Disclaimer: I don't own the X-Men. 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.
by Rowena Zahnrei
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 mutant 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 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. Something that warmed the mansion with holiday smells and flavors...
It was time to bake the annual Christmas cookies.
Ororo 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 roll out dough for special pastries and cookies. She wasn't about to have the students miss out on that exciting, cozy feeling just because Jean was no longer there to help her.
Besides, if Jean had been there, Ororo knew full well that her friend would have chewed her out royally for her bleak and dreary impulse to hide away in her greenhouse and let the holidays slide...just as she had so often when they were teens, and Ororo had yet to find her place in this strange, high-tech world of the X-Men.
Ororo smiled at the memories as she turned the corner that led 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.
Ororo put a hand to the swinging door, but paused when she heard the muffled sound of singing.
Someone was already in there - a man by the sound of it. Could it 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. Slowly, recognition dawned and a grin spread over her face. 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. Quickly, she pressed a hand to her mouth to suppress a snort of laughter.
Kurt Wagner - the newest addition to Xavier's X-Men team - hung suspended by his spaded, blue tail from the light-fixture on the ceiling. This in itself was a common enough sight but, what made the normally stoic Ororo shake with barely suppressed giggles was, this time, he'd managed to curl himself around a mixing bowl he'd balanced on his stomach. Flour speckled his red sweater and forest green trousers like fallen snowflakes, a fuzzy green-and-pink Christmas Elf hat perched crookedly over his curly, indigo hair and he stirred whatever was in his bowl with the same lusty enthusiasm that powered his cheerful singing.
Suddenly, Ororo wished she had her smart phone, 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 as she walked to the counter. "Wie geht's?"
The blue German gasped and nearly fumbled his mixing bowl, his festive hat falling onto the countertop. Unable to keep his position, Kurt flipped to the floor and placed his mixing bowl beside the fuzzy hat with a trembling, three-fingered hand.
Ororo tried to suppress a grin as she noticed how fiercely he was blushing behind his intricate scars. His cheeks practically glowed royal purple.
Kurt nervously cast his golden eyes 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. 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 lovely 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 up in the rafters of the local church and listen while the monk who played the organ instructed the singers. Then, when I got back home to my trailer, I would try it out myself."
He lowered his head even further, and gave a very small 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." She grinned. "Just like you."
Kurt's eyes widened, a small smile spreading slowly across his scarred face. Recovering quickly, his shy smile transformed into a spirited grin.
"Well," he said, his tail lashing playfully behind him, "If that is truly the case, Fräulein, 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!"
"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.
"Those are the kind that you roll out flat and cut into shapes, am I right?"
"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 in this noble enterprise." 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, looking down 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 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.
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 had become so used to the fear, the painful shyness that overtook him whenever he came into close contact with another human being. Even the circus spotlight back home 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 long 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 sneaking and running. Even his mutant "gift," his power of teleportation, helped him hide, to distance himself from others. And now...he had become so used to being an outsider that he found it difficult to imagine what it would be like to...to lower his guard, to let others in...to be a welcomed part of a family...
Kurt sighed deeply, releasing Ororo's hand and running his thick fingers through his hair.
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. And yet...
If he did as she suggested, if he took this step out into the light...turned his back on 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. Braver even than leaving the only home he had ever known after his small circus had been bought out by Amos Jardine, the loathsome Texas entrepreneur who had tried to place him, the star acrobat, in the freak show. Even then, his foster mother Margali and her daughter 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, it had been easy to pretend that things were 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 echoed 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 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 lifted when she didn't flinch or shrink away from his touch.
A friend like her was more than worth the effort this choice would cost him.
"You are right, fairest Fräulein," he said, his tone as somber and sincere as his expression. "And it is very cowardly of me to behave in this childish fashion. Starting 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 at every opportunity, and even sing out loud in the shower."
Ororo's eyes widened at that thought, and she was forced to snort-giggle. Bright Goddess, she thought, what have I unleashed on the poor, unsuspecting inhabitants of this mansion!
"Just wait until the children pile in here to cut out their Christmas cookies," he said. "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 Mother Margali allowed 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 image of Kurt juggling knives in a kitchen teeming with excited teenagers.
"No, Kurt, you're not going to—"
"No, no, of course not, Fräulein!" he said, and grinned. "But, I will not be using plastic cutters to make my cookies. I have a special shape in mind."
Before she could figure out the meaning behind the knavish glint his golden eyes, Kurt turned back 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 catch Kurt rapidly shifting his gaze from her protruding posterior to a potted plant above the sink.
"I saw that, you imp," she said.
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.
"Danke," he thanked her, and opened a box of small, round almond wafers, about three inches across. As Kurt placed the wafers on a cookie sheet and began spreading them with big, rounded spoonfuls of his spicy scented, nut-and-fruit-studded brown dough, 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 chuckled.
At Ororo's curious expression, he elaborated.
"Kätzchen gave that to me this morning," he said, 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.
"I must admit, being called an 'elf' is much preferable to being reviled as a 'demon' or a 'devil'." He shrugged. "Far from being malevolent, 'Elf' has an air of mischief and humor to it that 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 cookies 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 toward her, but his eyes remained fixed on the cookies.
"Well, I told you my mother - well, foster mother really... I never knew my real mother. But...Margali never did 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 true 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 ground the special spices - the Lebkuchengewürz - and 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 brush the sugar glaze on 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 placed an arm around her shoulders and pulled her into a gentle half-embrace.
"I have a new family now," he told her, "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 sending a thrill of fear/excitement shivering down her spine.
"I can think of no other place I would rather spend the holidays than here by your side."
Ororo blushed, 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 strong, 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 acceded with a slight bow. "Chivalry demands I surrender to the lady's wishes."
"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 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 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. 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 blurted, 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, but Ororo's expression fell as a sudden thought occurred to her.
"But Kurt," she said. "The Christmas Eve service... 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, Liebe," 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 plastic wrap 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?"
"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, and beat at the softened butter and sugar with his spoon.
"Sounds good to me!"
To Be Continued...