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Part One of The Arrival Quartet
"You really live here?"
It was little more than a whisper. The somber atmosphere in the cabin was too intense for normal speech. Scott was sitting silently, listless and dead to the world, lost in his grief. Logan was little better, moving only to shoot a glare at the stranger who dared to interrupt the silence that had enveloped them on their return from Canada. Rogue and Bobby were seated beside each other on one of the benches in the back of the jet, wrapped in a careful embrace that ensured no direct skin contact. Storm focused her roiling emotions on flying the jet, determined not to break down in front of her friends.
Professor Xavier looked over to where the strange young man who had just spoken was standing. This was the man who had been instrumental in saving his life, as well as the lives of every normal human on earth, during the recent destruction of Alkali Base. The dark blue German was looking out the window of the Blackbird at Xavier's mansion, his yellow eyes wide. Although his heart was aching too much to speak, Xavier sent a mental affirmative in the stranger's direction. The blue man appeared deeply impressed, but he was tactful enough to keep his silence, lowering his head and rubbing the beads of his hand-made rosary between his thick fingers. Xavier strained to remember the man's name, then realized that no one had introduced them. There just hadn't been time.
"Excuse me, young man," he said, causing the blue German to turn in surprise, "but, may I ask your name?"
The newcomer lowered his head, peering up at Professor Xavier through impossibly long lashes.
"Kurt Wagner, mein Herr," he said softly. Shooting a surreptitious glance over to Wolverine, he leaned in closer to the Professor and smiled slightly, a twinkle in his golden eyes. "But in the Munich Circus I was known as the Incredible Nightcrawler."
To his surprise, Xavier found himself returning Nightcrawler's smile. There was something about this young man, a jaunty sense of...he would have to call it "reverent mischief", that Xavier liked. He had heard him praying before and had been amazed that someone who looked like he did could harbor such a strong faith. Here was a man who believed wholeheartedly in the inherent goodness of mankind, despite all the pain and fear he had been subjected to in his life. Surprisingly, recent events had only served to strengthen his faith in that goodness, and in the ultimate benevolence of God's plan. Xavier longed to have a talk with him, to learn more about the man who had risked his own life to save his even though they had never before met.
He had to wonder: could this gentle, compassionate man really be the White House Assassin he had sent Jean and Storm to find four days ago?
Four days... Could that be right? It seemed far longer. So much had happened in so short a time. The entire world had changed in less than a week.
And Jean Grey, one of Professor Xavier's first students, a brave, intelligent woman he had come to care for as a daughter, had sacrificed her life to save them all. Xavier closed his eyes against a sudden painful realization. He was the one who would have to contact her parents. He was the one who would have to tell them that their beloved daughter was dead.
"Prepare for landing," Storm's deceptively steady voice came from the cockpit.
Nightcrawler stared in astonishment as the basketball court they hovered over opened wide to reveal a sophisticated hangar underneath.
"Unglaublich," he breathed as the sleek X-jet descended into the metal cave and the basketball court closed over their heads. What was this wondrous world he had fallen into?
Kurt Wagner had been feeling slightly dislocated from reality ever since finding himself inexplicably crouched over the President of the United States with a knife in his hand and a shoulder burning with pain from a recent gunshot wound. So much had happened since then, and so quickly, and his memories of how it had all started were muddy at best...
Jean had helped free some of those mysterious memories. She hadn't been frightened of him, even at the beginning when he was purposefully trying to scare her away. She had reached out to him in trusting friendship, touching his mind with hers, prying at the past with such a gentle touch that he had felt no fear at the intrusion. But the memories she had uncovered were so horrible, so unbelievable...
Yet, he had seen those dark corridors with his own eyes at Alkali Base. He had seen the faces of the soldiers who had so brutally kidnapped him from his Boston home, their bodies lying sprawled on the floor outside the metal door that had kept Professor Xavier a prisoner to Dark Cerebro. Kurt had seen dead people before, had been to several funerals for people who had been as close to him as family, but the charred remains of those soldiers had been a gruesome shock. Their bodies had lined both sides of the hallway. Lieber Gott, there had been so many...
These events were too far removed from the life he had known to be real. He couldn't shake the odd feeling that any moment, he would open his eyes to find himself in his own bed in his own trailer back home with the Munich Circus. Margali would come knocking at the door, calling for him to get his lazy tail out of bed and start rehearsing for the matinee performance. As he ate his breakfast, Woodhead would stump by with promises of a fencing lesson or possibly a clandestine trip to the local Kino to see a poorly dubbed version of Captain Blood. And as he entered the tent, Amanda would smile at him in welcome from her place on the trapeze and he would teleport up to the platform to begin the morning rehearsal...
Kurt flinched at the sudden, unexpected sensation of a gentle hand on his shoulder. Turning quickly in his seat, he found himself looking into the carefully controlled, pain-filled eyes of Ororo Munroe.
"We're here," she said, her voice soft though Kurt could see the strain behind her slight, reassuring smile. She was firmly repressing her grief, trying to put on her best face for their new guest. Kurt knew this and it concerned him, but he returned her smile without comment and rose gracefully to his feet with the intention of offering his aid and support to the crippled Professor Xavier. To his surprise and chagrin, Cyclops cut him off with a protective snarl, helping the Professor to his feet and arranging his arm across his shoulders.
"Scott..." the Professor chided gently, but the anguished man's scowl only deepened.
"You," he snapped, turning his head to face Kurt, "Night Demon or whatever your name is. Go with Storm, but don't get too comfortable here. We'll be heading to Washington in a few hours. Be ready."
With that, Scott assisted the Professor down the ramp to where Rogue had already arranged an electric wheelchair. Kurt blinked at the raw hostility behind Scott's words, then turned to Ororo, confused and somewhat hurt.
Ororo was scowling herself, her sharp eyes half-clouded and her snowy hair lifting of its own accord as she glared at Scott's departing back. Seeing her barely contained fury, Kurt's confusion turned to compassion as he recognized Scott's churlish attitude as an expression of his crushing grief and his searing, guilty anger over Jean's sacrifice.
"You mustn't be angry with him, Fräulein Storm," he soothed, his deep, melodiously accented voice as gentle as his golden eyes. "It is his pain that makes him speak so. It is not his intention to be rude."
"He had no right to speak to you that way after all you've done for us!" Storm snapped dangerously. "It is not like he is the only one who is hurting right now. I've never seen him so self-centered, so selfish-"
"Fräulein, please," Kurt tried again. "Try to understand. It is not selfishness that drives him to speak so. His pain is that of a man who has had his soul torn in two. I know it is not my place to speak like this, but such deep emotion is clear even to me."
He reached out and brushed her cheek with a long, thick finger. "And remember, Fräulein, I have been touched by Doktor Grey's mind, and some of her lingering thoughts are with me still." He dropped his hand from her chin and took Storm gently by the shoulders, looking into her eyes with a compassionate understanding that seemed to pierce her very soul. Ororo tried to turn away from the intense glow of his golden eyes, to hide her dark emotions from him. But as he spoke, she found herself drawn to his voice. She fought against it as it sought to pierce her control, to expose her weakness, her pain. But his voice was kindly insistent, drawing her out from behind her carefully constructed shields until there was nothing separating her from the painful reality of the truth.
"To you," he said, "Doktor Grey was your best friend, more like a sister than a sister. To Herr Cyclops, however, she was his soulmate, his other half." He closed his eyes for a moment, a flash of...something...flitting across his midnight features before he spoke again.
"I have seen such love before, and I know how very rare it is. Such an intense connection is often frightening, and Doktor Grey often tried to deny the true nature of their love, making light of Herr Cyclops' devotion and even flirting with other men. And now she is gone, Herr Cyclops is left alone to ponder all that might have been."
Ororo looked at him, at the deep, indigo skin, the delicately intricate scars, the warm, golden eyes, and felt her own eyes fill with tears. How could someone who had lived secluded in the spire of an abandoned church have grown to be so wise?
"She's really gone, isn't she," the weather goddess said, her calm, stoic voice trembling slightly at the edges. "There won't be any miraculous rescue. She'll never just turn up at the doorstep claiming it was all a big joke. Jean is really...dea-" she gasped, choking on the word, hot tears spilling down her mocha cheeks.
Two strong, unjudgemental arms reached out to wrap her in a comforting embrace and Storm found herself crumbling into it, sobbing into Kurt's lean chest with an unrestrained abandon she hadn't allowed herself since she was a small child.
Kurt rubbed her back, uttering the wordless sounds of comfort that transcend language and speak directly to the soul. It was a long time before Ororo was able to collect herself enough to look up, mortified by her shameless emotional display before a man who was still barely more than a stranger. Her shame faded, however, when she saw that Kurt was crying as well.
Seeing her surprised expression, Kurt smiled through his tears, reaching out with a gentle finger to wipe her mocha cheeks dry. "To mourn for a loved one is not a weakness, Liebling," he said, stroking her back with his tail. "We are not selfish to feel as we do, or even to be angry at our loved one for dying, for leaving us behind to deal with the loss. These are natural feelings, and expressing them now will only make them easier to deal with later on. It is bottling them up inside that would make you weak. Now we have begun to mourn together, we will both of us be the stronger for it."
Ororo shook her head, amazement warring with her grief. "And here I was thinking I would need to help you," she said. "After everything that's been done to you, after how cruelly Stryker used you, after being dragged along on this whole crazy adventure, how can you still be so open, so compassionate when it comes to the feelings of others?"
Kurt actually chuckled, drawing her closer in a brief, brotherly hug. "Ach, Fräulein, it is not always easy to see the goodness of the world, or to believe in the benevolence of God's plan. All I can do is my very best to try, to see the world through eyes unclouded by my own prejudice and pain. If I can understand the opinions and views of those that would hate me, hurt me, because of what I am, they have that much less control over me."
Storm sat up, her head tilted slightly to one side as she absorbed what he had said. "You are a surprising person, Kurt Wagner," she said, a small smile tugging at the corners of her lips.
Kurt chuckled again, leaping elegantly to his feet and gallantly reaching out a strong, three-fingered hand to help her to rise. "And you, my dear Fräulein, are one of the bravest, most understanding women I have ever met." He raised a hand to stop her as she opened her mouth, a smile growing on his dark face. "No, no. Don't object." He took her hand and raised it to his lips in a dashing manner that left Ororo blushing despite herself. "You should know by now that I endeavor always to speak the truth." He kissed her hand, his twilight-tinted lips barely brushing against her smooth, coffee skin, then he rose to his full height, his elbow proffered for her to take.
"Now, Liebling, I believe Herr Cyclops suggested I accompany you through this wondrous mansion we've come to?"
Threading her arm through his, Storm smiled. "I would be honored to give you the grand tour, Herr Wagner."
They walked like that, arm in arm, down the ramp of the Blackbird and into a new world, the likes of which Kurt Wagner had never even dreamed could exist beyond the realm of science fiction.
End of Part One