered, coming up beside him on the pretense of reaching for a wooden spoon.
"Was?" he asked, startled from his warm reverie. "Oh, of course." He smiled, returning his gaze to his warming cookies. "I was just remembering," he said, his voice soft and distant. Ororo stopped arranging the flour and the butter on the counter and walked over to him, crouching down beside him to rest a companionable hand on his shoulder.
"Remembering what?" she asked.
He turned his face towards her, but his eyes remained fixed on the cookies.
"Well, I told you my mother--foster mother really, I never knew my real mother--she never let me in the cooking tent when the other circus children were cutting out their Pepparkakor to bake and hang on the tree."
Ororo furrowed her brow. "Pepparkakor?" she asked softly.
The corners of Kurt's mouth quirked in a gentle smile. "Swedish ginger snaps," he explained. "Very thin and crisp."
Ororo nodded her understanding, encouraging him to go on. Kurt lowered his head a little, twiddling his thumbs a bit self-consciously.
"The reason was that I was too much of a show-off," he admitted. "Always goofing off so the other kids would not fear me." He chucked softly. "It didn't work all that well, but it didn't stop me from trying."
Ororo's grip on his shoulder tightened, almost protectively. Kurt smiled at her to show her concern was appreciated, but unnecessary.
"Anyway," he continued, "after the other children had left and their cookies were baking, Margali would call me into the cooking tent to help her make her special Christmas Lebkuchen. Without all the others there to perform for, I could just be myself. It was just the two of us, Margali and me. She would let me stir the dough while she did her careful measuring. We would talk and laugh together, and she would call me ihr besonderes Kind--her special child," he translated for Ororo's benefit. "And it made me feel special, you know? She knew me better than anyone else at the circus, and though I was never officially adopted, I always considered her to be my mother."
He sighed, tearing his gaze away from the baking cookies. "This is the only Christmas since the first year I spent in America that we have not managed to meet. She is in Germany right now, and I am here. But even though we are apart, I will think of her as I ice each and every one of these Lebkuchen. I used her recipe, of course."
"Kurt, if you were feeling so homesick, why didn't you ask to take the Blackbird to Germany? I'm sure the Professor would have been more than willing to let you borrow it."
Kurt smiled warmly, taking her by surprise as he pulled her into a hug. "I have a new family now," he explained, "a family I have grown to love just as much as my family in Germany. Although they will always remain a part of me, after all that has happened these past months I know I no longer belong there. My place is now with you and the X-Men." He looked into her eyes, his open sincerity causing a thrill of fear/excitement to run down her spine. "I can think of no other place I would rather spend the holidays than here by your side."
Ororo flushed, suddenly finding herself speechless. Slowly, a smile spread across her face and she hugged him in return. "You are a dear, sweet man, Kurt Wagner," she said, pulling away and bringing them both to their feet.
Striding over to where she had left her cookie ingredients, Ororo turned to Kurt, who still had the remnants of a slightly goofy grin lingering on his face. "Do you know where Theresa put the hand held electric mixer after she finished with it?" she asked, trying to wrench her mind back to the task at hand.
"Ach, no, I am afraid not," Kurt responded, moving closer to her. "But, never fear, meine Dame. With me in the kitchen, you have no need of these marvelous electric gadgets. Hand me a mixing spoon and I shall do the rest."
"We're making seven batches, Kurt," she said. "Are you sure your arm won't get tired?"
Kurt looked affronted. "Fräulein, you are speaking to the Incredible Nightcrawler. It will take a much fiercer foe than mere cookie batter to tire me. Besides, I want to do it."
Ororo laughed as he reached around her with his tail to grab the wooden spoon, somehow managing to get her wrapped up in its sinewy length in the process. "Kurt," she giggled as the spade-tip tickled her side, "you're hopeless! Get off! Stop tickling!"
"Ach, but I am a master tickler. It has gotten me out of many fights."
"It's about to get you into one if you don't stop it!" she laughed, whacking his tail playfully with a rubber spatula.
"Very well," Kurt grinned with a slight bow. "I surrender to the wishes of a beautiful lady."
"Just stir the dough, you blue elf. Where did I put that measuring cup?"
"Just there," Kurt pointed.
As Ororo poured the flour into the creamed butter, sugar, and egg mixture, Kurt looked over to her, a distracting thought causing a conflicted expression to cross his indigo face. After several minutes of silence while he carefully incorporated the flour into the soft dough, he came to a decision. Drawing a deep breath, he opened his mouth to speak, never taking his eyes from the mixing bowl.
"Fräulein…?" he started.
"Yes, Kurt?" she responded absently, re-reading the recipe to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything important.
"Um, well, I was wondering," he said. "You know that it is Christmas Eve, and although I realize that you are not a Catholic, or even a Christian, I was hoping you might possibly agree to join me for the midnight mass at the old cathedral down the road."
His words quickened as he spoke until by the end they were nearly running together. What with that and the fact that his accent tended to thicken when he was nervous or upset, it took Ororo a moment to decipher what he had said. Kurt, however, took her hesitation as a preliminary to a rejection.
"You don't have to if you don't want to," he gushed, trying to cover the hurt in his eyes. "It was only a suggestion, a thought really. It's OK if you--"
"Kurt," Ororo interrupted, placing a staying hand over his mouth. Kurt looked at her, the expression in his tentative eyes fragile and unsure. She smiled affectionately at him. "I'd love to," she said.
Kurt stared at her in ecstatic relief. It was a moment before he could speak. "Fräulein," he said, a touch of wonder in his voice, "I do believe you have just made me the happiest man on earth." He graced her with an elated smile.
Ororo's expression fell as a sudden thought occurred to her. "But Kurt," she said, "the place is sure to be packed..." She trailed off, hoping she wouldn't have to openly broach the subject of how those who did not know him might respond to his appearance.
Kurt, however, knew exactly the worries that had spurred her tentative words. Reaching into his trouser pocket, he pulled out what seemed to be a bulky sports watch.
"We won't have to worry about any of that, Liebchen," he assured her, strapping the watch to his wrist. "Professor Xavier has presented me with an early Christmas present specifically so I could attend the midnight mass tonight."
"What is it?" she asked curiously, leaning in closer to examine the device.
Kurt shot her a nervous, secretive smile and linked his hands behind his back, hiding the watch from view. "I will show you tonight," he said, hastily changing the subject. "The dough is finished, by the way. What do we do now?"
"Now we chill it and start on a new batch." She pulled out a long roll of waxed paper and ripped of a section about half as long as the center table. "Dump it out here and I'll wrap it up," she said. "That way we can go on using the same bowl. Less clean up, you know?"
Kurt nodded. "An excellent idea, meine Liebe. And when do we alert the children to our little project?"
"This batch should be ready by the time we're done mixing all the dough," she said, rearranging the boxes and bags in the freezer to make room for the wrapped dough ball. "So we can call them in any time after that."
Kurt grinned as he beat at the softened butter and sugar with his spoon. "Sounds good to me!"
"Mmmm, do you smell that?" Rogue asked, looking to Bobby who sat next to her on the sofa. They had been flipping through the channels in the rec room, trying to find a movie that didn't ooze Christmas sap. They had gone around three times and so far were failing dismally.
"It smells like gingerbread." Bobby smiled, pressing the power button on the remote control with no regrets.
"Hey," Kitty exclaimed, looking up from her laptop. "Do you suppose Miss Munroe is making Christmas cookies?"
"Cookies! Yes!" Artie beamed, his forked tongue causing his words to slur slightly. "I love cookies! Let's go check it out!"
Kitty closed her laptop and jumped to her feet, her face lit by a bright grin. "Hey, guys, remember last year when Miss Munroe made sugar cookies? Think if we ask nicely she'll do it again?"
Rogue shrugged, flipping her long, festive green scarf behind her back. "Wouldn't hurt to try," she said. "Let's go!"
The small troupe of teenagers headed down the corridor, chattering happily amongst themselves. When they got to the kitchen door, they stopped. Kitty stepped forward through the crowd.
"I'll stick my head through the door and see if it's really her," she offered.
"Sounds like a plan," Bobby nodded. "Go for it."
"OK," she nodded in return, gathering her nerve to phase her head through a very solid door without a running start. "Here goes-"
At that moment, the small group was shocked to see the door swing open, passing right through Kitty as though she were a ghost.
"Hey!" Kitty exclaimed. Her squeal was overlapped by a startled shriek from the person who had opened the door.
"Goddess, Kitty, you gave me a fright!" Ororo gasped, pressing a hand to her chest. "That's just the kind of scare that will turn my hair white."
"I'm afraid it's a bit too late for that, Liebchen," an accented voice heavy with barely contained laughter called out from within the kitchen.
Peering around Ororo's shoulder, the children caught sight of a grinning Kurt Wagner, cheerily drizzling a white icing over a pile of brown cookies. Bobby's eyes widened when he noticed the garishly bright elf hat perched rakishly upon the teleporter's shadowy head.
"Mr. Wagner!" Kitty squealed, rushing into the kitchen with unrestrained enthusiasm. "So, that was you filling the place with wonderful smells?!"
Kurt goggled at her, then broke out laughing. "Ach, Mädchen, I believe you are the first person ever to say that to me! You have no idea how much that means to a man who is usually accused of leaving an unpleasant stench in his wake."
For some strange reason, a random image of Pepe Le Pew flashed through Ororo's mind. Confused, she let it go.
"What's that you're makin', Mr. Wagner," Rogue asked in her deep, Southern drawl, coming up beside him to dip her recently de-gloved finger in the icing.
"I do hope you have washed your hands, Liebling," he chuckled, pulling the small bowl out of her reach. As he finished his drizzling, he explained, "These are Mother Margali's famous Christmas Lebkuchen. They are made from a very old family recipe."
"Do we get to try any?" Artie lisped.
Kurt beamed. "Of course! I made them to share with you children. There are forty-two cookies here. If that is not enough, I can always make more."
"So, like, what are they made of?" Kitty asked. "They smell sort of like gingerbread."
Kurt tilted his head, considering. "Well, they are spicy like gingerbread. But they are made with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and they are studded with almonds and candied cherries."
"Cool!" Artie grinned. "I want a Lebkuchen! When do we get to eat them?"
"After dinner," Kurt told him, prompting a collective moan of whiny protests from the gathered students.
"Now, now, none of that!" Kurt tutted. "They must cool and the icing must set." He took up his cookie platter and placed it safely on the top of the refrigerator, out of the reach of Artie's grasping hands. "If you Kinder are so eager for cookies, I believe Fräulein Munroe has a surprise for you."
All eyes turned to her as she strode over to the freezer and pulled out two balls of chilled dough.
"I was actually heading out to call you," she smiled, "but I see Kurt's Lebkuchen were all the lure I needed. How would you kids like to help me cut out some sugar cookies?"
The cheer her question prompted was loud enough to cause Logan--who was lying on his back in the garage at the far end of the mansion tweaking the engine of Scott's motorcycle--to wince and rub at his sensitive ears in annoyance. "Darn kids," he muttered to himself as he reached for the pliers.
Back in the kitchen, Rogue and Kitty were rolling out the dough while Bobby searched the cabinets and drawers for the cookie cutters. Several other children had trickled into the kitchen in the wake of their explosive cheer, and the room was rapidly becoming crowded. Ororo smiled at the happy, domestic scene before her and searched the mini-mob for Kurt, hoping to share this warm moment with him. To her surprise, she found the formerly exuberant circus performer standing in the corner away from the laughing children, a shadowy island unto himself.
Coward! You must fight this cursed shyness, Kurt berated himself harshly, ashamed of the way he had so quickly retreated as the kitchen began to fill. Large crowds bothered him, they always had. Being in close proximity to a crowd without the protection of the limelight gave him a choked feeling he was finding impossible to fight. He felt as though he was being slowly suffocated. His face and neck grew uncomfortably warm, and he could feel his tail trembling behind him. Kurt was fighting the urge to run, to teleport, to crouch down into a huddled ball, with all the strength of his will, but even the vow he had made to Ororo was not enough to force his feet to take him back to the counter where the children were laying claim to their favorite cutters.
They are not afraid of you, he tried to convince himself. They would never try to harm you. They like you! How can you expect to be their friend if you're too frightened to go near them?
A soft voice startled him out of his silent argument, and he turned to see Ororo standing beside him, her mocha face filled with concern. He tried to give her a reassuring smile.
"I am fine, Liebchen," he said, ashamed at how weak his voice sounded. He attempted a chuckle. "I'm just not very good with crowds, even friendly ones. I am trying, though! You see I have not left!"
Ororo put her hand on his shoulder, her worried eyes locked on his. "I didn't realize how difficult this would be for you," she said. "The children will be fine on their own. Would you like to join me for a walk?"
Mein Gott, yes, anything to get out of here! Please, let me out! Kurt's mind was begging, screaming at the top of its metaphorical lungs. It would be so easy to give into those pressing sentiments, to accept her tempting offer...
Taking a deep breath, Kurt shoved the cowardly voice aside, straightening his shoulders and forcing his tail to stop its agitated twitching.
"Nein," he said firmly. Then softer, "No, thank you, Fräulein. I promised you before God that I would not run away. And I will not." He smiled, brushing her cheek with his thick finger. "I can do this, Ororo. Besides," he said, his soft smile twisting into an impish smirk, "I want to make that special cookie I was telling you about. And I can't do that if I leave, now can I?"
Leaving her with a mischievous wink that implied a confidence he certainly did not feel, Kurt gently pushed his way into the midst of the laughing students.
"Mind if I squeeze through?" he asked politely, smiling as the crowd parted easily before him despite that fact that he could not stop the cold trembling in his stomach.
"Want a cutter, Mr. Wagner?" Jones asked in his calm, almost deadpan voice, his thick glasses reflecting the overhead lights and obscuring his eyes from view.
"Nein, danke," Kurt shook his head. "I have a different shape in mind. For this cookie, I will need a knife."
Rogue reached over to the knife rack by the sink and held a small paring knife out to him over the heads of everyone else. Kurt snaked out with his tail and grabbed it, giving her gloved hand a little shake of thanks in the process. Rogue grinned and went back to rolling out dough.
Transferring the knife to his hand with an expert flip that left Artie gasping in envious amazement, Kurt sliced an unmarked section of dough free from the rest of the batch and began to carve.
"Bright Lady," a soft gasp came from behind him as he put the finishing touches on his design. "Kurt, that's beautiful!"
Kurt turned to face Ororo with a shy smile. "Of course it is, Liebchen," he replied in the same soft tone. "It's you."
Kurt had caught the weather goddess in a pose that radiated freedom and power. Her long hair billowed around her, her arms were outspread as though she were attempting to embrace the clouds. Her long cape flowed out behind her slender frame, apparently rippling in the wind. With deft flicks of his knife, Kurt had even managed to shallowly carve the details of her face and uniform, details that would remain during the cooking process but would not mar the integrity of the cookie itself as he transferred it onto a baking sheet. Looking at it, Ororo could almost feel the caressing breeze whipping through her hair. She knew she was blushing, but the presence of the children kept her from giving into her impulse to melt.
"Oh, Kurt, it would be a shame to eat that," she said. "It's a work of art."
Kurt shrugged. "It's a cookie, Liebchen. If you want something permanent, I could always carve you something out of clay or wood."
"Hey," a young voice broke into their softly spoken conversation. "Look at that! Mr. Wagner made a cookie of Miss Munroe!"
"Oh, awesome!" another voice exclaimed. "Oh, please, Mr. Wagner, could you do me? Please, pretty please!"
"No, do Logan! With his claws out!"
"No, stupid, claws would burn!"
"Professor X! Do the Professor!"
As more and more children shouted suggestions for him to carve, Kurt shot Ororo a helpless look. Ororo just smiled. "You're the one who opened this can of worms, Herr Wagner," she said. "I can't help it if the kids recognize talent when they see it."
Kurt flushed right up to his pointed ears as Ororo gave him a little parting wave and walked off into the crowd. Turning back to the excited teenagers, Kurt raised his hands in mock surrender. "All right, all right, one at a time!" he laughed. "As long as there is enough dough, I promise I will make one cookie for each of you. Does that sound fair?"
Once again, Logan's ears were assaulted by the distant din of exuberant cheering.
Ororo was standing in the rec room admiring the newly re-decorated Christmas tree and nibbling the last of the Lebkuchen, the one Kurt had saved especially for her. The mounds and piles of brightly wrapped Christmas presents had already been laid out around the room, and the warm lights of the Christmas tree shed an almost dream-like glow on the classic Christmas scene. Her eyes were suddenly filled with unexpected tears as she wished her best friend could have been there to share this moment with her.
The silvery head of the former weather goddess tilted slightly as the familiar whir of electric wheels met her ears.
"Good evening, Charles," she greeted her mentor, turning to grace him with a welcoming smile, all trace of tears completely erased.
"I came down to see the tree," he explained. "The children were very enthusiastic about it at dinner."
Ororo grinned, striding over to the tree and gingerly removing one of the edible decorations. It had been attached to the tall, false pine with a narrow, red ribbon which ran through a carefully bored hole.
"Kurt made them," she said simply. "The children decided they were too beautiful to eat right away, so we put them on the tree instead. Like those Swedish cookies Kurt was telling me about…Pepparkakor."
Even without his telepathic gifts, her uncharacteristic, almost giddy tone would have revealed her feelings for the quiet, blue German to the observant Professor. He raised an eyebrow.
"Kurt made these as well?" he said, somewhat surprised and very pleased to hear the reticent young man had chosen to open up so much. His delightful Lebkuchen had been a big hit at dessert. Professor Xavier took the palm-sized cookie she held out to him and examined it closely.
"Why, this is me!" he exclaimed with pleasure. "And a very good likeness too, if I may say so myself."
"Yes," she grinned as she gestured to the brightly lit tree, unable to contain her enthusiastic pride. "Look at what he carved. He made one of you, me, Logan, Scott, and many of the children. Aren't they beautiful?"
Xavier nodded, thoughtfully running a gentle finger over his cookie double. "Yes, indeed. I had no idea he was so skilled, although I always had the impression there was much more to that young man than he let on."
"He's just shy, Professor," she said, taking the cookie back and replacing it on the tree. "It's only natural, considering his background. But he's dealing with it very well."
"With your help," the professor observed approvingly, his tone utterly free of innuendo.
She turned back to him with a thoughtful expression on her face. "Did you know he invited me to attend midnight mass with him tonight? He's very excited about going, but it surprised me that he would want to enter such a crowded building after seeing how hard it was for him to approach the children this afternoon. On Christmas Eve, the cathedral is certain to be packed to capacity."
Lowering herself gracefully onto the arm of the sofa, she fixed the Professor with a searching stare. "He told me you had given him an early Christmas present, some kind of watch. He seemed very sure that it would allow him to get in unnoticed, but he wouldn't tell me what it does. He seemed almost...afraid to tell me."
The Professor nodded his understanding, but his face revealed nothing. "And naturally, you're concerned," he stated.
Ororo blinked. "Well, quite frankly yes," she said in her sternest 'teacher' voice. "What is that thing you gave him, Charles?"
Before the Professor could respond, there was a soft BAMF in the corner, accompanied by the faint scent of sulfur.
"Ororo, it is almost time to go. I've started the car to let the engine warm up a bit, but--" Kurt cut himself off when he noticed she was not alone in the room.
"Ach, Herr Professor!" he beamed. "Frohe Weihnachten!! What do you think of our new Christmas decorations? Sehr schön, nein?"
The Professor smiled at Kurt's enthusiasm. "Sehr schon, indeed, my friend," he complimented the grinning man. "Kurt, I am pleased to learn you've asked Ororo to share this trip with you. It should be a beneficial experience for the both of you."
Kurt glanced at his bulky wristwatch. "Well, it is an experience we are going to be late for if we do not leave soon," he said. He shifted his feet, suddenly extremely uncomfortable. "I was rather hoping we could get there and choose our seats before it became too crowded." He rubbed a thick finger against a large button on his watch, and Ororo watched, concerned, as a slight shudder ran down his tail.
"Kurt, are you all right?" she asked, closing the distance between them in less time than it took for her to speak.
"Jawohl, Fräulein," Kurt smiled at her, covertly lacing his fingers behind his back. "I am just excited, that is all."
Ororo's expression darkened. "I know something's up," she said, suddenly angry. "Something about that watch of yours that neither you nor the Professor will tell me."
Kurt was taken aback by her anger, his expression one of deep consternation. He looked desperately at the Professor, his tail lashing behind him in agitation.
"There is no harm in telling her, Kurt," Xavier assured him gently. "After all, you were planning to show her anyway, weren't you?"
Kurt nodded, drawing in a deep, shaky breath. "But she likes me now," he said in German, his voice at the edge of cracking. "She likes me despite what I look like. Even when we first met, she was never afraid. That has never happened before!" He sighed dejectedly, focusing his gaze on the carpet beneath his feet. "What if--what if I show her and she finds she prefers what she sees to..." He trailed off, holding up his tail and waving it in silent demonstration.
Ororo was rapidly growing very annoyed at being kept out of the conversation. "I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch that," she snapped. A sympathetic thunderclap sounded in the distance. Kurt cringed and his posture collapsed into a miserable stoop, wrinkling the elegant suit he had changed into after dinner.
I think you should give her the benefit of the doubt, Kurt, the Professor projected to him telepathically. If she truly likes you for who you are, a mere holographic disguise should do nothing to change her feelings for you.
Kurt's golden eyes darted nervously over to the fuming Ororo as he answered, "Are you sure?"
The Professor favored him with a kind smile. The real question is, are you? Don't you trust Ororo's judgment?
"Of course I do!"
The Professor projected a mental shrug. Then prove it.
"Look, guys, if someone doesn't start talking out loud and in English very soon, I'm going to bed and I'm not getting up until tomorrow morning." Ororo fixed both of them with her most scathing glare, her white hair rising as it grew charged with static electricity.
Kurt took a hesitant step towards her, his head drooping with guilt. "I am very sorry, Liebchen," he said sincerely. "I should not have kept this from you as I did. It was just..." he trailed off, looking up at her through shame-filled, amber eyes. "I was afraid as to how you might react." His voice was so soft it was barely audible, but Ororo heard every word. She knitted her brow, concern and confusion warring with her anger.
"Why would you be afraid?" she asked, her tone more gentle this time.
"Because I am a fool--a weak, paranoid, doubting fool."
Ororo narrowed her eyes disapprovingly. "Kurt..."
The blue man sighed deeply, then looked at her. "It's a holographic image inducer," he explained, holding his wrist out for her inspection. "When I push this button," he pointed to the large, yellow button he had been fingering before, "an image made entirely of light appears around me, covering my true form like a mask." He sighed again, dropping his wrist to his side and his voice to a soft mumble. "This device can make me appear as a 'normal' human," he said, his eyes fixed on the carpet.
Ororo glanced at Charles, her eyes wide with amazement. Charles shook his head, a subtle indication that she should not display too much enthusiasm for Kurt's new toy. Taking the hint, Ororo turned back to Kurt.
"Is that all?" she asked, injecting a relieved lightness into her tone that she didn't quite feel. "It's an intriguing invention, but what did you have to be so scared about? It's just an illusion. The real you would still be there underneath."
Kurt looked up, his golden eyes wide. "The 'real' me?" he repeated in a slightly wondrous tone.
"Yes, you know..." She strolled over to him, brushing a slender hand against his scarred cheek. "The devilishly handsome blue acrobat who has been making me laugh all afternoon? Surely you know of him."
Kurt blinked at her, a smile spreading slowly across his face. "I think I might have seen him somewhere," he said.
Ororo sighed and touched his arm. "It's awful that you need a thing like that just to go to church," she said with real force. "You shouldn't have to disguise yourself."
Kurt's gaze grew distant as he recalled the brief conversation he had shared with the mysterious shapeshifter, Mystique, the night before the events at Alkali Lake. She could take any form she wished, yet she chose instead to remain in her true form when she wasn't working undercover. With her blue skin and yellow eyes, she had been the first person he had ever met who looked anything like he did. Surely she had gone through the same cruel taunts and bigoted violence he had been forced to endure all his life. Yet, when he had asked her why she didn't choose to remain disguised all the time, to look like everyone else, she had come out with a reply that had forever earned her his respect--despite the disturbing fact that she was a morally unscrupulous terrorist. The echoing memory of her blunt answer—"...Because we shouldn't have to..."--converged in his mind with Ororo's angry statement, strengthening his resolve to keep the vow he had made that afternoon. The image inducer was just a device, a tool he would have to use until that glorious day when it would no longer be necessary for him to shield himself from the hate of strangers. And now, Ororo's reaction to it had assured him this tool, this necessary evil, would not change the way his friends saw him.
The grandfather clock in the corner struck the quarter hour, startling Kurt from his thoughts. He smiled brightly at Ororo, his golden eyes soft. "I told you I was a fool," he said with a gentle chuckle. "You are a truly wise woman, my dear friend, and I should never have so insulted your intelligence by doubting you. Are you still angry with me?"
Ororo shook her head, an exasperated smirk twisting her lips. "Oh, Kurt," she sighed. "You know, I don't think I could ever stay angry at you."
Kurt straightened, his face now split by an ecstatic grin. "Then you will still come with me to the mass?"
Ororo just looked at him. "Of course I will!"
"Then we must get a move on!" he exclaimed. "The car is going to run out of gas before we even get it out onto the road!"
"Good night, Charles," Ororo said hurriedly, wrapping her arms around Kurt's shoulders in preparation for a teleport.
"Merry Christmas, Herr Professor," Kurt grinned with a wave. "And thank you!"
"Merry Christmas to you," Xavier responded with a smile. "And be safe."
Kurt's tail wrapped itself securely around Ororo's waist, then the two of them were gone in a flash of smoke and a BAMF of imploding air. Casting one last glance at the edible Christmas tree decorations, Charles Xavier grinned to himself and wheeled his way out of the room.
Ororo was well aware of Kurt's acute sense of spatial perception. She even knew that, using that unique sense, he could probably drive a car safely while blindfolded. However, that understanding did not keep her from clutching desperately at her seat as Kurt sped down the winding road at a speed nearing seventy miles per hour.
"You are aware that the speed limit on this road is thirty-five, right?" Ororo asked, her voice tight with anxiety.
Kurt glanced over to her. "I see you have never driven on the Autobahn, Liebchen," he laughed. "On that road many cars would be passing me right now, annoyed I was going so slowly!"
"Yeah, well, we're not on the Autobahn right now," Ororo squeaked as they tore around a sharp curve. "And there's still plenty of time before the mass starts. Do you think you could slow down just a little?"
Kurt, who had clearly been enjoying the exhilarating rush of speed, turned to her with an accommodating smile. "You know I can refuse you nothing," he said, breaking slightly and allowing the car to roll its way down to thirty five. "There," he said, leaning back in his seat. "We are now moving along at a turtle's pace. Are you more comfortable now?"
Ororo shook her head. "Sometimes you worry me, Kurt Wagner," she said. "I'm starting to dread what might happen once Scott approves your piloting license."
Kurt looked slightly upset. "You were never in any danger," he said. "You know that, don't you? I would never risk your life."
Ororo shook her head. "Kurt, what do you think would happen if a cop had seen us just then?"
Kurt hung his head, apparently contrite. "We would have been pulled over," he admitted. Then he looked up with an impish grin. "But, if the cop was a lady, we would have gotten off with a warning and a wink."
Ororo smirked at him. "Oh? And how do you figure that?"
"You've said it yourself, Liebchen," Kurt smiled, running a hand through his indigo curls. "I'm charming."
"You," she said with an accusing point, trying to hold in her giggles, "are a show-off and a flirt."
"And that's what you like about me," he grinned, a roguish gleam in his eye. "Come on, Liebe, admit it!"
He reached over to tickle her with his tail, and she laughingly slapped it away. "Keep your eyes on the road, you speed demon!"
Kurt sighed theatrically. "Ach, that is barely necessary at this crawl," he complained. "Besides," he observed, turning into a nearly packed parking lot. "We're here."
Kurt parked Xavier's car at the far corner of the lot, then hopped out to hold the passenger side door open for Ororo.
"Thanks," Ororo said as she slid out, then she gasped.
"Kurt!" she exclaimed, her wide eyes narrowing in amazed trepidation. "That is you, isn't it?"
The slightly tanned man holding the car door open was tall and slender with a classically handsome face and dark, golden hair that reached almost to his shoulders. He was wearing the same elegant suit with the festive green tie that Kurt had been wearing just moments before.
"No," the man said with Kurt's voice. "It's Errol Flynn." He closed the door, then held out his arms and did a full turn for her inspection. "What do you think?"
Ororo smirked and took his hand, staring at the way the four slender fingers remained paired so his hand retained its familiar, tridactal form. This truly was nothing more than an image.
"Errol Flynn has nothing on Kurt Wagner," she smiled teasingly. "To tell you the honest truth, I prefer my men dark and devilishly handsome."
Kurt grinned at her, his now blue eyes filling with joyous tears that he quickly wiped away. "Then perhaps I should have programmed an image of Basil Rathbone," he joked, trying to cover how deeply her words had touched him.
"Come on, Elf," she smiled, offering him her elbow. "Let's get inside. The cold doesn't affect me, but I wouldn't want you turning blue."
Kurt snickered and took her arm as they headed across the parking lot towards the large, stone cathedral.
"Oh, Kurt?" Ororo asked suddenly. "I've been meaning to ask you something." He turned to her, his blue eyes curious.
"I was just wondering," she said lightly. "Just a bit of old movie trivia. Did Errol Flynn have a tail?"
"What? Oh!" Kurt turned to see his tail swishing behind him and quickly twined it around his waist where it vanished behind the concealing hologram. "Thank you, Liebe."
"Any time," she smiled.
Kurt cleared his throat and turned his gaze to the clear, starry sky. "I wanted to thank you for agreeing to come with me tonight," he said quickly. "I honestly don't think I could have done this if you weren't with me."
Ororo looked over to him, concerned. "What do you mean?"
Kurt sighed and stopped their progress, leaning against the trunk of one of the many parked cars. "It has always been a dream of mine to sit in the pews during mass, to get up with everyone else and walk down the aisle to receive Communion without all the stares and gasps and shrieks. Even at my own First Communion, I was told to wait in the coat room until the other children and their families had left. It was the same with my Confirmation, only by then I could teleport so I watched the ceremony from the ceiling." He sighed again and turned to face her. "This will be the first time I attend mass as a normal person. It is a dream come true. I just don't want my shyness, my accursed, cowardly fears, to ruin it for me. I know that once I get in there, once I see all those people, I'll need to run away. And I don't want to. I've had it with watching the ceremonies from the shadows. I want to live my life in the light. I want to keep my vow."
Ororo sighed and looked up at his anguished face, tracing her fingers along the invisible scars behind the hologram masking his elfish features. "I know you may not believe this, Kurt, but I really do know how you're feeling."
Kurt's eyes widened incredulously. "You! You are not afraid of anything!"
Ororo leaned beside him against the car, holding his gaze with hers. "Yes, I am. I have a terrible fear of enclosed spaces, of being trapped in the dark. I've had it ever since I was a child. My parents died in a terrorist explosion when I was four, and I was trapped alone in the ruined building for days. It was the worst experience I've ever had. Even now, I can't go into an elevator or even enter the basement of the mansion without this horrible fear seizing me, trying to force me to turn back. Once, during a mission in a cave, it got so bad I froze and Scott had to come and rescue me."
Kurt was staring at her with wide, understanding eyes. They were eyes of compassion rather than pity, and Ororo gave in to a sudden need to embrace him. "You see, Kurt," she said, resting her snowy head against his shoulder. "You're not alone."
"Neither are you, meine Liebe," Kurt whispered, resting a thick finger under her mocha chin as he looked into her crystal eyes. "As long as I am with you, you will never be lost in the dark."
"And you need never fear the light," Ororo smiled, wrapping her arm around his elbow and pulling him towards the thick, wooden door to the cathedral. "Come on," she said softly, a warm glow filling her heart as she watched him screw his confidence firmly in place. "Let's go inside."
Ororo had attended Christian masses before with Jean and Scott, but never had she seen one so beautiful as the one she witnessed that night. The church was lit by the fluttering light of what had to be a thousand candles. Beautiful arrangements of potted poinsettias and warmly lit Christmas trees brightened the marble altar. The joyous sounds of the organ and the trumpet swelled in the warm, incense-scented air as the congregation rose to their feet in song, celebrating the birth of the one they believed to be their savior. Ororo even joined in, singing the familiar words to the Christmas carols she had heard so often on the radio.
Kurt had chosen to sit at the outer edge of the long, wooden pew, right next to the center aisle. This placed her between him and the others who shared their pew and helped to give him a feeling of space. Ororo could feel his tension as she watched his blue eyes dart nervously around the crowded room. His hands were wrapped so tightly around the rounded edge of the seat she was certain that beneath the hologram his dark knuckles were turning an unhealthy shade of sky blue. Gently, she pried his hand away from the seat, holding it in her own and stroking its scarred back. Grateful for the small comfort, Kurt glanced at her and risked a brief, covert squeeze of her shin with his tail. Ororo looked around in a near panic, waiting for the screams to start, but Kurt just grinned, his blue eyes filled with mischief. No one had noticed.
When it came time for the congregation to rise and receive Communion, Ororo knew to remain in her seat. Kurt swallowed hard, closing his eyes as he searched for an inner strength she knew he had in abundance. Then, with a small smile and a final squeeze of her hand, he rose to his holographically shod feet and took his place in line, standing straight and tall.
Ororo didn't think she had ever felt so proud, until a young woman with short, brown hair winked suggestively at him and he winked back. She felt her jaw drop and was about to rise from her seat when she saw Kurt turn back to her with an affectionate smile while making a small gesture that firmly told the woman, "I'm with her." The woman gave a small pout and turned back to the altar. Ororo relaxed, then straightened in surprise. Why had she reacted like that to an innocent wink? She and Kurt were just friends, weren't they? What right had she to feel so...possessive?
Her thoughts strayed back to the beautiful cookie he had carved of her, the way he blushed when she smiled at him. Perhaps, their feelings for each other ran deeper than she had wanted to believe...
Oh, Jean, she sighed, lowering her head as a powerful wave of grief and loss washed over her. I wish you were here. You would know how to help me deal with all these confusing feelings. I miss you so much, my friend!
Kurt chose that moment to return, his wide eyes lit from deep within by an elated joy that spoke of a long-cherished wish finally, wonderfully fulfilled. Squeezing her hand with a smile, he knelt down beside her and began to pray with a passionate sincerity she had not seen in the other church goers. The grateful light in his tear-filled eyes as he raised his gaze to the large crucifix on the wall behind the altar was possibly the most touching sight she had ever seen. Taking a shaky breath, she tried to force her grief from her mind as she focused on the conclusion of the ceremony.
It was only Kurt and a few older ladies who genuflected as the priest and his procession walked up the aisle and out the large, double doors at the back. The remainder of the congregation remained standing, singing lustily along with the music of the organ and the chorus that stood in the balcony.
Kurt remained behind as the rest of the congregation filed out of the building, staring up at the organist and the chorus with a small smile on his face. Ororo could only guess at the thoughts that were running through his mind.
"That was a beautiful ceremony, Kurt," she said, causing him to turn to her with a shy grin.
"I am very pleased you enjoyed it, Liebchen," he said, his voice soft. Then his eyes lit up and he took her hand, leading her down the aisle towards the altar. "Come," he said. "I want to show you something."
He stopped in front of a very large, very life-like nativity scene that had been set up to the right of the altar. A small tray of tiny candles stood in front of it, and a small table-like knee rest stood before that, inviting the faithful to pray.
Ororo looked at the skillfully hand-painted ceramic figures kneeling reverently around a straw-filled manger, offering praise to the small infant who rested there. Even the sheep, donkeys, and cows bore expressions of awe. Kurt was watching her expression with an excited grin. "Well?" he asked. "Is it not lovely? I have not seen one so beautiful since I left Germany. When I asked the priest, he said the figures had been imported from Germany!"
Ororo smiled. "It is lovely, Kurt," she said. "Very Christmassy."
Kurt nodded, sighing with nationalistic pride and deep, inner happiness. When he turned back to her, though, his bright eyes had taken on a more somber look.
"This is not the only thing I brought you up here to see," he admitted, suddenly nervous.
It looked odd to see him so fidgety without the sight of his tail twitching behind him. "I...I know you have been missing your friend, Doktor Grey," he said softly, no longer meeting her eyes. "I thought, maybe if we lit a candle in her memory, and maybe you spoke to your Goddess about her?" He shrugged. "It might help you feel closer to her memory."
Ororo drew in a startled breath. Had she been so obvious? Or was it just that uncanny way Kurt had of picking up on the troubles of others?
"Kurt..." she said, touched beyond words. "That is so sweet!"
"Here," he said, holding a long, thin stick of wood into a candle flame and pressing it gently into her hand. "Choose a candle. I will make a donation in her honor."
As he stuffed a few bills into the collection box hanging from the wall, Ororo lit the center candle, recalling how Jean had acted as the heart of the team for so long. As she doused the slender stick in the small box of white sand at the edge of the table, Ororo truly did feel closer to her friend than she had in a long, long time. Offering up a prayer for the Bright Lady to protect Jean's spirit, she turned to Kurt and threaded her hand through his arm.
"Thank you, Kurt," she said softly, resting her head comfortably on his shoulder. "I really needed something like that."
Kurt smiled, tilting his head to rest his cheek against her silky hair. "I know," he said. "Are you ready to go home, Liebchen?" he asked.
Ororo grinned, looking up at him with affectionately mischievous eyes. "Only if I drive."
Kurt laughed and dug into his pocket, handing her the keys. "I always bow to the wishes of a beautiful lady."
Ororo took the keys and started walking up the aisle, Kurt close at her heels. As she stepped out into the cold, Christmas Eve night, she looked up at the sky. The stars had been covered by a thin layer of clouds. Smiling softly, Ororo gave into an impulse. When Kurt came out, closing the heavy door behind him, he looked around him with a delighted gasp.
"Ororo!" he grinned, his warm breath forming a small cloud in the freezing air. "It's snowing!"
Storm just nodded, reveling in the feel of the power she held within her. "Yes," she said at last. "The children will wake up to a white Christmas this year."
Kurt laughed like a child himself, fixing her with an impish grin. "And do you know the best way to spend a snowy Christmas?" he asked.
"Sitting by a fire drinking hot chocolate--"
"--and eating Christmas cookies!" he finished with a laugh.
The once crowded parking lot was now empty. Only Xavier's red BMW remained, parked in a distant corner. Ororo looked into her companion's grinning face and stepped closer to him, reaching for his wrist. Thinking she wanted to hold his hand, he held it out to her, but her fingers were aimed elsewhere. He gasped as the hologram that surrounded him flickered and faded out, his startled eyes darting anxiously around the parking lot for any sign of life.
"Kurt," Ororo said, wrapping her arms around his slender form. He looked at her, confused and blushing. Ororo smiled and leaned in closer. "I just wanted to tell you..." she breathed, planting a gentle kiss on his scarred cheek, "...that I love you very, very much."# She grinned wickedly, her sparkling eyes dancing. "Merry Christmas."
As his golden eyes widened in astonished shock, Ororo broke away and headed for the car, leaving her elated friend to follow through the softly falling snow.
#This line was quoted directly from the comics: The Uncanny X-Men Issue 119: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas...